Federal Times Blogs
We are all very busy people constantly strapped for time in an increasingly complex world. And all too often stuff falls through the cracks. But lucky for you I made a list of some of our stories from last week that you might want to read, just in case you didn’t get a chance to.
1. Years of budget cuts have pushed federal hiring to its lowest levels in almost 10 years, with nearly every agency seeing drastic drops in new employees. Which careers and agencies have seen the biggest drops? Check out the story to see.
2. After eight years of trying the government has finally reached its small business contracting goal – although results were a bit more mixed at the agency level.
3. A new bill would roll back the pension contribution increases passed by Congress over the last few years.
4.Service-disabled veterans who get jobs in the federal government might get some sick leave off the bat to help deal with service injuries, instead of having to wait to build up some sick leave.
5. Congress finally got together and passed a large piece of legislation that would boost funding at the VA for medical care for veterans. But at the same time they reduced some of the protections for members of the Senior Executive Service.
Across the Internet today people will be posting their thoughts and remembrances of a day 70 years ago when the United States and her allies invaded France and helped lead to the end of World War II. Among the other articles and galleries you read, you should take a look a the picture gallery built by our sister publications at Military Times.
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. Politicians have called for closing entire agencies, while others push bills to end the civil service .
We did this list a few years ago, but I thought it was long due for an upgrade. So here are some now very famous people who at one point would have been considered federal employees.
7. Wanda Sykes
This one is from reader Drew Fletcher, who pointed out that before she became a successful professional comedian and actress she was a contracting specialist at the National Security Agency for about five years. According to a 2010 article in the Washingtonian Magazine, she had a high level clearance as well.
Wanda Sykes has made the lists of top comedians for years and has been voted one of the funniest comedians by polls of her peers. She has appeared in movies, worked as a voice actor and has been on television – both on her own shows and in others. She most recently portrayed Senator Rosalyn Dupeche in the Amazon original TV series Alpha House.
6. Julia Child
Julia Child was a cooking inspiration to millions of people through her television shows and her books – and perhaps one of the most famous chefs past or present. Child is first on the list because her federal career may be the most well-known.
During World War II she was turned down by the Women’s Army Corps and the U.S. Navy WAVES because she was too tall so instead she worked for the Office of Strategic Services – the precursor to the CIA. She rose through the ranks and traveled the world, from Sri Lanka to China and I am sure did lots of other cool stuff that we will never know about.
It was after the war, when she and her husband were living in France, did she attend culinary school and walk down the path that would make her a household name.
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.
5. Ina Garten
You might know her as the Barefoot Contessa, a world famous Chef and TV personality. But before she decided to wow us with her self-taught culinary ability, Ina Garten was a nuclear energy budget analyst at the Office of Management and Budget under both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
Now she makes amazing meals and travels the world educating us on culinary issues.
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.
- Abraham Lincoln: Come for the salvation of the country and pick up your mail on the way out.
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 have sold more than 200 million copies.
They are still making movies based off of his work. (Not all of them great).
But Dr. Seuss was employed by the Treasury Department in 1942 to make illustrations for the war effort and to help sell war bonds. His federal career was brief, however: He joined the Army in 1943.
But if anyone else knows of more secret federal careers of more famous people, just add them into the comments.
I wanted to spend a moment today to tip my hat to the Government Attic. It’s essentially a resource for information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act that is put up for anyone to look through. It’s been a fantastic source of stories for me and for others I know who follow the site.
You might remember this story about Burning Man. It was made possible with the documents stored on the Government Attic site.
The intended audience is the public, journalists, researchers and others. It is entirely self-funded and does not accept any money from anywhere or any advertising support. Which means that the only motive here is to get the information out. Of course, the layout is a bit rough – like Craigslist circa 2004 – but its functional.
It’s consistently updated with fresh content, whether its agency inspector general reports or historic documents from agencies. The layout and functionality of the site also continues to improve.
I suggest you give it a look if you have not before, or follow it on Facebook to get continual updates.
On May 8, the House Armed Services Committee voted on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 – about 15 minutes after midnight. The committee voted on hundreds of amendments and debated the legislation for more than 12 hours before finally passing it.
You have probably heard some of the highlights of whats in the bill, but here is a longer list of stuff that made it in that you might not have heard about.
Now remember, the bill still needs to be voted on by the full House and then by the Senate, so there are still changes that can happen. But as of right now, these items are in the legislation.
1. An extension of a spending cap on contract services through fiscal 2015 – which prevents the Defense Department from cutting civilian employees and transferring the work to contractors, according to amendment sponsor Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, R-Hawaii. The NDAA caps spending on contract services at fiscal 2010 levels.
2. Another provision forces DoD to eliminate any unauthorized personal services and contracts for any inherently governmental functions and reduce the spending on contractors for work close to being inherently governmental to “the maximum extent practicable.”
3. A prohibition on DoD changing what can be sold in base exchanges and commissaries. Many lawmakers have proposed cuts to the commissary budget while others have pushed to limit sales of various items.
4 A rule requiring DoD to determine which of its workforces – military, civilian or contractor – would be most cost-effective when determining work assignments for non-critical mission areas.
5. The extension of a pilot program that allows whistleblowers to appeal cases from the Merit Systems Protection Board to any circuit court – instead of being restricted to the federal circuit court – for three more years.
6. The Defense Department would be exempt from energy efficiency measures and metering efforts identified in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Currently DoD must reduce energy use in its domestic facilities and encourage energy efficiency efforts.
7. DoD cannot build a biofuel facility without Congressional approval. Some lawmakers are concerned DoD plans to purchase or refurbish a biofuel facility.
8. DoD must report on how much it costs to transport members of Congress on trips outside the United States.
9. A prohibition for DoD against purchasing biofuels except for testing purposes until the price per gallon is the same as traditional fuel. The Navy has been pushing biofuels as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional fuel.
10. The NDAA reduces the number of enlisted aides that support general officers. Right now they are limited to 300, but the bill would reduce that number to 244.
11. The NDAA was actually renamed the “Howard P. ‘Buck’ McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal year 2015″ after the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who is stepping down at the end of the year.
Every year at the end of August nearly 70,000 people descend on Black Rock Desert in Pershing County, Nevada to take part in the celebration of radical self expression known as Burning Man.
And for many people it’s synonymous with drug use and burning a giant wooden man in the middle of the desert. But according to the Bureau of Land Management — which has jurisdiction over government land and the Burning Man festival grounds in particular — the number of people cited or arrested is quite low for its size and duration.
In 2013 only 6 people out of 69,613 were arrested and 433 more were cited by law enforcement, according to statistics from BLM provided to the Government Attic. (Note: Government attic is a great resource for FOIAs and government info alike.) That covers the five days leading up to Burning Man, the event itself and five days afterward.
The size of the gathering would make it the 5th largest city in Nevada and in comparison crime at Burning is pretty low, according to Gene Seidlitz, manager for the Winnemucca district of the BLM.
|Year||Burning Man Pop.||BLM officers||Drug citations||Total citations||Arrests|
He said while in its early days there were deaths and more arrests the event has evolved into a well-organized festival complete with proper permits and safety guidelines — especially for the fire events.
“Although there are arrests and injuries and in the past deaths I think this is a very safe event and managed well with good oversight by the BLM,” Seidlitz said.
The key to keeping the event organized and safe is the extensive communication between event organizers and the BLM, according to Eric Boik, state chief ranger for the BLM for Utah, which oversees the law enforcement activities of the event.
“It’s because we all get to the table and communicate frequently and the planning for this starts for 2014 in December so we are already working hot and heavy,” Boik said.
He added the event encourages self-reliance and all the festival participants clean up everything they bring with them as part of a “leave no trace” culture.
“Everything is cleaned up as if the event never occurred,” he said.
Burning Man continues to grow — from a few hundred people 30 years ago to 51,515 in 2010 and up to 69,613 in 2013. The 2014 festival has a permit for 70,000 people and that is probably the maximum the event can host, according to the BLM.
The agency worked on an environmental impact statement that put the maximum number of festival-goers — no including law enforcement or festival organizers — at 70,000, according to Seidlitz.
As for the wooden man that is burned every year?
“It’s quite a site,” Seidlitz said.
Braulio Castillo first became famous when he was the subject of a House investigation into how he parlayed a 30-year-old prep school ankle injury into getting $500 million in contracts in the form of a special service-disabled veteran status for his company Signet Computers.
He suffered the injury while attending the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School in 1984 but played football the next year at the University of San Diego. In 2012 he filed a claim with the Veterans Affairs office to get the special status as a service-disable veteran.
His special status helped get his company Signet Computers (renamed Strong Castle in 2013) contracts worth up to $500 million but also drew the scrutiny of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
But on April 1 the 43-year-old Castillo was arrested by the Loudon County Sheriff’s office and is being charged with the murder of his estranged wife. The charge is first-degree murder.
The victim, Michelle G. Castillo, was found dead in her home on March 20th by police checking on her wellbeing.
“During the investigation the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office executed multiple search warrants at two locations and conducted door-to-door canvasses throughout the area,” according to the Loudon County Sheriff’s office.
Once approved, the disability enabled Castillo’s company access to government set-asides through VA’s Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business program.
Castillo told a VA examiner weighing the company’s application for entry into the special set-aside program about the “crosses I bear due to my service to our great country,” according to the House report.
He later told congressional investigators that his injury was debilitating over the years and that he’d had three foot fusions. Had Castillo completed his year at the preparatory school without injury, he wouldn’t have been considered a veteran, but a VA official told House investigators that cadets injured at school become veterans due to service-connected disability, the report said.
The House report also found Castillo’s newly purchased company had no experience with the IRS, but it still won lucrative information technology contracts worth up to $500 million in part because of its status as a HUBZone contractor and Castillo’s relationship with a top IRS contracting official.
Under Small Business Administration rules, a HUBZone, or Historically Underutilized Business Zone, designation gives contractors an edge in competing for federal work if they’re based in certain economically distressed areas.
So lets have a little bit of fun today. It seems that every group, school and town is getting a list, so lets add federal employees to those groups! Feel free to add your own at the bottom of the blog.
1. When people shout “high five!” and your first thought is “over my dead body.
2. Jan. 1 doesn’t even hold a candle to Oct. 1. Its the cleanest slate you can imagine.
3. You give your children 180 days to respond to a new rule you are proposing. Corollary: You refer to your family as “stakeholders.”
4. You groan audibly when anyone starts an argument with the phrase “The government is like a household…”
5. Your position was eliminated months ago but you are still working at the office.
6. They don’t make service pins in denominations high enough to represent your years of service.
7. You remember the first push for more telework, and the second, and the third and the fourth …
8. Every year you write a Sammie speech you never get a chance to read.
9. You actually used to know a GS-3.
10. You brag about how many agencies you are older than. Although every fed gets one…
On March 7 22-year-old Taylor Blake Martin and Seth Andrew Stephenson pleaded guilty in court to harassing an endangered species by luring an adult manatee and its calf to a dock and then “cannonballing” on top of them.
Martin and Stephenson then posted a video of the incident on Facebook, which brought it to the attention of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Martin and Stephenson face a year in prison and a maximum $50,000 fine.
After the video was posted on Facebook, several people commented on it. In response to a post that expressed displeasure with Martin’s actions, Martin responded, “hahaha…in my debue [sic] as tayla the manatee slaya…im f—- ready to cannonball on every manatee living yewwww.”
The video shows Stephenson luring the manatees to the dock with a hose before Martin jumped on the adult manatee and tried to ride it.
“This case demonstrates our resolve to address the illegal harassment of Manatees, as well as the enforcement of speed zones, and other more serious forms of take which result in the death or injury of Florida’s Endangered Manatees,” said Special Agent in Charge Luis Santiago, Southeast Region, Office of Law Enforcement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
As the Washington, D.C. area gets another dusting of snow this morning, federal offices in the region will be open, but employees have the option of unscheduled leave or telework, the Office of Personnel Management said in web posting. You can read the announcement here.