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OPM: Bathrooms won’t cut it as nursing space

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Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry on Dec. 22 issued a memo to agencies spelling out what they need to do to accommodate new, nursing mothers. And high up on agencies’ to-do list is providing a clean, private space mothers can use to pump their breast milk.

But one thing agencies absolutely can’t do is tell new moms to pump their breast milk in the bathroom — even a private one. Berry’s memo said agencies must provide a place for new mothers, “other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public, for mothers to express breast milk.” This doesn’t have to be a permanent space, however — Berry said agencies can temporarily set up a spot for nursing as necessary. During times when an office doesn’t have an employee who needs to nurse, they don’t have to have a space set up. Berry advised agencies to talk to the General Services Administration and review their own collective bargaining agreements to set up nursing spaces.

The new rules are required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed earlier this year, which requires employers to provide a private space for nursing mothers for at least a year after a child’s birth.

Berry also said that mothers can choose to nurse during their regularly-allotted midday breaks and must still be paid for that time. But if they can’t or won’t use those breaks for nursing, the agency doesn’t have to pay them for the time they take off to pump or nurse. And mothers should be allowed to take nursing breaks as frequently as is needed. “The frequency of breaks to express milk as well as the duration of each break will likely vary, according to the needs of the individual mother,” Berry wrote.

Berry also suggested agencies use workforce flexibilities such as alternative work schedules, compensatory time off, or other forms of leave to give mothers time to pump their milk.

President Obama last week told Berry to lay the ground rules for the government’s new nursing policy.

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Air Force: NSPS transition had its bumps

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The Defense Department has moved roughly 172,000 employees back into the General Schedule from the National Security Personnel System, but the transition had its share of rough patches. According to a Dec. 21 release from the Air Force Space Command — which had to quickly move 3,000 employees back go GS by Sept. 30 — some employees were placed in the wrong GS grades.

The Air Force primarily had problems matching grades and duties because officials used inaccurate or incomplete data. But the Air Force also was under the gun to act fast — employees were shifted in four phases between July and September, and most transitions took place Sept. 12 — which contributed to the errors.

“The rapid transition resulted in errors that may have been prevented had more time been given to accurately transition employees,” human resources specialist Siobhan Berry said in the release.

The Air Force has already fixed some mistakes, but must conduct more in-depth position reviews to correct others.

We’re looking further into this, but we’d also like to hear from our readers who have been switched out of NSPS. How did the process work for you? Were you placed in the wrong grade? Have they fixed any problems, or are you still waiting for your pay and grade to be straightened out?

E-mail me at slosey@federaltimes.com if you’d like to talk. If you’d prefer to speak anonymously, that’s OK too.

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NASA forced to pay half billion for rocket to nowhere

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A quirk in the 2010 budget and the continuing resolution have forced NASA to continue funding already-canceled Ares V rocket program to the tune of $465 million through March 4.

The Orlando Sentinel caught this one:

At the root of the problem is a 70-word sentence inserted into the 2010 budget — by lawmakers seeking to protect Ares I jobs in their home states — that bars NASA from shutting down the program until Congress passed a new budget a year later.

That should have happened before the Oct. 1 start of the federal fiscal year.

But Congress never passed a 2011 budget and instead voted this month to extend the 2010 budget until March — so NASA still must abide by the 2010 language.

The language was placed into the 2010 budget by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and keeps the whole Constellation program going until March 4, at a cost of $1.2 billion.

Or as I would like to call it, 20 percent of the yearly amount that is saved by the federal pay freeze.

Library of Congress wants to stream movies online

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In recent years, everything from Netflix to Apple to Hulu has started streaming movies online. Next up: The Library of Congress.

In an interview with the Washington Post on the latest 25 additions to the National Film Registry, Librarian of Congress James Billington said he’s looking for ways to put some of the Library’s notable films online. Billington plans to stream films through Netflix and other similar sites, as well as the Library’s own website.

It’s unclear which films may be offered up for streaming. Studios and creators guarding their copyrights may keep some offline (It’s probably a safe bet that George Lucas, a notorious stickler for how his movies are presented, will restrict “Star Wars” and the newly-honored “Empire Strikes Back”). But Billington sounds optimistic about streaming’s chances:

I hope we’ll be able to work something out, because [the registry] has great educational and inspirational as well as entertainment value.

This year’s additions to the registry include such popular movies such as “Empire,” “The Exorcist,” “All the President’s Men” and “Airplane!” (Cue the “Surely you can’t be serious” jokes.) But it also includes movies like “Cry of Jazz,” a short 1959 film about life in Chicago’s black neighborhoods that features performances by jazz musician Sun Ra and his Arkestra, W.C. Fields’ 1934 “It’s a Gift,” and “Let There Be Light,” a 1946 documentary director John Huston made for the Army — which then censored it — about WWII combat veterans suffering from war-related psychological trauma. Those and other little-known films appear to be ideal candidates for streaming.

And even though Billington didn’t sound interested in enshrining YouTube videos in the Library, he seemed to leave the door open to that possibility. “Everything’s changing so much,” he said. (After all, the Library last year added Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video to the archives.)

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Senate confirms SSA deputy commissioner

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The Social Security Administration has a new deputy commissioner.

Carolyn Colvin was confirmed before the Senate Wednesday, after being nominated by President Barack Obama in Oct. 2009, according to an agency news release.

Colvin, a former chief executive officer at AMERIGROUP, DC, has held various positions within SSA including deputy commissioner for policy and external affairs and deputy commissioner for programs and policy.

“Carolyn brings a wealth of expertise that will be extremely valuable as we face the dual challenges of ever increasing workloads and reducing current backlogs in an environment of fiscal austerity,” SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue said in the release. “I look forward to working closely with Carolyn as we strive to meet these challenges.”

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NORAD Tracks Santa getting into gear

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With one misprinted ad, the 55-year-old NORAD Tracks Santa tradition was born

With less than two days left until Christmas Eve, North American Aerospace Defense Command is getting ready for their most important duty: Tracking Santa Claus as he makes his way around the world.

The tradition began in 1955, when a Sears Roebuck ad in Colorado encouraging children to call Santa accidentally printed the hotline number for the Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD’s predecessor. CONAD’s Director of Operations, Air Force Col. Harry Shoup, was bombarded with calls from local kids that Christmas Eve looking for Santa. But rather than yell and hang up — it was the height of the Cold War and nuclear war fears, after all — Shoup played along. He had his staff monitor the radar as Santa journeyed out from the North Pole, and updated inquisitive children on where the big red guy was at any given moment.

(Go to this link and click play to hear Col. Shoup humorously describe his bewilderment the first time he picked up the red hotline phone, expecting an emergency call from the Pentagon, only to hear a child ask if he was really Santa.)

Beginning at 2 a.m. Friday morning and continuing until Christmas Day, NORAD and Google Earth will provide real-time updates on Santa’s location. And crafty parents could use it as a tool to get the little ones to go to bed on time. (“Uh oh, Johnny — Santa’s just one state away. Back to bed, quick, or he might skip over us!”)

The rest of the year, NORAD’s main job is to look for signs of a nuclear strike or other attack against the United States. Fortunately, Santa is the usually the only thing NORAD has to watch from its hardened bunker beneath Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado.

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Obama to Berry: Accommodate nursing mothers in the workplace

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President Obama just issued a memo to Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry regarding civilian employees who are nursing mothers. The memo simply says Obama delegates the authority to Berry “with respect to providing appropriate workplace accommodations for executive branch civilian employees who are nursing mothers.”

Not a whole lot of detail on what that’s going to mean. We’re trying to find out and will report back as soon as we know more.

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Tom Coburn is not amused by antics of GPO’s comic mouse

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Possibly the cutest waste of taxpayer dollars Sen. Coburn ever laid eyes upon.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., just released his Wastebook report, which highlights government programs he feels are pointless and have frittered away precious money we don’t have — $11.5 billion, to be exact. There’s several examples of outdated federal buildings being maintained when they probably should be canned, odd scientific studies (World of Warcraft? really?) and museum grants, and improper payments made to criminal gangs and prisoners — your run-of-the-mill government waste, more or less.

But this year Coburn highlights an unusual example of what he feels is pointless government spending: The Government Printing Office’s educational comic book, “Squeaks Discovers Type!” As we wrote back in September, GPO decided to come up with a way to teach kids how important printing remains as part of its 150th anniversary celebration, so it came up with the idea of doing a comic. Creating “Squeaks” was an in-house job — two GPO employees wrote and drew it, and the agency printed it up on its own presses.

Coburn didn’t find it funny. The comic’s print run of 5,500 copies cost $60,000 to print, he said. And even if GPO sold all copies of the $5 comic, they’d still lose $5.70 on each copy. That means in a best-case scenario, Squeaks would cost GPO $31,350, Coburn’s report said:

The GPO calls that loss a ‘marketing expense,’ part of its effort to educate the public on its mission. Taxpayers — who footed the bill for the project — might have another name for it.

I asked GPO for a response to Coburn’s report this morning, and will update when they get back to me.

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One CR down, at least one more to go

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The continuing spending resolutions continue . . .

To give itself a little breathing room, Congress has approved a three-day extension of the continuing resolution, or CR, that would have expired at midnight tonight. The extension, approved Friday, pushed the deadline back to Tuesday. Before that point, lawmakers are expected to pass one more CR that would run into early next year.

The resolutions generally leave agency spending frozen at fiscal 2010 levels; the latest round comes after Senate Democrats could not round up the votes to break a likely Republican filibuster of a catch-all appropriations bill for fiscal 2011.  Lawmakers have otherwise not approved any of the dozen appropriations bills needed to set agency budgets for 2011.

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Senate repeals ban on gays in military

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The Senate on Saturday repealed the long-standing “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibited openly gay men and women from serving in the military. The final vote was 65-31 in favor of repeal.

The bill now goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign it next week.

View our sister websites, including ArmyTimes.com, for more coverage.