Federal Times Blogs

Agencies subpoenaed to testify on small business leadership

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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.

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Indian activist challenged the government–and is lauded for it

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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.

Elouise Cobell was the lead plaintiff on a lawsuit against the government that led to a $3.4 billion settlement.

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.

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Treasury moving to e-invoicing

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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.

Libya sanctions: Three days to freeze $32 billion

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"They took WHAT?" (Photo by Mahmud Turkia/Getty Images)

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.

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ABC: Obama to sorta kinda appoint Warren

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Elizabeth Warren

For weeks government regulatory geeks have been waiting with baited breath to see whether President Obama would formally nominate Elizabeth Warren to be the first head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, sidestep the highly contentious nomination process and give her a limited recess appointment, or duck the conflict altogether and choose someone else. According to ABC’s Jake Tapper, the answer is … none of the above.

Tapper says Warren will be the — deep breath — Assistant to the President and Special Adviser to the Secretary of the Treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Basically, she’ll be a White House adviser, reporting to both Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, charged with setting up the new bureau. It remains to be seen exactly what this means. Salon’s Andrew Leonard sounds baffled over whether this pseudo-appointment would give Warren some actual power, or just make her one more adviser with no real authority.

Cue conservative carping on yet another czar and liberal griping about Obama’s ducking of political fights over their pet issues in 3 … 2 … 1 …

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Reading the tea leaves on Elizabeth Warren

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Elizabeth Warren

The Washington Post’s Political Economy blog today reported that Elizabeth Warren — the left’s hands-down favorite to run the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — has unexpectedly dropped a fall class she was scheduled to teach at Harvard.

This last-minute change for Warren’s contracting law class is fueling speculation that she could be nominated soon, and is gearing up for what could be a grueling confirmation battle. (Long story short, liberals love her and think she’d stand up to banks running amok; conservatives view her as a zealot who doesn’t know what she’s talking about.)

The Post said that even when Warren was heading a congressional panel overseeing the TARP bailout, she found time to keep teaching. And Andrew Leonard at Salon’s How the World Works blog notes that Warren has been seen recently at the White House and dining with Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. “So something is up,” Leonard wrote.

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Video: Michelle Obama at Treasury

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As her 20th agency visit, First Lady Michelle Obama was at the Department of Treasury, July 7, 2010, to thank its employees for their work. In particular, she praised the organization’s effort on financial reform, which she hopes will prevent another meltdown. Michelle Obama also mentioned the Treasury’s cooperation with her “Let’s Move” campaign, aimed at promoting a healthier lifestyle, by introducing tax credits to grocery stores opening in under-served communities. (Jee Abbey Lee/ Medill News Service for Fedline)

Budgetball: Flex your mind and your muscles

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So let’s say you’re sitting around on a Saturday afternoon, thinking, “Well shucks, I’d sure like to finally get around to solving America’s national debt problem today, but I’m really starting to get a little soft in the middle … maybe I should go outside and get some exercise instead.”

We’ve all been there, right? Well, worry no more: Budgetball is here!budgetball

Budgetball is, no lie, “an active sport of quick passes, tough defense, and bold comebacks designed to increase awareness of the national debt and reward strategic thinking and collaborative problem-solving around the issues of fiscal responsibility.” Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s all about the (new) Benjamins

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Gordon Gekko would probably shed a tear at this promotional video released by the government today.  For just over a minute, the video lavishes attention on a new $100 bill rolled out today, as Ben Franklin’s famous visage soars and gyrates around the screen and inspirational music plays in the background.

YouTube Preview Image

The video highlights in big blue letters the bill’s new security features: a 3-D security ribbon, a portrait watermark, a security thread, color-shifting numerals and a “bell in the inkwell,” whatever that means.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Director Ron Howard casting IRS comedy

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This is actor David Krumholtz. Does he look like an IRS employee to you?

This is actor David Krumholtz. Does he look like an IRS employee to you?

Just think, snowed-in feds — should Washington D.C. break its snowfall record next year, perhaps you can catch up on episodes of Ron Howard’s planned Internal Revenue Service comedy. It’ll almost be like you’re back in your offices!

FedLine has blogged about Howard’s planned Fox series before, which will be shot “documentary style” like NBC’s The Office and Parks & Recreation. Now we’re learning that Howard has started casting the show, with Numb3rs star David Krumholtz in the lead. Krumholtz will lead the action in an IRS regional office, according to Michael Ausiello over at Entertainment Weekly.

What say you, feds? Would you watch a show set at a federal office? Who would you like to see play feds?

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