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Who are the 13 winners of the annual Service to America medals? Read about them here

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(Thank you to the Partnership for Public Service for providing the bios and the information.)

The recipients of the thirteenth annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals are:

William Bauman and Ann Spungen, Science and Environment Medal, Director and Associate Director, National Center of Excellence for the Medical Consequences of Spinal Cord Injury, James J. Peters VA Medical Center, Department of Veterans Affairs, New York City

Individuals living with spinal cord injuries suffer from associated medical problems involving blood pressure, breathing, bladder control, heart disease, temperature regulation and non-healing ulcers—health issues that were long overlooked by the medical profession. Bauman and Spungen developed innovative medical advances and novel drug therapies to treat these ailments, helping to improve the health and quality of life for paralyzed veterans.

Omar Pérez Aybar, Reginald France and the Miami HEAT Teams, Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Medal, Assistant Special Agents in Charge, Miami Regional Office, Office of Inspector General Department of Health and Human Services, Miami

Every year, health care providers file billions of dollars in fraudulent Medicare claims. In partnership with the Department of Justice, Aybar and France coordinated criminal investigations for 12 special Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Teams (HEAT) in South Florida that uncovered hundreds of fraudulent Medicare schemes by durable medical equipment suppliers, home health agencies, physicians and rehabilitation facilities. The investigations resulted in nearly 700 convictions and the recovery of almost one billion dollars.

Sean Young and Benjamin Tran, National Security and International Affairs Medal, Electronics Engineers, Air Force Research Laboratory, Department of the Air Force, Dayton, OH

Improvised explosive devices have caused two-thirds of the casualties to U.S. coalition forces in Afghanistan. Engineers Young and Tran led the development, testing and deployment of a cutting-edge system of sensors placed on unmanned aerial vehicles that have helped Army and Special Forces units identify deadly improvised explosive devices and destroy these bombs before they could cause harm.

Alan Lindenmoyer, Management Excellence Medal, Program Manager, Commercial Crew and Cargo Program, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Houston

When the space shuttle program ended, NASA needed a way to transport supplies and crews to the International Space Station. Lindenmoyer solved this problem by launching a new era of private-sector orbital transportation. By creatively joining forces with the private U.S. space launch industry, Lindenmoyer made it possible for our country to continue its lead in space exploration while dramatically reducing the costs to taxpayers of building and deploying rockets and spacecraft.

Sara Meyers, Call to Service Medal, Director, Sandy Program Management Office, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Washington, D.C.

The federal government needed to better understand the effectiveness of critical housing and disaster recovery programs. Meyers set up systems to analyze vast amounts of data to help policymakers track and evaluate the performance of critical programs dealing with homelessness, public housing and rental subsidies. She also set up processes to track the spending and effectiveness of $13.6 billion in economic stimulus money for housing and $50 billion in Hurricane Sandy disaster recovery funding.

 Michael Byrne, Citizen Services Medal, Former Geographic Information Officer, Federal Communications Commission, Washington, D.C.  

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was charged with expanding broadband service nationwide. To achieve that goal, Byrne created a set of interactive, searchable online maps that put detailed data about broadband availability in the hands of citizens and policymakers. He also created online maps and geospatial visualizations that helped consumers and businesses make informed decisions by bringing to light previously inaccessible data about our country’s communications systems, including the proposed locations for new cellphone towers and new low power FM radio stations, and the availability of spectrum to be auctioned by the government.

Edwin Kneedler, Career Achievement Medal, Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.

Edwin Kneedler has argued 125 cases before the Supreme Court, more than any other practicing attorney, on issues ranging from health care to free speech. As the top career deputy in the Solicitor General’s Office, Kneedler has set a high standard for integrity and has used his immense experience, institutional knowledge and credibility to help craft the government’s legal position on hundreds of cases before the nation’s high court.

Rana Hajjeh and the Hib Initiative Team, Federal Employee of the Year, Director, Division of Bacterial Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta

Until recently, nearly 400,000 children in developing nations were dying annually of bacterial meningitis and pneumonia. Employing a combination of persistence, advocacy and science, Hajjeh worked with public health partners to convince 60 countries to use the Hib vaccine to curb the spread of these diseases, ultimately preventing millions of childhood deaths and disabilities such as mental retardation and deafness. The Hib Initiative, funded by the GAVI Alliance, is a consortium of four organizations: CDC, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and World Health Organization.

Everything you wanted to know about phased retirement in one place

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Phased retirement has been a long time coming, and now that the Office of Personnel Management has announced that it will begin accepting applications from agencies Nov. 6, people have a lot of questions. Some of you have been frustrated by a lack of information from you agencies.

We put together a few Q and As based off your questions, and have added links to relevant stories so you can have everything in one place. For any additional questions about phased retirement, feel free to add them in the comments.

Phased retirement Q and A No. 1

Phased retirement Q and A No. 2 – the Q and A strikes back.

The original release and finalization of phased retirement by OPM

And finally, agencies themselves might not be able to make the Nov. 6 application start date.

5 Federal Times stories you might have missed last week , but should probably get to

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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.

http://www.federaltimes.com/interactive/article/20140724/MGMT03/307240012/Help-not-wanted-Budget-cuts-push-federal-hiring-10-year-low

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.

http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140801/ACQ02/308010009/Streak-broken-Government-finally-meets-small-business-goal

3. A new bill would roll back the pension contribution increases passed by Congress over the last few years.

http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140801/MGMT01/308010010/Bill-would-roll-back-pension-contribution-hikes

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.

http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140731/MGMT02/307310015/Bill-would-revise-federal-sick-leave-rules-disabled-vets

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.

http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140801/MGMT02/308010006/Congress-passes-VA-bill-making-easier-fire-senior-execs

70 years later: Remembering D-Day

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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.

http://www.militarytimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=M6&Dato=20140604&Kategori=NEWS&Lopenr=306040065&Ref=PH

7 famous people and their less famous federal jobs: You might be surprised

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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.

Photo of Wanda Sykes, April 17, 2010, used under creative commons. Photo by Greg Hernandez (http://www.flickr.com/photos/greginhollywood/)

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.

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A hat tip to a site you should know about: The Government Attic

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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.

11 things you probably didn’t know were in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015

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The Capitol Building, (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Capitol Building, (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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.”

(Staff Sgt. John D. Strong II / Air Force)

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.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

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.

 

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How many people get arrested at Burning Man? The answer will surprise you.

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A woman dances with fire during the final day of the Burning Man Festival in Nevada early 03 September 2000. The festival is a spontaneous encounter of artists, performers and spectators, where the audience is expected to interact and collaborate during the week long event.  AFP PHOTO (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) Hector MATA

A woman dances with fire during the final day of the Burning Man Festival in Nevada early 03 September 2000. The festival is a spontaneous encounter of artists, performers and spectators, where the audience is expected to interact and collaborate during the week long event. AFP PHOTO (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) Hector MATA

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
2010 51,515 51 158 293 9
2011 53,735 51 218 376 8
2012 52,385 70 253 365 14
2013 69,613 70 309 433 6

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.

A man dances near a fire at Black Rock City's Burning Man festival in Nevada 05 September 1999. Founded in 1986 by a group of fine artists, filmmakers and photographers, the annual event encourages a collaborative response from its audience and a collaboration between artists. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Hector MATA

A man dances near a fire at Black Rock City’s Burning Man festival in Nevada 05 September 1999. Founded in 1986 by a group of fine artists, filmmakers and photographers, the annual event encourages a collaborative response from its audience and a collaboration between artists. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Hector MATA

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.

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Man at heart of $500 million contracting scandal arrested, charged with murder

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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.

10 ways to tell you have been a federal employee too long

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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…

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