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Another 100 Day Milestone

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The Recovery Act has been in place for 100 days today. To celebrate, the White House published this report today highlighting the effects of 100 projects funded through the act.

Already $112 billion in funds have been spent and over 150,000 jobs created, according to the White House.

The White House is currently working on a roadmap for the next 100 days and in October plans to post detailed spending information on Recovery.gov, according to the White House blog.


WSJ: "Democratized intelligence" through Google Earth

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The intelligence community has talked about using open-source data for years, but a George Mason University doctoral candidate and his cohorts are taking the concept to the next level. The Wall Street Journal last week reported that Curtis Melvin and about a dozen other “citizen snoops” — some of whom are former military analysts — have spent the last two years using Google Earth’s satellite images to map out the infrastructure of North Korea.

It’s not easy, since North Korea is perhaps the most secretive country on the planet. Melvin and others sift through news reports, photographs and eyewitness accounts, and then try to match landmarks to the satellite photos from Google Earth. They’ve pinpointed what they believe are nuclear reactors, nuclear missile sites, transportation and electrical infrastructure, more than 1,200 dams, 47 restaurants, palaces and a water slide for Kim Jong Il and other North Korean leaders, and the country’s massive gulags:

Joshua Stanton, an attorney in Washington who once served in the U.S. military in South Korea, used Google Earth to look for one of the country’s notorious prisons. In early 2007, he read an international news report about a mass escape from Camp 16, which the report mentioned was near the site of a nuclear test conducted the year before.

No pictures of Camp 16 are believed to have been seen outside the country. But Mr. Stanton had pored over defector sketches of it and combed the map for familiar structures. “I realized I had already noticed the guard posts” on Google Earth the previous year for the nuclear test site, he says.

Mr. Stanton traced what he believed is Camp 16′s boundary, enclosing nearly 300 square miles, and those of other large North Korean prisons and shared them with Mr. Melvin. The fences aren’t easy to follow because they go over mountain ridges, he says. But satellite images often reveal gaps in the vegetation along the fence line, because trees are cleared on either side to prevent people from climbing over.

The project, North Korea Uncovered, can be downloaded here.

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Two civil servants and a soldier killed in Iraq

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Two civil servants and a soldier were killed in Iraq Monday by a roadside bomb near Fallujah, the Associated Press reported today.

State Department employee Terrence Barnich, 56, was the deputy director of the Iraq Transition Assistance Office, which oversees reconstruction projects in Iraq. He was killed alongside a U.S. soldier and a Defense Department civilian employee working for the embassy in Baghdad. Two others were injured. The other victims have not yet been named.

On this day after Memorial Day, it reminds us all of the sacrifices being made by civil servants, as well as the military, to bring peace and stability to Iraq.

Making the case

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Deadline day around here and things are a bit busy, but I wanted to comment on an FDA appropriations hearing I covered this morning.

The agency is getting a huge boost in the president’s 2010 budget proposal — $511 million, or 19 percent. Much of that money will pay for more than 1,200 new hires. That means a 30 percent staffing boost over two years, when you include the 1,500 new employees hired this year.

The numbers prompted some back-and-forth with legislators, as you might expect. A few Republicans thought they were too large; Democrats hinted they might be too small.

But the Goldilocks-esque search for a middle ground can seem very arbitrary. The FDA says, for example, that it needs money to hire 220 new food safety investigators, which will allow it to conduct 4,000 additional inspections every year. But why is 4,000 the right number? Why not 3,000, or 5,000, or 10,000?

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Working for the weekend

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A few odds and ends from today’s House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing about the Postal Service’s deteriorating financial condition — the latest in a continuing series (at least the third hearing this year, by my count).

We broke the news in February that the Postal Service wanted permission to switch to 5-day delivery. But there’s been some debate over which day would be cut — Tuesday? Saturday? William Galligan, the Postal Service’s senior vice president for operations, answered that question: it would be Saturday.

I believe the six-day frequency, which is essentially [cutting] the Saturday delivery day, it’s not a question of if but when.

Tuesday is actually a lower-volume mail day than Saturday, but the logistics of ending Tuesday delivery are complicated. Carriers, for example, would have a split Sunday-Tuesday weekend if the Postal Service ended Tuesday delivery; I can’t imagine that would be popular.

But post offices would stay open on Saturdays, Galligan said, because for many customers Saturday is the only day they can get to a post office.

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Orszag: Poor performers need a plan

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I’m at the release event for the Partnership for Public Service’s 2009 “Best Places to Work” report, which measures employee satisfaction at agencies across the government. We’ve got a quick summary of the results, and you can view the whole survey (which contains lots of interesting data) here.

One interesting point: OMB director Peter Orszag just gave a quick speech, and he said this about the survey results:

We will be looking to include the results in the fiscal year 2011 budget process, because we should not just let this be a report that generates a one-day news story. It needs to be something that is built into the way we run government.

Orszag went on to say that OMB will ask the poorly-performing agencies to come up with a plan for improving their scores.

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Breach at Archives threatens Clinton records

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More than 100,000 Social Security numbers as well as Secret Service and White House operating procedures are on a hard drive missing from the National Archives and Records Administration.

NARA’s inspector general briefed members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Tuesday about the national security information breach at the administration’s College Park, Md., facility.
The drive contains one terabyte of data from Clinton administration records, according to a news release from the committee’s Republican staff, including:

  • 100,000 Social Security numbers, including one of then-Vice President Al Gore’s daughters,
  • Contact information, including addresses, for Clinton administration officials,
  • Secret Service and White House operating procedures,
  • Event logs and social gather logs,
  • Political records and other sensitive administration.

One terabyte is the equivalent to millions of books, said the IG. The loss occurred between October 2008 and March 2009, according to the Republican news release. Officials have not determined if the loss is a result of theft of accident, and the Secret Service is investigating.

The FBI is also investigating, according to a news release from Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y.

“The committee will do everything possible to prevent compromising the integrity of the FBI’s criminal investigation while we fulfill our constitutional duty to investigate the compromised security protocols at the National Archives and work to prevent future incidents,” Towns said.

For more on this story, check back with Federal Times.

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Senate confirms FDA leader, other nominees

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The Senate approved more than a dozen nominees Monday, including the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

  • Margaret Hamburg to be FDA commissioner, Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Roger Baker to be an assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs.
  • Charles Blanchard to be general counsel of the Air Force.
  • William Gunn to be general counsel of the VA.
  • Thomas Lamont to be an assistant secretary of the Army.
  • Raymond Mabus, Jr. to be secretary of the Navy.
  • Daniel Poneman to be deputy Energy secretary.
  • Jose Riojas to be an assistant secretary of the VA.
  • David Sandalow to be an assistant Energy secretary.
  • John Sepulveda to be an assistant secretary of the VA.
  • Paul Stockton to be an assistant Defense secretary.
  • Rhea Suh to be an assistant Interior secretary.
  • Andrew Weber to be assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Chemical and Biological Defense Programs.
  • Neal Wolin to be deputy secretary of the Treasury.
  • Robert Work to be undersecretary of the Navy.

All were confirmed by voice vote.

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Obama names new CDC director

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Dr. Thomas Frieden, commissioner of the New York City Health Department, will be the new director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President Barack Obama announced Friday.

He will replace acting CDC Director Dr. Rich Besser, who will return to his role leading the CDC’s Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response.

Please visit Federal Times for updates on this story.

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Things I didn't know government did: Certify TV prizes are green

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As a condo dweller with precious little outdoor space, I naturally love Home and Garden Television (HGTV). And like many network viewers, I’ve drooled over the spacious HGTV “Green Home” in Port St. Lucie, Fla., which the network is raffling off. But I did not realize the home had a government connection: It’s EPA certified!

I also didn’t know EPA certified TV prizes, but according to this EPA press release the home has “earned EPA’s Indoor AirPlus and Energy Star labels.”