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Obama again calls for 2.0 percent pay raise

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President Barack Obama today sent a letter to Congress reiterating his call for a 2.0 percent pay raise for federal employees in January.

Obama said that the ailing economy, increasing demands on the federal government and the ongoing terrorist threat are straining the federal budget. And since the federal government’s attrition continues to be relatively low, Obama said it will be tough to justify a larger pay raise.

The letter is something of a formality. In the unlikely event that Congress forgets to pass a federal pay raise, last year’s increase in the Employment Cost Index (which was 2.9 percent) would automatically become the average pay raise for federal employees unless the president sends Congress a letter setting an alternative pay raise.

But while it’s doubtful that Congress will cede its raise-setting power, Obama’s letter could give more strength to the House lawmakers who in July approved a 2.0 percent pay raise next year. The Senate, on the other hand, is pushing for a 2.9 percent raise.

National Treasury Employees Union National President Colleen Kelley, however, is not happy:

Read the rest of this entry »

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DOT funds small business recovery with recovery funds

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I recently reported that the Small Business Administration and the Commerce Department were planning to participate in more than 200 events boost small businesses contracting under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

But it looks like those agencies aren’t the only ones working to ensure small businesses benefit from stimulus spending. The Transportation Department announced today that it has dedicated $20 million in Recovery Act funds to create a “Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Bonding Assistance Program.”

The program, which is run by the department’s Office of Small Disadvantaged Business Utilization, allows small and disadvantaged businesses to apply for reimbursements for the bonding premiums and fees they pay when competing for transportation infrastructure projects, according to a department news release.

The program will help small and disadvantaged businesses better compete for Recovery Act-funded transportation projects by helping them get access to the money they need to participate in government contracting.

“These Recovery dollars will help level the playing field so these companies have the tools and resources they need to compete,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in the news release.

The announcements come just as SBA reported that agencies missed their 23 percent small business spending goal for the third year running. Last year, agencies spent approximately $94 billion, or 21.5 percent, of their contracting dollars through small businesses. The Obama administration said it hoped to reach those goals through improved education and outreach to small businesses and federal agencies.

For those readers who want to know when and where SBA and Commerce are holding or participating in events, I’m told SBA is compiling the list and will post it on the SBA Web site soon.

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Want to design a coin?

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If you have artistic ability, perhaps you can make your mark on U.S. currency.

The new Lincoln bicentennial pennies were designed by U.S. Mint artists.

The new Lincoln bicentennial pennies were designed by U.S. Mint-affiliated artists.

The U.S. Mint is searching for as many as six new designers to join its Artistic Infusion Program, whose members have designed several high-profile coins, such as the 2009 Lincoln bicentennial pennies.

Applicants can apply online here, where they will need to submit five to 10 artistic works, a resume and a statement. They will be judged on several factors, including compositional skills, drawing ability and “the level to which the design demonstrates research of the subject matter,” states a U.S. Mint news release.

AIP artists are also paid for their work, including receiving $5,000 if their designs are selected for a coin or medal. Should an artist’s work be selected for a coin or medal, the artist will be credited in historical documents and promotional materials.

Applications will be accepted starting Sept. 1. There will be three rolling deadlines: Nov. 9,; March 8, 2010; and July 6, 2010.

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John Gage wins third term as AFGE president

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The American Federation of Government Employees yesterday re-elected John Gage to a third three-year term as national president.

“There is much to do on behalf of federal workers,” Gage told delegates to AFGE’s national convention in Reno after he was sworn in Aug. 27. “Our focus is now on the midterm congressional elections and making sure the American people have the public services they deserve. We plan to help elect a Congress with men and women who are actually responsive to the needs of the American people, particularly the nation’s working families.”

Delegates also re-elected J. David Cox as national secretary-treasurer, and chose Augusta Thomas to be their new national vice president for women’s and fair practices department. Andrea Brooks, AFGE’s former national vice president, passed away on April 26.

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Fed Times on the air: Interview with News Channel 8

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I paid a visit to the Washington-area cable program Federal News Tonight last evening to talk about the future of the National Security Personnel System. Take a look:

I usually appear once a month on Federal News Tonight to discuss the latest in federal personnel matters, and from here on in, we’ll be posting my interviews the following morning. Keep checking back for more.

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There is always Hope

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The Hope Diamond is about to get a makeover.

The Hope Diamond is about to get a makeover.

There are few things as enduring as a diamond. And the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History is one of the most famous. But even icons need a little sprucing up from time to time.

To celebrate the golden anniversary of the museum’s acquisition of the 45.52 karat blue diamond, the jewelers at Harry Winston will give it a new setting meant to depict the concept of America hope, the Smithsonian announced last week. And the American public gets to decide which design the rock will rock.

Which would you choose?

Which would you choose? (Click image for a better look)

The resetting of the stone is part of a Smithsonian Channel documentary about the blue diamond’s history, “Mystery of the Hope Diamond,” which will air in March.

And a fascinating history it has. According to legend, there is a curse that has led to tragedy for anyone who has owned the stone. As a result some believe the diamond’s curse is connected to the fall of the French monarchy and the many tragedies in the life the American socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean, who owned it before it was sold to Harry Winston in 1949. Winston donated the stone to the Smithsonian in 1958.

You can vote on the new setting here. Voting ends Sept. 7. But Hope Diamond purists, do not despair. The resetting of the stone is only temporary. It will return to its current setting by the end of 2010.

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USPS incentives, ctd.

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Thanks for the overwhelming response about the Postal Service’s buyout plan — can’t respond individually to every one, but I appreciate all of the letters and comments. I’ll be contacting a few of you individually for a story I’m working on, and I’ll post some of the better responses (w/o names) on here later today.

For now, keep ‘em coming.

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The more things change…

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This weekend I took a trip to Ellis Island, which is operated by the National Park Service, in New York City.

While I expected to discover quite a bit about the conditions my ancestors endured when they passed through there in the early 1900s, I did not expect to discover a government contracting story that seems to prove the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

According to an exhibit at the history of the immigration station, after the original complex of wooden buildings burned to the ground in 1897, the Treasury Department ran a competition for a “fireproof” (masonry) building. With the contract awarded to the firm Boring and Tilton, Ellis Island became the first federal facility to be designed under the competitive procedures prescribed by the Tarnsey Act. The act allowed private contractors to design federally owned structures.

The exhibit also highlighted a couple of contracting problems that persist in government contracting to this day. Specifically, Ellis Island came in behind schedule and didn’t meet the needs of the workers there.

Construction began in September 1898 and was supposed to take 12 months, but, according to the exhibit:

Strikes, contract disputes, and a lack of skilled workmen delayed the opening of Ellis Island’s new buildings until December 17, 1900.”

In addition:

Officials working on Ellis Island complained about the building’s design and construction…Designed to meet the needs of 500,000 immigrants each year, Ellis Island actually had to accommodate hundreds of thousands more. Over the next quarter century, the island’s facilities, despite periodic additions, were sorely taxed by the growing surge of immigration.”

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USPS offers incentives; will you take them?

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Two questions for our readers at the Postal Service, following up on this afternoon’s announcement that USPS will offer buyouts to tens of thousands of employees.

First, I’ve been getting e-mails for at least a year from postal workers who said they would consider retiring early if the Postal Service offered an incentive. That incentive is here now, in the form of a $15,000 payout over 12 months. Is it enough? Will you take it?

Second, maybe you read this story I wrote in April after interviewing Postmaster General John Potter. It includes the following:

The Postal Service’s last round of early retirements did not include incentives. And Potter said incentives are not realistic this year, either.

“Our employees would love some kind of a windfall, but the fact is, we can’t afford to,” Potter said.

Less than five months later, USPS has done an about-face. In between Potter’s statement and today, though, some 2,500 postal workers accepted early retirement offers that did not include incentives. Are you one of those employees? Are you frustrated that you accepted the no-incentive offer?

Interested to hear from you, via e-mail or in the comments.

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NSPS chief Bunn to be HR director at DLA

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The Pentagon said today that Brad Bunn, the program executive officer for the beleaguered National Security Personnel System, will be moving to the Defense Logistics Agency to be its human resources director.

The move was announced hours after the Defense Business Board issued a final report recommending the Pentagon “reconstruct” NSPS. Bunn’s move means that new blood will oversee the effort to break the mammoth, highly controversial pay-for-performance system down to its core elements and build it up again.

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