Federal Times Blogs

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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New Postal Service ads cite old-fashioned benefits

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Say this for snail mail: it’s never been victimized by a computer hacker.

That, in essence, is the point of a new U.S. Postal Service television advertising campaign that seeks to make a virtue of the mail’s retro qualities.

“This is how people and business connect,” runs the voiceover in one ad as the video shows a jaunty letter carrier on her rounds. “Feeling safe and secure that important letters and information don’t get lost in thin air or disappear with a click, but are delivered from person to person.”

Take that, Internet.

The two commercials, aimed at boosting businesses’ use of the mail, aired for a couple of days last month and then went back up over the weekend for a run on network and cable channels that will last through this Saturday, USPS spokeswoman Patricia Licata said in an email.

The campaign is the first of its kind in almost a dozen years, Licata said, “and we feel that it’s time to promote a channel that is too often overlooked and underestimated.” Calling the information proprietary, she declined to give the campaign’s cost, but said that the Postal Service’s total ad spending in fiscal 2011 was about $147 million, roughly the same as the preceding year.



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The latest on e-gov funding

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The electronic government funding saga continues, even if the e-government fund would no longer exist under a spending bill approved today by a House appropriations subcommittee.

As tech-conscious readers might remember, Congress whacked the e-gov account from $34 million in 2010 to $8 million in the year-long continuing resolution enacted this April. Under a fiscal 2012 spending bill approved today by the subcommittee, the fund would be folded into the General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services, said Daniel Schuman, policy counsel for the Sunlight Foundation, an open government group that has been birddogging the issue.

In all, the combined operation would receive $50 million under the bill.

How much of that would go to e-gov? Schuman estimates $13 million, assuming the citizen services office gets the same $37 million received last year. So, that would be substantially more than this year, but still a heckuva lot less than last year.  A few weeks ago, the Obama administration said that this year’s reductions will force an end to two initiatives: Fedspace.gov and the Citizen Services Dashboard.

But with months of budget wrangling still ahead, this  story is definitely to be continued.

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Dashboards, dashboards, dashboards!

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The Obama administration has yet another dashboard on the way.

Dan Gordon, head of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, told Federal Times in a statement that the administration will launch a dashboard to track agencies’ progress on acquisition reform later this summer.

The administration has had its much-ballyhooed IT dashboard up and running for about a year, and is working on another dashboard to track agencies’ progress toward “high priority performance goals.” Dave McClure at GSA is also working on something called a “citizen dashboard” that we probably won’t see until sometime next year. Some agencies, apparently realizing that the administration thinks dashboards are the wave of the future, have set up internal dashboard systems to track certain areas like IT spending, cyber security, or overall agency progress toward strategic goals.

OMB’s dashboards typically provide public information on how well federal agencies are performing in certain areas, so I assume the acquisition dashboard will rate agencies’ progress toward identifying contracting savings in an effort to hold them accountable for progress toward the president’s goal.

Gordon said in his statement to Federal Times:

“This is just one step to ensure agencies remain vigilant in their efforts to maintain fiscal discipline and achieve the best value for our taxpayers.  We will be meeting with agencies periodically to review their progress against their savings plans and risk reduction goals – helping those who are achieving success to sustain and build on those results and working closely with those who are having difficulties to identify actions that can be taken to improve results.”

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2 percent pay raise now law

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President Barack Obama signed into law a 1.5 percent pay raise and an average 05. percent locality pay increase for federal civilian employees on Dec. 16. The raise takes effect January 1, 2010.

The pay raise is included in a fiscal 2010 spending omnibus which funds the following agencies: Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation and Veterans Affairs departments.

The only appropriations bill not signed into law is Defense, which the Senate may pass today. The House passed it Dec. 16.

Congress to give feds 2010 locality pay

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House and Senate negotiators have approved a 1.5 percent nationwide increase in base pay and a 0.5 percent average increase in locality pay for federal civilian employees effective January 2010.

A House and Senate conference committee approved the pay raise as part of a spending omnibus late Tuesday night, setting the stage for the House to take up the spending package this week.

The conferees adhered to President Barack Obama’s requested 2 percent federal pay raise, breaking a long-standing tradition of pay parity with the military. Members of the military will likely receive a 3.4 percent raise in 2010. The legislators did reject Obama’s Nov. 30 proposal to eliminate locality pay and use the entire raise as an increase to base pay.

The pay raise was included in the Financial Services bill, one of six bills included in the $446.8 billion discretionary omnibus approved Tuesday. Other bills included in the omnibus are: Commerce, Justice and Science; Labor, Health and Human Services and Education; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; State and Foreign Operations; and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

The omnibus contains all the pending appropriations bills except for Defense, which Democratic leaders plan to introduce separately. House Appropriation Committee Republicans said the committee’s leadership is saving the Defense bill to attach politically unpopular items, such as raising the federal debt limit, that would not pass on their own.

Check back with Federal Times Wednesday morning for much more on the federal pay raise and the 2010 spending omnibus.

Senate considers continuing resolution

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The Senate may vote on a continuing resolution late this afternoon, just hours before the end of the fiscal year at midnight.

The House passed the CR Sept. 25, which includes additional funding for veterans health care and the Census Bureau. All other federal agencies would operate under fiscal 2009 funding levels until their appropriations bills are passed or the CR expires Oct. 31.

We’ll keep you posted on any congressional action on the continuing resolution.

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House to take up continuing resolution

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The House will take up a continuing resolution this week to keep agencies operating at fiscal 2009 levels while Congress completes the 12 annual appropriations bills, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced Sept. 17.

The CR will not come up before Wednesday, according to the tentative House floor schedule. A final vote has not been scheduled, so it’s unclear if the CR will be finished this week.

The House has passed all 12 of its fiscal 2010 appropriations bills, while the Senate has passed six. The end of the fiscal year is Sept. 30, and agencies have adapted to the annual pattern of continuing resolutions, also known as CRs.

Congress has not completed its work on all federal appropriations bills before Oct. 1 since 1997. It usually passes one or more continuing resolutions, keeping agencies funded at the previous years’ spending levels, until Congress either completes work on all of the bills or wraps them up into a consolidated spending bill, known as an omnibus.

In 2009, Congress passed on-time appropriations for three agencies: Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs. All other agencies operated under a CR until March, when Congress passed an omnibus containing new spending levels.

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House Appropriations approves two bills

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The House Appropriations Committee approved the Homeland Security and Legislative Branch fiscal year 2010 appropriations draft bills at a markup Friday.

The Homeland Security bill provides $42.63 billion for the agency, compared to President Barack Obama’s $42.83 billion request for fiscal year 2010. In 2009, the agency received $39.98 billion.

The bill cuts $135 million requested for agency operations due to “staffing vacancies, redundant policy initiatives and poorly justified request to consolidate DHS headquarters for those agencies not moving to St. Elizabeths,” according to a committee news release.

The bill includes:

  • $10 billion for Customs and Border Protection, $82 million less than Obama requested, due to slight cuts in funding requests for multiple programs. This is $147 million more than the 2009 funding.
  • $5.4 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, $30 million less than the president’s request but $439 million more than 2009.
  • $382 million for cybersecurity, $19 million less than the president requested and $68 million more than 2009.

The committee also approved the $3.7 billion draft bill to fund the Legislative Branch, $300 million than requested but $600 million more than 2009.

The bill includes:

  • $559 million for the Government Accountability Office, $9 million less than the president’s request and $28 million more than 2009.
  • $45 million for the Congressional Budget Office, $1.2 million less than Obama requested and $1 million more than 2009.

The House plans to take up the Homeland Security bill Friday and the Legislative Branch bill June 24.

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Making the case

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Deadline day around here and things are a bit busy, but I wanted to comment on an FDA appropriations hearing I covered this morning.

The agency is getting a huge boost in the president’s 2010 budget proposal — $511 million, or 19 percent. Much of that money will pay for more than 1,200 new hires. That means a 30 percent staffing boost over two years, when you include the 1,500 new employees hired this year.

The numbers prompted some back-and-forth with legislators, as you might expect. A few Republicans thought they were too large; Democrats hinted they might be too small.

But the Goldilocks-esque search for a middle ground can seem very arbitrary. The FDA says, for example, that it needs money to hire 220 new food safety investigators, which will allow it to conduct 4,000 additional inspections every year. But why is 4,000 the right number? Why not 3,000, or 5,000, or 10,000?

Read the rest of this entry »

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