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A hat tip to a site you should know about: The Government Attic

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I wanted to spend a moment today to tip my hat to the Government Attic. It’s essentially a resource for information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act that is put up for anyone to look through. It’s been a fantastic source of stories for me and for others I know who follow the site.

You might remember this story about Burning Man. It was made possible with the documents stored on the Government Attic site.

The intended audience is the public, journalists, researchers and others.  It is entirely self-funded and does not accept any money from anywhere or any advertising support. Which means that the only motive here is to get the information out. Of course, the layout is a bit rough – like Craigslist circa 2004 – but its functional.

It’s consistently updated with fresh content, whether its agency inspector general reports or historic documents from agencies. The layout and functionality of the site also continues to improve.

I suggest you give it a look if you have not before, or follow it on Facebook to get continual updates.

Attention small businesses, the Coast Guard is looking for some officer swords

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The United States Coast Guard is asking small businesses for bids from small businesses for about 580 swords and accompanying scabbards, according to a solicitation posted on Fed Biz Opps on May 23. The solicitation is only for small businesses who are able to supply officer swords with specialized grips, pommels and blades with the appropriate insignia. Small businesses have until June 3, at 5 p.m. to submit their proposals.

Here are some sketches of the scabbards in question. The rest are available here.

The various views of the scabbard being asked for by the Coast Guard.

The various views of the scabbard being asked for by the Coast Guard.

 

Committee passes bill to limit Oil paintings for government officials to $20,000 each

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The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted May 21 to limit the federal dollars spent on oil paintings of government officials – and restrict who gets to have themselves painted.

The aptly named Responsible Use of Taxpayer Dollars for Portraits Act of 2013, co-sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., would permanently cap the amount of each painting to $20,000 and would limit those eligible to those in line for presidential succession.

While the government is currently prohibited from spending money on oil paintings of government officials the ban lasts only through this fiscal year, while the current legislation would be permanent. Federal officials could still use non-federal sources of money for any cost overruns.

Reports from the New York Times and other organizations have said the government spends upwards of $800,000 on oil paintings of officials and each one could cost $50,000.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., voted against the bill saying during the vote amount is still excessive, and will instead work to renew the ban through the annual spending bills.

Coburn said while he doesn’t believe the government should spend any money on oil paintings, the legislation is a compromise that has a chance of passing before the ban expires at the end of September.

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11 things you probably didn’t know were in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015

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The Capitol Building, (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Capitol Building, (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

On May 8, the House Armed Services Committee voted on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 – about 15 minutes after midnight. The committee voted on hundreds of amendments and debated the legislation for more than 12 hours before finally passing it.

You have probably heard some of the highlights of whats in the bill, but here is a longer list of stuff that made it in that you might not have heard about.

Now remember, the bill still needs to be voted on by the full House and then by the Senate, so there are still changes that can happen. But as of right now, these items are in the legislation.

1. An extension of a spending cap on contract services through fiscal 2015 – which prevents the Defense Department from cutting civilian employees and transferring the work to contractors, according to amendment sponsor Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, R-Hawaii. The NDAA caps spending on contract services at fiscal 2010 levels.

2. Another provision forces DoD  to eliminate any unauthorized personal services and contracts for any inherently governmental functions and reduce the spending on contractors for work close to being inherently governmental to “the maximum extent practicable.”

(Staff Sgt. John D. Strong II / Air Force)

3. A prohibition on DoD changing what can be sold in base exchanges and commissaries. Many lawmakers have proposed cuts to the commissary budget while others have pushed to limit sales of various items.

4 A rule requiring DoD to determine which of its workforces – military, civilian or contractor – would be most cost-effective when determining work assignments for non-critical mission areas.

5. The extension of a pilot program that allows whistleblowers to appeal cases from the Merit Systems Protection Board to any circuit court – instead of being restricted to the federal circuit court – for three more years.

6. The Defense Department would be exempt from energy efficiency measures and metering efforts identified in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Currently DoD must reduce energy use in its domestic facilities and encourage energy efficiency efforts.

7. DoD cannot build a biofuel facility without Congressional approval. Some lawmakers are concerned DoD plans to purchase or refurbish a biofuel facility.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

8. DoD must report on how much it costs to transport members of Congress on trips outside the United States.

9. A prohibition for DoD against purchasing biofuels except for testing purposes until the price per gallon is the same as traditional fuel. The Navy has been pushing biofuels as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional fuel.

10. The NDAA reduces the number of enlisted aides that support general officers. Right now they are limited to 300, but the bill would reduce that number to 244.

11. The NDAA was actually renamed the “Howard P. ‘Buck’ McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal year 2015″ after the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who is stepping down at the end of the year.

 

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Tensions high after masked men threaten Bureau of Land Management workers

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Things are getting scary out west for federal workers.

On May 6 on Interstate 15 in Utah a pair of masked men in a pickup truck rode up beside a Bureau of Land Management car and, brandishing a gun and holding a note reading “you need to die” before driving off. The license plate was covered with duct tape and law enforcement has yet to locate the vehicle or the suspects.

Jeff Krauss, spokesman for BLM, said the agency is looking into the matter with the help of law enforcement.

“Threats against BLM employees will not be tolerated.  We are pursuing this matter with local law enforcement.”

The incident, first reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, is one of several recent incidents where armed men have confronted federal workers and comes at a time when tensions are rising. Over the last few weeks BLM halted operations to remove the cattle of rancer Cliven Bundy, who owes more than $1 million in grazing fees and some protesters have begun driving ATVs onto federal lands to protest what they see as strict usage laws.