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The contractors doth protest too much?

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Contractor protests of government contract awards rose 17 percent in 2008, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last week.

GAO received 1,652 cases in 2008, up from 1,411 in 2007.

At least some of the increase is due to GAO’s expanded jurisdiction over orders placed under existing multi-vendor contracts, public-private competition decisions and Transportation Security Administration contracts. These new areas of authority brought in 87 cases to the office this year. If these cases are excluded from the calculations, protests only increased 11 percent in 2008, GAO said.

We reported in September that protests of competitive sourcing decisions were contributing to a burgeoning caseload at GAO. Read the rest of this entry »

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NASA releases lessons learned from Columbia

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NASA released a report today detailing the last moments of the seven astronauts who died when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentry in February 2003.

The report, written by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, said that nothing could have been done to save the crew. But the board used lessons from the accident to make recommendations to NASA about how to improve to flight vehicles, equipment and training to increase the chances astronauts could survive a future accident. Read the rest of this entry »

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On the Move: Changes at the Public Building Service

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A long-time career employee will run the government’s largest real estate provider, the General Services Administration announced Monday.

Anthony Costa, the Public Buildings Service’s deputy commissioner and highest ranking career federal employee, took over on Sunday and will presumably serve as acting commissioner until the incoming Obama administration names its pick to lead PBS.

As acting administrator, Costa will manage GSA’s building portfolio of 8,600 leased and owned federal facilities. He takes over from political appointee, David Winstead, who ran the service since Oct. 2005. Costa previously served as acting commissioner in the two months prior to Winstead’s 2005 appointment.

Update: Winstead left GSA on Dec. 26 to return to private practice. Before joining GSA he was a Washington attorney specializing in real estate, public law and procurement.

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While You Were Out: Report Roundup

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If you, like me, were off last week perfecting Grandma’s octopus recipe for one of the many holiday celebrations, here is a roundup of a few fascinating government reports that were released.

Incase you missed it:

  • The Government Accountability Office published an assessment of how the Homeland Security Department distributes grant dollars. It found that DHS’s three-step evaluation process that weighs the risk of terrorism and the effectiveness of the applicant’s proposals is a reasonable way to determine how to distribute funds.
  • The Homeland Security Inspector General released a report about the acquisition work force at FEMA. While the agency has grown the size of its acquisition work force and improved training, the acquisition work force is still not prepared to respond to disasters that result in mass casualties or damage.
  • The Office of Management and Budget issued a report on how fast the government processes security clearances. The average time to process a security clearance is down to 82 days in fiscal 2008 from 265 days in 2005. The government is working toward achieving a 60 day processing goal by December 2009.

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While You Were Out: Can we kick that cliche now?

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The General Services Administration issued a rule last week that effectively ended the relevance of that old cliché about government decisions being made in smoke-filled rooms.

The rule, published in the Federal Register on Dec. 22, closed smoking rooms in all federal buildings owned or leased by GSA. It also prohibited smoking in building courtyards and within 25 feet of doorways or air intake ducts. Agencies will implement the rule over the next six months.

While this will undoubtedly change federal culture for many, FedLine wonders if it will change the lexicon of political expression. Somehow saying decisions were made in smoke-free rooms doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Perhaps we’ll just start using “backroom deals” more frequently as a replacement cliché. Or maybe this will spur us to make a New Year’s resolution to kick the cliché habit all together.

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Chertoff speaks to…the Onion?

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We at Federal Times had an enlightening editorial board meeting at our offices earlier this month with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, which resulted in several interesting stories. But the crack staff at the Onion appears to have scooped us on the real story:

How did we miss this story?

How did we miss this story?

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NSPS pay raise cheat sheet

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If you’re one of the 187,000 employees under the Defense Department’s performance-based pay system, figuring out how much your raise is going to be next year is sort of like doing your taxes — only worse. There’s no Turbo Tax equivalent for the National Security Personnel System.

Luckily (we think), the helpful folks at the Pentagon have just come out with a fact sheet that attempts to bring clarity to the complex pay formula that’s used to determine raises.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Clinton gets a little company at State

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President-elect Barack Obama today named two deputies to serve under Hillary Clinton at the State Department.

James Steinberg and Jacob Lew will serve as deputy secretaries of State under Clinton. Steinberg is expected to be Clinton’s top advisor on policy issues, while Lew’s chief task will be securing additional financing for the diplomatic corps. Both nominations are subject to Senate confirmation, as is Clinton’s.

Steinberg and Lew both held key policy positions under President Clinton. Steinberg was deputy national security advisor from December 1996 to August 2000 and previously held leadership positions in the State Department. He currently is dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

Lew was director of the Office of Management and Budget from July 1998 until the end of the Clinton administration and previously served as deputy OMB director and special assistant to the president. He currently is managing director and chief operating offficer of financial management firm Citi Alternative Investments.

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Where have all the building projects gone?

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As we’re reporting in today’s Federal Times, dozens of federal building projects are on hold because of the worsening credit crisis.

The problem is especially severe for so-called build-to-suit lease projects, which are new facilities built to agency specifications and owned by private developers, then leased back to the government. The General Services Administration has nearly four dozen such projects on standby right now, some dating back five years.

Hours after we wrapped up this week’s issue on Friday, the General Services Administration provided us an updated list of the projects that are on hold.  Most of the buildings are for the FBI, but a number of other agencies are affected too.

It just goes to show that no one, not even the federal government, is immune to the slumping economy.

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Law and Order, Federal Unit: Safavian Convicted Again (thunk, thunk)

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David Safavian, the former Bush administration official and friend of Jack Abramoff, has been convicted for the second time on charges he lied to investigators about his relationship with the corrupt lobbyist.

A jury convicted him Friday on one count of obstructing justice and three counts of making false statements to federal investigators, according to the Associated Press.

Safavian accepted an extravagant golf trip to Scotland from Abramoff while Safavian was chief of staff at the General Services Administration. Although an ethics officer gave Safavian approval to go on the trip, he failed to tell the ethics officer – and later Congressional investigators – that Abramoff had told Safavian he was interested in two GSA-owned properties that were up for sale.

He was previously convicted on similar charges in 2006, but that conviction was overturned by the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia in June on grounds that he was under no obligation to reveal his business dealings with Abramoff to the government while getting advice from an ethics officer.

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