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Presidential Council wants government-wide action on energy, also maybe a pony

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The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has released a report today calling on the federal government to take far-ranging action to spur energy innovation and create fundamental change in the way American’s consume energy.

Also, perhaps a pony and a giant trampoline.

The report looks at ways to change the nation’s energy system within 10 to 20 years, and said that it would take action at all levels of society to move away from a traditional dependence on fossil fuels and encourage renewable alternatives and energy efficiency.

Co-Chairs John P. Holdren and Eric Lander

Unleashing this innovation could be one of the most important and enduring accomplishments of your Administration.

The proposals range from increasing federal funding for energy research up to $16 billion, performing a four-year energy review and crafting legislation to help develop alternative energies.

In an entirely unrelated note, it took the Senate 20 months to pass the new food safety bill 73 to 25.

Has NASA found aliens?

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NASA knows full well that throwing around phrases like "evidence of extraterrestrial life" will just get nerds like us all riled up.

As if the pay freeze news wasn’t enough excitement for one week, now NASA has scheduled a press conference for Thursday afternoon to discuss something “that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.”

There’s only one thing this could mean: NASA has aliens. Now let’s just hope they’re the friendly, ET-kind of visitors, and not the warlike Klingon types.

Seriously, though, probably not. The press conference is to discuss astrobiology (the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe), and its participants are experts in molecular evolution and evolutionary ecology. And if Hollywood has taught us anything, an actual alien announcement would most likely come straight from the president. But it should be interesting nonetheless.

The press conference will be broadcast live at 2 p.m. on NASA Television and streamed at www.nasa.gov.

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AFGE’s Gage fears federal pensions are next

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John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, is worried that the proposed two-year federal pay freeze is just the beginning of the bad news for federal employees. In a video AFGE just posted, Gage said he will meet with the administration later this week, and “I’m expecting the other shoe to drop with something about our pensions coming up.”

Gage also uses the video to attack everything about the pay freeze, from the figures used to derive the expected savings, to Obama’s negotiating strategy, the assumption that federal employees should bear some of the recession’s burden, to USA Today’s coverage of the federal pay gap issue.

“This whole thing is a sham,” he said with regard to the savings estimations. But the sentiment carries through the entire 8-minute clip.

Gage said he will use this development as an opportunity to push back against the notion that federal employees are overpaid and have bloated pensions. “People don’t realize what a government worker is,” Gage said. “They don’t realize it’s a VA nurse, a Border Patrol agent, a Social Security claims representative, a mine inspector, and that’s what we have to do, like never before, is to get the American public to really focus on the services that the federal government, and federal workers and our members produce for them.”

But he’s still feeling pretty bleak about labor’s chances of fighting this: “I see no hope, really, of trying to get Congress to reverse this.”

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After the jump, Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s “cotside chat” video on the pay freeze.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Senate panel approves Dodaro nomination

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Gene Dodaro’s nomination to become the next U.S. comptroller general got a green flag Tuesday from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which approved it on a unanimous voice vote.

The comptroller general runs the Government Accountability Office, the watchdog arm of Congress.  Dodaro, a 37-year GAO veteran, has held the job on an acting basis since March 2008; President Obama nominated him for a full 15-year term in September.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said recently that that he hopes to win final Senate confirmation for Dodaro’s nomination before lawmakers end their lame-duck session.

“We in Congress are grateful for his non-partisan leadership at an agency whose fact-based audits and investigations deeply inform our work,” Lieberman said in a news release after Tuesday’s vote. Both he and the committee’s top Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, were part of a ten-member commission that recommended Dodaro to the White House.

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Federal pay freeze: What do you think?

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There’s a lot of strong emotions on display in the comments section of our main article on Obama’s proposed 2-year pay freeze. Sound off there, or in our Federal Times forum here. What do you think — is this a slap at federal workers that will kill productivity and hamstring recruitment and retention efforts? Or is this a tough pill that feds are going to have to swallow to help the nation get through an unprecedented fiscal crisis?

Or if you’d like to talk to me in more detail, send me an e-mail at slosey@federaltimes.com. We want to hear from you!

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New report shows challenges to White House IT reforms

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On Nov. 19, the Obama administration proclaimed a new path for government information technology procurement. But an overview of one agency’s travails suggests that a steep climb lies ahead.

The agency is the Housing and Urban Development Department; the newly released Government Accountability Office review finds that HUD officials had a hard time just coming up with a congressionally mandated plan to lay out its IT buying strategy.

That document is required by a spending bill approved last December. Under its terms, HUD can’t obligate more than 25 percent of available money for IT modernization until the House and Senate appropriations committees receive details on key milestones, expected mission benefits and other basics.

But the department’s first try this spring left the GAO underwhelmed. Out of eight projects included in the plan, HUD failed to spell out “specific and measurable benefits” for five, the report says. The plan also did not fully meet conditions that each project be shown to comply with HUD’s enterprise architecture, be subject to lifecycle management policies, and be covered by capital planning and control requirements.

In general, HUD had failed to adequately establish any of the management controls needed for effective IT modernization, according to an earlier GAO briefing attached to the report, in large part because a new IT leadership team had recently been put in place and needed time to introduce a new approach. “Nevertheless, HUD continues to invest in multiple IT modernization projects,” the briefing says, “and may expand on the number of projects in the near term.”

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Federal pay freeze roundup: “It’s Okay, Freeze My Pay”

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We’re back! The overwhelming interest in the breaking pay freeze news was a little more than our servers could handle, but all is well now. There’s been an awful lot of reaction to Obama’s announcement in the last few hours, so here goes:

  • AFGE President John Gage reiterated his anger and disappointment in Obama’s decision during a conference call with reporters this afternoon. But while NTEU earlier today pledged to try to fight the freeze in Congress, Gage was less optimistic. “The chances are slim” that the freeze could be overturned, Gage said.
  • But the pay freeze isn’t absolute. Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients earlier today said promotions to higher GS grades would still continue, and OMB confirmed to me that regularly scheduled step increases will also continue. Gage said that takes a bit of the sting out of the pay freeze announcement.
  • NARFE, NFFE and the Partnership for Public Service each issued their own statements emphasizing the importance of federal employees, and expressing concern that a freeze could cost the government important talent. “Across the board freezes or cuts are rarely the best management choices, because they avoid the real evaluation that ought to be done,” Partnership President Max Stier said. “We urge the Administration and Congress to review the current compensation system and devise one that is more market-sensitive, so Americans can be assured its workforce is appropriately compensated.”
  • Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry issued a one-sentence statement shortly before 2 p.m.: “Federal employees work hard for our nation each day, and this sacrifice the President asked them to make today is significant and emblematic of the shared sacrifice we all will have to make if we are to bring the deficit to heel and preserve an economic future for our children.
  • Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the freeze is “long overdue,” and called on the administration to go further to cut waste and improper payments.
  • Chris Edwards at the Cato Institute is feeling pretty happy today. His blog post is titled “Obama Adopts Cato Pay Proposal” and notes that he’s been pushing this issue for four years. He told Federal Times this is a good first step in tackling the deficit issue, and hopes this will build trust between Obama and the House’s new Republican leadership so they can make tougher choices down the road.
  • Rush Limbaugh was not nearly so gracious: “Big whoop.”
  • GovLoop has created a Facebook page called “It’s Okay, Freeze My Pay.” “Rather than complain, we’d like to make a pledge,” the page says. “I don’t work for government for the money. I do it to make a difference. Will freezing my pay hurt my family a bit? It sure will…but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for my country. It’s a sacrifice I’ve always made. That’s why I’m a public servant.” But seeing as it had only 26 “likes” as of 4 p.m., it doesn’t seem like that slogan is catching on just yet. (H/t GovExec)

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Details on the federal pay freeze — military not included, but Defense civilians are

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OMB Deputy Director Jeff Zients just laid out some details on the two-year pay freeze for federal employees in a conference call with reporters:

  • It’s expected to save $2 billion for the rest of FY 2011, and another $3 billion for FY 2012 alone. The White House expects it will save $28 billion over the next five years, and more than $60 billion over the next 10 years.
  • It will apply to all civilian federal employees, including Defense Department civilian employees and anyone under alternative pay plans. That means wage grade, SES, the few remnants still under NSPS, and others will have their pay frozen. But it will not apply to military service members.
  • Zients would not rule out a future cut in the size of the federal workforce. He said “no specific decisions have been made about the size of the federal workforce”  as the White House plans ahead for the FY 2012 budget, but he said “clearly agencies are going to need to do more with less.”
  • Federal employees who are due to be promoted to the next General Schedule grade in FY 2011 or 2012 would still get their promotion, so not all federal salaries will be completely frozen.
  • Zients doesn’t expect the freeze will hurt the government’s ability to recruit talented employees. “I’m confident we have an overall value proposition for federal employees that’s quite strong, and a lot of people want to serve,” he said.
  • Zients repeatedly denied that the decision was in response to months of negative news articles and criticism from conservatives and libertarians who felt federal employees are overcompensated in comparison to the private sector. He said the White House acted now because it is budgeting for 2012, and had to make a decision on next year’s locality pay by tomorrow. Zients also said the White House made the decision “in the context of difficult decisions as part of deficit reduction.”

Keep watching Federal Times and FedLine for more news. Obama’s statement should start any minute now. Check it out here.

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Watch Obama’s pay freeze announcement here

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Federal Times will be streaming the video of President Obama’s announcement on the two-year pay freeze for federal employees at 11:35 a.m. We’ve embedded the video below, and also at this link.

In the meantime, we’d like to hear what you think. Are you angry that you won’t be getting a pay raise for two years? Or do you think it’s a necessary sacrifice given the dire financial state the nation is in?

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BREAKING NEWS: Obama to freeze federal employee pay for 2 years

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UPDATE: It’s a 2 year freeze.

UPDATE: It is a federal pay freeze. The White House’s website said it will stream Obama’s statement “on the federal employee pay freeze” at 11:35. More to come.

ORIGINAL POST: Something major is brewing. The White House announced this morning that President Obama will make a statement to the press at 11:35 a.m. this morning. The White House also announced that OMB Deputy Director Jeff Zients and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer will hold an embargoed conference call “to discuss federal employee issues” in advance of the president’s announcement.

There are rumors floating around about a pay freeze for federal employees, and we may even see a three-year freeze. Take that with a grain of salt, but that’s just what we’re hearing. Stay tuned for more.

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