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Laid-off fed asks Obama, ‘What would you do?’

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A pregnant federal employee who recently found out she is going to lose her job at the National Zoo asked President Obama a hard question yesterday: “What would you do, if you were me?”

Karin Gallo, who will be laid off from her public affairs job June 4, said at a town hall meeting sponsored by CBS News that she took a federal job thinking it was secure, but is now “scared about what the future holds.”

Obama didn’t really answer Gallo’s question. He instead launched into a defense of public sector workers, noted the two-year pay freeze feds are already under, and said that cutting government jobs can have devastating effects on real people. “These are not abstract questions,” Obama said. “And I think Karin makes it really clear that there are real consequences when we make these decisions.”

Carol Fiertz, the Zoo’s associate director of finance and administration, told FedLine the Zoo had to resort to layoffs because of budget shortages. The Zoo’s budget increases in recent years haven’t been enough to keep up with rising animal feed costs and cost-of-living pay raises Congress approved for federal employees.

Besides Gallo, the Zoo is laying off two other public affairs employees, three exhibit employees who make signs, and one horticulturalist. Fiertz said the Zoo hasn’t laid anyone off in several years, though she couldn’t remember when the last layoffs were.

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GSA to provide agencies free virtual meeting space

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Agencies will have free access to the General Services Administration’s 15 virtual meeting centers starting the end of the month.

The five Washington-area centers were completed last month and others in Boston; New York City; Philadelphia; Atlanta; Chicago; Kansas City, Mo; Fort Worth, Texas; Denver; San Francisco and Seattle will soon be completed.

An hourly fee to use the telepresence centers won’t kick in until Sept. 30, giving agencies a grace period to test the technology. That fee is not expected to exceed $500 an hour per room, or the cost of some public centers.

The online scheduling portal used to book meeting rooms will also include a carbon footprint tool similar to one GSA offers that can calculate emissions from travel, said Mary Davie, assistant commissioner for GSA’s Office of Integrated Technology Services. Based on the number of participants, miles traveled and the length of the trip, agencies can weigh the benefits.

“This is the way we want to operate,” said Katherine Spivey of GSA, about the agency using and providing access to telepresence technology. When agencies book travel arrangements, the new e-travel systems will provide telepresence as an option.

GSA anticipates shrinking travel budgets will also push adoption.




Transportation Secretary a bike lane-loving hipster

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Go back to Williamsburg, hipster. (Tim Sloan / Agence France-Presse)

Hats off to the Huffington Post for asking the important questions. In an interview, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he’s worried about the way car drivers mistreat bikers, and applauded cities that have constructed dedicated bike lanes. Said LaHood:

I’m concerned that people that are driving cars have a level of respect for bikers, and that’s the reason that we have these bike lanes. Bikers have as much right to the streets as anybody driving a car and I am concerned about [their safety].

When HuffPo told LaHood he sounded like a “run-of-the-mill hipster,” he appeared confused, and said “I don’t even know what that term means.”

As Gawker notes, “But isn’t that exactly what a hipster would say?”

Federal Times has uncovered exclusive footage of LaHood working his second job as a bike messenger:

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Apple is a model for GSA customer service

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The General Services Administration’s acquisition arm could learn a thing or two about customer service from Apple, Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner Steve Kempf said Tuesday at a training conference in San Diego.

Following a morning keynote by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak at the GSA Training Conference and Expo, Kempf noted the partnership between Wozniak and Steve Jobs that birthed the Apple revolution and a loyal customer base.

“At FAS, we want to have a partnership with industry partners and customers that’s like Apple” and its customers, Kempf said. “Think about the way people look at Apple products.”

Customers clamor for their products, and their products make life easier and better, he said. “GSA and FSA wants to become a lot like that.”

Kempf said this relationship model would apply to interactions with government customers, whether it’s leasing plug-in hybrid cars, providing cloud computing email or print managment services.

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Zients: Performance.gov going public soon

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It’s not like the folks who run tmz.com and other celebrity web sites have much to worry about, but federal Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients probably made a select group of people quite happy today with the news that performance.gov is likely going public within a few weeks.

The site, intended as the electronic linchpin of the Obama administration’s performance tracking efforts, has been up since last summer, but only to federal employees with passwords. Its public debut has been eagerly anticipated in management circles, but repeatedly postponed. Exactly why has been a bit murky, but Shelley Metzenbaum, associate director for performance and personnel management at the Office of Management and Budget, has acknowledged difficulties in keeping the site updated.

In a September memo, Zients described it as a “one-stop shop” for in-depth information on agency goals and performance measures. He made today’s disclosure at a Senate hearing on the recently enacted Government Performance and Results Modernization Act.  And despite recent cuts to the e-government program that pays for performance.gov, data.gov and other signature administration web sites, Zients said that “most” will keep going, but without new enhancements.

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Go West, young man

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Here’s something for the stats geeks out there: The Census Bureau yesterday officially named Plato, Mo., as the mean center of the U.S. population. What exactly does that mean, you ask? Well, if the United States was a flat, weightless plate (and assuming all 308 million citizens weighed the same), Plato would be the point at which the US would balance perfectly.

Technically it’s a spot 2.9 miles east of Plato, population 109. (And if you really want to be a stickler about it, it’s at 37.517534 degrees north latitude, 92.173096 degrees west longitude.) The center shifted 23.4 miles westward over the last decade, and since 1790 has moved 873 miles from its original spot in Chestertown, Md. The Census Bureau posted a nifty interactive map, which we’ve embedded below, showing how the population center has shifted over the last 220 years. It’s particularly interesting to see how its path feinted north after the Civil War, but by the mid-20th century was definitely trending southward.

The Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also unveiled a commemorative “geodetic control mark” planted near the official center, which will serve as a reference point for mapmaking and charting infrastructure.

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GSA Training Conference and Expo 2011 underway in San Diego

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The General Services Administration kicked off its annual training conference this year with a speech from GSA Administrator Martha Johnson and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Johnson said the General Services Administration has been pushing hard to become more sustainable, efficient and offer more valuable services within the federal government. She said federal workers are doing grade A work.

“We’re the A-team, we want to be on the A agenda doing the A work for this country,” Johnson said. She added that federal agencies will have to push even harder to be on the forefront of innovation and change.

Wozniak recounted his journey from a self-described nerdy, prank-prone elementary school student to the invention of the Apple computer and said it was small inventions that ended up changing the world.

“When you change one small piece, it changes how everything else works,” Wozniak said.

Results on APWU contract vote coming tomorrow

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In case anyone’s forgotten, tomorrow will be a big day for the American Postal Workers Union and the U.S. Postal Service. That’s when they find out whether APWU members have approved a tentative contract that would run to May 2015.

Ballots were due back this morning at designated post office boxes; once they’re counted tomorrow at a Washington, D.C.-area hotel, the results will be posted on the APWU’s web site, according to the union. The tentative deal, which would establish a two-tier wage system, has been strongly endorsed by the leaders of both the Postal Service and the APWU. But it’s come under fire from congressional Republicans for being overly generous while former APWU President William Burrus  is opposed on the grounds that it would cost future postal workers too much.

To encourage turnout, the union is offering cash prizes to the union locals that do the best job of mobilizing members to vote. That tactic produced this angry exchange at a hearing last month between current APWU President Cliff Guffey and Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the Postal Service.  (To get the full flavor of the dialogue, start around the 1:37 point on the webcast.)

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In bin Laden hunt, all the pieces mattered

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"We're building something here, detective. We're building it from scratch. All the pieces matter."

Economist blogger JF hits the nail on the head when he calls last week’s bin Laden operation “Lester Freamon’s finest hour.”

Regular viewers of HBO’s The Wire will remember Freamon as the veteran detective “with a gift for the paper trail,” who pored through reams of property records and campaign donation filings to uncover corruption, and listened to hours upon hours of banal wiretapped conversations to catch the one veiled reference to a contract killing necessary to bring down a drug lord. If it had an iconic image, it was Freamon sitting at a desk, painting dollhouse miniatures and peering over the rims of his glasses as gangsters’ pager numbers flashed across a computer screen.

The Wire didn’t traffic in car chases or shootouts, like other cop shows. It turned the drudgery and bureaucracy of police work into drama just as gripping as action shows like 24 — sometimes even more so.

Similarly, while SEAL Team 6 certainly deserves every plaudit they’re getting for their derring-do, the contributions of thousands of civilian intelligence analysts and operators should not be overlooked. What they did was slow, frustrating and decidedly unsexy work, but after thousands of late nights, it gradually added up to victory. Forget James Bond and Jack Bauer — that’s real intelligence work, and the Lester Freamons of the world deserve our thanks.

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When being al Qaida isn’t bad enough

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Rep. King also has intelligence showing Zawahiri likes to kick puppies. (Mannie Garcia / Getty Images)

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., yesterday leveled a new accusation against bin Laden deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, and reiterated an old charge against accused radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki — both suspected to be in the running to take over al Qaida after bin Laden’s death:

The two people they’re talking about, Zawahiri and Awlaki … Awlaki has been arrested for soliciting prostitutes, and I know from people in the intelligence community that Zawahiri as a doctor was a pedophile, molesting young patients. So these are the two top people — one, an imam who solicits prostitutes, the other a doctor who molests his patients. So this shows, I think, really the decadence of al Qaida.

Oh, Congressman King. We already know Zawahiri’s al Qaida, and Awlaki allegedly inspired and communicated with the Fort Hood shooter and other bombers. It’s not like we can like them any less than we do already. But a child-molesting, prostitute-soliciting al Qaida? That’s called piling on.

Video of King’s interview with Fox News after the jump:

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