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Executive tip of the day: banana peels

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OK, readers: You’re about to head out to an important meeting with agency brass, wearing your finest business suit, when you realize your dress shoes are all scuffed up — and you’re fresh out of shoe polish.  What’s an executive to do?

Two words: banana peels.

No, we’re not smokin’ them. Apparently, the oils and potassium found naturally in banana skins can give shoes a military spit shine in a fraction of the time — and it’s environmentally friendly, to boot!

Our newest favorite website, VideoJug, gives step-by-step instructions in hilarious detail. We’ve posted the tutorial below for your Friday viewing pleasure.

Clean Green:How To Polish Shoes With A Banana

Full disclosure: Fedline hasn’t worn shoes worthy of shining since the first President Bush left office, so we can’t vouch for the technique. Try at your own risk — and report back the results.

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Some employees of the National Science Foundation (NSF)  have been using their government computers to look at materials that are decidedly not safe for work (NSFW). And that has caught the eye of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

Grassley has launched an investigation into the misuse of computers at the agency after the NSF’s inspector general reported in December that it investigated six employees for downloading, viewing, saving and sharing pornographic videos and images at work.

On his blog, Grassley said:

This report raises real questions about how the National Science Foundation manages its resources, and Congress ought to demand a full accounting before it gives the agency billions of dollars in the stimulus bill.

In one case cited by the IG, a senior agency official, who is not named, spent 20 percent of his official work time viewing sexually explicit images and in sexually explicit online conversations. The IG estimated that employee alone cost the agency $58,000 in lost work time. The employee has been fired, according to the report.

The IG found that all six employees had the appropriate training on NSF computer use policy, which forbids viewing pornography or offensive materials on office computers. But the agency did not have a filter, as most agencies do, to prevent such viewing. A filter has since been installed, according to the report.

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The light bulb dilemma: Save energy or save the planet?

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Sure, replacing those 60-watt incandescent light bulbs with lower-wattage compact fluorescent alternatives cuts energy use. But are they harming the environment in the process?

CFLs: Earth's friend or foe?

CFLs: Friend or foe?

That’s the question one insightful Pennsylvania resident posed to the Environmental Protection Agency recently. The spiral-shaped CFLs contain the toxic chemical mercury, which makes them dangerous to land, water and animals if not disposed of properly. “Should we be more concerned with energy saving or mercury hazards?” the woman asked.

CFLs contain a trace amount of mercury — five milligrams — which would fit on the tip of a ballpoint pen, said Dan Gallo, EPA’s electronics recycling specialist, who responded to the question. It would take 100 bulbs to equal the amount of mercury contained in one of the old thermometers, Gallo said.

The benefits of lower energy consumption — CFLs use 75 percent less electricity than traditional bulbs — outweigh the environmental disadvantages, Gallo said.

Still, safely disposing of the bulbs is important — especially as federal agencies and other energy-conscious businesses and consumers begin buying more CFLs to reduce their electricity use. Several national retailers accept the bulbs for recycling, including Ace Hardware, IKEA and Home Depot. Most local landfills also accept the bulbs as part of their hazardous waste disposal programs.

In a pinch, EPA says you can place the fluorescent light bulb in two plastic bags and seal it before putting it into the outside trash. Just don’t tell the plastic bag recycling advocates.

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Another delay on the contractor E-Verify rule

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We reported earlier this month that the Homeland Security Department was delaying implementation of its rule requiring contractors to use E-Verify. The delay was scheduled to last until Feb. 20.

Today, DHS announced another delay: Contractors won’t have to use the system until May 21, according to this Federal Register notice.

Industry groups sued the department over the rule, claiming it imposes an undue burden on contractors.

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The automakers might disagree…

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On ABC World News last night, reporter Jonathan Karl said this about the stimulus package:

But Republicans say the bill is filled with old-fashioned big-government spending that won’t stimulate the economy. For example, $335 million for sexually transmitted disease prevention, $600 million to buy new cars for government employees, and $1 billion to follow up on the 2010 Census, which, of course, hasn’t happened yet.

You can argue that $1 billion for the 2010 Census isn’t stimulative. We’ll buy that. But do some Congressmen really believe spending $600 million to upgrade the federal fleet (read: buying new cars) won’t help the economy?

The automakers might beg to differ.

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New panel watching contracting

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Watch out contractors.  Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is keeping her eye on you.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee announced she will be the chair of a new, ad hoc contracting oversight subcommittee.

And McCaskill, a former prosecutor and state auditor, has come out swinging:

We all know that outrageous contracting abuses occur in every facet of government. I can’t wait to get to work saving huge money for taxpayers.

Fun Fact: Last year government spent more than $530 billion through contracts.

Salazar: Reopen criminal investigation at MMS

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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is asking the Justice Department to review ethical scandals at the department and considering an overhaul of the Minerals Management Service’s royalty program.

Salazar made the announcement after a meeting with MMS employees at the agency’s offices in Lakewood, Colo. The agency was the subject of scandal in September: A report from the department’s inspector general highlighted illegal drug use by employees and a cozy relationship with the energy companies MMS regulates.

MMS is responsible for collecting royalties from oil and gas projects on federal lands.

Justice decided not to prosecute two high-ranking employees cited in the report, and they couldn’t be punished internally because they had already left the agency. Salazar is asking the Justice Department to review that decision; he also wants Interior to review the personnel actions it took against employees who still work for MMS.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Bill proposes more FDA inspections overseas

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As the Food and Drug Administration issues a massive recall of peanut products, a new bill could give the FDA stronger investigative powers.

HR 758, the FDA Globalization Act, was introduced Wednesday by Reps. John Dingell, D-Mich., Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and Frank Pallone, D-N.J.

The bill would require foreign factories that produce drugs and medical devices to be inspected at least every two years, the standard for domestic companies. New fees on imports would help pay for more inspections, and the bill would also give the FDA more room to impose larger fines on companies for faulty imported and domestic products.

In a statement, Dingell said,

“Every few months brings another crisis — E. coli in spinach, contaminated heparin, tainted peppers, and now salmonella in peanut butter that has killed eight people and sickened more than 483 people. The time to act is now.”

The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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Intel committee approves Blair

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The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence yesterday approved Adm. Dennis Blair’s nomination to be the nation’s third Director of National Intelligence. The vote was unanimous.

The full Senate plans to weigh in on Blair’s nomination soon, though a date has not yet been set for the vote. He is expected to be confirmed.

Blair will replace Michael McConnell, who resigned Jan. 27.

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Better TARP oversight at GAO?

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We’ve written before about the lack of oversight in the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Things have improved a bit — the special inspector general, Neil Barofsky, seems extremely capable, and President Obama has promised more transparency — but we still don’t know much about how companies are spending money received through TARP.

But there’s news of another encouraging step, a bill introduced by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Max Baucus, D-Mont.:

The bill introduced today – the Troubled Asset Relief Program Enhancement Act – would require any private entity that receives federal funds through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to give the GAO access to its books and records.

GAO is required to issue a report on the TARP (so many acronyms!) every 60 days. They’ve generally been critical of the program.

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