Federal Times Blogs

U.S. Postal Service ranked tops (yes, you read that right)

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At the end of a dismal year for the U.S. Postal Service, let’s end on an upbeat note: For all its problems, the nation’s mail carrier is the best-performing among those of major industrialized countries.

That’s the judgment of Oxford Strategic Consulting, a British firm that recently took a look at the operations of 19 national posts, including those of Great Britain, China, India and Japan. When it came to delivering letters and other mail, the U.S. Postal Service averaged almost 269,000 pieces per delivery employee last year, far ahead of runner-up Australia Post, where the average was about 167,000 pieces, the Oxford study found.

The Postal Service didn’t fare as well on package delivery, placing only sixth in the number of parcels per delivery employee among the 19 nations. Overall, however, it was ranked as the top performer, based on a matrix of three broad yardsticks: Provision of access to vital services, operational resource efficiency, and performance and public trust.

USPS officials are “pleased,” Giselle Valera, the agency’s vice president for global business, said in a statement.  “Our employees take great pride in working hard every day on goals that lead to operational efficiencies and garnering the faith of the American people in the United States Postal Service.”

The full study is not yet available online, although Oxford provided the executive summary to Federal Times. Here, however, is a link to the press release summarizing some of the findings.

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General Services Administration recovers Abraham Lincoln bust

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The General Services Administration has recovered a 1936 sculpture of Honest Abe’s head, according to a press release.

Artist A. William Mues originally created the sculpture as part of the Works Progress Administration for the government during the Great Depression. But the sculpture turned up at a New Jersey estate auction in November and identified by a GSA inspector general agent.

After reviewing documents from the National Archives and confirming its origins, the sculpture was returned to GSA. The sculpture is valued at $2,600.




Taps for the National Security Personnel System

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As of this Sunday, the National Security Personnel System is officially defunct.

In a Federal Register notice published today, the Office of Personnel Management and the Defense Department report that they are repealing the regulations accompanying the controversial pay-for-performance system effective Jan. 1. The repeal is basically just housekeeping; the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act ended the legal authority for the NSPS and declared that any existing regs would be toast by the beginning of 2012.

Should anyone need a refresher on what the very long-running flap was about, incidentally, this Federal Times article offers a good recap.


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Washington Monument has cracks, could cost $15 million to repair, report says

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The Washington Monument, damaged in the August earthquake, is cracked in dozens of places, according to a National Park Service report released Thursday.

Six marble panels near the pointed top of the monument — called the “pyramidion” — have severe cracking, and. water is leaking through to the observation areas, according to the report.

The report — prepared by government contractors Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. and Tipping Mar — also documents other cracks throughout the structure.

The Park Service will receive $7.5 million in funds to repair the monument under the fiscal 2012 spending bill approved last week. The agency is expected to match that funding with private donations, according to legislation.

The report recommends

Temporary weatherization such as sealants and special insulation to prevent further leaks.

A new study to determine how vulnerable the monument is to future earthquakes.

Treasury headquarters attains LEED Gold certification.

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The Treasury Department announced today that their headquarters has attained LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. Gold is the second-highest rating.

The building was made more energy and water efficient, resulting in a 7 percent decrease in electricity use and a 53 percent decrease in steam use over 2008 levels.

“The fact that the home of much our nation’s financial history has achieved this distinction for environmental leadership adds new meaning to the term ‘green’ building,” said Assistant Secretary for Management Dan Tangherlini. “We’re proud of the improvements we’ve made around the Treasury Building – both big and small – to help reduce our environmental footprint and save taxpayer dollars.”

The Treasury Department also squeezed in 164 additional workstations for federal employees.

The Treasury Building, which is located at 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, is more than two city blocks long and serves as the headquarters of the Department. It was constructed over a period of 33 years between 1836 and 1869. The east and center wings – which comprise the oldest portion of the structure – were designed by Robert Mills, architect of the Washington Monument, and were built between 1836 to 1842.

The Treasury Building is the third-oldest federal building in Washington D.C., after the White House and the U.S. Capitol, and was named a National Historic Landmark in 1972.

Retirements, hardship withdrawls cut TSP contributions

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Here are highlights from Monday’s Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board meeting:

-The number of participants with no contributions to their TSP accounts increased by about 3,000 last month, compared with a 25,000 increase on October. The number of active FERS employees contributing to the Thrift Savings Plan decreased by about 5,000 in November.

-Renee Wilder, the board’s director of research and strategic planning said an increase in separations, financial hardship withdrawals and the fact that employees are hitting their contribution limits have contributed to a decrease in participation. Employees who take out a hardship withdrawal cannot contribute to their TSP accounts for 6 months. The board also expects to see more retirements in the face of hiring freezes and budget cuts.

-The C, S and I funds decreased 1.1 percent, 5.9 percent and 14.5 percent respectively as of Dec. 16.

-The TSP’s overall fund balance is nearly $292 billion, up from more than $289 billion in  October.

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Unions and Postal Service keep talking

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The U.S. Postal Service and two of its major unions have again agreed to extend contract talks—this time until Jan. 20.

Under a previous extension, negotiations with the National Postal Mail Handlers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers had been set to end Friday, but all sides agreed to stay at the bargaining table for another month or so.

“The extension will allow the parties to continue to work on the important economic, health care, workplace and other contractual issues being discussed,” the Postal Service said in a news release Saturday morning.

“We are encouraged that progress is still being made and we want to take all the time necessary to reach an agreement that serves the interests of America’s city letter carriers,” NALC President Fredric Rolando said in a separate release. In a article on its web site, the NPMHU said that “slow progress” is being made.

Contracts with both unions officially expired Nov. 20. The NALC represents more than 195,000 employees who deliver mail mostly in urban areas. The NPMHU represents more than 46,000 workers in mail processing plants and post offices.

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DoD CIO honors IT professionals

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Information technology played a vital role in the Defense Department’s immediate response to the Japanese tsunami this spring.

DoD military services relied heavily on data, video and voice technology to quickly exchange information with the Japanese about available fuel, food, water and radiological activity at the disaster cite.

Without the proper IT in place, including a functioning network, it would have been impossible for the commander to do his job, whether disaster relief or humanitarian efforts, said United States Navy Capt. Craig Goodman, who is stationed at Yokota Air Base in Japan. The technology provided a common operational picture of the impacted areas, whereU.S.forces were located and where the needs were.

Goodman and his directorate, along with several other DoD and contractor personnel stationed at the Pentagon and overseas, were recognized Thursday by the DoD chief information officer for their achievements in IT and information management.

There were more than 70 nominations for the DoD CIO award, and winners were selected for their work in several IT areas, including acquisition, information sharing and data management and cyber operations. View the individual and team winners.

“It just demonstrates the breadth of how we have to deploy technology but also the talent that we have to have everywhere in the world to make it happen,” DoD CIO Teri Takai said.

Takai said DoD is working to deliver IT faster, but the process often times is bogged down by DoD’s own internal procedures. She highlighted one winning team that was recognized for using a method called agile development to provide useful technology in smaller increments and faster. Considering the push to drive down administrative costs within DoD, Takai said the department has to find ways to provide IT for less.

“The individuals that won these awards have demonstrated that by being innovative and by looking at the way they’re doing things they can deliver..[and be] cost effective and efficient,” Takai said.


Postal Service proceeds with first-class mail service standard change

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Despite the five-month freeze on mail processing plant closings announced this week, the U.S. Postal Service is pursuing the change in first-class mail delivery standards tied to that proposed downsizing.

That planned change would slacken the existing delivery benchmark–now one to three days–to two to three days.  As part of the  the same initiative, the Postal Service wants to close more than half of its 461 processing facilities, with the goal of running the remaining plants more efficiently under the new standard.

In a Federal Register notice published today, the mail carrier acknowledges that eliminating the overnight delivery standard for first-class mail will cost it some business, but says the savings will be worth it.  You can read all about it here;  the public comment period runs until Feb. 13.


Air Force to lift hiring freeze, more buyouts coming

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The Air Force yesterday said it will fully lift its four-month-old hiring freeze on Thursday, and is planning a second round of buyouts and early outs in January to further cut staffing levels.

The hiring freeze, which was imposed in August and was originally supposed to only last three months, helped the Air Force cut nearly 9,000 civilian positions. But it still has to cut another 4,500 to reach its goal of reducing its civilian workforce by 13,500.

“We have made significant progress in reducing manning levels through various programs,” Michelle LoweSolis, civilian force integration director for the Air Force Personnel Center, said Dec. 13. “But in some areas we are still short of the goal, so the freeze was extended in those targeted areas to help us work toward that end.”

The Air Force said many of the positions marked for elimination were already vacant, and the hiring freeze produced more vacant positions. It has also offered buyouts and early outs to up to 4,000 employees to get them off the rolls by Dec. 31.

The Air Force said it hasn’t yet decided who will be able to apply for the next buyouts and early outs.

“There are many moving parts involved in this effort, and we are all working to ensure employees whose positions have been targeted for elimination are quickly placed in positions vacated by those who accepted [early outs] and/or [buyouts],” LoweSolis said.

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