Federal Times Blogs

What do Confucius, pi and Toby Keith have in common?

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Congress can’t seem to pass a spending bill on time or figure out health care reform, but as CNN points out, at least they’ve got time to consider resolutions to honor Confucius and establish National Pi Day. CNN says Congress has taken up more than 300 commemorative resolutions so far this year.

It would be one thing if these feel-good measures were simple formalities that sailed right through Congress. But that’s not how it works. My fellow reporter Rebecca Neal says she’s seen bills like last year’s H. Res. 1255 — a resolution honoring Toby Keith — eat up hours of floor time as lawmakers take the floor to talk about nothing. These measures usually fill Mondays and sometimes a good part of Tuesdays, wasting a fifth to a quarter of the congressional work week.

And it doesn’t stop with Toby: H. Res. 841 establishes Nov. 29 as Drive Safer Sunday (presumably to counter Drive Stupider Saturday), H. Res. 455 honors the victorious Wichita State University bowling teams, and next week, the House will consider H. Res. 742, congratulating the winner of the 2009 Little League Softball World Series.

Oh shoot — I just violated Complaint Free Wednesday. Rep Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., introduced H. Con. Res. 155 earlier this year, which calls on Americans to avoid complaining the day before Thanskgiving. But that’s a tall order to ask of a reporter.

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Next stop: Disneyland

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President Barack Obama officially kicked off the Thanksgiving Day holiday today by exercising his presidential duties and pardoning not one, but two, turkeys.

Flanked by daughters Sasha and Malia, Obama was in good spirits for the occassion. Obama noted that the pardoned birds, Courage and Carolina, would be traveling to Disneyland to participate in the annual Thanksgiving Day parade.

Obama even managed to work in a Recovery Act joke. He explained that in addition to the two pardoned turkeys, two other less-fortunate birds donated by a Pennsylvania turkey farm would be taken to the nonprofit Martha’s Table to be served to needy families.

So today, all told, I believe it’s fair to say that we have saved or created four turkeys.

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Comment of the Day: ‘Talk Nerdy To Me’

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Future NRC engineers?

Future NRC engineers?

I have to take my hat off to FedLine commenter “Still another NRC engineer,” who just posted what may be the best comment in our blog’s thirteen-month history: A Poison parody called “Talk Nerdy To Me.”

This was his response to the heated discussion sparked last week on our blog post “The NRC Dating Service?” (And for those not familiar with Nuclear Regulatory Commission terminology, “EDO” is the acronym for the agency’s Executive Director of Operations.)

The original “Talk Dirty To Me” video can be found here — sing along as you’re waiting for your agency to let you go home early today. (Remember to yell for CC just before the guitar solo — that’s important.)

You know I never
Thought about the EDO
The problems at the EEO
But I like you!
And I know you like me too
We’re in perfect harmony
And so regulatory
Oh yes we are

They told me
Told me there’d be benefits
But never benefits like this
What incentives!
And I know you like them too
And all your Values true
And so regulatory
‘Cause baby we’ll be

At the office
In the NRC
At the All Hands
“Hey baby I’m a PhD”
It’s not PC, but
Close the breakroom door
And baby
Talk Nerdy to Me!

UPDATE: One of the commenter’s nuclear-themed jokes went right over my head at first. He credited the song to “Burnable Poison,” which according to Wikipedia is a material loaded into a nuclear reactor core “to control large amounts of excess fuel reactivity without control rods.” Nice touch.


Thanksgiving update: Short day for some tomorrow

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The Office of Personnel Management just posted this memo online that says agencies are free to let their employees go home early tomorrow. OPM Director John Berry said it’s up to each agency to decide whether to grant employees a short day:

During the Thanksgiving holiday, I ask all Federal employees to reflect on the President’s message and renew their commitment to serving their communities.  As a mark of gratitude for the service provided by Federal employees, executive branch department and agency heads can use their existing authority to provide an early dismissal (excused absence, with out charge to leave or loss of pay) on the day before Thanksgiving.  

Early dismissal is appropriate only for employees who work on Wednesday, November 25, 2009, and only to the extent that employees can be spared and such time off does not interfere with agency operations.  Friday, November 27, 2009, is a normal workday.

For those of you getting off early tomorrow, enjoy!


Census worker’s death ruled a suicide

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Kentucky law enforcement officials today said Bill Sparkman, the Census worker who was found hanged Sept. 12 in a national forest with “fed” scrawled on his chest, actually committed suicide. According to an Associated Press report, authorities said Sparkman staged his death to look like a murder:

Sparkman had recently taken out two life insurance policies that would not pay out for suicide, authorities said. If Sparkman had been killed on the job, his family also would have been be eligible for up to $10,000 in death gratuity payments from the government.

He was not eligible for a separate life insurance policy through the government because his census work was intermittent, Census Bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner has previously said.

The Census Bureau suspended door-to-door interviews in the rural county after Sparkman’s body was found.

Anti-government sentiment was initially one possibility in the death. Authorities said Sparkman had discussed perceived negative views of the federal government in the area.

UPDATE: The Lexington Herald-Leader has more details on the case here.


Business as usual on Friday

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A reader e-mailed us earlier today asking if federal employees will get the day after Thanksgiving off, giving them a four-day weekend. I checked with OPM and the answer is no — federal employees still have to come in to work Friday, even if they’re recovering from a tryptophan-induced coma.


It is so (executive) ordered: Track improper payments

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The White House this evening released the expected executive order on tracking and combating improper payments on government programs. And it does pretty much what we reported Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag said it would, namely it orders agencies to:

  • Report to a governmentwide Web site established to disclose and track a program’s total improper payments. The Web site will include error rates by agency and program, and an e-mail address the public can use to report suspected waste, fraud and abuse.
  • Report on errors more frequently. For example, rather than annual reporting of how many improper payments were made and by how much they are reduced, agencies might choose to report twice a year or quarterly.
  • Designate a Senate-confirmed official to be accountable for meeting improper payment reduction targets. If the agency misses targets two years in a row, the agency’s head, chief financial officer and inspector general must explain to OMB why the agency missed its goals and how it will meet them in the future.
  • Employ new management techniques, such as forensic auditing, to detect and prevent improper payments.
  • Share data with other agencies about entities or individuals that received benefits they were not eligible for. This will prevent that entity or person from getting benefits improperly from other programs.
  • Create plans to reduce program errors.

The order also directs the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council, in conjunction with the  Justice Department, to recommend penalties contracting officers can employ against contractors that fail to spot and return improper payments to the government in a timely manner. The order leaves open what those penalties will be, but offers up suspension, debarment and monetary fines as options for consideration.

Senate confirms OFPP leader

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The Senate confirmed Daniel Gordon as administrator for the Office of Federal Procurement Policy Nov. 21.

Senators confirmed Gordon by voice vote during a break in work on the Senate’s health care bill.

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Turkeys can fly!

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Despite the experience of a certain Cincinnati radio station (see below), it turns out that turkeys can fly…just as long as they’re on an airplane.

That’s the word from TSA, which has posted a list of holiday travel tips on its blog. Turkeys are permitted carry on items. As are pies (mmm…pie). The complete list of food related dos and don’ts is as follows:

Foods: Pies are permitted, but they are subject to additional screening if our officers see any anomalies. (Additional screening of pies does not include our officers tasting the pie, no matter what they tell you…) Cakes, bread, donuts, turkeys, etc. are all permitted. If it’s a live turkey, you might want to have a word with the airline. Here is a list of items that should be placed in your checked bags or shipped: cranberry sauce, creamy dips and spreads (cheeses, peanut butter, etc.), gift baskets with food items (salsa, jams and salad dressings), gravy (mmm gravy), jams, jellies, maple syrup, oils and vinegars, sauces, soups, wine, liquor and beer.

For those of you who think turkeys can fly under their own power, please view the following regarding WKRP’s famed turkey drop (via YouTube).

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A smoke-free outdoors?

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Rep. Eliot Engel is trying again to ban smoking near federal buildings.

The New York Democrat unsuccessfully introduced a bill during the last Congress to ban smoking within 25 feet of any federal building’s entrances, exits, windows that can be opened and ventilation intakes. Engel reintroduced the bill Nov. 18 to correspond with the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smoke Out smoking-cessation campaign.

The Surgeon General reported in 2006 that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. One step we can take in limiting such exposure is to free the entrances of buildings of the clouds of smoke often found when smokers gather outside of entrances and exits. The problem with this is simple – how else are people going to avoid secondhand smoke when the only ways in and out of a building is blocked by smoke?”

The bill would clarify various levels of guidance involving smoking near federal buildings. The General Services Agency banned smoking in courtyards and within 25 feet of doorways at GSA-controlled buildings, effective June 19, 2009.

A 1997 executive order banned smoking in all Executive Branch buildings, as well as all inside space owned, rented or leased by the Executive Branch.

What say you, feds? Is smoking an annoyance at your workplace? Or are you a smoker that would be annoyed by any new regulations?

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