My name is Andy and if you haven’t guessed it yet, I am one of the reporters here at the Federal Times. For the last few weeks we have had a new feature on our blog, “Silver Screen Feds,” where we look at famous federal employees in cinema and television. This week my partner-in-crime and colleague Steve Losey is spending time with his family, so instead of doing all the work myself, you guys get a clip-show version of everything we have done so far.
Below are each of our entries in the ongoing series, so feel free to read and enjoy them. Post your own suggestions in the comments and let us know what you think.
In our first entry I took a look at the postal workers who save the day in the 1947 classic “Miracle on 34th Street.” And Stephen examined the tragic flaws that brought down the Environmental Protection Agency’s Walter Peck in 1984′s “Ghostbusters.”
Next, we examined a far less-honorable mailman — Newman from “Seinfeld” — and the surprising heroism of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Hank Schrader in “Breaking Bad.”
In our third entry we picked two federal employees who couldn’t be any more different: Dr. Edwin Jenner, the doomed researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the zombie apocalypse show “The Walking Dead,” and Ranger Smith, the hapless National Park Service ranger who can’t stop Yogi Bear from stealing them pic-a-nic baskets.
In our fourth entry we took a trip back to the Roaring Twenties and the lawless days of Prohibition, to look at the best and worst Treasury agents who ever busted up a still on-screen: Legendary lawman Eliot Ness from the 1987 film “The Untouchables,” and deeply disturbed Agent Nelson Van Alden from HBO’s series “Boardwalk Empire.”
And in our latest entry I took a look at the best team of federal employees ever to grace the big screen: Mission control from “Apollo 13.” And keep reading for Stephen Losey’s take on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Russ Cargill, from “The Simpsons Movie” — the first character we’ve profiled who descends into outright super-villainy.
This week’s edition of Silver Screen Feds goes back to the Roaring Twenties and the lawless days of Prohibition, to look at the best and worst Treasury agents who ever busted up a still on-screen: Legendary lawman Eliot Ness from the 1987 film “The Untouchables,” and deeply disturbed Agent Nelson Van Alden from HBO’s series “Boardwalk Empire.”
BEST FEDS: Eliot Ness, Treasury Department, “The Untouchables” (Andy Medici)
How do you take down one of the most notorious criminals in America’s history? How do you capture and convict a man responsible for gang violence, murder and untold corruption?
Why, with a Treasury Department employee of course.
And when your target is Al Capone — especially Robert De Niro playing Al Capone — your only hope is Kevin Costner as a highly stylized and ultimately effective Eliot Ness.
If you have money invested in the Thrift Savings Plan’s G-Fund, take a bow. Your retirement nest egg is now part of a strategy to stave off worldwide financial calamity.
That’s because the Treasury Department intends to intentionally stiff the fund as one of several “extraordinary measures” announced last month to buy time after the government hit its legal $16.4 trillion debt ceiling Dec. 31.
Here’s how it works: the fund—technically known as the Government Securities Investment Fund—is continually re-invested in short-term government bonds. Because those bonds count toward the debt ceiling, Treasury suspends re-investments to free up more borrowing “headroom.” The G-Fund’s balance is currently about $156 billion, making the suspension by far the most significant of the steps now under way to delay a government default that many economists say would trigger a global panic.
The tactic is nothing new; Treasury used it during the last debt ceiling crisis in 2011. But if money is lying fallow, it’s not earning interest. The 2011 suspension temporarily cost the G-fund $378.5 million, the Government Accountability Office reported last year. But by law, the Treasury Department has to make the fund whole. In its July report, the GAO confirmed that the fund had indeed been “fully restored.”
Understandably, however, feds are nervous. In a message posted on the TSP’s web site, Executive Director Greg Long reiterated that existing law “will work to ensure that G Fund investors are completely unaffected” by Treasury’s tactics. Loans and withdrawals will not be affected, Long added.
[This post has been updated.]
It’s official: The Thrift Savings Plan’s G-Fund is back to full strength after losing almost $400 million courtesy of last year’s debt ceiling showdown.
The confirmation comes from a Government Accountability Office review of the Treasury Department’s maneuvering to head off an unprecedented U.S. default after Congress initially deadlocked over raising the nation’s borrowing limit. The standoff was resolved (at least temporarily) last August with approval of the Budget Control Act, which traded a debt-ceiling increase for spending cuts.
But in the months before the act’s passage, Treasury resorted to a number of “extraordinary actions” to buy time. One involved the G-Fund (officially known as the Government Securities Investment Fund), which is invested in short-term bonds. Because those bonds count against the debt ceiling, the government in May 2011 halted new investments as a temporary means of holding down borrowing. But, of course, if that money’s not invested, it’s not earning interest. Some $137.5 billion in G-Fund principal lay fallow during the 3-1/2 month hiatus. By GAO’ s reckoning, the lost interest amounted to $378.5 million.
By law, however, the government has to make up the difference once the crisis is over. That’s since been done, the review says, as the Treasury Department has “fully restored” the lost interest.
“It’s exactly as if they had never had to use the extraordinary actions,” Susan Irving, one of the report’s authors, said in an interview.
The G-Fund was not the only account touched in this way. The Treasury Department performed similar maneuvers–albeit in smaller amounts–with the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund and the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund. Both have also been made whole, according to the report.
So relax, already. At least until next time.
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. But some famous people have had not so famous careers within the federal government. Here are a few.
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.
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 has sold more than 200 million copies.
They are still making movies based off of his work.
But Dr. Seuss was employed by the Treasury Department in 1942 to make illustrations for the war effort. He joined the Army in 1943.
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.
But if anyone else knows of more secret federal careers of more famous people, just add them into the comments.
The Treasury Department announced today that their headquarters has attained LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. Gold is the second-highest rating.
The building was made more energy and water efficient, resulting in a 7 percent decrease in electricity use and a 53 percent decrease in steam use over 2008 levels.
“The fact that the home of much our nation’s financial history has achieved this distinction for environmental leadership adds new meaning to the term ‘green’ building,” said Assistant Secretary for Management Dan Tangherlini. “We’re proud of the improvements we’ve made around the Treasury Building – both big and small – to help reduce our environmental footprint and save taxpayer dollars.”
The Treasury Department also squeezed in 164 additional workstations for federal employees.
The Treasury Building, which is located at 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, is more than two city blocks long and serves as the headquarters of the Department. It was constructed over a period of 33 years between 1836 and 1869. The east and center wings – which comprise the oldest portion of the structure – were designed by Robert Mills, architect of the Washington Monument, and were built between 1836 to 1842.
The Treasury Building is the third-oldest federal building in Washington D.C., after the White House and the U.S. Capitol, and was named a National Historic Landmark in 1972.
House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves today issued subpoenas to four federal agencies seeking answers for why they refuse to put senior leadership in charge of small business contracting activities, a committee spokesman said.
The Treasury, State, Justice and Agriculture departments have said they believe they are in compliance with the spirit of a law that requires agencies to put their Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization in direct contact with the agency’s secretary or deputy secretary.
Each agency is required to have an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) under the Small Business Act to ensure contracts are written with small business participation in mind.
The Government Accountability Office reported in June that the seven departments did not comply with the requirements. Some agencies name top level officials as OSDBU directors but have less senior administrators do day-to-day activities. Others have the OSDBU director report to officials other than the secretary or deputy secretary.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, chairman of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce, sent letters to the noncompliant agencies in August asking them to reorganize their OSDBU offices so that the offices reported to senior leadership. The Interior Department and Social Security Administration responded by reorganizing their small business offices.
But the Treasury, State, Justice and Agriculture departments told Mulvaney they believe they are in compliance with the spirit of the law and will not change.
The subpoenas issued today require the deputy secretaries of those four unchanged agencies to explain their reasons at a full House Small Business Committee hearing on Nov. 1.
It’s not every day that national leaders pay tribute to someone who spearheaded a cause that will cost the government several billion dollars.
That distinction goes, however, to the late Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Interior and Treasury departments that prompted a $3.4 billion settlement to make up for their mismanagement of an Indian trust fund. Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet tribe from Montana, died late Sunday from cancer.
In a statement today, President Obama said he and First Lady Michelle Obama were “saddened” to learn of Cobell’s passing.
“Elouise spoke out when she saw that the Interior Department had failed to account for billions of dollars that they were supposed to collect on behalf of more than 300,000 of her fellow Native Americans,” said Obama, who last year signed the law that put the settlement in place.
Also praising Cobell was current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who called her “a hero in every sense of the word.”
“She sought justice to address historical wrongs that had weighed on our nation’s conscience and was a significant force for change.”
Recognition was a long time coming.
In 1996, Cobell and four other Indians filed suit to force the government to account for billions of dollars received for oil and gas leases and other uses of Indian lands held in trust by the United States, according to an obituary released by her family. The suit eventually became a class-action case; the ensuing legal odyssey revealed government record-keeping so slipshod that a judge determined that Indians could never get a full reckoning.
The $3.4 billion negotiated settlement includes $1.5 billion to compensate land owners, along with $1.9 billion for a voluntary buyback program to consolidate land interests, according to the Interior Department. Because legal challenges to the settlement are continuing, however, no money has actually been disbursed at this point, said Bill McAllister, a spokesman for Cobell’s family.
Some noteworthy news today on the long and winding road to a paperless government: As of the end of fiscal 2012, all Treasury Department bureaus will have to use electronic invoicing.
The move is expected to cut the department’s processing costs by about half to $7 million annually and will also mean faster payments for government vendors, Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin said in a news release. At the department, the Bureau of the Public Debt and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing already use electronic invoicing; the IRS, the Office of Thrift Supervision and a number of other offices will now have to get on board.
A handful of other federal agencies already use the online approach or are pursuing it. If adopted government-wide, it could eventually save up to $450 million annually through lower manpower costs, according to an official estimate.
The approach is one of a dozen proposals from the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Innovation and Transformation intended to streamline financial management government-wide. “It’s available today; it’s ready to implement,” the office’s director, Adam Goldberg, said today at an Association of Government Accountants’ meeting inAtlanta.
The Washington Post just posted a great story looking inside the Treasury Department’s mad dash to freeze $32 billion in assets held by Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. Treasury employees worked nearly nonstop to quickly target Libyan assets in 72 hours — a process that would have taken weeks or months in previous years.
Several things were on Treasury’s side: Valuable lessons learned from previous economic sanctions, the discovery that the $100 million in assets they believed Gaddafi held was actually 300 times greater, and the rise of electronic banking networks that made it easier to track and crack down on the funds.
But Treasury also had dedicated public servants who seized their chance to make history, as this quote from Office of Foreign Asset Control Director Adam Szubin shows:
Szubin said the effort was “incredibly intense, but in the best way.”
“This is what we’re here to do, is for moments like this when there is a crisis. I don’t know what more you could ask as a career civil servant than the White House turning to you and saying, ‘We need you. We need you to move incredibly fast. How quickly can you deliver?’ ”
These are the kind of stories that can make it easier for agencies to recruit new employees. After all, you can’t do that in the private sector.