Federal Times Blogs
The General Services Administration is celebrating its 65th birthday by highlighting how much government work has changed over the decades.
Ori Hoffer, social media strategist at GSA, said in a blog post that employees used to use manual typewriters and process contract bids by hand, but now use a wide array of technology to help shorten and simplify the process.
The agency also has evolved from testing natural gas as a vehicle fuel to using electric and hybrid cars in its rental fleet.
“While the people and the technology have changed, and the mission statement may be a bit different, the goal is still the same – streamline the administrative work of the federal government,” Hoffer said.
Federal employees have taken a lot of heat over the last few years. They are called overpaid and underworked. The fight over their pay and benefits has been well documented. Politicians have called for closing entire agencies, while others push bills to end the civil service .
We did this list a few years ago, but I thought it was long due for an upgrade. So here are some now very famous people who at one point would have been considered federal employees.
7. Wanda Sykes
This one is from reader Drew Fletcher, who pointed out that before she became a successful professional comedian and actress she was a contracting specialist at the National Security Agency for about five years. According to a 2010 article in the Washingtonian Magazine, she had a high level clearance as well.
Wanda Sykes has made the lists of top comedians for years and has been voted one of the funniest comedians by polls of her peers. She has appeared in movies, worked as a voice actor and has been on television – both on her own shows and in others. She most recently portrayed Senator Rosalyn Dupeche in the Amazon original TV series Alpha House.
6. Julia Child
Julia Child was a cooking inspiration to millions of people through her television shows and her books – and perhaps one of the most famous chefs past or present. Child is first on the list because her federal career may be the most well-known.
During World War II she was turned down by the Women’s Army Corps and the U.S. Navy WAVES because she was too tall so instead she worked for the Office of Strategic Services – the precursor to the CIA. She rose through the ranks and traveled the world, from Sri Lanka to China and I am sure did lots of other cool stuff that we will never know about.
It was after the war, when she and her husband were living in France, did she attend culinary school and walk down the path that would make her a household name.
Note: I did not add Julia Child to the list because her federal career as a spy is very well known. Or at least not a big secret anymore.
5. Ina Garten
You might know her as the Barefoot Contessa, a world famous Chef and TV personality. But before she decided to wow us with her self-taught culinary ability, Ina Garten was a nuclear energy budget analyst at the Office of Management and Budget under both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
Now she makes amazing meals and travels the world educating us on culinary issues.
4. Abraham Lincoln
Yes, yes, I know he was a member of Congress and one of our most famous presidents. But did you also know he was the Postmaster in New Salem, Ill, for almost three years? He became postmaster on May 7, 1833 and lost the position when the post office was relocated May 30, 1836. How did Lincoln get the gig? Well the Park Service says that its uncertain, but might have had something to do with the conduct of the former postmaster.
The women of New Salem were irritated when Samuel Hill, the former postmaster, spent more time serving the men whisky instead of taking care of postal duties. As postmaster, Lincoln was always willing to please customers and would go out of his way to do so.
- Abraham Lincoln: Come for the salvation of the country and pick up your mail on the way out.
3. Walt Whitman
All right. Walt Whitman was a famous poet, and many of us read at least some of his work in high school. In fact, there are at least a few schools named after him. But once again, it seems like Whitman had to make ends meet by working for the federal government.
According to the National Archives:
Whitman lived in Washington, DC, for a decade from 1863-1873… To support himself and to help fund his work aiding soldiers, Whitman secured low-level government work–functioning mainly as a clerk, spending much of his time as a scribe or copyist. He worked in the Army Paymaster’s office, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Attorney General’s office.
2. Walt Disney
Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck and others. Walt Disney created a gigantic media empire that spans the gambit of amusement parks, new stations and even ESPN. He won dozens of Oscars (animated shorts category) and his empire was so powerful, it literally spun off other famous people. Just the Mickey Mouse Club alone helped give rise to Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
But before all that, Walt Disney was a substitute mail carrier in Chicago, Ill.
I would use a picture here, but for copyright purposes I will let you imagine a Disney picture of some sort.
1. Dr. Seuss
Ok. So we are down to No. 1, and who can possibly top everyone else on the list? Well, Theodor Seuss Geisel at least comes close. He brought us the Cat in the Hat and The Lorax, and dozens more. His work is so well known that you can call someone a Grinch and they will know exactly what you mean. His works have been translated into more than 15 languages and have sold more than 200 million copies.
They are still making movies based off of his work. (Not all of them great).
But Dr. Seuss was employed by the Treasury Department in 1942 to make illustrations for the war effort and to help sell war bonds. His federal career was brief, however: He joined the Army in 1943.
But if anyone else knows of more secret federal careers of more famous people, just add them into the comments.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
SPOILER ALERT: The NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation ended its sixth season last night with the endlessly-optimistic public servant Leslie Knope becoming a federal employee by accepting a job as the National Park Service’s Midwest Regional Director, and then talking her new boss into relocating the office to her hometown of Pawnee, Indiana. Which is great news for the show’s viewers, but raises troubling questions about multiple violations of civil service rules.
FedLine has exclusively obtained a copy of the Interior Department’s inspector general report into Regional Director Knope’s activities:
To: Jonathan Jarvis, director, National Park Service
From: Mary Kendall, deputy inspector general, Interior Department
Subject: Abuse of authority by Midwest Regional Director Leslie Knope, National Park Service
We initiated an audit of NPS’ abrupt relocation of its Midwest Regional Office from Chicago to Pawnee, Ind., after receiving several complaints from long-time NPS employees. We found multiple irregularities and violations of federal hiring authorities and facilities regulations on the part of newly-hired Regional Director Leslie Knope and her supervisor, Grant Larson.
Finding: The office’s relocation to Pawnee was highly irregular.
Mr. Larson agreed to relocate an entire office, staffed with dozens of employees who resided in Chicago, on Ms. Knope’s recommendation. While Pawnee’s lower cost of living, proximity to many national parks and access to above-average breakfast food is advantageous, NPS did not conduct a full and open competition to decide which city to relocate the regional office to, in violation of federal regulations.
Once the decision to move to Pawnee was made, Mr. Larson failed to conduct a full and open competition to find acceptable office space, instead taking Ms. Knope’s word that renting the third floor of the Pawnee City Hall would be most cost-effective.
The recent renovation of the third floor was apparently done in his spare time by Pawnee Parks and Recreation Director Ron Swanson. While Mr. Swanson’s woodwork appears exemplary, we have concerns that a federal workspace was renovated without proper oversight, inspections and approvals.
In an interview, Mr. Swanson did not directly respond to our request for inspection records. He instead fixed a long, unbroken stare on investigators, and silently directed their attention to what appeared to be a Claymore land mine positioned on his desk. When we asked if the Claymore remained operational, Mr. Swanson giggled. Investigators advise that the presence of possible live explosives near a federal workspace represents an unacceptable risk.
In addition, NPS has received multiple EEO complaints about the murals on display in Pawnee City Hall, many of which have been called offensive to Native Americans, Asian Americans, Irish Americans, Jewish people, women and Presbyterians. The continued display of the murals may constitute a hostile work environment.
NPS employees also raised environmental concerns related to the move to Pawnee. Environmental Protection Agency studies have consistently found concentrated high-fructose corn syrup from the Sweetums factory has leached into Pawnee’s water supply. Investigators concluded that relocation to Pawnee may present hazards to the long-term health of NPS employees.
Finding: Leslie Knope’s tenure as regional director has been marked by rampant cronyism.
Ms. Knope’s qualifications to be regional director are unassailable. Her work ethic, enthusiasm for public service, and knowledge of the fiscal and operational challenges facing parks programs are matched by none.
However, her loyalty to her friends has resulted in mismanagement of her new office, and the flagrant disregard of federal hiring regulations.
After accepting the job, Mr. Larson incorrectly told Ms. Knope that she could hire whomever she wanted. She then made multiple verbal offers of employment to her co-workers in the Pawnee Parks Department, without considering veterans preference, using the category rating system, or posting the vacancies on USAJOBS.gov. While Ms. Knope’s dedication to federal hiring reform is admirable, we remain concerned her methods overlooked qualified candidates, and did not result in the best people being hired for the job.
Her employment of Pawnee employee Terry Gergich (AKA Larry, Jerry and Gary Gergich) is an example of the problematic hiring practices in Ms. Knope’s office. Mr. Gergich was hired despite the fact that he displays no apparent skills or basic competence, and based on interviews, even appears unsure of what his actual first name is. In addition, Mr. Gergich is technically a retired Pawnee government employee, raising concerns about pension double-dipping.
During a recent visit, investigators observed Ms. Knope’s friends April Ludgate and Andy Dwyer caring for her three children. It was unclear whether Ms. Ludgate and Mr. Dwyer remain government employees, but if that is the case, their provision of child care services during work hours to Ms. Knope would also present an ethical violation.
While Ms. Knope’s behavior has been problematic, we find that it would not be cost-effective to find another location for the Midwest Regional Office at this late date. It is also too late to root out Ms. Knope’s friends and associates from National Park Service positions without generating lawsuits. We advise Ms. Knope be reprimanded and told not to do it again.
The General Services Administration’s Office of Inspector General has been advised of our findings and is preparing its own investigation.
On Oct. 1, 2013 the federal government became the victim of a gridlocked Congress and began to shut down. Hundreds of thousands of workers were furloughed without notice while many more kept working – unsure of when they would be paid.
Just one day later the 50 or so employees at the Bureau of Land Management’s Cliffside Gas Field – the last remaining federal helium plant – breathed a sigh of relief. The facility had only been allowed to operate until Oct. 7, but Congress had managed to finalize legislation that would keep the facility open for more than six years.
President Obama signed the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 into law on Oct. 2. The shutdown wouldn’t be over until Oct. 16, nearly two weeks later. The helium program continued.
The Cliffside facility is one of the last remnants of the Federal Helium Program, which purchased helium-rich natural gas from private companies and stored them in the porous rock about 12 miles northwest of Amarillo, Texas and processed it through nearly half-a-dozen facilities.
The slow decline of the program belied its importance to national defense and scientific research. The government first began storing helium there in 1925 when airships were all the rage. But helium’s ability to super cool materials made it perfect for high-tech research and machinery (think MRI machines) and helped in critical missions within NASA and other agencies.
Helium is the second most abundant element in the Universe (right after hydrogen) but it is incredibly hard to pull the gas from the air. The most common way to obtain helium is as a byproduct from natural gas drilling.
By 1960 the government had purchased about 34 billion cubic feet of helium rich natural gas from drillers and had stored it in what helium experts called “the dome” next to the Cliffside facility and had built about 420 miles of underground pipeline stretching from Texas to Kansas. Along the way were private helium refiners that use the Cliffside reserves to further purify the gas and then sell it.
In 1996 Congress passed a bill that would gradually phase out the reserve. That process was sped up by the Helium Privitzation Act of 1996 which set aggressive targets for the selling off of stored helium.
But the legislation passed on Oct. 2 did not reinvigorate a federal program in decline or breath into it new life. It merely stamped an official date on its death certificate.
There are now only about 10 billion cubic feet of helium left in Cliffside’s reserves, and the Bureau of Land Management projects it will sell but 3 billion by the time its new authorization expires on Sept. 30, 2021 and the privatization of helium storage will be complete.
By then the BLM will have made arrangements to sell all of the equipment, the facility and even the underground pipeline to a private company or companies, according to Robert Jolley, the Amarillo field office manager for BLM. He said the facility supplies about 32 percent of the world’s helium supply and around 42 percent of helium within the United States. But that won’t last much longer.
“Our supplies are dwindling and we are on the last few years of our capability, so those percentages are dropping,” he said.
But Jolley is grateful the facility has been given time to close, instead of being shut down immediately last year. The work would have stopped in its tracks and he is not sure what would have happened afterwards.
“We were sweating being laid off,” he said.
Once the equipment is under contract and the facility and its pipeline are handed over to a private company, what happens then? Jolly said the selling process will begin sometime in 2019 but will hopefully include some provisions that it will remain in BLM hands up until the last day of authorization.
“We will try to operate up until the very end if possible,” he said.
That is definitely the case for a lucky person named “Ellie,’ whose planned wedding fireworks display on June 27 about 1.5 miles into the Long Island Sound near Greenwich, Conn., had to be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Because the fireworks will be launched from a barge in navigable waterways, the Coast Guard had to perform an environmental impact review and formally establish a temporary safety zone.
“This temporary rule proposes to establish a safety zone for the Ellie’s Wedding fireworks display. This proposed regulated area includes all waters of Long Island Sound within a 600 foot radius of the fireworks barge located approximate 1.5 miles south of Greenwich Point Park in Greenwich, CT,” according to the proposed rule.
Of course, since it’s a proposed rule, you can still comment officially on it until May 15. I will be sending them my best wishes for a long-lasting relationship.
All the details and procedures were published on Regulations.gov as part of the rulemaking process, but as far as wedding announcements go, its very formal.
So congratulations Ellie on your wedding day. I hear your fireworks are going to be great.
Every year at the end of August nearly 70,000 people descend on Black Rock Desert in Pershing County, Nevada to take part in the celebration of radical self expression known as Burning Man.
And for many people it’s synonymous with drug use and burning a giant wooden man in the middle of the desert. But according to the Bureau of Land Management — which has jurisdiction over government land and the Burning Man festival grounds in particular — the number of people cited or arrested is quite low for its size and duration.
In 2013 only 6 people out of 69,613 were arrested and 433 more were cited by law enforcement, according to statistics from BLM provided to the Government Attic. (Note: Government attic is a great resource for FOIAs and government info alike.) That covers the five days leading up to Burning Man, the event itself and five days afterward.
The size of the gathering would make it the 5th largest city in Nevada and in comparison crime at Burning is pretty low, according to Gene Seidlitz, manager for the Winnemucca district of the BLM.
|Year||Burning Man Pop.||BLM officers||Drug citations||Total citations||Arrests|
He said while in its early days there were deaths and more arrests the event has evolved into a well-organized festival complete with proper permits and safety guidelines — especially for the fire events.
“Although there are arrests and injuries and in the past deaths I think this is a very safe event and managed well with good oversight by the BLM,” Seidlitz said.
The key to keeping the event organized and safe is the extensive communication between event organizers and the BLM, according to Eric Boik, state chief ranger for the BLM for Utah, which oversees the law enforcement activities of the event.
“It’s because we all get to the table and communicate frequently and the planning for this starts for 2014 in December so we are already working hot and heavy,” Boik said.
He added the event encourages self-reliance and all the festival participants clean up everything they bring with them as part of a “leave no trace” culture.
“Everything is cleaned up as if the event never occurred,” he said.
Burning Man continues to grow — from a few hundred people 30 years ago to 51,515 in 2010 and up to 69,613 in 2013. The 2014 festival has a permit for 70,000 people and that is probably the maximum the event can host, according to the BLM.
The agency worked on an environmental impact statement that put the maximum number of festival-goers — no including law enforcement or festival organizers — at 70,000, according to Seidlitz.
As for the wooden man that is burned every year?
“It’s quite a site,” Seidlitz said.
By all accounts, pledges to the 2013 Combined Federal Campaign are going to be down by tens of millions of dollars in comparison with the 2012 CFC. This is, of course, money that mostly goes to charities. But which charities benefit from federal employee giving (and could thus see a falloff in contributions)?
The Office of Personnel Management does not collect that information. Instead, the Workplace Giving Alliance, a Massachusetts-based coalition of CFC federations, decided to do the job on its own, compiling pledge information for the last three years from most local campaigns and then extrapolating to fill in the gaps.
In a report released a few months ago, here’s what the group found: Among national and international charities, the biggest CFC beneficiary in the 2012 season was the American Red Cross, which received more than $7 million in pledges. Runner-up was St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which got about $6.7 million, following by the Wounded Warrior Project, with about $5 million. In general, health, religious, veterans, education and animal-related charities did well; you can read the full report here.