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Number of empty chairs on Postal Service board increasing

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As the U.S. Postal Service’s problems grow, its governing board is shrinking.

The board, which is supposed to have 11 members, currently has eight and will lose another next week when Chairman Thurgood Marshall Jr. steps down, leaving it with just one more body than the six needed for a quorum to conduct business.

As of today, however, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hasn’t scheduled  confirmation votes on three board nominations that have been awaiting action since summer. In an email, committee spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said she did not know the reason for the delay.

Although there have no recent meetings where the lack of a quorum has been an issue, “we look forward to having all the board vacancies filled and hope that happens as soon as possible,” USPS spokesman Dave Partenheimer said, also by email.

The increasing number of empty seats on what is officially known as the Board of Governors comes as the Postal Service is grappling with record financial losses and questions about its long-term direction as the Internet continues to drain away business. Besides nine presidentially appointed part-time members, the board includes Postmaster General Pat Donahoe and Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stroman. Among other jobs, the board sets postal policy, directs agency spending and decides top officers’ salaries.

“Certainly the Postal Service could benefit from the advice and wisdom of more members who bring a wide range of expertise,” Postal Regulatory Commission Chairman Ruth Goldway said in an interview. The mail carrier also needs “people of status” to take its concerns to Congress, she added.

The commission, which oversees the Postal Service, is facing its own personnel issues. The terms of two of its five members recently expired; while they can serve another year, the Obama administration has yet to either renominate them or name replacements, Goldway said. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Neither Marshall, a Washington lawyer, nor the incoming board chairman, Mickey Barnett, a former state legislator and lawyer from New Mexico, could be reached for comment. Because the panel usually meets in private, its influence is hard to assess.

But George Gould, a consultant and former lobbyist for the National Association of Letter Carriers, called the board’s makeup “a serious concern.” The Postal Service’s challenges are so great that the board “has become more directly involved in policy than it has in the past,” Gould said. “I think you need people who really understand the Postal Service, understand government, understand the employees.”

Under the law, board members are supposed to be chosen for their experience in public service, law, accounting or demonstrated management ability. They collect a base annual salary of $30,000, along with as much as $12,600 depending on the number of meetings each year. Their seven-year terms can be extended for another year in the absence of a replacement.

Of the three nominees whose appointments are awaiting Senate action, two are no strangers to the Postal Service. James Miller, who headed the Office of Management and Budget during part of the Reagan administration, was on the board from 2003 until last year; Katherine Tobin, a senior Education Department official earlier in the Obama administration, served from 2006 to 2009.

The new member, if confirmed, would be Stephen Crawford, a public policy professor at George Washington University who has written on postal issues. In an interview, Crawford attributed the nomination holdup to the press of other business and the fact that Congress has mostly been out of session since the Senate committee held a hearing on his nomination in July.

But with lawmakers now consumed with tax and spending conundrums, Crawford wasn’t counting on a final confirmation vote before the 112th Congress effectively goes out of business next month.

“There may just be too many other things competing with the limited time left.”

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Federal employee morale has fallen, but what does that mean?

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The latest Employee Viewpoint Survey by OPM – the largest ever conducted – showed employee satisfaction falling across agencies in a number of areas.

For example:

Satisfaction with pay fell 3.7 percentage points to 58.8 percent of responses, down from 62.5 percent in the 2011 survey. Since 2010, satisfaction with pay has declined seven percentage points from 65.8 percent.

The only area where employees were happier was in telework, which seems to be a winner when it is implemented fairly and widely at agencies.

Now the problems with morale are probably not that hard to determine, with a continuing pay freeze and budget cuts stretching resources quite thin at many agencies.

So my question to all of you is, what do these numbers mean? How is morale at your office and is it down? What does low morale mean when it comes to your job, or that of your co-workers?

Feel free to post in the comments below or you can email me at amedici@federaltimes.com.


Postal Service gets anemic response to EAS early retirement offer

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The U.S. Postal Service may have its problems, but they evidently aren’t severe enough to persuade many supervisors and administrators to jump at an early retirement offer.

Out of 3,594 Executive and Administrative Schedule employees eligible for the package, just 186 signed up by the Nov. 19 deadline, according to Postal Service figures provided today.

The package—standard for the federal government–allows employees to retire early if they are at least 50 years old with a minimum of 20 years’ service, or any age with at least 25 years’ service. Unlike recent early retirement offers to postmasters, mail handlers and clerks, however, this one was not coupled with a cash incentive (i.e., buyout).

“If there was an incentive, you could have gotten a lot more,” Louis Atkins, president of the National Association of Postal Supervisors, said in an interview. But because there are already plenty of vacancies in EAS ranks, he said, “it would have been very difficult to convince Congress that they needed that.” Factor in the shaky economy and the fact that Civil Service Retirement System participants under 55 take a penalty for retiring early, and Atkins wasn’t surprised at the low number of takers.

The Postal Service had unveiled the offer in September, saying at the time that about 3,300 employees were eligible. Those who have accepted must leave by year’s end. But Atkins was confident that more EAS early retirement offers are coming next year as the Postal Service resumes mail processing plant closures and consolidations.

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OPM announces new dismissal option for inclement weather

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Its getting colder in the D.C. area, which can mean only one thing – an update from the Office of Personnel Management on their early dismissal and closure policies.

Instead of the phrase “Federal Offices are Closed to the Public” on the OPM website and in emails sent to feds, employees will instead see “Federal Offices are Closed — Emergency and Telework-Ready Employees Must Follow Their Agency’s Policies.”

OPM director John Berry said the new wording should encourage employees to consult with their agencies about telework policies and to plan ahead for inclement weather.

OPM is also implementing a new dismissal option called “delayed arrival” that states employees should remain off local roads until a set time. Feds will have the option to use unscheduled leave or telework.

The option was used informally last year to help federal employees preparing to commute into work, according to OPM.

“The concern in deciding the operating status of federal offices in Washington, D.C., is to ensure the safety and well-being of the federal workforce community during emergent events and continuity of operations while continuing critical services the American people depend on,” Berry said in a press release.

OPM will also try to advise employees on office closures as early as possible through its website and via email and social media, according to the agency.

GSA dashboard consolidates contract spending data

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The General Services Administration has launched an online dashboard to provide agencies and industry with greater access to its contract spending data for planning and budgeting purposes.

The Governmentwide Acquisition Contract (GWAC) Dashboards  aggregate  non-classified data on federal information technology spending from 2004 to present through GSA’s five GWACs: 8(a) STARS, 8(a) STARS II, Alliant, Alliant Small Business and VETS contracts, GSA announced on Tuesday.

“This tool is especially valuable to small businesses as it provides access to business intelligence they can use to assess market opportunity, decide how best to allocate resources, and identify potential teaming partners for future projects,” GSA Federal Acquisition Service Acting Commissioner Mary Davie, said in a statement.

The dashboard is updated daily and can also help agencies monitor their use of GSA GWACs. It allows users to create customized reports with contracting data sorted by year, contract, federal agency or company.

For example, a quick search of spending data by fiscal year showed that total obligated sales on GSA’s governmentwide contracts has exceeded $218 million, with Alliant sales accounting for nearly half that number.

The website, however, has a disclaimer: “The data contained within may not be fully accurate.”

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Senate rejects cybersecurity legislation

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The Senate on Wednesday failed to pass cybersecurity legislation that would set voluntary security standards for owners of critical infrastructure, such as dams, energy and water systems.

Senators voted 51-47 in favor of the bill, S 3414, but fell short of the 60 votes needed to move forward with final passage.

“Cybersecurity is dead for this Congress,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said following the vote. “What an unfortunate thing.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a co-sponsor of the Cybersecurity Act, expressed similar disappointment. “In all my years on the Homeland Security Committee, I cannot think of another issue where the vulnerability is greater and we’ve done less,” Collins said in a statement.

Senators were at a similar crossroad in August, but some were hopeful that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other Republicans who strongly opposed the bill would at least vote to move forward and introduce relevant amendments. McCain, who on Wednesday initially expressed a willingness to move forward with the bill if at least five amendments could be introduced, ultimately voted against the bill.

Under the bipartisan bill, critical infrastructure owners would become eligible for certain benefits if they voluntarily certify through a third party that they meet cybersecurity standards. Those benefits would include liability protections in the event of a cyber attack on their systems.

Republicans argued that implementing the bill would be a financial burden to industry. They also opposed the Department of Homeland Security’s role in approving and overseeing cybersecurity standards.

Retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who voted against the bill, suggested that the Senate start over and allow all committees with jurisdiction over cyber to provide their input.

Absent cybersecurity legislation, administration leaders have said the president would move forward with an executive order to improve cybersecurity of the nation’s most critical infrastructure.

Senators said that a draft of the executive order is being circulated. The order is said to include provisions that will establish cybersecurity standards for the 18 critical infrastructure sectors in areas where regulators have existing authority to enforce those standards. The order, however, could not provide liability protections for companies that follow those standards but are attacked.

The Washington Post reported that President Obama signed a secret directive in mid-October, Presidential Directive 20, that explicitly defines how the military will respond to a cyber attack using both offensive and defensive capabilities.

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Technology could cut federal deficit by billions, report says

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As Congress and the administration grapple with how best to cut the federal deficit, a group of industry and government leaders are suggesting that information technology be used to reduce that number by billions of dollars.

The American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council’s (ACT-IAC) Institute for Innovation on Tuesday released recommendations for the Obama administration to cut the deficit by $220 billion annually through increased use of data analytics and industry best practices. ACT-IAC  is public-private partnership focused on helping government use technology to serve the public.

More than 100 volunteers from government and industry provided input for ACT-IAC’s first Quadrennial Government Technology Review, a series of reports detailing how IT can be used to solve the nation’s most challenging issues such as rising healthcare costs, citizen services and a lack of qualified workers for science and technology-related jobs.

Here’s a very high-level explanation from ACT-IAC on how it arrived at $220 billion in annual savings:  

- $70 billion by using big data analytics creatively in the federal healthcare space, based on numbers from the McKinsey Global Institute. McKinsey estimates that the nation’s healthcare sector could save $300 billion anually through big data, and $70 billion is the federal sector.

- $50 billion by using enhanced IT tools to better share, access and analyze data to reduce improper payments and uncollected taxes. In the report, ACT-IAC backs this claim using IRS reports that the amount of uncollected taxes is $385 billion and improper payments made by the federal government total more than $100 billion a year. The group suggests that IT tools could reduce the overall number by 10 percent.

- $100 billion by investing in technology to increase productivity and reduce costs, based on industry best practices. These savings are a fraction of the total $970 billion that government could save over 10 years by adopting industry best practices identified in the report.

Streamline Government Supply Chain $500B
Monetize Government Assets $150B
Consolidate Infrastructure $200B
Reduce Field Operations/Self Serve $50B
Shared Mission Support $50B
Reduce Energy Usage $20B

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Updated: VA to move 600,000 email accounts to Microsoft cloud

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The Veterans Affairs Department has awarded HP Enterprise Services a $36 million contract to move 600,000 email accounts to the cloud.

Under the five-year contract, VA users will have access to email and shared calendars using Microsoft Office 365 for Government. Users, however, will not have access to additional features such as instant messaging and web and video conferencing.

“VA is moving to cloud-based email and collaboration as part of a broader effort to leverage emerging technologies to reduce costs, increase efficiencies and, most importantly, improve service delivery to our nation’s veterans,” Charles De Sanno, executive director for enterprise systems engineering at the VA, said in a news release.

The HP contract was awarded under VA’s Veterans Administration Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology, or T4 program.

The administration’s cloud first mandate requires agencies to first consider a cloud solution when procuring information technology. In addition to VA, Agriculture Department, Federal Aviation Administration, Defense Information Systems Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency are using Microsoft’s cloud-based email.

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2012 Greater Washington GovCon awards announced

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Elliott Branch, the Navy’s deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and procurement, has been named Public Sector Partner of the Year as part of the 10th Annual Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards, the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, Professional Services Council and Washington Technology announced Friday.

The award honors “the leadership, innovation and commitment to excellence of the individuals and businesses in the region’s government contracting sector,” the group said in a news release. The awardees helped government contracting and acquisition officials execute a myriad of missions at home and abroad, PSC President Stan Soloway said during a gala honoring award recipients Thursday night.

“These partnerships will become all the more critical as we rise to meet the nation’s almost unprecedented budgetary and security challenges,” he said.

Contractors and company executives who received awards this year are:
Contractor of the Year (less than $25 million): Octo Consulting Group, Inc.
Contractor of the Year ($25-75 million): Blue Canopy Group, LLC
Contractor of the Year ($75-300 million): CALIBRE Systems, Inc.
Contractor of the Year (greater than $300 million): Sotera Defense Solutions, Inc.

Executive of the Year (less than $75 million): Greg Baroni, Chairman & CEO, Attain, LLC
Executive of the Year ($75-300 million): Tony Jimenez, Founder, President & CEO, MicroTech
Executive of the Year (greater than $300 million): Richard Montoni, President & CEO, MAXIMUS

Dr. J. Phillip London, chairman of the board of CACI International, was also inducted into the Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards Hall of Fame for career achievement and long term contributions to the industry.

The nominations period for the 11th annual awards will open in early 2013.

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Energy Dept. wins SmartPay innovation award

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The General Service Administration awarded this year’s SmartPay 2 Innovation award to the Energy Department for its use of an electronic payment system that will better track individual purchase orders, J.P. Morgan bank announced Thursday.

The Energy Department was the first agency to use J.P. Morgan’s Single-Use Account for SmartPay charge card purchases with CH2M-WG Idaho, one of its major contractors, according to a news release.

Instead of CH2M-WG Idaho using a general account number for all of  its charges, the Single-Use Account issued a unique, 16-digit account number for each payment that CH2M-WG made to its vendors. This allowed the contractor to pay its vendors faster, better track where payments are going and increase payment security, according to J.P. Morgan’s global commercial card division.

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