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Golf lands another fed in the rough

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The linguistic origins of the word “golf” are lost to time. But for 21st century feds, the game often just means trouble.

The latest evidence: Stephen Calvery, head of the Defense Force Protection Agency, gets an unfavorable write-up by the Defense Department’s inspector general for giving employees administrative leave to participate in the agency’s 2009 and 2010 golf tournaments.

Under the rules, such leave is allowable only if it benefits the agency’s mission, furthers a particular DoD function or has “a government-wide recognized and sanctioned purpose,” according to a redacted copy of the report posted today on the IG’s website.

“DoD regulations do not list a golf tournament as a common situation in which agencies generally grant excused absence,” the report says.

Calvery responded that the tournament was one of several team-building “esprit de corps” initiatives he had launched at the agency, which was created after 9/11 to protect the Pentagon and its workforce.

In his further defense, Calvery noted that only four employees received administrative leave to attend the 2009 tournament. After checking with lawyers, however, he required participating staff to take annual leave for the 2011 event. The IG was unmollified, citing the wrongful use of administrative leave as one of several allegations to have merit.

The IG also found that Calvery misused his position to have his office staff pick up his lunch and bring him coffee, arranged for someone (the name is blacked out, but it wasn’t a DoD employee) to use the force protection agency’s firing range and provided preferential hiring treatment to a subordinate.

Calvery still heads the agency, according to its website. What disciplinary action he faced, if any, is unclear. A DoD spokesman said today that he didn’t know and that—if the punishment was administrative in nature-could not disclose it, anyway.

But let’s take the opportunity to review a few other examples of federal employees who ran into links-related trouble, drawing on information compiled by the non-partisan Project on Government Oversight.

There was, for example, the Bureau of Land Management district manager who accepted tickets to golf tournaments from oil and gas companies. Or the Department of Homeland Security employees found to have spent tens of thousands of dollars on training at golf and tennis resorts. Or the Justice Department officials who came under fire for awarding a $500,000 grant to the World Golf Foundation.

Horseshoes, anyone?

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Senate rejects amendments, passes omnibus

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The Senate voted Tuesday evening to approve a $410 billion spending omnibus bill to fund the federal government through the end of the current fiscal year.

The Senate voted 62-35 to invoke cloture on the bill, HR 1105, ending debate on a series of amendments. The omnibus was approved by a voice vote.

Republicans had proposed a series of amendments, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., allowed several to go to the floor for debate, hoping a few Republicans would then decide to cross party lines vote for the bill. No amendments were approved, including one that would have repealed a law giving members of Congress an automatic pay raise every year.

All agencies except for the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs have been operating under a continuing resolution since Oct. 1, 2008. That CR was set to expire March 6, but Congress voted that day to extend the CR until Wednesday, buying the Senate time to sway a few Republicans to vote for the bill.

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Senate will vote on another CR

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The Senate will pass a short-term spending measure, keeping the government funded through midnight March 10, while it struggles to reach a compromise on a $410 billion omnibus spending bill. The stop-gap bill will keep agencies funded through midnight March 10.

The omnibus would provide funding for all but three agencies that have been operating under a continuing resolution since Oct. 1. That continuing resolution expires Friday.

Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments did have their appropriations bills passed in time.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he is one vote short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, ending debate and setting up a final vote. He said he will allow Republicans chances to change the bill on Monday, hoping to lure a crossover vote or two.

Republicans — and even some Democrats such as Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., — have criticized the spending omnibus as being riddled with earmarks and wasteful spending. Democrats haven’t been helped by the fact that the $410 billion bill comes just weeks after Congress approved a $787 billion economic stimulus package.

The spending omnibus, HR 1105, contains 8 percent more funding for federal agencies than President George W. Bush’s budget recommendations. Reid has said the increase is merely to adjust numbers for inflation, an argument that hasn’t swayed Republicans.

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Pass omnibus or extend the CR?

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The cat-and-mouse political games continue on the Hill Tuesday as Senate leaders debate whether to pass a fiscal year 2009 omnibus to fund the majority of federal agencies.

Democrats beefed up the bill almost 9 percent above former President George W. Bush’s recommendations, saying the money would benefit agencies who had been neglected and provide a boost to build on funding awarded about a month ago in the economic stimulus package. But Republicans have decried the omnibus and stimulus bills as wasteful spending, with some talking about passing a short-term continuing resolution to replace the one that expires Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that could hire dire consequences for agencies.

If the omnibus doesn’t pass, we’re going to face a situation that will cut essential programs dealing with education, law enforcement and basic government services by some $20 billion.”

At an afternoon press availability, Reid defended the bill, saying the funding levels are just Bush’s numbers adjusted for inflation.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said he plans to offer an amendment that freezes agency funding to fiscal year 2008 numbers, where all but three agencies — Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs — have been operating since Oct. 1.

We already had the stimulus bill. They want to increase federal spending? Fine. They did that in the spending bill. We don’t need to every single time bills come before the Senate to dramatically increase federal spending.”

An amendment offered by Sen. John McCain would have extended the existing CR through Sept. 30, thus keeping funding at the FY 2008 levels. That amendment, which would have eliminated $7.7 billion in earmarks, failed 32-63 Tuesday afternoon.

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Reid "confident" omnibus will pass this week

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Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell wants Congress to delay passing the $410 billion fiscal year 2009 appropriations omnibus.

Speaking on the Senate floor Monday afternoon, McConnell said people need time to analyze how much money the government is spending in light of the $780 billion economic stimulus bill signed into law a few weeks ago.

There’s no reason for the Senate or the American people to feel an unnecessary rush, especially with a bill of this magnitude.”

McConnell, R-Ky., said Congress should pass another short-term continuing resolution to give more time to analyze the spending omnibus. All federal agencies except for Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs have been operating since Oct. 1 on a continuing resolution, which expires Friday.

That won’t happen, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. He said the bill has been posted online for a week and that he’s “hopeful and confident” the Senate will pass the bill by Thursday.

People can look at it and have it memorized by now.”

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House passes appropriations omnibus

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The House of Representatives voted 245-178 to pass a $410 billion appropriations omnibus to fund the federal government through the end of the current fiscal year.

The federal government — except for the Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments — have been operating under a continuing resolution since the beginning of the fiscal year. The CR is set to expire March 6, but it could be extended should the Senate not vote in time.

The Senate may take up debate on the bill, HR 1105, this week, but it has not yet scheduled a vote.

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Congress could throw out outsourcing

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A provision in the omnibus spending bill could halt public-private job competitions for federal work.

The provision introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., would temporarily suspended public-private competitions for federal employees’ jobs conducted under Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76.

Other bill provisions indroduced by the lawmakers would:

  • Require agencies insource work currently performed by contractors and to allow federal employees to perform new work.
  • Require agencies determine the size of their contractor workforces.
  • Prevent agencies from outsourcing functions performed by 10 or fewer employees without holding a competition.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which backed similar provisions in previous appropriations  bills, applauded the lawmakers. AFGE President John Gage said:

The A-76 process is clearly broken…The provisions introduced by Sen. Durbin and Rep. Serrano will end years of privatization studies that never saved taxpayer money and were skewed to promote the use of contractors over federal employees.

According to OMB’s May 2008 report on competitive sourcing, however, federal employees won more than 83 percent of the competitions held between fiscal years 2003 and 2007.

The report also claims the government saved $7 billion from the competitions held during that time period because of management efficiencies gained in streamlining how federal work is performed. The savings estimates are often questioned by Congress and employee unions because the estimates do not include the planning costs for the competitions.

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Grapes + tourists = jobs?

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Apparently the grape is the key to economic recovery for western New York.

That’s according to a news release from the office of Sen. Charles Schumer, who has pledged to fight for federal funding for the Grape Heritage Discovery Center in Westfield, N.Y. The release states that the center would promote wine tourism in New York and showcase Chautauqua County’s grape and wine industry, creating jobs through increased tourism. It will be patterned after the Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center, which the release says attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year.

Schumer, a Democrat, said he’ll push for funding through the federal appropriations process. You’ve guessed it, folks — earmarks. So now you know of at least one earmark to look out for in the next round of appropriations bills, though the release doesn’t say how much it will cost to build the center.

Oh, and the Grape Center will have a gift shop. Natch.

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Big government spending, but small increases for agencies

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I’m at an event on economic stimulus and financial regulation sponsored by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The group is projecting a staggering $1 trillion deficit for fiscal year 2009, driven largely by the cost of reviving the slumping economy: bailouts for financial firms, diminished tax returns and an economic stimulus package.

The irony is that, while government spending as a whole is skyrocketing, individual agency budgets may not see that much of an increase.

That’s because much of the new spending is either handed out directly in a stimulus package — to states, businesses and taxpayers — or controlled by an individual agency, like the small cadre of Treasury employees who handle the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

This is setting up a potentially huge battle come January 20: Can the president-elect find a way to increase agency budgets to pay for big new initiatives, like universal health care, “green energy” investments and stronger environmental protections? Or will the mounting deficit keep agency budgets tight?

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Lieberman's fate? He's not telling

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So is Sen. Joe Lieberman losing his Senate Government Oversight Committee chairmanship? If he knows, he’s not saying.

Lieberman, I-Conn., called a news conference this afternoon. Many reporters were hoping he’d reveal his future in the Senate. After Lieberman campaigned heavily for Sen. John McCain , R-Ariz., many expected Lieberman to lose his chairmanship of the committee. Lieberman has caucused with Democrats as a senator.

Sen . (Harry) Reid (D-Nev.) and I have just concluded what I could call a very good conversation between two colleagues and friends. I want to spend some time in the next few days thinking about what Sen. Reid and I discussed and what my options are at this point, and he promised me he would do the same, and and we will continue these conversation.”

Eh?

Lieberman’s press conference lasted 2 minutes and 11 seconds, during which he never once said the words “committee,” “quit” “asked to step aside” or anything related to his chairmanship. He also didn’t provide any further answers to reporters who chased after him after the end of his statement.

A staffer for the congressman said he didn’t know what the timeline would be for an announcement about the chairmanship.

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