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The best of “Silver Screen Feds” from movies and television

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Hello everyone,

My name is Andy and if you haven’t guessed it yet, I am one of the reporters here at the Federal Times. For the last few weeks we have had a new feature on our blog, “Silver Screen Feds,” where we look at famous federal employees in cinema and television. This week my partner-in-crime and colleague Steve Losey is spending time with his family, so instead of doing all the work myself, you guys get a clip-show version of everything we have done so far.

Below are each of our entries in the ongoing series, so feel free to read and enjoy them. Post your own suggestions in the comments and let us know what you think.

In our first entry I took a look at the postal workers who save the day in the 1947 classic “Miracle on 34th Street.” And Stephen examined the tragic flaws that brought down the Environmental Protection Agency’s Walter Peck in 1984′s “Ghostbusters.”


Next, we examined a far less-honorable mailman — Newman from “Seinfeld” — and the surprising heroism of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Hank Schrader in “Breaking Bad.”


In our third entry we picked two federal employees who couldn’t be any more different: Dr. Edwin Jenner, the doomed researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the zombie apocalypse show “The Walking Dead,” and Ranger Smith, the hapless National Park Service ranger who can’t stop Yogi Bear from stealing them pic-a-nic baskets.


In our fourth entry we took a trip back to the Roaring Twenties and the lawless days of Prohibition, to look at the best and worst Treasury agents who ever busted up a still on-screen: Legendary lawman Eliot Ness from the 1987 film “The Untouchables,” and deeply disturbed Agent Nelson Van Alden from HBO’s series “Boardwalk Empire.”


And in our latest entry I took a look at the best team of federal employees ever to grace the big screen: Mission control from “Apollo 13.” And keep reading for Stephen Losey’s take on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Russ Cargill, from “The Simpsons Movie” — the first character we’ve profiled who descends into outright super-villainy.


AP: Defense Department reducing civilian furlough days to 14

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Some big breaking news, courtesy of the Associated Press: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has decided to cut the number of furlough days for hundreds of thousands of Defense Department civilian employees from 22 to 14 by the end of the fiscal year in September. According to unnamed officials cited by the AP, Hagel made the decision today.

But a DoD spokesman had no immediate confirmation this evening, telling FedLine that the number of furlough days remains at 22 as officials analyze the effect of newly passed spending legislation. “The legislation could have some impact on the overall number of furlough days, but no decisions have been reached,” the spokesman, Mark Wright, said in an email. Furlough notices are still scheduled to go out around April 5, he said.

[This post has been updated.]

Federal agencies in the D.C. area open today

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This is probably not what many D.C.-area feds want to hear this morning, but agencies are open today despite the snow and employees “are expected to report to their worksite or begin telework on time,” according to the Office of Personnel Management.

SILVER SCREEN FEDS: ‘Apollo 13,’ ‘The Simpsons Movie’

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Russ Cargill oh-so-helpfully nudges President Schwarzenegger to pick the right plan. (from The Simpsons Movie, 20th Century Fox)

Today on Silver Screen Feds, Andy Medici takes a look at the best team of federal employees ever to grace the big screen: Mission control from “Apollo 13.” And keep reading for Stephen Losey’s take on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Russ Cargill, from “The Simpsons Movie” — the first character we’ve profiled who descends into outright super-villainy.

BEST FEDS: Mission Control, NASA, “Apollo 13″ (Andy Medici)

Most of the time, being a good federal employee requires working well as a team. Being able to finish projects on tight deadlines while dealing with multiple other priorities is a staple of any fed’s tenure in government.

And in this case, there may be no better federal team in cinema than NASA’s mission control from “Apollo 13.” The 1995 film — directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and lots of other people everyone recognizes — follows the journey of the Apollo 13 astronauts as they attempt to reach Earth safely after a disaster onboard the ship renders it nearly useless.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Do you like your boss? Does your boss like his boss? We want to hear from you

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Federal Times would like to find out how you feel about your managers — from your frontline boss to your agency’s head in Washington. With the sequester hitting, budgets getting slashed, and morale plummeting, are your bosses helping you make the best of a bad situation? Or are they only making things worse?

Sound off below, or e-mail amedici@federaltimes.com. If you’d like to remain anonymous, that’s fine.

OPM hopes to add six new insurers to FEHBP

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The Office of Personnel Management is now negotiating with six health care insurance carriers to add them to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, director of health care and insurance John O’Brien said Thursday.

In his keynote speech to the FEHB Carrier Conference, O’Brien said OPM added four new insurance providers last year.

O’Brien also touted OPM’s success at keeping premium increases below 4 percent for the last two years. But he also noted that even small premium increases bite at a time when  federal pay scales are frozen.

“Our low premium growth translates to roughly an additional $400 that federal employees had to pay to maintain their health coverage during that time,” O’Brien said. “That $400 did not come out of a growing salary, but from existing family and personal budgets.”

And O’Brien told the carriers that OPM wants to do more to measure insurers’ performance in FEHBP, decrease hospital readmission rates, properly administer prescription drugs, and decrease obesity.


OPM’s Berry: ‘We are close to the edge of the cliff’

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John Berry (file photo/Getty Images)

As we reported yesterday, the members of the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations sounded a red alert Wednesday on the state of the federal government’s recruiting and retention efforts. With the ongoing pay freeze, furloughs, sequester budget cuts and threats to cut benefits, union leaders and administration officials alike fear the federal workforce could crack under the pressure. Longtime feds with decades of experience could throw in the towel and retire, they fear, and talented young up-and-comers could conclude that the federal government isn’t a good place to work and take their skills elsewhere.

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry capped the discussion with an impassioned — and apparently impromptu — speech, which made it clear he has had it up to here with the constant attacks on federal employees. It was particularly striking because Berry’s public persona is usually so cheerful and optimistic, and it drew applause from the rest of the council. Following are lightly-edited excerpts of Berry’s seemingly off-the-cuff remarks:

I will in closing make a few points, if you would indulge me. I know that this council, if anything, I’m preaching to the choir.

85 percent of our workforce is outside of Washington. The workforce today is the same size it was when Lyndon Johnson was president, and yet we have 60 million more Americans. Don’t talk to me about efficiency. Only in this town can on one day a discussion be held and the [Government Accountability] Office dragged me over the coals on skill gaps, and the fact that we cannot hire people to fight cybersecurity in this nation, and the president in the State of the Union message making clear that we are facing essentially a pre-9/11 situation with cybersecurity, and we can’t hire people? And yet the next day, have the Congress adopt the third year of a pay freeze. And no one see a connection between those two points.

Only in Washington.

I don’t know what straw breaks the camel’s back, but I can tell you this: We are close to the edge of the cliff. And all public policy officials, whether they be Republican or Democrat, need to be exercising extreme caution. We cannot recruit and retain a qualified workforce by freezing their pay forever. We cannot do it by changing their retirement plan on an annual basis. We cannot do it by denigrating public service. My father served at Guadalcanal, the 1st Marine Division. He was one of the lucky few to make it off alive. And he pointed out to me, even though I did not serve in the military, that the oath I took when I joined federal service was the exact same oath he took when he put his life at risk for this nation’s liberty.

Shame on anyone who would hold that oath as something not worthy of respect. And that’s what we need to get back to in America, where we respect service. Where we respect people who will put their lives on the line for their country. Where we respect those who will suffer for their neighbor and focus on making their lives and their quality of lives better. We need to get back to that. And I know that every member of this council shares that vision. And I know the president does as well.

My commitment to you is: we will use this forum to advance that message. Public service matters, and God help the Republic the day that that is no longer a true statement.

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Fewer furlough days could be needed if spending bill passes, DoD official says

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About halfway through this American Forces Press Service story today, Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall tosses out an observation likely to catch the attention of Defense Department civilian employees. Although furloughs will still take place even if a fiscal 2013 spending bill now in Congress wins approval, fewer furlough days could be needed,  the story paraphrases Kendall as saying at a conference.

Currently, DoD plans to furlough most of its approximately 800,000 workers for 22 days between April 25 and the rest of the fiscal year as the result of the sequester-related spending cuts that began this month. But as Federal Times reported this week, the FY13 bill is likely to shift $10.4 billion into the Pentagon’s operations and maintenance account that covers most civilian salaries (and a lot of other things).

A Pentagon spokeswoman had no other details this afternoon, saying the legislation has to pass first.




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Yet another sequester-related headache for agencies

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One of the great unknowns of sequestration is how many hours of federal agency staff time have been consumed by drafting, discussing and implementing the steps needed to handle the across-the-board spending cuts.

And it’s not over yet.

Under an April 1 deadline stemming from the continuing resolution approved last fall, more than three dozen agencies are supposed to give Congress updated operating plans that reflect the impact of the reductions for fiscal 2013. Inconveniently, however, lawmakers are still tinkering with a final version of  the FY13 budget, meaning that some agencies—the Defense Department in particular—may have to rewrite those plans.

“We’re going to have a real problem because you’re about to change the whole framework for us,” DoD Comptroller Robert Hale said yesterday at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing.  Because the baseline for the sequester cuts will change, Hale said, “we will need to go back and make sure we still have the right plans.”

Last fall’s CR expires March 27, meaning that lawmakers have to approve a replacement by next Wednesday or a trigger a partial government shutdown. The consensus that is that something will pass by then that will substantially rework the Pentagon’s budget to provide more flexibility.

Under a bill now grinding its way through the Senate, the Department of Homeland Security, NASA and a handful of other agencies could also see significant changes in the allocation of their FY13 budgets.  Under questioning from Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat, Hale conceded that DoD will probably not be able to make the April 1 deadline with “meaningful information.”

“We will respond to the law,” Rafael Borras, DHS undersecretary for management, said at the same hearing. “If there are any changes between now and April 1, we will adjust accordingly.”

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GSA reviewing impact of security flaw in its vendor system

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The General Services Administration has launched a full review of its key online procurement system, after discovering a security vulnerability that may have exposed users’ sensitive data.

The security flaw was reported to GSA on March 8, and the agency has since issued a software patch on the system and is investigating potential impacts to vendors registered in GSA’s System for Award Management (SAM).

“When we got the word that this might be the case, we got right on it,” GSA Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini told reporters Tuesday following a congressional hearing. “And there is nothing that we won’t do, there’s no step we’re not going to take to ensure the safety and the security of people’s data within that system.”

Tangherlini said GSA is testing changes to the system and will continue to keep users informed. “I am incredibly concerned about it, and the good news is that everyone in the organization is incredibly concerned,” he said of the system’s known security flaw.

The vulnerability could have compromised sensitive information, including Social Security numbers, of individuals registered in the system, according to GSA.gov. Contractors that use Social Security numbers instead of taxpayer identification numbers could be at greater risk, and those individuals will receive credit monitoring.

The vision for the SAM system is to serve as a single access point for nine procurement systems, but GSA has yet to accomplish that goal.  To date, the SAM system includes four of the nine systems and provides access to contractors’ business information, their certifications required to receive federal contractors and grants and which contractors have been suspended and debarred.

In 2008, GSA began consolidating its systems in a effort to reduce costs, eliminate redundancies and improve efficiency.

A March 2012 Government Accountability Office report found that “while GSA has taken some steps to reduce costs, it has not reevaluated the business case for SAM or determined whether it is the most cost-effective alternative.”

The Federal Acquisition Service and Office of the Chief Information Officer are now providing program oversight, following an internal review of all GSA operations last year. Tangherlini has also called for the development, reporting and monitoring of key metrics for the SAM project.

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