Federal Times Blogs
Thousands of federal workers got a welcome arrival in their bank accounts today: An ahead-of-schedule deposit for back pay owed from the partial government shutdown.
While the Obama administration had said that the money would show up in employees’ next paychecks after the shutdown ended last week, the Interior’s Department’s Business Center scheduled an “off-cycle” payment today for most Interior employees, along with many of those at NASA, the National Science Foundation and 39 other agencies who also get their paychecks through the center, spokesman Mike Fernandez said in an email.
The payments came one week ahead of the next normal biweekly pay date, Oct. 29, Fernandez said, and represented an effort “to provide retroactive pay as quickly as possible.” The center, which last month suffered a processing glitch that delayed some paychecks, handles payroll for about 240,000 employees.
For 40,000 federal employees, this has not been a happy Friday.
The reason: They didn’t get paid.
Because of problems at the Interior Business Center (IBC), which handles payroll processing for numerous agencies outside of the Interior Department, paychecks that were supposed to be direct-deposited today didn’t go through, spokesman Michael Fernandez said in a statement later posted on the center’s website. Paychecks will now be deposited Tuesday, he said. The affected employees work in 23 of the 42 agencies served by the business center. They represent about 17 percent of the 240,000 workers paid through the IBC, according to the statement. Affected agencies include the Securities and Exchange Commission, NASA, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Labor Relations Board.
According to Fernandez, the problem resulted when the payroll file sent from the business center to Treasury contained the official pay date of Sept. 17 for the electronic funds transfer, not the expected date of Sept. 13. “Efforts to process a new payment file were unsuccessful,” he said.
The center is working on a plan to prevent this from happening again, Fernandez said. Although most of its customers are not affected, he added, center officials know that this is a “serious matter” and sincerely regret “any inconveniences the error may have caused.”
Joe Ward, the center’s director, referred questions to Fernandez’s office. The snafu highlights the fact that to ‘facilitate processing of payroll in a timely manner,” the center in at least some cases routine deposits payroll money early to banks. As some commenters have noted, the employees are still ostensibly being paid on time, but that may not mean much if–for bill-paying purposes–you assumed that the money would be in your account by Friday. As they say in politics, it’s all about expectations.
The Interior Business Center has begun contacting about 1,800 financial institutions to let them know about the mistake and asking them to work with customers, according to Fernandez’s statement. “Some banks have already agreed to recognize the payments” as if they had been actually made on Friday, the statement says.
Twenty agencies big and small were recently noted for top-notch financial and performance reporting by the Association of Government Accountants.
The “Certificate of Excellence in Accountability Reporting” (CEAR) singles out “high-quality Performance and Accountability Reports (PARs) and Annual Financial Reports (AFRs) that effectively illustrate and assess financial and program performance, accomplishments and challenges, cost and accountability,” the accountants association said in a news release. The association also spotlights the teams of dedicated federal professionals who (often unsung) put the reports together.
“Given the fiscal status of the United States government and the public’s perceptions about government fiscal accountability and transparency, the achievement of this year’s CEAR recipients is even more significant,” AGA Executive Director Relmond Van Daniker said in the release. The agencies being honored “truly represent a select group within the government financial management community.”
Here’s a rundown of the winners:
Architect of the Capitol
Federal Aviation Administration
Federal Housing Finance Agency
Federal Trade Commission
Office of Financial Stability (Treasury Department)
Commodity Futures Trading Commission
Housing and Urban Development Department
Government Accountability Office
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Patent and Trademark Office
Securities and Exchange Commission
Small Business Administration
Social Security Administration
Also honored at the May 22 National Press Club ceremony were 10 agencies that showed “specific points of excellence” within their fiscal year 2012 PARs. Known as ‘Best in Class’ awards, the recipients included:
Health and Human Services Department: Best Summary of Management and Performance Challenges by the Inspector General
Labor Department: Most Complete Schedule of Spending
Peace Corps: Most Comprehensive and Candid Presentation of Forward-Looking Information
FTC: Best Agency Head Message
HUD: Best Presentation of a Financial Management Systems Framework
Interior: Best High-Level Discussion of Performance
Capitol Architect: Best Analysis of an Agency’s Financial Statements
FAA: Most Representative of Editorial Excellence
Department of Homeland Security: Best Improper Payment and Recovery Act Reporting
Central Intelligence Agency: Best Introduction
Since Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Jan. 16 that he plans to step down at the end of March, federal government watchers have speculated that Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry may be in the running to replace him. When I asked Berry that day about the job, he wouldn’t even say whether he had talked to President Obama. “No comment,” Berry said. “At this point, I stand ready to serve the President in any capacity he desires.”
But his old friend and former boss, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, is far less reticent about Berry’s possible promotion.
“Yes, I do know that [Obama] is looking at him,” Hoyer told me at a lunch briefing in Bowie, Md. Hoyer continued:
I’ve talked to the Obama administration. I’ve talked to [Obama adviser] Peter Rouse, who’s helping coordinate that. They really like John Berry. They think John Berry has done an outstanding job as director of the Office of Personnel Management.
Hoyer lauded Berry’s experience as Interior’s assistant secretary for policy, management and budget during the Clinton administration. “He, in effect, ran the department,” Hoyer said. “Bruce Babbitt, who was secretary at the time, has told me that he did an absolutely extraordinary job. So I think John Berry would be a wonderful secretary of Interior.”
Hoyer said he doesn’t know if the White House ultimately will select Berry, and notes that Interior secretaries have traditionally come from Western states. Berry is from Maryland. But Hoyer thinks the White House will make a decision soon, and said running Interior would be Berry’s dream job.
What he wants is Interior. He loves conservation issues, he loves preservation, he loves the outdoors. He’s wonderful, wonderful, one of the most positive human beings I’ve ever met in my life.
OPM declined to comment, and referred me to Berry’s previous statement.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s decision to step down at the end of March opens up one more Cabinet position in the second Obama administration — and may present an opportunity for Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry.
While Berry is most known these days for his focus on federal hiring, pensions and other personnel matters, nature issues are especially close to his heart. He was director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoological Park before Obama tapped him to run OPM, and prior to that, served as executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. He also served as Interior’s assistant secretary for policy, management and budget during the Clinton administration.
The Washington Post’s Lisa Rein reported in a profile of Berry last fall that his friends say he is seeking the job. If selected and confirmed, Berry would be the first openly gay man to serve in a presidential Cabinet.
But when I asked Berry this morning if he had talked to Obama about running Interior, he was tight-lipped:
No comment. At this point, I stand ready to serve the President in any capacity he desires.
The Interior Department expects to migrate 92,000 employees to a single cloud-based email system by December, according to a senior agency official.
Interior awarded a $35 million contract for cloud email and collaboration tools to Ohio-based Onix Networking Corp, according to an announcement on fbo.gov. The Google Apps for Government solution will also provide employees with instant messaging, desktop video conferencing, web-based collaboration systems and email on their mobile devices.
“That is one of our first big enterprise services that we hope we can ramp up quickly,” Andrew Jackson, deputy assistant secretary for technology, information and business services, said in an interview. “There will be a dedicated group that is launching and migrating and implementing the enterprise services.”
The award comes more than a year after a contentious battle between Google and Microsoft for Interior’s business.
Hard to believe, but the State Department’s Office of Inspector General has been without a permanent head for more than four years.
That fact, highlighted this week by the Project on Government Oversight, puts the office in an unlucky class of four IG agencies that have had vacancies at the top for at least 1,000 days.
The others are the Interior and Labor departments and the Corporation for National and Community Service. While the Obama administration last fall nominated attorney Deborah Jeffrey for the inspector general’s job at the national service corporation, the Senate has yet to confirm her.
But the White House has named no one for the top positions at the other three offices. Although there are undoubtedly plenty of competent career folks to carry on in the meantime, ‘”a permanent IG has the ability to set a long-term strategic plan, . . . including setting investigative and audit priorities,” POGO said on its web site, adding that the administration has “no good excuse” for failing to nominate someone for a post that has been vacant for years.
The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment today.
#3 Job Title: Criminal Investigator
Agency: National Archives and Records Administration
The National Archives contains billions of documents and items that make up our nations cultural and political heritage. Presidential letters, military documents and even secret stuff regular folk like us cannot see (except perhaps Nicholas Cage). And sometimes people take documents from those archives and try to sell them.
The investigators comb the Internet, follow up on tips and travel to places such as Gettysburg, Pa., to look for documents, gather tips and educate traders at antique shows. Civil War documents are a ripe area for people trying to profit from government records, as there is high interest in items from that war.
Every so often, a news story about the team’s efforts bubbles to the surface, most recently when IG officers teamed with the U.S. Marshals Service and the Montgomery County, Md., police department in a raid on a former Archives employee’s home, seizing boxes of documents.
That’s right. Taking back those documents. So if you have ever watched “National Treasure” and thought to yourself, “I could definitely do a better job tracking down our nation’s documents, then this might be the career for you.
#2 Job Title:Bartender
Department:Department of the Army
So you have probably already heard of this job. But not for the Army, perhaps. According to the job title, the bartender “Operates a small full-service bar, mixing and serving the full range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.”
Sounds about right.
#1. Job Title:Biological Science Tech (Bison)
Agency:National Park Service
So there is nothing about this job I do not like. You travel across Yellowstone National Park (by ski, snowshoe or snowmobile) and use radio telemetry to locate buffalo/bison in rough terrain. You take notes about their locations and take biological samples for later study. You work in field laboratories and will assist in studying the vital statistics of individual bison.
And you will also have to watch out for grizzly bears. Seriously. Bears. (Here’s a full quote)
WORK ENVIRONMENT: This work is performed primarily outdoors, in cold conditions with ice and snow, with bison, elk, wolves, and coyotes very likely to be encountered, with a possibility of grizzly or black bears.
I can only imagine the job looks something like this…
The Washington Monument, damaged in the August earthquake, is cracked in dozens of places, according to a National Park Service report released Thursday.
Six marble panels near the pointed top of the monument — called the “pyramidion” — have severe cracking, and. water is leaking through to the observation areas, according to the report.
The report — prepared by government contractors Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. and Tipping Mar — also documents other cracks throughout the structure.
The Park Service will receive $7.5 million in funds to repair the monument under the fiscal 2012 spending bill approved last week. The agency is expected to match that funding with private donations, according to legislation.
The report recommends
Temporary weatherization such as sealants and special insulation to prevent further leaks.
A new study to determine how vulnerable the monument is to future earthquakes.
The Bureau of Land Management spends between $20.8 million and $33.3 million on computers for its employees.
By replacing computers with Apple iPads, the bureau expects it would have to spend far less — between $8 million and $12 million, according to internal documents obtained by the website governmentattic.org. The documents were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
It isn’t clear if the bureau’s current hardware costs are annual or over its five year technology refresh period, when it periodically replaces technology. Transitioning to the iPad would require “very little maintenance” over its lifespan, the bureau said.
Currently, the bureau has between 10,000 and 16,000 employees and each have on average 1.6 devices. An iPad would reduce the number of devices per employees because they wouldn’t need to travel with a second computer, the document said. “The same machine could be used on the desktop and as a mobile device” and reduce the number of devices by 6,400.
The bureau cited other benefits of using the iPad:
- It has a “monitor” and a USB interface.
- It is ideal for using during meets or in the field, and iPads could potentially reduce dependency on devices like thumb drives and air cards for Internet access.
- It could reduce the need for IT support staff, and the bureau could use Apple’s maintenance plan instead.
- It provides cell phone capabilities through certain applications and could replace the desktop phone.
But with those advantages come risks and concerns.
The iPads does not support PDF documents or Adobe Flash, and security concerns remain, the bureau said. (However, as some of our tech-savvy readers have noted, iPad users can open, read and store PDF documents).