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Postal supervisors: Obama swipe "a kick to the chest"

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The National Association of Postal Supervisors has fired back at President Barack Obama for dragging the U.S. Postal Service further into the health care debate. In an Aug. 14 letter, NAPS President Ted Keating accused Obama of using the Postal Service as a “scapegoat” and unfairly painting it as “an example of inefficiency” during a health care town hall meeting last week. Obama told a crowd in Portsmouth, N.H., Aug. 11 that private health care insurance providers should be able to compete with a government-run public option because “UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. … It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.”

Keating pointed out that UPS and FedEx revenues are falling faster than Postal Service revenues, and reiterated the overtime, management and work hour reductions the Postal Service has made over the last year:

With all of these efforts underway within the Postal Service community, it was a kick to the chest to have you take a shot at a group of federal employees who are working hard every day to support this country.

Employees of the Postal Service are largely represented by unions and management associations, all of whom strongly supported your candidacy last year. For our support we do not expect any special consideration. However, we would like to be treated fairly and not have our current situation misrepresented, especially by the Commander-in-Chief.

What Obama also ignored last week was that the Postal Service isn’t on the same playing field as FedEx or UPS. The Postal Service has to contend with unions, lawmakers and the Postal Regulatory Commission and as a result, can’t raise prices or close facilities on a whim the way its private-sector counterparts can when mail volume plunges.

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GSA merges Chief Acquisition and Governmentwide Policy Offices

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The General Services Administration is consolidating its Office of Governmentwide Policy and Office of the Chief Acquisition Officer, the agency will announce later today. The move comes one day after the agency appointed Michael Robertson to lead both offices.

Since the two offices share a common mission of developing procurement policies, merging them will better coordinate these efforts, improving the agency’s ability to manage taxpayer dollars, GSA said in a statement to Federal Times.

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Postal Service: Whipping boy of the health care debate

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Postmaster General John Potter

Postmaster General John Potter

As the debate over health care reform boils over, both sides are now using the U.S. Postal Service to score points. House Minority Leader John Boehner, June 11:

If you like going to the DMV and think they do a great job, or you like going to the post office and think it’s the most efficient thing you’ve run into, then you’ll love the government-run health care system.

And President Barack Obama at this afternoon’s health care town hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., as reported by the Associated Press:

[Obama] also disputed the notion that adding a government-run insurance plan into a menu of options from which people could pick would drive private insurers out of business, in effect making the system single-payer by default.

As long as they have a good product and the government plan has to sustain itself through premiums and other non-tax revenue, private insurers should be able to compete with the government plan, Obama said.

“They do it all the time,” he said. “UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. … It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.”

That sound you just heard was Postmaster General John Potter’s head hitting his desk.

There’s one man, however, who will stick up for the embattled Postal Service: Jon Stewart. Video after the jump:

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Look who's turning 65

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One of the Forest Service’s most recognizable faces turns 65 on Sunday. Just don’t go lighting any birthday candles for him.

Happy Birthday, Smokey!

Happy Birthday, Smokey!

Smokey Bear has been preaching the dangers of forest fires since Aug. 9, 1944. His trademark catchphrase, “Only you can prevent wildfires,” is one of the longest running public service announcement campaigns in U.S. history.

His enduring message certainly has played a major role in helping reduce forest fires. Since 1944, the number of acres lost annually to forest fires has dropped from about 22 million to 6.5 million, the Forest Service says.  However, there’s still plenty of work for Smokey Bear to do. Many Americans believe that lightning starts most wildfires, while in reality 9 out of 10 wildfires nationwide are started by humans. Most often, forest fires are caused by people who leave campfires unattended, burn trash on windy days and carelessly discard cigarettes and charcoal.

To mark the occasion, the Forest Service on Monday will release a new illustrated story book, written in both English and Spanish, that is aimed at introducing the iconic figure and his fire prevention message to a new generation of American children.

Smokey Bear will be on hand for the festivities, at the Agriculture Department’s Whitten Building in Washington, and will even be cutting his birthday cake, the Forest Service tells us. We can only guess what he will be wishing for as he blows out his candles.

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Senate approves VA advance appropriations

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Before departing for its August recess, the Senate approved advance appropriations for the Veterans Affairs’ health programs Thursday, clearing the way for advanced funding of VA hospitals.

Advocates said advance appropriations would ensure consistent, quality health care for veterans in case in case Congress does not pass the annual VA appropriation bill by the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. VA is currently funded yearly, which has has resulted in late funding for VA programs in 19 of the past 22 years.

The House-passed 2010 spending bill for VA and military construction includes fiscal 2011 health care funding, and the House passed its version, HR 1016, June 23. The Senate passed HR 1016 by unanimous consent after substituting the text of the Senate version of the bill, S 423, for the House’s language in HR 1016.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, introduced the Senate bill and championed the bill’s passage. He praised the Senate for providing timely funding for veterans’ care.

Congress has worked in recent years to reverse VA’s chronic underfunding, but we still need to address the broken way that we fund the nation’s largest health care system. With advance funding we will make sure that veterans’ health care receives timely and predictable funding, allowing VA health care dollars to go further for veterans and taxpayers.”

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Senate approves dozens of nominees

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Just before leaving for its August recess Friday, the Senate cleared more than six dozen of President Barack Obama’s nominees, including multiple assistant secretaries and ambassadors.

But most notable may be the lack of several confirmation votes of particular interest to federal employees. The nomination of Cass Sunstein to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, has been held up for months over concerns over ideas in his academic writings. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed cloture on Sunstein’s nomination, setting up a final vote on confirmation when the Senate returns Sept. 8.

The Senate also took no action on the nomination of Martha Johnson as administrator of the General Services Administration. Her nomination is not controversial, and the delay has frustrated federal workforce leaders such as Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The Senate did clear several notable nominations, including Alejandro Mayorkas as director of the Citizenship and Immigration Services, Francis Collins as director of the National Institutes of Health and Robert Abbey as director of the Bureau of Land Management.

The full list of confirmed agency nominees, in alphabetical order:

  • Robert Adler, a commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission;
  • Christopher Bertram, assistant secretary of Transportation;
  • Patricia Cahill, member of the board of directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting;
  • Julia Clark, general counsel of the Federal Labor Relations Authority;
  • Kevin Cochran, administrator of U.S. Fire Administration;
  • Ernest DuBester, member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority;
  • Daniel Elliott, member of the Surface Transportation Board;
  • Joan Evans, assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs;
  • Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of State for near-Eastern affairs;
  • Colin Fulton, assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency;
  • Alexander Garza, assistant secretary and chief medical officer for the Homeland Security Department;
  • Christopher Hart, member of the National Transportation Safety Board;
  • Dennis Hightower, deputy secretary of Commerce;
  • Craig Hooks, assistant administrator of the EPA;
  • Raymond Jefferson, assistant secretary of Labor for veterans’ employment and training;
  • Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of State for oceans, international environmental and scientific affairs
  • David J. Kappos, undersecretary for Commerce for intellectual property and director, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
  • Susan Kurland, assistant secretary of Transportation;
  • Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts;
  • James Leach, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities;
  • Wilma Lewis, assistant secretary of the Interior;
  • James Markowsky, assistant secretary of Energy for fossil energy;
  • A. Thomas McLellan, deputy director of the National Drug Control Policy;
  • Warren Miller, assistant secretary of Energy for nuclear energy;
  • Cranston Mitchell, a commissioner of the U.S. Parole Commission;
  • Anne Northup, a commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission;
  • Maria Otero, undersecretary of State;
  • Christopher Schroeder, assistant attorney general;
  • Aaron Williams, director of the Peace Corps.

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Firing poor performers: Federal Times wants to hear from you

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Everybody’s heard the urban legend that it’s impossible to fire a government worker, but Federal Times wants to take a closer look at the federal firing process and find out what’s really going on. And to do that, we’d like to hear from you. Are you a manager who has found it impossible to get rid of the one bad apple in your office who can’t — or won’t — improve? Or has your agency backed you up when you needed to terminate someone for disciplinary reasons or poor performance? On the other hand, are you an employee who lost your job with the government, or did you successfully fight an attempt to remove you? What, if anything, should be done to improve the process?

E-mail me at slosey@federaltimes.com if you’d like to talk. If you’d prefer that your name not be published, that’s fine by me.

On another subject, I’m also interested in talking to Border Patrol agents and instructors at the Artesia, N.M. training academy about the agency’s massive hiring wave over the last few years. Are the agents hired since 2006 of the same caliber as recruits hired in the past? Has quality of new agents suffered as the agency tried to double its ranks in a few short years? Were you a recruit who decided that a career with the Border Patrol wasn’t for you, and if so, why?

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USPS posts $2.4 billion Q3 loss

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Just announced at the Board of Governors meeting. More details to come.

Relief for USPS, heartburn for unions

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There’s an interesting discrepancy between the House and Senate bills that would provide the Postal Service with short-term relief from some of its retiree health care obligations (background here if you’re not familiar with the issue).

On the House side is HR 22, one of the simplest pieces of legislation I’ve ever read. It gives the Postal Service three years of relief from its current retiree health benefit obligations — period.

On the Senate side, there’s S 1507. It calls for a similar change in the Postal Service’s health care payment schedule. But it also includes an amendment that changes the way arbitrators handle negotiations over postal contracts.

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List of possible USPS closures

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We have a story in today’s paper, and online, about the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to review nearly 1,000 post offices for possible closure.

If you’re wondering which post offices are affected, we’ve uploaded a full list (pdf) from the Postal Service.