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Happy Customers

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Citizens like you, they really like you…or at least your agencies’ websites.

That’s according to the latest quarterly report released by ForeSee Results today. ForeSee is that company that helps the government conduct its user feedback analysis. You may have seen their little while survey boxes pop up when you’re cruising your favorite dot-gov site.

ForeSee sees that the customer satisfaction with federal websites is on the rise. In the latest report satisfaction improved 1.4 percent to 73.9 on the American Customer Satisfaction Index 100-point scale.

That figure is just the governmentwide average. Approximately 25 percent of government sites scored over 80 indicating “superior satisfaction,” according to the company. ForeSee Results president Larry Freed thinks this is good for everyone.

It’s a win-win proposition because consumers prefer the convenience of a mouse click, and government will benefit from improved efficiency, cost-savings, accountability, and transparency.


Your donations, Bloch's defense

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Can’t find a worthy charity in the Combined Federal Campaign?

Send a check to the Scott Bloch Legal Defense Trust! (Donations are not tax-deductible, sorry.)

The recently-retired special counsel is looking for help to defray his mounting legal costs. Bloch was forced out of office last week, an event that capped years of controversy surrounding his tenure, but still faces an ongoing grand jury investigation.

The Web site includes praise for Bloch from a number of conservative luminaries, including Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes, Heritage Foundation co-founder Paul Weyrich, and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.)

Noticeably absent is any praise from current or former employees of the Office of Special Counsel.

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Calls continue to cap CEOs pay

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Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., plans to introduce a bill next month to cap executives’ pay — and the bill has a catchy name.

The “Stop the Greed on Wall Street Act” would ban companies that received cash from the Treasury Department’s financial rescue plan from paying any employees more than $400,000. That’s the salary currently earned by the U.S. president.

The cap would make $400,000 the max for total compensation, including cars, benefits and retirement, all of which have added up to millions of extra dollars for CEOs.

Outlining legislation he plans to introduce when Congress reconvenes next month, Sanders said the bill would prohibit companies that received cash infusions from the Treasury Department from paying any of their employees more in total compensation than the $400,000 salary of the president.

It’s unclear what the chances would be of passing such a bill when the House reconvenes the week of Nov. 17 for organizational meetings. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she’d like to see the House pass a second economic stimulus package soon, but no agenda has been set for when the House returns.

Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson this week, expressing their constituents’ outrage over executive pay and saying executives being able to leave with “golden parachutes” undermines public confidence in the financial rescue plan.

Regardless of what happens in November, expect to see executive pay remain a popular topic for months to come on the Hill.

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Drilling down at MMS, and the numbers aren't pretty

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We’ve written before, on this blog and in the newspaper, about the problems at Interior’s Minerals Management Service, which collects royalties from oil and gas exploration projects on federal lands.

The most recent problems affect the “royalty-in-kind” program, which collects royalties in the form of oil and gas instead of cash; MMS sells the products for a profit. MMS says it’s more lucrative than a cash royalty program; good-government groups and many experts disagree.

Apparently, so does the Government Accountability Office (pdf):

MMS’s annual reports to the Congress do not fully describe the performance of the royalty-in-kind program and, in some instances, may overstate the benefits of the program.

The report (released today) cites some striking statistics: In 2006, for example, 64 percent of the oil collected through a royalty-in-kind program was sold essentially at a loss — below the royalties MMS would have received from a cash royalty program.

Not particularly encouraging, particularly as MMS plans to expand the royalty-in-kind program in the next few years.

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Burrowing in at midnight

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The Congressional Research Service has an interesting report out (pdf) on the presidential transition.

CRS found that the president’s “lame duck” status between Election Day and Inauguration Day leads to all kinds of interestingly named activities, everything from “midnight rulemaking” to “burrowing in.”

We’ll have a longer look at “midnight rulemaking” in next week’s Federal Times, which comes out on Nov. 3. Basically, though, agency heads push through all kinds of last-minute regulations. November-January is usually a quiet time for regulatory agencies, but their output doubles during a transition year — and many of the regulations are approved without proper oversight.

CRS is also worried about records retention, which has been a recurring problem during this administration.

The whole report is worth a look.


The cost of war…

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…is now $864 billion according to a Congressional Research Service report posted on the blog Secrecy News. That’s just a scant $164 billion more than the government is planning to spend to bailout Wall Street. To be fair, it did take the Defense Department 8 years to get to that level of spending. The CRS figure includes appropriations and supplementals made between fiscal years 2001 and 2009.

Three-quarters of the war spending, about $657 billion, funded the war in Iraq. Another fifth, $173 billion, went to the war in Afghanistan. And $28 billion enhanced security at military bases. But what of the remaining $5 billion, you ask? CRS says it can’t be accounted for.

More fun facts about war spending after the jump:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Feds split on choice for next president

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While national polls consistently show Democratic Sen. Barack Obama leading Republican Sen. John McCain in the presidential race — anywhere from 2 percent to 15 percent — federal employees who will be working under the next commander-in-chief are decidedly less certain.

According to an unscientific poll currently running on the Federal Times website, Obama and McCain are tied at 45 percent of the vote.  More than 2,000 readers have responded as of Wednesday morning.

Among the remaining respondents, 5 percent are undecided and another 2 percent say they plan to vote for another candidate. Perhaps most interestingly, 3 percent say they don’t plan to vote at all. This makes me wonder, are some feds really so apathetic that they don’t think it matters who’s in the Oval Office? If I was allowed to vote for my next boss, I’m sure I’d have an opinion.

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Full-sized liquids on planes in 2009?

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Yes, business travelers, you may be able to start carrying on full-sized toothpastes and shampoos when you fly in 2009.

That’s according to the Transportation Security Administration, which says it’s working to beef up screening processes and speed up airport security lines. Current regulations ban carrying on most liquids, gels and aerosols in containers larger than 3 ounces.

A TSA official told USA Today that the restrictions could be lifted in 2009, though travelers would still need to put any liquid or gel containers in a separate bag for X-ray machines. By 2010, passengers may even be able to keep those liquids in their carry-on bags during the screening process. Better machines are being developed that can differentiate between dangerous chemicals and harmless styling products.

So, when the airlines lose your luggage (that you’ve paid extra to check), at least you’ll have plenty of your own shampoo and toothpaste.

To read the full USA Today story, click here.


It's not "junk mail," but recycle it anyway

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I usually delete most of the press releases that come into my inbox — sorry, PR folks — but this one from the Postal Service caught my eye.

It’s about recycling boxes being installed in post offices, near the P.O. boxes:

The PO Box Lobby Recycling program places secure recycling bins in Post Office lobbies. All bins are locked with a key and the opening is slim — about the width of a news magazine. PO Box customers are encouraged to remove and open their mail (read), take whatever action is necessary (respond) and simply place the rest of their mail into the bin (recycle).

We ran a story earlier this month looking at the Postal Service’s worsening financial condition, and the impact that “do-not-mail” legislation would have. (Since the Postal Service depends on advertising mail for an ever-larger share of its revenue, the legislation would be crippling.)

I interviewed several experts from the mailing industry who said most customers read their advertising mail, and denied that many Americans consider it “junk mail.”

But if the Postal Service is encouraging customers to recycle their mail — before they even get it home — maybe there is a lot of unwanted mail out there…

(Or, as Elise suggested, there could just be a huge littering problem at post offices?)

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The award no one wants

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That’s the title of Porker of the Month, awarded by Citizens Against Government Waste to the government official they deemed has most egregiously wasted taxpayer money in the past month.

October’s Porker of the Month is Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin, who spent $355,000 to sponsor a NASCAR driver to promote the upcoming digital television transition. In a press release, the organization said the spending is especially wasteful considering the FCC has flooded television channels with paid advertisements for months in advance of the February 2009 switch.

“This doesn’t seem like the most efficient use of resources,” said FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein of sponsoring the number 38 car of David Gilliland.

Citizens Against Government Waste also questioned if Martin, of North Carolina, had ulterior motives in sponsoring Gilliand’s Yates Racing car, which is based in North Carolina. They questioned whether Martin was using FCC money to spread his name recognition in preparation for a potential political career in North Carolina after his time’s up on the FCC.

To read the full release, click here.