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Clinton nomination a Constitutional quandary

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An obscure provision in the U.S. Constitution poses a potential roadblock on Sen. Hillary Clinton’s path to becoming Secretary of State.

It turns out that the Constitution (specifically Article I, Section 6) prohibits a lawmaker from taking any goverment job for which the salary was raised during the lawmaker’s elected term. As the Washington Post and numerous bloggers have noted, this would effectively preclude Clinton from taking the State Department gig. Salaries for Cabinet secretaries have been increased twice since Clinton started her second term as the junior New York senator in January 2007: to $191,300 in January 2008 and to $196,700 this coming January.

But it turns out lawmakers already have devised a way around the sticky Constitutional quandary. They can pass a measure stipulating that Clinton will take the job at the salary that was in place when she began her current term: $186,600. There’s even a name for the workaround: “The Saxbe Fix,” so named after a similar situation in 1973 when President Nixon nominated Ohio Sen. William Saxbe to be his attorney general.

This solution likely would rub strict constitutionalists the wrong way, but look at the upside: By taking the job at a reduced salary, Clinton would be a step ahead of the game in helping her new boss fulfill a campaign pledge to cut government spending.

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Wednesday is the New Friday Fun Facts: Thanksgiving Edition

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Thanksgiving is tomorrow. Let’s talk turkey shall we?

How about 271 million turkeys for starters? That’s the number of turkeys that were raised in the U.S. since last Turkey Day, according to the Census Bureau, the keeper of all fun facts. According to Census the average American consumes 13.3 pounds annually.

Here’s what else Census has to say about other Thanksgiving eats:

  • The U.S. cranberry industry produced 689 million pounds of cranberries this year, up 5 percent from last year. And surprise, Wisconsin, not Massachusetts, leads the nation in cranberry production.
  • Approximately 1.8 million pounds of sweet potatoes were harvested in 2007. (Bonus: Per capita sweet potato consumption is 4.6 pounds).
  • A total of 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins were produced for all those pies we’ll be consuming.
  • And finally: 769,760 tons of green beans were harvested this year, perfect for those casseroles.

Bonus fun fact: TSA says you can bring your pumpkin (or other flavor) pie as a carry on for your holiday flights, provided you agree to put it through the x-ray machine. Apparently pie is neither liquid nor gel, just 100 percent solid yummy goodness.

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Get ready for transition…to SmartPay2

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Attention government travelers, buyers and drivers: You may be immersed in the presidential transition (and have plans to flee work for the holiday weekend), but don’t forget this weekend is another transition…to the new government purchase, travel and fleet charge cards.

At 11:59 p.m. Nov. 29 your old SmartPay cards will be useless, so be sure to have the new cards at the ready. That’s what David Shea, director of the General Services Administration’s SmartPay 2 program, tells us here at FedLine.

Shea has these tips for feds who may be working this holiday weekend and need to use their cards:

  • Activate the new card in advance of the Nov. 29 deadline.
  • If you are going on travel, bring both cards with you to avoid getting stuck with an inactive card.
  • Have the number for your agency’s card manager handy in case you run into trouble.

Shea expects that there will be few problems with transition this weekend. The last agencies to make their choice of card providers did so back in July, meaning there was plenty of time for cards to arrive and new accounting systems to be installed. Also, the holiday weekend means there will be little activity over the transition period.

But with more than 3 million purchase, travel and fleet cards mailed to federal employees across the nation, there are likely to be some hiccups along the way, Shea said. That’s why he and his staff will be on call all weekend to put out any major card-related fires.

FedLine suspects he’ll also be collecting the wishbone from his Thanksgiving turkey for luck.

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Brennan bows out of CIA consideration

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MSNBC is reporting that John Brennan has just taken his name out of the running to be the next Director of Central Intelligence. Speculation that Brennan, a member of president-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, was a leading candidate to run the CIA sparked serious criticism from some who believed Brennan supported torturing terrorism suspects.

In today’s letter to Obama, Brennan firmly denied those accusations:

It has been immaterial to the critics that I have been a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush Administration such as the preemptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, to include waterboarding. The fact that I was not involved in the decisionmaking process for any of these controversial policies and actions has been ignored.

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Official picks at OMB

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12:06 PM: Obama reiterated his pledge to go “line-by-line” through the federal budget looking for failed programs:

Budget reform is not an option. It’s a necessity. We can’t sustain a system that bleeds billions of taxpayer dollars on programs that have outlived their usefulness. We simply can’t afford it.

12:00 PM: On top of yesterday’s economic team announcements, the president-elect made two more official nominations today:

  • As expected, Congressional Budget Office director Peter Orszag will take over as head of the Office of Management and Budget;
  • Rob Nabors, the staff director of the House Appropriations committee, will be Orszag’s deputy at OMB.

Obama is holding a press conference at noon ET; we’ll update with any interesting comments.

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Gimme shelter: More bad news for TSP investors

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This morning’s meeting of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board brought some sobering statistics on the Thrift Savings Plan’s performance in October. And investors continue to pull their money out of plummeting stock-based funds for the safety of the securities-backed G Fund, just as they have for most of 2008.

Unfortunately, there’s no certain relief in sight for the economic troubles that are dragging the TSP down. Yesterday Citigroup became the latest bank to receive financial assistance from the federal government. Stocks rose today with the news of Citigroup’s bailout, as well as president-elect Barack Obama’s proposal for a $700 billion jobs and stimulus package.

But the Washington Post quotes financial analysts as saying “today’s rally could be short lived:”

The Citigroup bailout is just the latest of several government efforts to stabilize the financial sector, they said. Each was met with a rally and followed by a sell-off as investors turned their attention to another weakness in another part of the economy or financial sector. Obama’s proposed bailout will take months to pass and even longer to implement, they said.

“I hope this lasts, but I wouldn’t hang my hat on it,” said Win Thin, senior currency strategist for New York-based Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.

How is the ongoing economic crisis affecting your retirement plans? Are you delaying your retirement, or scaling back your expectations? We’d like to hear from you. Send me an e-mail at slosey@federaltimes.com, or post a comment below.

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Stopping the clock on midnight regulations

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Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has introduced a bill which would freeze the “midnight rulemaking” that takes place at the end of an administration.

The bill, H.R. 7296, would impact any regulation adopted in the final 90 days of a presidency. It would prevent those rules from taking effect until 90 days after the new president appoints a new agency head. So if the incoming president doesn’t like a new rule at, say, the Interior Department, his new Interior secretary could cancel the rule within 90 days of taking office.

It’s an interesting idea, though it seems to us a bit short-sighted:

Right now, there’s a rush to adopt new rules in mid-November. That’s because any rule adopted 60 days before the inauguration will take effect before the new president takes office.

Wouldn’t Nadler’s bill just accelerate that deadline by a month?

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Obama unveils his economic team

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12:27 PM: Obama pledged more “transparency and accountability” for the government’s rescue efforts under his administration.

12:18 PM: Obama called on the next Congress to put together an economic stimulus plan in January; he also promised to unveil proposals from his economic team in the next few weeks. Obama also acknowledged that any government stimulus plan could require cuts to other government programs:

We’ll have to scour our federal budget, line by line, and make meaningful cuts and sacrifices.

12:10 PM: Not that it was much of a secret, but now it’s official. The president-elect just finished his speech at a press conference at the Chicago Hilton. His picks:

  • New York Federal Reserve president Timothy Geithner will be his pick for Treasury secretary;
  • Harvard professor and former Clinton Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers will head the National Economic Council;
  • Christina Romer will chair the Council of Economic Advisers;
  • Melody Barnes will direct the Domestic Policy Council.

The new Treasury secretary will have two big tasks: First, adding some transparency to the government’s trillions of dollars worth of bailouts, which have been kept very secretive by current Treasury secretary Henry Paulson; and second, reforming the nation’s failed financial regulators.

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Tracking the transition: Geithner to head Treasury

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NBC News today reported that Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, will likely be Barack Obama’s Treasury Secretary. Along with current Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Geithner has been a central figure in formulating the government’s response to the recent economic turmoil.

The choice of Geithner may have boosted confidence on Wall Street. In the last hour of trading, stocks shot up and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up nearly 500 points at its close.

The Washington Post has this to say about Geithner:

Geithner, who is 47, is most closely aligned with Clinton-era economics, having previously worked at Treasury under Clinton secretaries Bob Rubin and Larry Summers.

But he is thought of as an economic centrist. [...] Prior to Treasury, Geithner worked at the IMF and with Henry Kissinger at his consulting firm.

Read the rest of this entry »

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On the Move: Karen Pica

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Karen Pica, head of the Federal Acquisition Institute, is moving to the Office of Management and Budget, FedLine has learned.

While at FAI, the government’s school for training civilian procurement personnel, Pica has been a leader in acquisition work force recruitment and retention efforts. During her tenure, she worked with OMB to launch a Federal Acquisition Intern Coalition to recruit and train new hires to be contracting officers.

FedLine is told that Pica will continue to focus on solving the shortfalls in the acquisition work force as a policy analyst for OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

No word yet on who will replace Pica at FAI. As always, we’ll keep you posted.

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