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Want to honor good work by a federal employee?

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Do you work with or know a federal employee who has made a particularly noteworthy contribution to the public good?

Then ’tis the season to put in a nomination for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (Sammies) at servicetoamericamedals.org. The deadline is Jan. 17.

The medals, given out by the Partnership for Public Service, span eight categories, including career achievement; science and environment; and homeland security and law enforcement. Three main criteria will be used in choosing the winners: On-the-job innovation; commitment to public service and impact of their work on meeting the needs of the nation, the partnership said in a news release. Any career fed is eligible to be nominated.

Thirty finalists will be honored at a Capitol Hill awards ceremony during Public Service Recognition Week in the spring; recognition for the winners will come at a black-tie dinner next fall.

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Fellowship program ISO feds interested in Japan

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The Mansfield Fellowship Program is looking for a few good federal employees interested in spending some quality time in Japan.

The program, named for the late Sen. Mike Mansfield, D-Mont., who also served as the U.S. ambassador to Japan, couples seven weeks of language training with ten months in Japan placed with the government and other organizations. The program is designed for 10 fellows; more information is available here.

Among other requirements, fellows must have two consecutive years of federal service by next July, obtain their agencies’ approval and be willing to spend at least another two years with the government once they get back, presumably putting their fellowship experience to good use. Applications are due by Dec. 2.

So, go for it, or as one might say in Japanese: “Ganbatte!”

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MSPB gaining ground on furlough appeals

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The Merit Systems Protection Board is making headway in containing an unprecedented surge in appeals fueled by Defense Department employee furloughs.

As of yesterday, the board had docketed almost 16,600 appeals, or about half the total. It now expects to have most of the remainder done soon after Labor Day and then begin the adjudication process for the DoD cases, according to the latest update posted on its home page.

Challenges of sequester-related furloughs–most of them from Defense Department workers–have swollen the MSPB’s workload to roughly five times its normal level. Consider some numbers provided today by Board Clerk William Spencer. The total number of furlough appeals (docketed and undocketed) stood at 32,368.  Appeals of all other kinds: 5,346.

No doubt to the relief of the tiny MSPB’s 200-strong workforce, the surge is showing signs of ebbing. While he didn’t have exact figures, Spencer said that the influx of new appeals has dropped since the beginning of last week.

In its online update, the board apologized for any inconvenience to appellants, but added that it would be inefficient to start adjudicating appeals “only to discover that furlough appeals raising similar arguments, filed by similarly situated employees, remain to be docketed.” Going forward, the MSPB “hopes to consolidate and adjudicate as many similar claims as possible, and this cannot be done until the docketing process is near completion.”


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IBM to integrate Air Force pay, personnel systems

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The Air Force on Monday awarded IBM an $11.8 million contract to integrate its military personnel and pay processes into one system.

As part of the Air Force Integrated Personnel and Pay System Program (AF-IPPS), IBM will design “an enterprise resource planning-based solution to meet all personnel and pay requirements,” according to a Defense Department announcement. Work is expected to be completed by December 2014.

The new personnel and pay system will replace the Military Personnel Data System (MilPDS) and the Defense Joint Military Pay System (DJMS) for the Air Force, according to a December 2012 Mitre report. The new system will play a key role in helping the Air Force meet its audit goals.

The system will serve about 507,000 service members and “thousands of military leaders of different ranks, specialties, and career fields,” according to the administration’s IT Dashboard, which tracks the status of large technology projects. The Air Force expects the system will reduce annual payroll errors by 75 percent, and allow airmen to be compensated in a timely manner at least 98.5 percent of the time.

The Mitre report also notes the new system will have a self-service capability for airmen to update personal information and access their pay records anytime. However, the system is expected to have more than 100 user interfaces and connections to external systems, which could create technical, cost and schedule challenges, the report said.


At MSPB, the furlough cases keep coming

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Furlough-related appeals continue to pour into the Merit Systems Protection Board. As of this morning, the number of docketed appeals stood at 4,647, up about 50 percent  in a week. And that number doesn’t include another 4,587 cases that have been received but are not yet docketed—most of which are likely furlough-related as well, Clerk William Spencer said in an email.

The surge temporarily knocked out the board’s electronic “e-Appeal” service a few times this week. It has also prompted the board to post the following message on its homepage:

“Due to the unprecedented large volume of furlough appeals being received in the Board’s regional and field offices from employees of the military services and Department of Defense activities (DoD), there will be delays in the docketing and processing of all DoD furlough appeals. The Board will also be unable to respond quickly to additional inquiries. We ask therefore that parties to the DoD furlough appeals refrain from contacting the regional and field offices until we inform you that processing of your appeal has begun.”

“We regret any inconvenience to the parties caused by the overwhelming number of appeals, but assure you that every appeal will be adjudicated with great care once we are able to begin that process.”

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GSA’s Tangherlini urges managers to boost collaboration, idea sharing

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Now more than ever, federal managers should be creating an environment where employees are compelled to collaborate and share innovative ideas, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

“We’re going to need to have strategies as managers,” said Dan Tangherlini, acting administrator at the General Services Administration. Speaking at the Federal Managers Association’s national convention in Washington, Tangherlini challenged managers to use existing resources, such as people and technology, to improve productivity and drive down costs.

“We are contending with a situation, which in my 22 years of service…is unique,” he said of the wide gap between federal spending and revenue, which has led to automatic budget cuts known as the sequester.

Tangherlini highlighted GSA’s Great Ideas Hunt as a means to pull innovative ideas from across the agency and engage employees at all levels. GSA generated more than 600 ideas last summer on improving agency efficiency, and more than 20,000 people commented on those ideas.

So far, five of those ideas have yielded $6 million in savings, including one to eliminate redundant surveys.

“We have to find ways to push people together and then find ways to get them to share their ideas,” he said.  “And we can’t just do it episodically with something like the Great Ideas Hunt. Everyday should be a Great Ideas Hunt. Every office should be running a continual Great Ideas Hunt.”

The initiative coincided with an agencywide review, following revelations of lavish overspending at a 2010 conference inLas Vegas. Several GSA leaders, including the former administrator, were ousted.

Tangherlini said some employees initially feared consequences for pointing out areas of wasteful spending. Instead, those employees were praised for rooting out waste, he said.

“The other thing we said is this can’t be about monetary rewards,” he said. ”We should create an environment where people aren’t saving their great ideas for a cash transfer.”

For now, the administration has instructed agencies to stop giving out employee bonuses. As a result of the sequester, the Office of Management and Budget last week issued a memo telling agencies to only give out discretionary cash awards if they are legally required.

When asked by a federal manger about the use of monetary rewards to compensate employees, Tangherlini acknowledged that all managers would like to have those types of flexibilities but generating good ideas has to be focused more on the outcome rather than the reward.

At GSA, employees became convinced that sharing good ideas would lead to more efficient work, a restored reputation for GSA and more business. “We tapped into a well of frustration at GSA,” Tangherlini said.

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OPM issues guidance to agencies on assisting victims of domestic violence

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Agencies have four months to develop or modify policies addressing the effects of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking on their respective workforces, according to a Feb. 8 Office of Personnel Management memo.

Agencies will then submit the policies to OPM for review and will be required to issue a final policy within six months.

“The guidance is designed to give agencies the flexibility to tailor their own individual policies to specific agency practices and culture,” OPM director John Berry said in a memo.

From the memo:

To assist agencies in developing their policies over the next several months OPM, in partnership with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and HHS, will offer a series of webinars.  Topics will include the impact of domestic and sexual violence on the workplace, the role of employers when responding to domestic violence, sexual assault and/or stalking in the workplace, and the critical components of a workplace response.

Closely watched Defense Department personnel case will get rehearing

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There was some noteworthy news out of the judiciary today: the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has thrown out a three-judge panel’s decision from last year that would curtail federal employees’ ability to challenge agencies’ decisions on suitability to hold certain national security jobs. Instead, the full court of about 15 judges will rehear the case, with the first round of briefs due in early March, according to the four-page order.

As Federal Times reported last year, the case dates back to 2009 when Defense Department agencies barred two employees–one a GS-5, the other a GS-7–from  jobs involving access to “sensitive” information. The two sought recourse from the Merit Systems Protection Board, which is charged with hearing appeals of employee firings and other disciplinary measures. But in its 2-1 ruling last August, the appellate panel applied the logic of a 1988 Supreme Court decision that gave deference to agencies when deciding who deserved a security clearance and essentially stripped the MSPB of its ability to take appeals of clearance denials. The same was true for workers who hold “sensitive” positions, even if those jobs don’t involve access to classified information, the panel ruled last year.

In today’s ruling, however, the court signaled its interest in exploring that issue. Among the questions that it wants lawyers on both sides (the Office of Personnel Management is representing the government) to address: “What problems, if any, would the MSPB encounter in determining adverse action appeals for employees holding ‘sensitive’ positions, not requiring a security clearance; to what extent should the agency defer to the agency’s judgment on issues of national security in resolving such adverse action appeals?”

If the government ultimately prevails, federal employee unions and whistleblower advocacy groups worry that the repercussions could go well beyond DoD because agencies not normally considered part of the national security establishment–such as Customs and Border Protection–are making greater use of “sensitive” positions.

But the denouement could be some time off. Kevin Owen, an attorney who practices before the MSPB but is not involved in this case, expected a ruling by the full appellate  court some time late this summer. And whichever way the majority goes, “I don’t think it’s going to be the end of the discussion,” Owen said in an interview, with the losing side likely to appeal to the Supreme Court.

[This post has been updated.]


GAO: Agencies rehire few retirees at full pay

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About three years ago, Congress granted agencies wide authority to rehire federal retirees and pay them both their full pensions as well as their full salaries. But the Government Accountability Office today released a report that found six federal agencies are barely using the so-called dual compensation waiver authority at all.

GAO looked at how many waivers were granted by the Treasury Department, Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Agency for International Development, Small Business Administration, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in fiscal 2010 and 2011. Those six agencies granted only 187 waivers in the first year, and 247 in the second year. That amounts to less than one thousandth of a percent of the more than 500,000 full-time employees at those agencies.

Treasury made the most use of the dual-comp waivers — 167 in 2010 and 214 in 2011 — mostly to hire former revenue agents to come back to the IRS and train younger agents. But the other five agencies only used them to rehire a handful of retirees each year, if at all.

Congress loosened the dual compensation requirements in October 2009 when it passed the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act. Previously, agencies had to get OPM’s permission to rehire retirees at their full pay. But the five-year pilot program allows agencies to offer such waivers on their own, as long as the number of rehired retirees don’t exceed 2.5 percent of the agency’s full-time workforce. And if the ranks of rehired retirees at an agency exceeds 1 percent of the workforce, the law also requires that agency to send Congress a report explaining why they need so many.

But of the six agencies GAO surveyed — OPM could not provide reliable information on waiver use throughout the entire government — none even came close to those thresholds.

NRC said in a letter to GAO that even though it used the authority extremely rarely — once in 2011 and not at all in 2010 — it still found it very useful when hiring that key employee. NRC said it hopes the authority will be extended beyond its 2014 expiration date, despite its lack of use.

“NRC appreciates the [dual compensation] flexibility … in order to fulfill functions critical to the mission of the agency,” NRC wrote. “We therefore hope that the authority will be extended.”

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Few CIOs involved in agency succession planning

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Most federal information technology executives are not involved in their department’s succession planning activities, according to a new workforce study.

The 25 IT executives included in the ACT-IAC (American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council) study said their agency’s succession planning program and human capital resource management strategy were either partially developed or poorly developed or non-existent. Seventy percent said they were not included in succession planning discussions.

None of the 16 human capital executives surveyed had metrics that measured whether their agency’s succession, skills and management needs were being met.

 ”The human capital practitioners felt as though they are delivering succession planning programs as they are required to do by the Office of Personnel Management,” Dr. Susan Grunin, who chairs the ACT-IAC group that commissioned the study, said in a statement. “However, one of the key results we found is that many IT operational managers are not aware these program[s] exist in their areas. If they are aware, many find them to be ineffective at producing managers capable of executing agency initiatives.”

Other findings include:

- Intra-agency succession planning does not happen uniformly across government.

- Internal communications in this area are often ineffective.

- Some agency IT operational managers develop and use their own internal succession planning processes.

However, NASA and Commerce Department were touted as having good succession planning structures that require senior officials to develop, maintain and operate human capital programs based on the agency’s goals and objectives. Both programs allow management at multiple levels to provide feedback.

In a TechAmerica CIO survey released in May, the IT trade organization found that 52 percent of CIOs do not have formal succession plans to replace retiring leaders and top managers. The consequence of not doing so could mean a downward spiral in IT leadership capability, according to TechAmerica.

In its study, ACT-IAC recommends that agencies:

- Publicize their management development and succession planning widely. NASA uses monthly reports, video-conferencing and intranet sites to get the word out.

- Include rotational assignments for their managers as part of succession planning.

- Train new agency leaders on the purpose and benefits of succession planning.

The study also recommends that OPM provide a virtual or in-person succession planning forum for agencies to learn best practices and updates on succession planning policies.


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