Federal Times Blogs

Memo to frequent fliers: Share your tips

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Are you a seasoned federal traveler with a suitcase full of tips?

Do you know how to save on checked bag fees and do you always know the best hotels at per diem?


If you would like share some of your tips and advice with our readers, or have any other suggestions on how to beat the airport rush, please email me at opawlyk@gannettgov.com or feel free to post in the comment section below.

Mobile devices help FAA save money and time

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The Federal Aviation Administration has saved money and increased efficiency since it began issuing iPads and Android devices to employees a year ago, an agency official said.

FAA’s legal department, for example, uses iPads during cases it prosecutes to show radar images of air traffic conditions at the time of a contested incident. Such evidence often leads to defendants ending cases earlier, said Robert Corcoran, manager for architecture and applied technology at FAA.

The legal department estimates that FAA saves about $100,000 per case when cases end early, Corcoran said Tuesday at the FOSE conference inWashington.

FAA has issued 1,100 tablet devices to employees as part of an ongoing pilot program. The long-term goal is to give the employees the option of mobile devices when they trade in their old technology, Corcoran said.

The Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security departments are among other agencies that offer mobile devices toselect employees.

“We are trying to afford choices to the DoD,” said deputy chief information officer Robert Carey during another FOSE panel. But “the ‘I wants’ have to be offset by the ‘I needs’.”

Corcoran said FAA provided tablet devices and Internet connections to employees who could show a credible need for the devices. Employees have come up with 72 different use cases for the devices.

Within the next three months, FAA plans to study whether iPads can enhance air traffic controller training, Corcoran said.

Trainees will use iPads to access training materials, he said. Results from the study will be compared with training classes that don’t use iPads.

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GOVTeks awards honor federal, contractor IT execs

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More than a year ago, agencies were ordered to begin shuttering hundreds of data centers and move government applications to the cloud under the administration’s information technology reform plan.

As of last fall, agencies had moved 40 services to the cloud and terminated 50 legacy systems.

Transportation Department Chief Information Officer Nitin Pradhan announced a program last November called IT Vital Signs, which was created to set consistent performance metrics for cybersecurity , IT investments and departmentwide initiatives like data center consolidation. The department has committed to closing at least 42 of its data centers by 2015.

“Stakeholder engagement is really at the heart of the DOT IT Reform Plan, and I believe one of the keys to its success so far at DOT,” Pradhan said in a blog post on cio.gov.

Pradhan was honored last week by the Government Technology Research Alliance (GTRA) for his work in executing the Office of Management and Budget’s IT reform plan. Several public and private sector executives and companies, including Army’s deputy CIO Mike Krieger and Apptis, were recognized by the nonprofit organization. GTRA focuses on improving government information technology through forums, workshops and other means.

Pradhan is also testing a program to reduce spending that federal CIO Steven VanRoekel has said he is considering expanding governmentwide.

Transportation has an online catalog of its IT applications and services, similiar to Amazon.com, and users can rate the performance of the technology. Based on user feedback and other analytics, such as usage rates, the agency decides whether to cut funding for low-performing IT applications and systems.

“We don’t typically do that in government,” VanRoekel said. “[But] it is definitely something we have to do – drive out the old in favor of promoting the new.”

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A footnote to the FAA furloughs

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One of the oddities of this summer’s partial Federal Aviation Administration shutdown was that the agency would never say exactly how many employees were furloughed as a result. “Nearly 4,000” was the stock phrase used by FAA officials, who refused to provide a more precise figure.

Not clear why they were so coy (this is supposed to be the most transparent administration in American history, after all), but FedLine’s curiosity was piqued, a Freedom of Information Act request was filed and the answer came back late last month: 3,750. The estimated cost in lost payroll for the two-week furlough (and the FAA, to be fair, had previously released an approximate figure) was $20.2 million.

The partial shutdown occurred in July and August after Congress failed to approve a short-term funding extension and then left town for its August break.  After taking a pounding from administration officials and in the media, lawmakers soon got the agency fully back to work; the latest extension now runs until the end of January.  And while Congress never acted on legislation to provide back pay for those furloughed employees, that turned out to be a moot point after Transportation Department lawyers decided that no congressional approval was needed.



Congressman: Previously furloughed FAA employees to receive back pay

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Almost 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration employees furloughed this summer will be reimbursed for salary lost during that time, according to Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J. The back pay will be included in a mid-October paycheck after Transportation Department lawyers concluded that congressional approval was not needed, LoBiondo said in a news release Friday.

Department officials could not be reached for confirmation late Friday, but in a separate statement, the president of the FAA Managers Association called the news “a great outcome” for employees.

“We congratulate and commend [Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt] for discovering the legal mechanisms to bring the back pay issue to a close,” David Conley said. ”It is the right thing to do.”

The partial shutdown, which began in late July, occurred after lawmakers deadlocked on a short-term funding extension for the FAA. Although air traffic controllers continued to work, employees involved in construction grant administration and implementation of the Next Generation air traffic control system were sent home for about two weeks until lawmakers reached a short-term compromise.

Also temporarily halted were some 250 airport improvement and construction projects; the government lost about $350 million in airline ticket tax revenue that it no longer had the authority to collect. Congress has since passed another funding extension that will carry the FAA through the end of January.

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TSA checks for Afro explosives

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An Atlanta TV station recently reported a passenger going through Hartsfield- Jackson International Airport was subject to a TSA “hair pat-down”.

The woman had already gone through security when TSA agents tracked her down and asked to search her hair for explosives. She said no, but was then told she wouldn’t be able to board her flight without a “hair pat-down”. The woman has a massive fro and is quite a character, but a terrorist, I think not.  Watch the full report below.


LaHood to lawmakers: Don’t leave on “vacation” without settling FAA standoff

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It wasn’t exactly a primal scream, but Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood sounded decidedly ticked this afternoon over the congressional standoff that has idled almost 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration workers.

That impasse is now in its tenth day, with no apparent end in sight. Amping up the urgency is that Congress is set to leave by week’s end for its customary August break. Meaning that, without a quick resolution, those FAA employees could stay furloughed without pay through at least Labor Day. Also affected, according to LaHood, are some 70,000 construction workers employed on FAA contracts snarled by the dispute.

During this afternoon’s conference call with reporters, LaHood and FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Huerta didn’t have much news, apart from acknowledging conversations with top members of Congress and staff. But LaHood, a former House member, pointedly chided lawmakers to act before heading out on “vacation.”

Members of Congress, of course, don’t like the v-word. For the Senate, the preferred term of art is “state work period.” House members officially label the break a “district work period.”

Not vacation.

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Even Rummy can’t get past the TSA

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The former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld got hung up in Chicago O’Hare International Airport yesterday afternoon.

Rumsfled was stopped by TSA agents and patted down after setting off the metal detector. The 13th and 21st Secretary of Defense was reported as being a good sport by TMZ, they even have pictures to prove it!  The former SECDEF even tweeted about his pat down:

It takes those of us with two titanium hips and a titanium shoulder a bit longer to get through TSA… http://t.co/qUoW9FE
Donald Rumsfeld

Rumsfeld was in hometown of Chicago attending a Heritage Foundation Panel & Luncheon.

Transportation Secretary a bike lane-loving hipster

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Go back to Williamsburg, hipster. (Tim Sloan / Agence France-Presse)

Hats off to the Huffington Post for asking the important questions. In an interview, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he’s worried about the way car drivers mistreat bikers, and applauded cities that have constructed dedicated bike lanes. Said LaHood:

I’m concerned that people that are driving cars have a level of respect for bikers, and that’s the reason that we have these bike lanes. Bikers have as much right to the streets as anybody driving a car and I am concerned about [their safety].

When HuffPo told LaHood he sounded like a “run-of-the-mill hipster,” he appeared confused, and said “I don’t even know what that term means.”

As Gawker notes, “But isn’t that exactly what a hipster would say?”

Federal Times has uncovered exclusive footage of LaHood working his second job as a bike messenger:

YouTube Preview Image

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Tenn. rep.: Snoozing FAA controllers could goose disciplinary reform

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The FAA’s recent scandals involving multiple air traffic controllers sleeping on the job could “give some momentum” to the effort to overhaul federal civil service rules and make it easier to punish poor performers, according to Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn.

The Knoxville News Sentinel yesterday quoted Duncan as saying that the repeated gaffes underscore that federal personnel policies make it tough for managers to fire poor performers, and must be changed. “There are too many protections for most federal workers,” Duncan reportedly said. “It’s too hard to get rid of lazy, incompetent people.”

Rep. Dennis Ross., R-Fla., is chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce and has made it a priority to strengthen managers’ ability to discipline poor performers.

Duncan represents Knoxville, Tenn., where air traffic controller Jonathan Poindexter allegedly fell asleep while on the job at McGhee Tyson Airport Feb. 19. The FAA is moving to fire him.

The News Sentinel also quotes AFGE National President John Gage as saying it’s a myth that federal employees can’t be disciplined or fired. 11,668 federal employees were fired in fiscal 2010 — mostly for misconduct, but some for poor performance.

But at a time when federal employees’ salaries, benefits and in some cases, their jobs are under attack, it doesn’t bode well that slacking air traffic controllers are currently the public face of feds. Conan O’Brien even joked this week about the controller caught watching a DVD on duty: “When asked why he was watching a movie, the air traffic controller said, ‘I just couldn’t sleep.’”

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