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'Frustrated' unions say failure to kill NSPS 'illogical,' 'baffling'

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The American Federation of Government Employees wasted no time in firing back at the Defense Business Board task group’s final report on the National Security Personnel System, and its recommendation to rebuild — but not abolish — the controversial system. In a letter sent to the task group less than an hour after the report was posted online, AFGE President John Gage said the decision to drastically reform NSPS left the union “perplexed, angered and frustrated:”

The recommendation to keep NSPS is illogical and does not flow from your findings. The task group has miscalculated the intensity of hatred toward this system. [...] We wonder why DoD isn’t holding those responsible for NSPS accountable and terminating them for this colossal failure. Instead, the task group asks them to try again, while the employees continue to suffer and many good employees lose money. [...]

The evidence of complete failure and serious injustice to many loyal, hard-working DoD employees is overwhelming. It leads to no other conclusion that termination.

Read the rest of this entry »

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USPS to offer early retirement incentives

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Update: 4:27 p.m.: We’ve got a story posted about this over on the mothership. And APWU has details on who, exactly, qualifies for retirement/early retirement under this buyout program. If you don’t quality for either, again, you can still take the $15,000 incentive and resign from the Postal Service

Update, 2:43 p.m.: Just to clarify, the offer will be extended to a) employees already eligible for retirement, b) employees who were eligible for previous early retirement programs and declined them, and c) any employee represented by APWU or NPMHU who wants to take the $15,000 and leave the Postal Service, according to postal spokeswoman Yvonne Yoerger.

In that last case, I guess it becomes more of a buyout program instead of an early retirement program.

Original post: Just in from USPS: The Postal Service will offer early retirement packages to 30,000 employees over the next few months — and, for the first time, the packages will include incentives to retire.

Eligible employees would receive a $10,000 payment in the first three months of fiscal year 2010 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31 of this year), and a second payment of $5,000 at the beginning of fiscal year 2011. The deals will be offered to members of two unions, APWU and NPMHU.

The Postal Service has offered several rounds of early retirement offers before. Few employees accepted the offers; union leaders and rank-and-file workers complained that they wouldn’t accept early retirement without a financial incentive.

More details to come soon…

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Are you ready?

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National Preparedness Month starts next week. This year, in addition to stressing the necessary preparations for natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires, the focus will be on a new challenge: pandemic flu.

The H1N1 virus (the illness formerly known as swine flu) is expected to come back strong in the fall and agencies have to be prepared to continue operating in the event federal employees become infected, said Josh Sawislak, acting chief of the General Services Administration’s Office of Emergency Response and Recovery.

For GSA, pandemic preparation is more than making sure federal agencies have enough hand sanitizer to go around, Sawislak said. With a virus that spreads as quickly as H1N1, the agency will also have to ensure it quickly notifies tenants of federally owned and leased space when a fellow fed falls ill with H1N1, while protecting the privacy of the individual, he said.

Preparedness is also about making sure employees are up-to-date on their telework policies and training in case employees need to be quarantined or offices need to close to prevent the spread of the virus, Sawislak said in an interview. GSA sets telework policy for the government and runs telework centers for federal agencies.

“It’s important to be equipped and trained to do it and to have other people know how to work with [teleworkers] when they’re not in the office,” Sawislak said.

Sawislak and others will be dispensing this advice, along with personal and professional preparedness tips for pandemic flu and other emergencies, at training events throughout September.

“Embrace the boy scout motto and work hard to ‘be prepared,’” Sawislak said.

For more information on disaster and flu preparedness for your home and family, visit Ready.gov.

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Overpaid feds?

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Cato’s Chris Edwards thinks federal employees are overpaid (h/t Alyssa Rosenberg at GovExec’s blog):

In 2008, the average wage for 1.9 million federal civilian workers was $79,197, which compared to an average $49,935 for the nation’s 108 million private sector workers (measured in full-time equivalents). The figure shows that the federal pay advantage (the gap between the lines) is steadily increasing.

This is a pretty useless comparison.

66 percent of federal employees are in higher-paid “management, business, and financial” or “professional” jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only about 36 percent of private sector employees are in those categories.

That means the private sector has a much higher concentration of low-wage jobs, in areas like the service sector, which bring down average wages. The best example is Wal-Mart, the largest private-sector employer in the U.S., with more than 1.5 million employees. The most common jobs at Wal-Mart are “sales associates” and cashiers, both of them low-skill jobs that pay scarcely above minimum wage.

A more useful comparison would be to compare federal jobs directly to their private-sector counterparts. This is impossible in many cases, of course, since we don’t have many private air traffic controllers or Border Patrol agents.

So instead Edwards compares FAA air traffic controllers to Wal-Mart cashiers and complains that the former group is overpaid. Not very useful.

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CIA Director Panetta on his way out?

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CIA Director Leon Panetta

CIA Director Leon Panetta

ABC News today reported that strife is growing between CIA Director Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and the White House, and said Panetta might not be at Langley for much longer. The CIA and Obama administration are officially denying any shakeup, but ABC says Panetta let loose a profanity-laced tirade at the White House last month over the Justice Department’s possible investigation into CIA torture of terrorism suspects and threatened to quit. And that’s not all:

In addition to concerns about the CIA’s reputation and its legal exposure, other White House insiders say Panetta has been frustrated by what he perceives to be less of a role than he was promised in the administration’s intelligence structure. Panetta has reportedly chafed at reporting through the director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, according to the senior adviser who said Blair is equally unhappy with Panetta.

“Leon will be leaving,” predicted a former top U.S. intelligence official, citing the conflict with Blair. The former official said Panetta is also “uncomfortable” with some of the operations being carried out by the CIA that he did not know about until he took the job.

[...] Six other current and former senior intelligence officials said they too had been briefed about Panetta’s frustrations in the job, including dealing with his former Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives.

One of the officials said the White House had begun informal discussions with candidates who were runners-up to Panetta in the CIA director selection process last year.

One of the candidates reportedly has begun a series of preparatory briefings.

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The broken appointment process

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Update: Included a clarification below. The story about Sen. Bond’s hold on Martha Johnson’s nomination has changed; he’s now reportedly delaying the nomination because he wants the government to approve a $175 million federal office building in Kansas City, according to the Kansas City Star.

Original post: The New York Times has a story this morning about the political appointment process, pointing out that just 43 percent of the Obama administration’s senior political positions have been filled:

While career employees or holdovers fill many posts on a temporary basis, Mr. Obama does not have his own people enacting programs central to his mission. He is trying to fix the financial markets but does not have an assistant treasury secretary for financial markets. He is spending more money on transportation than anyone since Dwight D. Eisenhower but does not have his own inspector general watching how the dollars are used. He is fighting two wars but does not have an Army secretary.

I think it’s fair to say this has less to do with anything the Obama administration is (or is not) doing, and more to do with institutional dysfunction in the Senate and the sheer number of political jobs. Obama has, in fact, nominated an Army secretary; he named John McHugh to the post back in June. Senators have delayed his confirmation. His nominee for GSA administrator, Martha Johnson, is reportedly being delayed in the Senate because Sen. Kit Bond wants a federal building approved in Kansas City.

And, as the Times notes, he has some 500 senior policymaking posts to fill — not including thousands of other Schedule C jobs, ambassadorships and the like.

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USPS woes cross the pond

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Even the BBC is writing about the Postal Service’s financial problems — today, with a story about how the Postal Service is removing its iconic blue mailboxes from street corners.

In villages, towns and cities across America, residents are waking up to find the familiar blue mailbox at the end of the road is gone.

In the past 20 years, more than half of America’s mailboxes have been taken out of service, leaving just 175,000 nationwide.

(I should note that Tim Kauffman did a story about this back in November, though I can’t find a link to it right now.)

Anyway, the U.S. Postal Service isn’t the only one having problems right now. Tens of thousands of employees from Britain’s Royal Mail staged a three-day strike earlier this month.

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White House doesn't back down from postal dig

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8/21 UPDATE: U.S. Postal Service spokesman Gerry McKiernan just dropped me a line disputing Peter Roff’s take on the post office’s tax exemption. First, the Postal Service doesn’t own any planes on which it could pay taxes. Secondly, the Postal Service for many years was not allowed to run profits as a corporation does, meaning it had no income on which it would pay taxes, even without the exemption. (A 2006 reform allowed the Postal Service to turn a profit on competitive products like Priority Mail and package services, but in lieu of taxes, the post office uses some of that money to help cover the costs of first-class mail and other universal service obligations.)

Finally, while the Postal Service’s quasi-governmental status does yield some benefits (such as tax exemption on property), McKiernan pointed me towards a January 2008 Federal Trade Commission study that said the Postal Service’s obligations — primarily its requirement to deliver universal mail service to every household and business in the country — far outweigh those benefits. Those obligations, FTC said, actually leave the Postal Service at a disadvantage when compared to its private-sector counterparts.

ORIGINAL POST: At a White House press briefing yesterday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about the National Association of Postal Supervisors’ pushback against President Barack Obama negatively comparing the U.S. Postal Service to FedEx and UPS:

Q: In a letter sent last week to the White House from the National Association of Postal Supervisors, the president of that union, Ted Keating, said that his union had a “collective disappointment that you — meaning the President — showed the Postal Service as a scapegoat and an example of inefficiency.”  Does the President — has the President seen that letter?  Has he responded?  Does he regret using the post office as an example of inefficiency?

MR. GIBBS:  I doubt he’s seen that letter and I don’t have any reason to believe he regrets it, since he repeated it.

(Just for the record, NAPS isn’t a union. It’s a management association that does not collectively bargain. But that’s neither here nor there.)

Also, I wanted to clarify a point I made slightly inelegantly in Monday’s blog entry, which U.S. News and World Report picked up on.  Read the rest of this entry »

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We now return to our regularly scheduled programming

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Our apologies if you were unable to read FedLine last night. We had an unexpected deluge of traffic after the Drudge Report linked to our blog about the National Association of Postal Supervisors taking offense at Obama’s dig against the U.S. Postal Service, which pretty much crashed our site. The crack Web staff at Army Times Publishing Co. and Gannett were on the case, however, and got us back up and running that evening.

And to all of our new readers who found us via Drudge, welcome! We hope you stick around and explore FedLine, as well as our award-winning newspaper, Federal Times. We offer a unique look inside the inner workings of the federal government — everything from mismanagement of government contracts to the ongoing woes of the Postal Service to exposing potential racial discrimination in pay raises at the Defense Department — that you won’t find elsewhere.

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Obama pledges to listen to VA employees

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The Veterans Affairs Department will soon start a new program to take advantage of VA employees’ expertise nationwide, President Barack Obama said Monday.

Obama announced the program at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Phoenix, Ariz., where he spoke of the agency’s need to better serve veterans. He said asking employees for their ideas can help solve many of the VA’s critical problems, including the backlog of more than half a million veterans’ claims.

Obama said he’d told VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra and Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients to establish a competition to find the very best ideas employees have to improve the VA.

We’re going to challenge each of our 57 regional VA offices to come up with the best ways of doing business, of harnessing the best information technologies, of cutting red tape and breaking through the bureaucracy. And then we’re going to fund the best ideas and put them into action, all with a simple mission: cut those backlogs, slash those wait times, deliver your benefits sooner. I know you’ve heard this for years, but the leadership and resources we’re providing this time means that we’re going to be able to do it. That is our mission, and we are going to make it happen.”

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