Federal Times Blogs

Last day to vote for TSA union

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A TSA agent directs travelers through security lines at Pittsburgh International Airport. (Jeff Swensen / Getty Images)

Today is the last day to vote in the runoff election to decide which union will represent some 43,000 Transportation Security Administration screeners. Voters can choose between the American Federation of Government Employees or the National Treasury Employees Union.

The first election, in which screeners could also choose “no union,” ended inconclusively when nobody received a clear majority. Voters do not have the option of choosing no union this time. AFGE had a slight advantage in the first election’s results, and received 274 more votes than NTEU.

Eligible voters can cast their ballots online or over the phone until 11:59 p.m. tonight. The votes will be tallied on Thursday. Speak now, or forever hold your peace.

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Federal Times wins three SPJ Dateline Awards

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Federal Times is proud to announce that the DC chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists last week awarded us three first-place Dateline Awards:

  • Senior Writer Stephen Losey won the first place award for investigative journalism for “Did top postal exec break contracting rules?”, which examined how former U.S. Postal Service executive Robert Bernstock awarded millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to his former business associates. “This look into non-bid contract giving by one official at the financially strapped Postal Service yielded what makes investigative journalism worth the effort: Response in the form of the probed official’s resignation and a rebidding of contracts under the microscope,” the judges said. “Congratulations to Losey and his editors for meaningful work that may have helped save taxpayers some money, but more importantly reminded readers of the importance of fairness and ethics in the public realm. Losey’s enterprising efforts should be praised for training a light on shadowy places.” [UPDATE: The Postal Regulatory Commission correctly notes that the Postal Service is funded not by taxpayers, but by revenues raised from its ratepaying customers.]
  • Former Staff Writer Gregg Carlstrom won the first place award for general news reporting for “I am not the enemy.” “Great look at the anti-government sentiment sweeping the country in 2010, from the perspective of federal employees — who were frightened over increased violence and outraged over being vilified by partisan politicians,” the judges said.
  • Losey also won first place for spot news reporting for “Pay freeze won’t stop raises.” “Excellent job detailing what wasn’t covered in President Obama’s ordered pay freeze for federal workers — step raises and bonuses for 1.1 million federal employees amounting to $2.5 billion over the two years.”

SPJ, which was founded in 1909, is one of the oldest professional journalism organizations in the country. Federal Times also won two Dateline awards last year.


FEC averts talk about corporate political spend

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While a discussion about corporate disclosure of campaign contributions seems to already have occurred among politicians and transparency groups, the Federal Election Commission deadlocked once again on a vote to re-open public discussion of disclosure rules for political advertisements.

These advertisements, called independent expenditures and electioneering communications, are used to support or oppose candidates, or publicize issues with the names or images of candidates.

FEC Chair Cynthia Bauerly offered up a “draft notice of proposed rulemaking” at the June 15 commission meeting to re-open public comment on existing rules that require donations to outside groups to be disclosed only when they are specifically earmarked for certain political advertisements.

In 2010, commissioners decided that only money earmarked for a specific advertisement had to be disclosed, rather than all money contributed toward political expenditures.

Open Secrets, which investigates political spend, reported that a similar request for public comment also failed in to get commission approval in January.

Advocacy groups that have supported a widely discussed presidential executive order that would require government contractors to disclose their political expenditures to third party groups, such as Public Citizen and the Campaign Legal Center, told Open Secrets that the FEC’s constant deadlock on issues is rendering the commission ineffective.

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The latest on e-gov funding

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The electronic government funding saga continues, even if the e-government fund would no longer exist under a spending bill approved today by a House appropriations subcommittee.

As tech-conscious readers might remember, Congress whacked the e-gov account from $34 million in 2010 to $8 million in the year-long continuing resolution enacted this April. Under a fiscal 2012 spending bill approved today by the subcommittee, the fund would be folded into the General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services, said Daniel Schuman, policy counsel for the Sunlight Foundation, an open government group that has been birddogging the issue.

In all, the combined operation would receive $50 million under the bill.

How much of that would go to e-gov? Schuman estimates $13 million, assuming the citizen services office gets the same $37 million received last year. So, that would be substantially more than this year, but still a heckuva lot less than last year.  A few weeks ago, the Obama administration said that this year’s reductions will force an end to two initiatives: Fedspace.gov and the Citizen Services Dashboard.

But with months of budget wrangling still ahead, this  story is definitely to be continued.

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Fiddlin’ Foresters axed from federal web domain

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The Fiddlin’ Foresters may live on, but their web site’s apparently defunct.

Monday morning, the U.S. Forest Service string band found itself in the unenviable position of being panned by President Obama. Not for its music, but for a web site that Obama held up as an example of a taxpayer-funded Internet presence in urgent need of pruning.

“Did you know that the federal government pays for a web site devoted to a folk music ensemble made up of forest rangers?” Obama asked in a video posted on the White House’s own site. The video then features a screen shot of the group’s site, accompanied by what is presumably a sample of the band’s playing.

“I’ll put their music on my iPod, but I’m not paying for their web site,” Obama continued. “And there are hundreds of similar sites that we should consolidate or just get rid of.”


A Google search quickly turned up fiddlinforesters.gov, but the url had vanished from a government server.  A cached version described the four-member ensemble as “the official ‘old-time string band’” of the Forest Service, adding that “we are proud to bring conservation and stewardship messages alive through story and song to all who value natural and cultural resource conservation on America’s public lands.”

The site was up as recently as Friday, the cached version indicated. Asked today whether it has since been shut down because of Obama’s criticism, the Forest Service bounced the question to its parent agency, the U.S. Agriculture Department, where Press Secretary Matt Herrick had no answer Monday afternoon.

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Counternarcotics contracts lack oversight

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Poor oversight of federal counternarcotics contracts calls to question how billions of tax dollars were spent, a congressional report shows.

Neither the State or Defense departments, which award most counternarcotics contracts, have adequate systems to track and evaluate contract data, the June 7 report states.

The report was prepared for Sen. Claire McCaskill, chairwoman of the Senate subcommittee on contracting oversight, after a May 2010 hearing revealed neither the State nor Defense departments could provide information about the contracts awarded for fighting drug production in eight countries south of the U.S. border.

“Without adequate oversight and management we are wasting tax dollars and throwing money at a problem without even knowing what we’re getting in return,” McCaskill said in a news release. “As we increase our counternarcotics contracting in Afghanistan, we can’t make these same mistakes again.”
The lack of oversight has led to inadequate competition, poor recordkeeping, and deficient transparency, the report states.

Annual spending on counternarcotics contracts in Latin America rose 32 percent over the five years reviewed in the report, from $482 million in 2005 to $636 million in 2009.

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OPM establishes new IT career paths

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The Office of Personnel Management has established a formal career path for information technology program managers and IT project managers, according to a recent memo.

In a memo last month, OPM encouragesd agencies to use the new title as soon as possible “to recruit, select and develop a cadre of high-performing IT program managers,” the memo said. Agencies have a year to align their standards with those provided by OPM.

Under the administration’s IT reform plan, OPM was charged with designing a career path by this month.

According to OPM’s definitions, a program manager is responsible for managing one or more major, multi-year IT initiatives and is accountable for the overall success of the program. An IT project manager directly manages a project to provide a unique service of product. Both are included in the IT management series. Agencies have a year to align their standards with those provided by OPM’s.


ONC to offer cash prizes for health IT ideas

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The federal office overseeing the nation’s transition to electronic health records plans to award $5 million in prizes to spur innovation in health IT.

A new program launched by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology will award $5 million in prizes to spur innovation in health IT through challenges.

Investing in Innovations or (i2) The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology will introduce up to 15 prize competitions  each year until March 2013, according to ONC. For example, software developers could be asked to build new tools allowing for health care providers and patients to share information electronically or new applications allowing for patients to download their clinical information.

The program, called Investing in Innovations or (i2), is similar to efforts by other agencies such as NASA, which that use public competitions to increase citizen engagement and solve tough problems.

Under the 2010 America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2010, more agencies were given authority to host prize competitions.

A website launched by the General Services Administration in September — challenge.gov — allows agencies to populate the site with challenges offering monetary awards, blogs, and discussion boards and monetary awards. Nearly 100 challenges are posted on the site.

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NOAA selects Google for email

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The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration is now the third government entity looking to Google for a new cloud email system, Google announced Thursday.

By October, NOAA plans to move 25,000 employee and contractor email accounts to Google Apps for Government. Users will have access to video chat, real-time document collaboration and support for various mobile devices, Dave Standish, Google’s federal civilian account manager wrote in a blog post.

The General Services Administration is completing its migration of 17,000 email users to Google Apps for Government, which GSA expects will garner $15 million in savings over 5 years. Lawrence Berkeley National Labs selected  Google’s email system for 5,000 users and expects to save $1.5 million over the next 5 years.

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Agencies continue to roll out telework policies – are you eligible?

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Federal agencies have until the end of June 7 (close of business today) to notify you about whether you qualify for telework. This is one of the deadlines that Congress mandated when it passed the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 in December.

So I am calling on all feds to answer – do you know if you can telework? Have you been told by your boss if you are able to work from home instead of at your assigned workstation?

According to a report released June 7 by the Telework Exchange, 84 percent of telework managing offices say they have already established the eligibility of employees underneath them.

Feel free to comment on this post, or to send me an email at amedici@federaltimes.com.