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Fed up with anti-fed attitudes? We want to hear from you

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Public Service Recognition Week — traditionally a week to recognize the good that government employees do for the nation — comes at a dour time for federal employees this year. House Republicans are intent on cutting their take-home pay by 5 percent. President Obama has proposed his own 1.2 percent pension contribution hike. Cash-strapped agencies are scrambling to cut their workforces. Pay has been frozen for two years, and a third may be coming down the line. And GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is swiping at their “unfair” pay and benefits.

How do you feel about being a public servant right now? Have the constant attacks and anger against federal employees demoralized you? Are you feeling less effective in your job? Or are you thinking about getting out of government service altogether?

And if you’re a manager, has the anti-fed atmosphere made it more difficult to manage your office and accomplish its mission?

We’d like to hear from you. Write to us at slosey@federaltimes.com or amedici@federaltimes.com to share your thoughts.

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NASA to start market research for SEWP V

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NASA will take tips on how to form the next iteration of its governmentwide IT contract this summer, agency officials announced today.

NASA’s Solutions for Enterprise Wide Procurement (SEWP) program office will hold 45-minute one-on-one interviews the weeks of July 9 and July 23 to get insight from contractors and interested parties on current and upcoming IT products and trends that will help build SEWP V, according to a news release posted on the SEWP website.

Sixty interview spots are available on first-come basis at https://www.sewp.nasa.gov/registration. The registration is also open to anyone who wants to receive updates on SEWP V.

SEWP V, like its predecessors, will be a governmentwide acquisiton contract, or GWAC. GWACs are available to any federal agency for information technology products and services, including computers and servers, network equipment, storage devices and software. Pre-approved vendors are eligible to compete for task orders placed by customer agencies under those contracts.

Agencies spent $2.3 billion through SEWP IV in 2011, according to the program office.

Forty-two vendors were awarded contracts on SEWP IV in 2007 and 2008. The competed SEWP IV contracts expire in 2014 and have a $5.6 billion ceiling. Four 8(a) non-competed contracts expire next year and are limited to between $3.5 million and $4 million.

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More than 1,200 takers for IRS buyout/early retirement offers

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Take it for what it’s worth, but here’s a data point to start the week: Since fiscal 2011, about 1,268 IRS employees have taken advantage of early retirement and buyout offers. That number amounts to a bit more than 1 percent of the agency’s workforce, which totaled almost 91,000 as of December, according to official figures posted online.

Federal Times received the information under a Freedom of Information Act request filed earlier this year after attempts to obtain the data from the IRS’ public affairs office in Washington were unsuccessful.

The mini-exodus is part of a looming human capital challenge facing the tax-collection agency, according to J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. About one-third of the IRS’ overall workforce is eligible for retirement in the next five years, George said. Among executives, that ratio is more than two-thirds, George said in prepared testimony at a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing this month.

“Replacing these employees provides an opportunity for reshaping the IRS workforce,” George said, “but also represents a significant challenge since many departing employees possess unique skills and institutional knowledge that will be difficult to replace.”

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IGs look for recovery act lessons

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The 2009 stimulus act may be fading into history, but its legacy will live on in the federal watchdog community. Some  16 inspectors general have joined in a “lessons learned review” from implementation of what is officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

That’s according to a recent letter from Kathleen Tighe, current chair of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. The review’s purpose is “to identify which actions, processes and mechanisms have been either beneficial or posed challenges” to agencies and IGs  in meeting the act’s requirements. Among the specific areas to be examined: performance measures, pre-award processes and (natch) oversight.

Field work began last month; Tighe’s letter to Commerce Secretary John Bryson doesn’t say when the review is to be completed.

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AFGE’s Gage fires back at Romney

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(Darren McCollester, Getty Images)

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s comment about “unfair” federal pay and benefits has raised the hackles of the two largest federal unions. The National Treasury Employees Union slammed Romney yesterday for going after middle-class federal workers. And today, American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage let loose with an even more cutting response:

You know what’s really unfair? The specter of having a new boss who thinks so little about the work that you do that he can’t bother getting his facts straight before making the ridiculous and patently false claim that federal workers are “getting better pay and benefits than the taxpayers they serve.”

Gage flat-out rejected Romney’s allegation that feds receive drastically higher pay and benefits than private-sector employees, and cited “decades of research by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics” that shows feds consistently earn much smaller salaries.

What Gage said is true, but may not tell the whole story. The Federal Salary Council, using BLS data, last reported in November that federal pay fell even further behind private-sector pay last year, and concluded that feds now earn 26.3 percent less than their private-sector counterparts. But some federal pay experts have their doubts about the council’s methodology. (Even Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry has said the government’s pay gap numbers have a credibility problem.)

And the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office came to very different conclusions earlier this year — partly by throwing health, retirement and other benefits in the mix, which the salary council does not. CBO found federal employees are compensated, on average, 16 percent higher than private-sector workers. (It’s also worth noting that Gage and other union officials heavily criticized CBO’s study when it was released.)

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Postal Service governing board “disappointed” with Senate bill

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As anyone who follows postal matters knows, the Senate this afternoon approved legislation aimed at putting the U.S. Postal Service back on its feet financially. But the USPS Board of Governors just put out the following statement indicating that it’s anything but happy with the outcome. Here’s the statement in full, following by separate comments from Postmaster General Pat Donahoe:

“The Board, in working with management, has spent the past two years preparing a comprehensive business plan to make the Postal Service viable so it would not become a liability to the American people. This plan was validated by outside experts. We stand behind this plan, and we are convinced it is the right approach.
Unfortunately, action by the Senate today falls far short of the Postal Service’s plan. We are disappointed that the Senate’s bill would not enable the Postal Service to return to financial viability. A strong Postal Service is important to the health of the entire mailing industry and the Postal Service’s ability to finance universal service for the American public.

Given volume losses we have experienced over the past five years along with expected future trends, it is totally inappropriate in these economic times to keep unneeded facilities open. There is simply not enough mail in our system today. It is also inappropriate to delay the implementation of 5-day delivery when the vast majority of the American people support this change. Failure to act on these changes will ensure that the Postal Service’s losses will continue to mount.
We remain hopeful that Congress will ultimately produce legislation that will enable the Postal Service to return to financial viability.”

Now, here’s Donahoe’s statement, which strikes a somewhat more conciliatory note:

“We appreciate the hard work of the Senate in addressing postal issues, and we believe that there are important and valuable provisions contained in the legislation. We would have preferred the Senate allow the Postal Service to move further and faster in addressing its cost reduction goals.
Today the Postal Service incurs a daily loss of $25 million and has a debt of more than $13 billion. Based on our initial analysis of the legislation passed today, losses would continue in both the short and long term. If this bill were to become law, the Postal Service would be back before the Congress within a few years requesting additional legislative reform.
The Postal Service does not seek to be a burden to the American taxpayer, and we believe such an outcome is entirely avoidable. The Postal Service has advanced a comprehensive five-year plan that would enable revenue generation and achieve cost reductions of $20 billion by 2015 ― restoring the Postal Service to long-term profitability.
The plan we have advanced is a fair and responsible approach for our customers, our employees and the communities we serve. We are hopeful that the legislative process will continue and that enacted legislation will put the Postal Service on a sustainable path to the future.”

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Proposed whistleblower protections for contract employees passes committee

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A Senate bill that would give federal contract employees the same whistleblower protections as federal employees passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today.

Senate bill 241, introduced by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., would protect contractors who report improper spending or management on federal contracts from retaliation.

Contract employees who witness contract fraud currently can bring a civil claim, in the name of the government, against contractors under the False Claims Act. If the claim is successful, the whistleblower could receive up to 30 percent of the recovered funds.

However, the False Claims Act does not protect whistleblowers who witness waste, mismanagement and other illegal activities, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) said in a statement Wednesday. POGO and other government accountability groups voiced support for the bill earlier this week.

“These contractors are on the front lines and often put themselves at great personal risk to protect the public and expose waste,” POGO said. “This new act would bridge the gaps in current coverage, and comprehensively apply best-practice protections similar to those in the stimulus to all federal funds recipient whistleblowers.”

Under the bill, contract employees that have been demoted, fired or otherwise discriminated against for reporting contract waste and abuse could submit a complaint to an inspector general. The inspector general would then have 180 days to decide if they want to investigate the complaint. If the complaint is investigated, the inspector general must report the findings to the employee who made the complaint, the complainant’s employer and the head of the government agency holding the contract.

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Romney: ‘Unfair’ for feds to get better pay, benefits

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(Darren McCollester, Getty Images)

Now that Mitt Romney has all but locked up the GOP presidential nomination, he’s turning his focus to the general election against President Obama. And if his comments last night are any indication, your pay and benefits are going to be a hot topic between now and November:

I have a very different vision for America, and of our future. [...] This America is fundamentally fair. We will stop the unfairness of urban children being denied access to the good schools of their choice; we will stop the unfairness of politicians giving taxpayer money to their friends’ businesses; we will stop the unfairness of requiring union workers to contribute to politicians not of their choosing; we will stop the unfairness of government workers getting better pay and benefits than the taxpayers they serve; and we will stop the unfairness of one generation passing larger and larger debts on to the next. [emphasis added]

This isn’t the first time Romney has taken aim at federal employees. Last August, he said the government has too many feds who are paid too much, and in November he proposed cutting 10 percent of the federal workforce through attrition to save $4 billion.

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley blasted Romney’s comments:

Every day, federal workers — from law enforcement officers to food inspectors to doctors to scientists in virtually every discipline, and many others — perform a variety of tasks vital to ordinary people throughout our country. Every federal employee knows well there is a direct connection between the efforts he or she makes, day in and day out, and the quality of life for the public they serve.

Kelley also reiterated that federal employees are in the midst of a two-year pay scale freeze that is expected to save $60 billion over a decade. Also, Congress has also passed pension cuts for new and future feds that will cost them $15 billion.

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Is telework increasing? Who knows?

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The federal government wants to increase the amount federal employees telework, and even passed a law to make it easier in December 2010.

But finding out whether that’s actually happening is tricky. Because the metrics used to measure telework are continually shifting, it’s probably going to be a few more years before we know whether things are actually improving, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

GAO said that for years, agencies have used different methods to collect telework data, leaving those statistics inconsistent and unreliable. After the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act was passed, the Office of Personnel Management sought to fix that problem by revising its 2011 “data call.” That revision sought to standardize definitions of key terms and reporting methods, added more questions to make the surveys more reliable, and shortened the time frame during which telework participation is measured.

But GAO said those changes mean that the data measured in September and October 2011 will be so different it can’t possibly be compared to prior years’ results.

What’s more, agencies are still increasing their use of automated data collection, GAO said, and OPM might change its survey methods even more before it starts collecting 2012 data. That means the 2011 data might be essentially worthless too, GAO said.

“OPM officials anticipate that telework data will be more reliable next year,” GAO said.

OPM told GAO that it would make it clear in its first mandated report to Congress this June that the 2011 data has its limitations and keep trying to improve data collection, as GAO recommended. But OPM also noted that data collection remains inadequate at the agency level, which it is trying to address through training.

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Senate reaches deal for voting on amendments to postal bill

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Looks like the Senate’s going to be very busy next Tuesday with rapid-fire voting on more than three dozen amendments to S. 1789, the postal overhaul legislation. According to a message this evening from the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., the amendments pertain to everything from post office closings to unions to compensation for U.S. Postal Service executives.

There’s also one from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that would require more reporting by government agencies on conference spending. (Hmm–FedLine can’t imagine what prompted that.) Anyway, for the hard-core postal aficionados out there (and in the interest of open government), here’s the portion of Reid’s email that lists the amendents set for a vote:

“- McCain #2001 (substitute);

- Tester #2056 (modify process for closing facilities);

- Coburn #2060 (government sponsored conferences)**;

- McCain #2033 (Reorganization Commission);

- Wyden-Feinstein #2020 (vote by mail)**;

- Coburn #2058 (access to postal facilities)**;

- McCaskill-Merkley #2031 (rural post offices) ;

- Coburn #2061 (retirement);

- Snowe #2080** (3rd party study closings);

- Udall (NM) #2043 (six day delivery);

- Durbin #2082 (to protect efficient processing facilities)**;

- Akaka #2034, with a modification agreed to by both managers (workers compensation);

-Bennet-Blunt #2047 (protection advocate)**;

- Corker #2083 (frequency of mail delivery) ;

- Mikulski #2003 (Governor certification)**;

- Akaka #2049, ** (managerial organizations);

- Paul #2025 (end mailbox use monopoly);

- Manchin #2079 (extend moratorium on closings);

- Paul #2026 (performance based bonuses)**;

- Bingaman #2076 (state liaisons)**;

- Paul #2027 (capitol complex);

- Cardin #2040 (50 mile limit)**;

- Paul #2028 (alternative methods pilot program);

- Carper #2065 (stamp rate authority);

- Paul #2029 (profitability plan)**;

- Carper #2066 (executive compensation);

- Paul #2039 (prohibit collective bargaining);

- Casey #2042 (delivery time);

- Paul #2038 (first class mail and mailbox use);

- Landrieu #2072 (impact on small businesses)**;

- DeMint #2046 (unions);

- McCaskill #2030 compensation reforms)**;

- Coburn #2059 (close unprofitable facilities);

- Pryor #2036 (SoS re: closing and consolidation)**;

- Rockefeller #2073 (Medicare coordination)**;

- Rockefeller #2074 (health benefits program)**;
- Schumer #2050 (delivery point services);

- Tester #2032 (executive pay)**;

- Warner #2071, with modification to be agreed to by two Managers (OPM retirement implementation plan).

On Tuesday, April 24th at a time to be determined by the Majority Leader, after consultation with the Republican Leader (likely following the 2:15pm vote in relation to S.J.Res.236), the Senate will vote in relation to the amendments in the order listed, with two minutes equally divided in the usual form between the votes. All votes after the first vote will be 10 minutes in duration. The amendments are subject to a 60 affirmative vote threshold. No other amendments are in order to the bill or the substitute. No points of order or motions are in order to any of these amendments, the substitute amendment, or the bill other than budget points of order and the applicable motions to waive.
Upon disposition of the amendments, the substitute amendment, as amended, if amended, will be agreed to. The bill, as amended, will be read a third time and the Senate will proceed to a vote on passage of the bill, as amended. Finally, the vote on passage of the bill is subject to a 60 affirmative vote threshold.

** indicates the amendments we would like to consider by voice vote.”