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GSA doubles federal hybrid vehicle fleet

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The  General Services Administration is replacing more than 5,600 of its least fuel-efficient cars and trucks with hybrids, the agency announced today.

The move effectively doubles the federal government’s inventory of hybrid vehicles, which pair an electric motor with a traditional gasoline-powered engine.

The new hybrids will be leased to agencies that are replacing vehicles this year. The Energy Department already said it will take 753 of the 5,603 new vehicles, bringing the total number of hybrid vehicles in the department to 888.

The purchases announced today are in addition to the 3,100 hybrid vehicles agencies received last year as part of the Recovery Act, a GSA spokeswoman said.

In addition to the hybrid vehicles, the federal government will purchase the first 100 plug-in electric vehicles as they roll off American assembly lines later this year, President Obama said. He made the announcement as part of a larger set of initiatives designed to wean the nation off fossil fuels and foreign sources of oil.

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Census and breakfast chili…mmm…

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President-elect Obama chows down at Ben's Jan. 10, 2009, shortly before his inauguration

President-elect Obama chows down at Ben's Jan. 10, 2009, shortly before his inauguration/Getty Images

The Census Bureau is pulling out all the stops to get people to return their Census forms this year. So far, the agency has bought Super Bowl ads, had Commerce Secretary Gary Locke talk it up on the Daily Show, and even gotten Dora the Explorer in on the act. But none of their outreach efforts have been quite as tasty as the event Census Director Robert Groves has planned for tomorrow morning.

Groves will appear at Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. to answer citizens’ questions about the 2010 Census and encourage people to mail their forms back in. Anyone who hasn’t yet turned in their form will be able to drop it off with an on-site mailman and then, presumably, order a delicious chili half-smoke for breakfast.

The Census Bureau says only 44 percent of Washingtonians have returned their forms so far, lagging behind the nationwide average of 50 percent.

Ben’s may look like just another greasy spoon to people outside of the nation’s capital, but for Washingtonians, it’s a U Street institution and an inseparable part of the district’s history. It opened in 1958, when the U Street corridor was still known as Black Broadway and was a hangout spot for legendary figures such as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. During the 1968 riots that followed King’s assassination, Ben’s was one of the few shops that remained open to feed cops, firefighters and black activists. Owner Ben Ali wrote “soul brother” on the window to discourage rioters from burning his restaurant down. Since then, Ben’s survived Washington’s drug wars, massive construction and economic downturns to become a fixture of the revived U Street.

But don’t count on getting a free chili dog after turning in your census. Ben’s has a strict policy on freeloaders: only Bill Cosby and the Obama family are allowed to eat on the house (though the president insisted on paying his own way when he visited last year).

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Cherry blossom time for OPM employees

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Photo courtesy of the National Cherry Blossom Festival

Photo courtesy of the National Cherry Blossom Festival

Office of Personnel Management employees in Washington will get a treat later this week: an hour off to view the cherry blossoms and squeeze in a little exercise.

OPM Director John Berry issued a memo March 26 to the nearly 1,500 employees at the agency’s Washington headquarters granting them an hour off from April 1 to 4 to walk down to the Tidal Basin and see the blossoms. Those four days will be the blossoms’ peak blooming days.

Berry has made promoting wellness initiatives and encouraging federal employees to be healthier a major part of his agenda. This excused absence — and the nearly mile-and-a-half walk he hopes will accompany it — fits in with that drive.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual springtime event in Washington that commemmorates Tokyo’s 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry blossom trees to the United States.

Full text of the memo can be found after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Health care reform: What do you think?

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Federal Times would like to hear from federal employees who might be affected by the health care reform bill passed last week.

Do you have an adult child who can get health coverage as a result of the bill? Are you concerned about the excise tax or how it might affect your premiums? Are you worried that putting the Office of Personnel Management in charge of insurance exchanges could take its attention away from its traditional missions? Send us an e-mail at slosey@federaltimes.com.

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Pay stubs going electronic for 640K employees

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For about 640,000 federal employees at agencies like the Homeland Security and Treasury departments, the paper pay stub will soon be a thing of the past. White House budget director Peter Orszag yesterday announced that the Agriculture Department’s National Finance Center is going to stop issuing paper pay stubs as part of an effort to save about $4 million in printing and mailing costs per year.

Until now, employees have had to opt out of receiving paper stubs, but only about 192,000 people chose to do so. Under the new plan, all employees will receive electronic pay statements by default unless they specifically ask for paper.

This idea was submitted by several people last year as part of the SAVE award program. NFC-covered agencies lag far behind the rest of the federal workforce, Orszag said — about 64 percent of the entire federal government currently receive electronic paystubs.

Other agencies whose payrolls are handled by NFC are the Justice, Commerce, Labor and Housing and Urban Development departments, the Peace Corps, the Government Accountability Office, and the Library of Congress.

EDIT: What do you think about this move? Sound like a good idea? Or will you choose to keep receiving paper pay statements instead? And if so, why? We’d like to hear from you. E-mail me at slosey@federaltimes.com.

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WH talks government modernization

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The White House held a modernizing government forum earlier this year, inviting more than 50 private-sector chief executive officers to share best business practices with government officials. The White House recently released a report of its findings from the forum — to view the full report, click here.

The results reported aren’t too surprising. The best practices shared by the CEOs were pretty clear — be more transparent, plan your IT projects better, and don’t let IT projects drag on for five years. Do things quickly and implement IT projects in stages to test whether they’ll work, the CEOs said.

Here are a few key points OMB says it will adopt:

  • Manage IT projects in a transparent form using tools such as the IT Dashboard.
  • Re-evaluate comprehensive IT review processes to make sure leaders know the status of major IT projects.
  • Create customer satisfaction surveys to gauge customers’ experiences with the government

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AP: Harding drops out of running for TSA administrator

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Associated Press reporter Eileen Sullivan just broke the news that Robert Harding, President Obama’s second nominee to run the Transportation Security Administration, withdrew his nomination this evening. Sullivan reported that Harding said he withdrew because his previous work as a defense contractor had become “distractions” to the administration and the Homeland Security Department.

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GSA picks spot for new S.C. courthouse

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The General Services Administration will begin design work this fall on a new federal courthouse in Greenville, S.C.

After more than a year of deliberations, GSA picked a vacant lot across from the Greenville County Courthouse for the new facility, city officials announced Wednesday.

The 204,000-square-foot facility will be more than three times the size of the current courthouse, which was built in 1937. The new courthouse was estimated to cost $135 million in 2007, according to local news website Journalwatchdog.com.

Construction won’t begin until at least 2013, but Congress has already given the facility its new name. Lawmakers voted in 2006 to name the new courthouse the Carroll A. Campbell Jr. U.S. Courthouse, after the popular former governor who died in 2005.

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Sitcom stars reunite for SSA

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The cast of "Lost" -- the next Social Security Administration spokespeople?

The cast of "Lost" -- the next Social Security Administration spokespeople?

The Social Security Administration is turning to pop culture icons to educate Americans about its offerings.

First they used Chubby Checker to promote a “twist” in its Medicare prescription plan costs. Now it’s using Patty Duke and the cast of her 1960s television show, “The Patty Duke Show,” to get the word out about its new online application for Medicare benefits.

To view one of the ads, click here.

Of course, this could risk making some beneficiaries feel really old — not only are you old enough for Social Security, but the icons of your youth are being used to promote it!

So, younger feds, what cultural icons will SSA use years from now to pitch new offerings? Will we see the cast of “Lost” reunite to help us find our missing Social Security entitlements?

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House passes restrictions on P2P use

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The House passed a bill Wednesday banning the installation and use of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing software on all federal computers, systems and networks.

Peer-to-peer programs such as BitTorrent, Lime Wire and KazaA pose security risks for the federal government. Rep. Edophus Towns, D-N.Y., introduced HR 4098 after several publicized information breaches involving peer-to-peer programs last year. In one case, confidential House Ethics Committee investigation documents were posted online after a staffer loaded the documents onto her personal computer which had peer-to-peer sharing software installed.

Towns praised the House’s 408-13 vote in a statement.

While I understand that peer-to-peer file sharing software offers great potential, the security risks of open network use on federal computers and systems far exceed that potential. Because of our actions today, important safeguards are now in place to protect sensitive government information.”

The bill would require the Office of Management and Budget’s director to draft guidance to agencies banning the use of the file-sharing software and address the use of peer-to-peer programs on employees and contractors’ home and personal computers that may be used for teleworking.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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