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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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OPM’s Berry: ‘We are close to the edge of the cliff’

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John Berry (file photo/Getty Images)

As we reported yesterday, the members of the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations sounded a red alert Wednesday on the state of the federal government’s recruiting and retention efforts. With the ongoing pay freeze, furloughs, sequester budget cuts and threats to cut benefits, union leaders and administration officials alike fear the federal workforce could crack under the pressure. Longtime feds with decades of experience could throw in the towel and retire, they fear, and talented young up-and-comers could conclude that the federal government isn’t a good place to work and take their skills elsewhere.

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry capped the discussion with an impassioned — and apparently impromptu — speech, which made it clear he has had it up to here with the constant attacks on federal employees. It was particularly striking because Berry’s public persona is usually so cheerful and optimistic, and it drew applause from the rest of the council. Following are lightly-edited excerpts of Berry’s seemingly off-the-cuff remarks:

I will in closing make a few points, if you would indulge me. I know that this council, if anything, I’m preaching to the choir.

85 percent of our workforce is outside of Washington. The workforce today is the same size it was when Lyndon Johnson was president, and yet we have 60 million more Americans. Don’t talk to me about efficiency. Only in this town can on one day a discussion be held and the [Government Accountability] Office dragged me over the coals on skill gaps, and the fact that we cannot hire people to fight cybersecurity in this nation, and the president in the State of the Union message making clear that we are facing essentially a pre-9/11 situation with cybersecurity, and we can’t hire people? And yet the next day, have the Congress adopt the third year of a pay freeze. And no one see a connection between those two points.

Only in Washington.

I don’t know what straw breaks the camel’s back, but I can tell you this: We are close to the edge of the cliff. And all public policy officials, whether they be Republican or Democrat, need to be exercising extreme caution. We cannot recruit and retain a qualified workforce by freezing their pay forever. We cannot do it by changing their retirement plan on an annual basis. We cannot do it by denigrating public service. My father served at Guadalcanal, the 1st Marine Division. He was one of the lucky few to make it off alive. And he pointed out to me, even though I did not serve in the military, that the oath I took when I joined federal service was the exact same oath he took when he put his life at risk for this nation’s liberty.

Shame on anyone who would hold that oath as something not worthy of respect. And that’s what we need to get back to in America, where we respect service. Where we respect people who will put their lives on the line for their country. Where we respect those who will suffer for their neighbor and focus on making their lives and their quality of lives better. We need to get back to that. And I know that every member of this council shares that vision. And I know the president does as well.

My commitment to you is: we will use this forum to advance that message. Public service matters, and God help the Republic the day that that is no longer a true statement.

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Coming on Monday: 1.1 million furloughs

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As the realities of the sequester sink in, more and more agencies are finalizing their plans for massive furloughs — by our count, at least 1.1 million feds are likely to be furloughed by the end of the fiscal year. Check back in with Federal Times Monday for our cover story diving into these furloughs, and how they might shape the federal workforce for years to come.


Retirements are spiking: What do you think?

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With federal retirements continuing to spike, it’s clear that the long-predicted retirement wave is here. Retirements in 2011 were up 24 percent over 2010 levels. And so far this year, retirements are up another 8 percent.

Federal managers, we’d like to hear about what the retirement wave means for you. Are you seeing one valued employee after another walk out the door? If so, how are you dealing with the loss of their years of experience? Are you getting ready for more retirements in the near future? If so, how are you preparing for that?

E-mail me at slosey@federaltimes.com to talk. If you’d like to talk anonymously, that’s fine.

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Government employing more people with disabilities

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The number of people with disabilities employed by the federal government increased 9 percent in fiscal 2011, according to a recent report from the Office of Personnel Management.

The government employed 187,313 people with disabilities in fiscal 2010, and 204,189 in 2011, the July 25 report said. That means the percentage of the federal workforce with disabilities increased from 10.7 percent to 11 percent.

“This is more people with disabilities in federal service both in real terms and by percentage than at any time in the past 20 years,” OPM Director John Berry said in the report’s foreword. “While we still have work to do, we remain committed to becoming a model for the employment of people with disabilities.”

The increase suggests that President Obama’s effort to increase federal job opportunities for people with disabilities is working. Obama issued an executive order in July 2010 that required agencies to increase their recruitment, hiring and retention of people with disabilities. All agencies have since finished action plans outlining how they are going to accomplish that mission. Also, more than 2,000 employees from at least 56 agencies have been trained on recruitment techniques, the proper hiring authority exceptions, how to accommodate them and how to help employees who become ill or injured on the job return to work.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the agency with the highest percentage — more than 18 percent — of employees with disabilities. The Defense Department, Veterans Affairs Department, Federal Reserve System and OPM are other leading agencies, the report said.

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Rep. Moran: Too many feds protecting their comfort zones

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Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., is usually numbered among the federal workforce’s best friends on Capitol Hill. But this morning, he evidently decided it was time for a little tough love.

When feds get a new assignment, they “hire a consultant,” Moran told participants at a Partnership for Public Service event. “They don’t take it on themselves.”

“We’ve got too many people, even in managerial positions, who are protecting their comfort zone,” he continued.  “I’m really discouraged because these are good people that can do far more than they are attempting  to accomplish. They’re  worth more than they really give themselves credit for.”

“But when something new is introduced, they look somewhere else.”

The occasion was the Partnership’s official release of a report on the Senior Executive Service. In attendance at the non-partisan organization’s downtown D.C. offices were federal employees, reporters and—yes—consultants. The report’s main finding–that the SES has not lived to Congress’s original vision of a mobile cadre of top civil servants–was one that Moran robustly endorsed.

“We need people who are looking for new challenges, who know what needs to be done, who are not satisfied with what a federal agency is achieving today,”  he said.  Not long after, Moran was off, with plans to address a noontime National Treasury Employees Union rally on his schedule.


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Reduction-in-force looming at inspector general’s office

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The RIF clock is officially ticking for most of the staff at the inspector general’s office for the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Reduction-in-force packages went out Friday to 26 of the office’s 33 employees, said spokesman Bill Hillburg, who was among those receiving notification that he could be out of a job by March 17. “It can change for some if some folks find work elsewhere, but unless funding is found and restored,  [it's] irrevocable,” Hillburg said in an email.

The move comes after Congress whacked the IG’s funding by almost half to $4 million in a fiscal 2012 spending bill approved last month. The rationale for the cut remains mysterious. Democrats have blamed Republicans; a spokesman for Rep. Denny Rehberg, the Montana Republican whose House appropriations subcommittee helps draft the budget for the IG’s office, has not replied to several requests for comment.

Last week, three GOP senators wrote to Rehberg’s Senate counterpart, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, asking him to restore the lost funding by taking the money from the corporation’s budget; Harkin has made no decision, a spokeswoman indicated Friday.

In his own letter to Congress last week, Kenneth Bach, acting chief of the IG’s office, said he was confident that some employees would get work with other inspectors general. But for those who are actually RIF’d, Bach said, he will have to pay a severance package that in a few cases could come close to the employee’s annual salary.

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Three awesome government jobs you have probably never heard of

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#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…

FTC busts federal job scam

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The Federal Trade Commission yesterday said it has stopped a nationwide scam that charged federal job seekers for information that could be found for free on USAJobs.gov. FTC accused a company called Frontier Publishing of charging people $69 for federal job listings it claimed were not available to the general public, but that were in fact available on USAJobs.gov.

Frontier also allegedly falsely told job seekers that they should not worry about meeting minimum job requirements, because the government would pay for their job training. That was untrue, FTC said, and most federal agencies will not hire applicants who don’t meet minimum job qualifications.

Frontier allegedly did not provide people who paid the fee enough information to determine their suitability for for a job or instructions on how to apply for the job, as they had promised. FTC said that Frontier’s customers just received a spreadsheet of federal jobs in their area, and a so-called employment resource workbook that contained general information on how to get a federal job. Frontier also promised to provide sample questions and answer for a required “federal employment test,” but most federal jobs do not require a standardized employment test.

FTC said Frontier and its owner, William Clayton, has agreed to a settlement order banning them from selling employment products or services, misrepresenting products or services, and from violating the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule. Frontier also was given 10 days to pay a $100,000 fine. If Frontier does not, or if it is found to have misrepresented its financial situation, the government will require it to pay $7.5 million.

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Federal Times buyout tracker

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With well over a dozen agencies considering, planning or offering buyouts and early retirements, we thought it was time to compile all this data together into one easy-to-find chart. As new agencies announce buyouts or update their plans, we’ll update the chart too, so keep checking FedLine for the latest in buyout news.

The latest is the Library of Congress, which today told employees it would offer buyouts and early outs to up to 349 employees. And it’s a safe bet that plenty more are on their way, especially with the White House eying budget cuts of up to 10 percent.

Agency Month Numbers Details
Justice Jan. 31 Antitrust Division employees who took buyouts
USPS April 2,003 Employees who took $20,000 buyouts; left by June
FTC April 38 Employees who took buyouts and early outs and left by end of June; offers were extended to 301 employees
USDA May 544 Employees offered buyouts; unspecified number of early retirements also offered
Smithsonian May 104 Employees who applied for buyouts so far; some may drop out by Oct. 1 deadline
GPO June 330 Buyouts and early outs offered
NRC June Up to 50 Plans to ask for permission to offer up to 50 buyouts and unspecified number of early retirements; says still polishing request to be submitted to OPM
HUD June Unk. Said several offices have permission to offer buyouts and early outs
Army Aug. Up to 8,741 Announces plans to cut 8,741 civilian jobs by Oct. 2012, at least in part through buyouts and early outs
Education Aug. Unk. Announces buyouts and early retirements largely targeted at senior officials
GAO Aug. 56 Employees offered buyouts, unspecified number also offered early retirements; must leave by Sept. 30
Commerce Aug. Unk. Offers buyouts and early outs through Dec. 31, 2012
Air Force Aug. Up to 4,000 Announces plans to offer buyouts and early outs to 4,000 civilians
Library of Congress Aug. 349 Buyouts and early outs offered; 175 to Library Services, 52 to Copyright division, 40 to Congressional Research Service, 29 to Office of Support Operations, 24 to Office of Strategic Initiatives, 16 to Law Library, 13 to Office of the Librarian

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