Federal Times Blogs

Ross throws down gauntlet to unions

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Rep. Dennis Ross (photo by Blair Tomlinson)

Roll Call this morning published a column from Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., who is pushing for significant reductions to the federal workforce — and calling out federal employee unions:

While White House officials have paid lip service to the commission recommendations [to cut the federal workforce by 10 percent], they remain beholden to public employee unions, vehemently opposed to modernization and rightsizing of the workforce, whose members and unions finance and mobilize on behalf of the president and Congressional Democrats.

[...] The fact is the federal payroll, and the legacy costs, must be rightsized. Public sector union leadership can recognize this and assist us, or they can continue their knee-jerk opposition to the modern workforce. We hope they choose the latter.

What do you think? Is Ross right, and are unions standing in the way of much-needed changes to the federal workplace? Or do you think unions aren’t the problem, and Ross is simply playing politics by taking a swipe at them? Sound off below.

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OPM honors CFC campaigns

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The Office of Personnel Management yesterday honored some of the most successful Combined Federal Campaigns and volunteers for their hard work during the most recent pledge drive.

“Federal employees show their generosity every year in the hundreds of millions of dollars they give to our nation’s charities, helping those who need it most,” OPM Director John Berry said at the ceremony at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. “These campaigns and individuals went above and beyond, making CFC such an enormous success.”

The 2010 CFC was a tough one, with pledges dropping for the first time since 2002. Lingering economic troubles and concerns about the two-year pay-scale freeze — which was announced during the campaigns final days — likely discouraged some feds from giving. But the $281.5 million total is still nothing to sneeze at — it’s the second-highest in CFC history, and only slightly below the 2009 results.

Linda Siegle, chairwoman of the Chesapeake Bay Area CFC, received the top leadership plaque for her longstanding support of both local and national campaigns. Full list of the 26 awardees after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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‘Yeeeaaah, I’m gonna need you to come in on Saturday’

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"Ahh, I'm also gonna need you to come in on Sunday too, 'kay? We, ah, lost some people this week, and, ah, we sorta need to play catchup." (from "Office Space")

It seems like every time we turn around, another federal agency is freezing hiring or making plans for a buyout. But even though staffing is taking a hit, agencies’ work isn’t going anywhere. And that’s not good news for the employees who remain.

Are tight staffing levels forcing you or your co-workers to work more overtime lately? We’d like to hear from you. E-mail me at slosey@federaltimes.com to share your story. If you only want to talk anonymously, that’s fine too. ‘Mkay? Yeaaahh…

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Fire forces Los Alamos National Laboratory to close

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Fire closes in on Los Alamos National Laboratory. Picture taken June 27. Photo courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory

All non-essential personnel have been evacuated from Los Alamos National Laboratory after a wildfire approached the facility Sunday night.

The laboratory has remained closed since Monday, according to a spokesman, and will remain closed Thursday.

The laboratory has more than 12,000 employees, including contractors and a number of students.

At one point Monday there was a small fire inside the 36 square mile laboratory grounds but was extinguished within hours.

Is D.C. takeover a model for the U.S. Postal Service?

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Even before he was officially in a position to do much about it, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., was adamant that the U.S. Postal Service needed to cut costs faster and deeper. After Issa became chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this January, the looming question was just how he would push that agenda.

The answer: Treat America’s biggest mail carrier like the District of Columbia.

Back in the mid-1990s, the Republican-controlled Congress set up a “board of control” that essentially stripped the district of home rule with the goal of putting its problematic finances in order.  Now, Issa wants to do something similar for the Postal Service, with the creation of a panel that could override the postmaster general, void union contracts, and basically prod the mail carrier to do whatever it takes to return to solvency, according to a newly introduced 132-page bill.

Here’s how it would work: If the Postal Service defaults on any obligations to the federal government (and an oversight committee spokesman confirmed that this would include the billions of dollars in prepayments into the USPS retiree health care fund due each September), it would quickly slide into what the bill delicately labels as a “control period.”

The President would then name a five-member commission (officially known as the Postal Service Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority) that would assume overall management  responsibility. Among other powers, the authority would approve the Postal Service’s budget and hire and fire top managers. Its tour of duty would end only when the Postal Service made it through two consecutive fiscal years in the black.

The bill would also give the Postal Service a green light to go to five-day-a-week delivery. But from the perspective of current USPS management, which desperately wants such authority, that appears to to be its only major positive. In  a news release, agency leaders expressed disappointment that the legislation wouldn’t eliminate the prepayment requirement and that it “would create more government bureaucracy and slow our progress on streamlining our operations.”

The agency adds that it’s not really interested in another $10 billion in Treasury borrowing authority that the legislation would provide.  While the expanded line of credit would be available only during the control period subject to the authority’s approval, “the Postal Service does not need to incur additional debt–we need the money back that is already owed to us,” the release says in an allusion to overpayments into its pension program identified by the USPS inspector general and an outside actuarial firm.

In case anyone’s forgotten, incidentally, the Postal Service stopped paying employer contributions into the Federal Employees Retirement System last Friday as a way of holding on to more of its fast evaporating cash.

No hearing or markup on Issa’s legislation has been scheduled at this point.

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DC’s Funniest Fed Competition

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Featuring the federal workforce’s finest, DC’s Funniest Fed Competition finals are tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Arlington Cinema Drafthouse.

The best amatuer stand up comics within the federal sector will be cracking jokes for the glory and splendor of being crowned DC’s Funniest Fed.

Unfortunately the show is sold out, but good luck to the finalists!

Don Heitman (CFTC)
Tim Miller (US Army)
Abe Barth (HHS)
Kate Taylor (US Senate)
Jonathan Shepard (USAID)
Nate Johnson (SSA)

The show isn’t just for “you know what” and giggles, 20 percent of  ticket proceeds will be donated to Fisher House Foundation to help families of wounded soldiers visit their loved ones while they are recuperating.

Obama reorg plan could be months away

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Atingle with suspense over what President Obama may be contemplating in the way of a government restructuring?

Keep atingling. It could be several months before the reorganizer-in-chief decides exactly how to proceed, one of the leaders in that effort said Thursday.

“This is hard,” Lisa Brown, co-director of the Government Reform Initiative at the White House budget office, said in an interview. Obama “doesn’t do it lightly. He really is trying to figure out what the right answer is.”

Together with Jeffrey Zients, the budget’s office deputy director, Brown was in charge of putting together streamlining recommendations for the president, who first signaled his interest in reorganization in his January State of the Union Speech.

Those options were delivered earlier this month, according to the White House. Brown, who spoke after a Partnership for Public Service forum on the management lessons of 9/11, declined to discuss them, saying they are not public until Obama makes a decision.

“It remains to be seen exactly what comes out it,” she said.

A lot of work went into it, though: more than 350 people were interviewed, according to Brown.

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FBI nabs $74 million cybercrime rings

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Law enforcement agents across a dozen countries joined forces to bring down two international cyber crime rings suspected of causing $74 million in losses to more than 1 million victims, the FBI announced Wednesday.

Two individuals from the northern European country Lativa were arrested Tuesday and indicted on charges filed in Minnesota, where the two allegedly created a phony advertising agency. Peteris Sahurovs, 22, and Marina Maslobojeva, 23 claimed they represented a hotel chain that wanted to purchase online advertising space on the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s news website, according to details about the indictment in a news release.

Dubbed “Operation Trident Tribunal,” the coordinated effort included officers from the United States, France, Canada, Germany and other countries and zeroed in on the scareware scams, where malicious software is sold as legitimate computer software.

Investigators seized more than 40 computers, servers and bank accounts throughout the United States and several European countries, following scareware scams investigated by FBI offices in Seattle and Minneapolis.

Here are some FBI tips on how to spot scareware:

  • Scareware pop-ups may look like actual warnings from your system, but  some elements aren’t fully functional. For instance,  you may see a list of reputable icons—like software companies or security publications—but you can’t click through to go to those actual sites.
  • Scareware pop-ups are hard to close, even after clicking on the “Close” or “X” button.
  • Fake antivirus products are designed to appear legitimate, with names such as Virus Shield, Antivirus, or VirusRemover.

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So what about those White House solar panels?

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Last year Energy Secretary Stephen Chu announced with much fanfare at a green government symposium that the White House will have solar panels on it – by the end of spring no less.

Well, that day has come and gone. But instead of solar panels, there is just a June 20 statement on the Energy Department’s blog that says the following before highlighting areas of success:

The Energy Department remains on the path to complete the White House solar demonstration project, in keeping with our commitment, and we look forward to sharing more information — including additional details on the timing of this project — after the competitive procurement process is completed.

When I asked the Energy Department why the project was not completed on time, I only got the return answer to just see that statement. Inquiries to the White House were directed back to the Energy Department, since they were in charge of procurement.

But why the project was delayed or for what reasons is not clear. The only thing that we know is that there are no solar panels on the White House.

Lawmakers eyeing Hatch Act changes

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Well, this could get interesting. Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is contemplating major changes to the Hatch Act, the law that generally bars federal employees from on-the-job partisan politicking.

At a hearing this afternoon, Issa didn’t say what kind of alterations he believes are needed, but labeled the status quo “clear as mud.” In a brief interview afterward, he drew distinctions in how the law affects the president and vice president; Cabinet officers and political appointees; and the career federal workforce. All three layers, Issa said, could need “multiple rounds” of legislation drafting.  Today’s hearing may be the first in a series.

If career feds are well aware of the Hatch Act—and the fact that they can be fired for violating it—the 1939 statute usually get more media attention when questions arise over presidential activities. Recently, the Obama administration has come under fire for hosting a meeting of Wall Street executives at the White House. While the administration says that the March gathering—first reported by The New York Times—was to discuss policy matters, invitations came from the Democratic National Committee.

And several lawmakers at today’s hearing complained that federal workers can innocently stumble over the law’s restrictions.  Among them was the oversight committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland. “Increased training is always helpful to help prevent these problems,” Cummings said, “but it also may be helpful to revisit some of these issues legislatively.”

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