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Farewell

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After 11 years, at least 300 cover stories, and a few thousand articles, today marks my last as a reporter at Federal Times. This afternoon, I will move over to our sister paper, Air Force Times, where I will cover Air Force personnel issues. The pay and benefits beat is now in the exceptionally skilled hands of Sean Reilly, and if you’d like, you can follow my Air Force Times coverage at my Twitter feed.

I’m excited to have this opportunity to cover the military, and write about all new issues at a time of unprecedented change for our armed forces. But I’m also a little sad to leave a paper and community that’s been such a big part of my life for more than a decade. So before I go, I’d like to tell all our federal readers thank you. Thank you for reading my stories, and thank you for what you do. Especially during these tough times, the nation needs people to care for veterans, guard the borders, fight wildfires, ensure our food is safe, deliver mail, and perform countless other vital tasks.

I’d especially like to thank the hundreds of federal employees across the country who have shared their thoughts and opinions with me over the years. Federal Times strongly believes that agency directors and congressmen aren’t the only people whose voices deserve to be heard, and it’s been important to us to include your voices in our articles — even though we know you’re often told not to talk to the media. Again, thank you for allowing me to tell your stories.

Whether writing about problems with the Defense Department’s ill-fated pay-for-performance system, the government’s sluggish pension processing, or contracting misconduct by U.S. Postal Service executives, I hope I’ve been able to have a positive effect on the federal community. It’s been an honor to help keep you informed.

No Presidential Rank Awards this year — what do you think?

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The White House this week announced that, with the government facing massive budget crunches, there will be no Presidential Rank Awards handed out this year.

What do you think about this development? Is it unfair and a bad sign for the overall federal workforce? Or do you think it’s a necessary step to take? Sound off below, or write me at slosey@federaltimes.com. I’ll keep your comments anonymous if you’d like.

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SPJ honors Federal Times for investigative journalism

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Federal Times is proud to announce the Washington chapter of the Society of Professional Journalist honored us with two first-place Dateline Awards last night:

  • My June 4, 2012 story “At GSA, almost everyone rates a bonus” received first prize for weekly investigative reporting. This story dove into bonus data across the government and uncovered how nearly 9 in 10 employees at the troubled General Services Administration — which had just been rocked by its Las Vegas conference scandal and revelations of lax bonus policies — received bonuses in 2011. The SPJ judges said the story’s “Interesting analysis of public records shows that even when times are tough, some federal agencies still take care of their own before taking care of the public.”
  • My Aug. 15 story “IG investigating two VA conferences that cost a combined $5 million” won the top award for daily spot news. This is the online story that broke the news on the investigation into the Veterans Affairs Department’s two pricey human resources conferences in Orlando, Fla. in 2011. Our follow-up reporting detailed how VA spent $52,000 on a video parodying the movie “Patton” that was only shown twice, and brought down former Chief Human Capital Officer John Sepulveda. “Exposing public employees potentially receiving improper gifts in the course of spending millions of taxpayer dollars was a great scoop,” SPJ’s judges said.

My Nov. 5 story “1 in 6 retired lawmakers get six-figure pensions” was also a finalist in the weekly investigative reporting category.

Federal Times also won one Dateline Award in 2012, three in 2011, and two in 2009.

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Thinking of phased retirement? We want to hear from you

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The Office of Personnel Management today published proposed regulations on a new phased retirement option, which will let federal employees ease into retirement on a part-time basis, while still getting half a pension.

You can read all about OPM’s plan here. And we’d like to hear from you on this potentially monumental change. Are you interested in phasing into retirement? If so, why? (Or if not, why not?) And if you are a manager, do you think allowing your employees to take phased retirement will help with your agency’s succession planning and knowledge retention efforts?

E-mail me at slosey@federaltimes.com if you’d like to talk. If you’d prefer to talk anonymously, that’s fine.

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SILVER SCREEN FEDS: Stan Beeman, FBI, ‘The Americans’

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FBI Agent Stan Beeman (Craig Blankenhorn/FX)

Silver Screen Feds returns this week with an in-depth look at a major character from this year’s best new TV show: the Cold War spy drama “The Americans.” I’ve enjoyed watching the gifted, flawed FBI counterintelligence agent Stan Beeman unfold over this show’s premiere season. And after watching its May Day finale, I decided that Beeman is too complicated to shoehorn into a narrow “best” or “worst” category, so I’m going to examine both sides of his character. MAJOR SPOILERS for the first season follow.

“The Americans” primarily focuses on Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, two KGB agents who have been living undercover in Northern Virginia for decades, posing as husband and wife and raising two children while spying for the Soviet Union. As the show begins, right after President Reagan’s 1981 inauguration, Beeman and his estranged family move in next door to the Jenningses.

Beeman (played by Noah Emmerich, who we previously profiled as the CDC scientist in “The Walking Dead”) is extraordinarily good at the spy game, often thinking three moves ahead of his adversaries. Early on, he catches a Soviet embassy clerk named Nina selling Russian caviar to the black market, and uses that information to turn her into a double agent. Beeman’s new mole begins feeding him valuable information on what is going on inside the rezidentura, allowing him to identify hidden Soviet spies and a sleeper cell of collaborating Americans.

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Navy delaying furlough notices

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The Navy today told its employees that furlough letters — which were scheduled to go out Monday — will be delayed until further notice.

A Navy official told Federal Times that because the service hadn’t gotten the final furlough policy from the Pentagon, it was putting its notification effort on hold. Unless Navy hears otherwise, it is still expecting to furlough employees for up to 14 days by the end of fiscal 2013.

“We understand [the furlough process] causes angst and concern, and to mitigate that, we’ve tried to be as informative as we can,” a Navy official said. “Until we get that policy officially, we won’t be able to put out official notifications.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to announce his decision soon — perhaps as soon as next week — on how broad the furloughs will be.

The Navy, like all federal agencies, must give employees 30 days of official notice before it can actually furlough them. If the Navy’s notices went out May 6, as originally planned, that would mean June 5 would have been the earliest furloughs could begin. That would leave 16 weeks to furlough employees before the end of the fiscal year in September. But the delay in issuing notices could shorten that window.

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ICE officer wounded in Boston bombing discharged from hospital

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A 32-year-old Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer, who was one of more than 170 people wounded in Monday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon, was discharged from a local hospital Wednesday. In an e-mail to Federal Times today, ICE said the unnamed, off-duty officer sustained non-life threatening injuries and had surgery Tuesday.

ICE did not say whether the officer was a runner or spectator, but said he lives in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston.

Federal Times reported yesterday that an ICE officer had been wounded. The Office of Personnel Management said it was unaware of any other wounded federal employees.

In other news, OPM said Wednesday it has received the Boston Federal Executive Board’s request for a special solicitation to benefit victims of the bombing, and that it expects to make a decision soon.

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Obama: OPM’s Berry ‘a champion for federal workers’

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John Berry (from Office of Personnel Management)

President Obama this afternoon bid farewell to departing Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry today in a statement:

John Berry has served the American people well as Director of the Office of Personnel Management.  He’s streamlined the way federal employees are hired, modernized the workplace, made the federal workforce more diverse, and increased the number of returning servicemembers hired by the government.  John has been a champion for federal workers – men and women who devote their lives to vital tasks like securing our borders, curing disease, and keeping the American people safe.  This country is better off because of John’s talent and dedication, and I’m grateful to him for his service.

After the jump, you can find Berry’s complete goodbye message to OPM staff.

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Federal Times brings you budget coverage all day today

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Make sure you keep checking FederalTimes.com through the day for up-to-the-minute coverage of the White House’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal. The budget will go online at 11:15 a.m. today, and the Federal Times crew will immediately start diving into the numbers to find out who are the winners and who are the losers. (Although given the way things have been going lately, we expect a lot more losers than winners this year.)

We already know that President Obama is going to propose switching to the chained CPI, and cutting federal retirement benefits by $35 billion. Check our story from last Friday for more on what that means for you.

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Fed salaries still increasing, even through pay freeze

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The average federal salary increased nearly $1,000 last year — from $77,505 in fiscal 2011 to $78,467 — according to statistics posted online by the Office of Personnel Management yesterday.

How can that be, you ask, when federal pay has been frozen for more than two years now? The increase highlights a point we’ve made several times — that the pay freeze isn’t actually a total pay freeze. It’s a freeze on the pay scales. Within-grade step increases — which bump many feds up to a higher level of pay every one, two or three years — were left untouched by President Obama’s pay freeze, as were promotions. This means that hundreds of thousands of federal employees have still gotten pay raises, despite the pay scale freeze.

In all, the average federal salary has gone up  $1,881 since the freeze began. In fiscal 2010, the average pay was $76,586. The freeze did slow down the rate of increase, however — between fiscal 2008 and 2010, before it went into effect, the average federal salary increased more than $5,000.

When I wrote Federal Times’ story on the freeze in December 2010, I estimated these step increase raises during the (then two-year) pay scale freeze would cost the government at least $2.5 billion. These numbers tell me I drastically underestimated that figure, partly because I had no way to estimate how many feds would get promotions. If 2.1 million federal employees got, on average, $1,881 in raises, that comes close to $4 billion.

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