For anyone who’s counting, this week marks six months since an advisory board released 14 recommendations for modernizing the national security classification system.
The White House remains on square one—mulling the board’s first recommendation to form a steering committee to guide implementation of the other 13.
“Options for the creation of a senior-level group are currently being considered,” said Laura Lucas, a National Security Council spokeswoman, who had no information today on the timetable for a decision.
The Public Interest Declassification Board issued the recommendations Dec. 6 in response to a 2009 charge from President Obama for a “more fundamental transformation” of the classification system, whose roots date back to World War Two. Among its suggested changes, the panel urged compressing the current three-tier system to two; requiring automatic declassification of records with short-lived sensitivity; and providing “safe harbor” to classifying officials who decide that something doesn’t warrant a secrecy stamp.
Despite the lack of overt movement since then, the board’s chairman, Nancy Soderberg, said in an interview last month that she was pleased overall with the White House’s reaction.
“There is a lot of effort behind the scenes,” Soderberg said, “and we are hopeful that it will soon produce a publicly noticeable response.”
Todd Grams, the Veterans Affairs Department’s chief financial officer, is leaving to become chief of staff at the IRS.
In an email sent today to “Friends and Colleagues,” Grams, who is also the VA’s executive-in-charge for management, said he is returning to the IRS this week at the request of acting Commissioner Danny Werfel.
“For a total of almost 11 years (over two tours), I have had the honor to serve our nation’s veterans,” Grams said. “I am very grateful to have had both opportunities to contribute at the VA.” Grams was previously at the IRS from 2001 to 2006, first as CFO and then as chief information officer, according to his official bio.
Grams is at least the fourth senior official to exit the Veterans Affairs Department—the second largest Executive Branch agency–since February. Others include Deputy Secretary Scott Gould, Chief Information Officer Roger Baker and Chief Technology Officer Peter Levin.
Two years ago, Grams’ work in consolidating and streamlining VA management earned him a prestigious Service to America (“Sammie”) award from the Partnership for Public Service. Asked who will replace him, VA spokesman Josh Taylor in an email this afternoon that he had “nothing on that yet.”
Grams isn’t Werfel’s only new hire. In a news release today, the IRS said that Heather Maloy will be deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, while David Fisher will become a senior adviser and chief risk officer.
Fisher, who headed the Defense Department’s now disbanded Business Transformation Agency, has more recently been chief administrative and financial officer at the Government Accountability Office. Maloy has been commissioner for the IRS’s Large Business and International Division. The release doesn’t say who–if anyone–each of the three is replacing.
“Their extensive expertise in management inside and outside the IRS will help us make improvements now and in the future,” Werfel said. “These are essential steps to restore the public’s trust and ensure the fair and effective administration of the nation’s tax system.”
Twenty agencies big and small were recently noted for top-notch financial and performance reporting by the Association of Government Accountants.
The “Certificate of Excellence in Accountability Reporting” (CEAR) singles out “high-quality Performance and Accountability Reports (PARs) and Annual Financial Reports (AFRs) that effectively illustrate and assess financial and program performance, accomplishments and challenges, cost and accountability,” the accountants association said in a news release. The association also spotlights the teams of dedicated federal professionals who (often unsung) put the reports together.
“Given the fiscal status of the United States government and the public’s perceptions about government fiscal accountability and transparency, the achievement of this year’s CEAR recipients is even more significant,” AGA Executive Director Relmond Van Daniker said in the release. The agencies being honored “truly represent a select group within the government financial management community.”
Here’s a rundown of the winners:
Architect of the Capitol
Federal Aviation Administration
Federal Housing Finance Agency
Federal Trade Commission
Office of Financial Stability (Treasury Department)
Commodity Futures Trading Commission
Housing and Urban Development Department
Government Accountability Office
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Patent and Trademark Office
Securities and Exchange Commission
Small Business Administration
Social Security Administration
Also honored at the May 22 National Press Club ceremony were 10 agencies that showed “specific points of excellence” within their fiscal year 2012 PARs. Known as ‘Best in Class’ awards, the recipients included:
Health and Human Services Department: Best Summary of Management and Performance Challenges by the Inspector General
Labor Department: Most Complete Schedule of Spending
Peace Corps: Most Comprehensive and Candid Presentation of Forward-Looking Information
FTC: Best Agency Head Message
HUD: Best Presentation of a Financial Management Systems Framework
Interior: Best High-Level Discussion of Performance
Capitol Architect: Best Analysis of an Agency’s Financial Statements
FAA: Most Representative of Editorial Excellence
Department of Homeland Security: Best Improper Payment and Recovery Act Reporting
Central Intelligence Agency: Best Introduction
The feedback keeps coming on the Office of Personnel Management’s planned makeover of the Combined Federal Campaign. With just five days to go before the June 7 deadline to weigh in, OPM has gotten some 320 comments as of today, according to the government website, regulations.gov.
But as FedLine has previously noted, OPM so far isn’t making any of those comments public. In response to our request, a number of you emailed your comments, and, with the permission of each individual or organization, we’re posting links below. Thanks very much to all who responded.
In an emailed statement, incidentally, Keith Willingham, national CFC director, said that OPM will strive to post comments “as quickly as possible” after June 7. In the meantime, FedLine is happy to fill the gap. If anyone else wants to send their input (positive, negative or neutral) on the proposed changes, please email it to Sean Reilly at email@example.com.
Last year, following the disclosure that 123,000 Thrift Savings Plan accounts had been hacked, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board launched a wide-ranging assessment of its computer system security.
That “Tiger Team” task force review is now complete, but the board isn’t making the findings public.
Instead, the agency is withholding the entire report on the grounds that disclosure “could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law,” Amanda Haas, a Freedom of Information Act officer with the board, said in a response today to Federal Times’ FOIA request. Haas did not immediately reply to a request for more information on why the board is claiming that particular exemption to the act’s requirement that government records are generally public.
The board began the review after learning early last year that Social Security numbers, addresses and other personal data for the 123,000 account-holders had been stolen from a contractor’s network. The cyberattack actually occurred in 2011, but board officials didn’t learn about it until getting notification from the FBI. The bureau has not announced arrests or charges in the case.
The Tiger Team review was in part intended to identify any computer security gaps and come up with ways to fix them, Greg Long, the thrift board’s executive director, told a Senate subcommittee last July. Long made no mention of law enforcement issues, but acknowledged that–at the time of the attack–the board didn’t have a “breach notification plan” because it lacked the resources to develop one. (Long signed such a plan in June 2012.)
The TSP has some 4.6 million participants, including military personnel, civilian agency employees and U.S. Postal Service workers.
Scott Hodes, a lawyer who was once acting chief of the FBI’s FOIA litigation unit, was not familiar with the report, but said in an interview that the board has to establish a threshold to legally withhold information under the FOIA law enforcement exemption. Even then, parts of the report that don’t meet that threshold must be released, Hodes said.
“They can’t withhold everything.”
Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman and veteran of a couple of blue-ribbon commissions, is launching a nonpartisan initiative with the goals of rebuilding both government performance and public trust in government. “Trust rests on confidence and too often government, at all levels, in the eyes of its citizens, has been unable to respond effectively to the challenges of the day,” he said in a news release this week announcing creation of The Volcker Alliance.
Heading the new organization is Shelley Metzenbaum, who recently departed the Office of Management and Budget, where she had worked since 2009 as associate director for performance and personnel management. Besides sponsoring research on government performance, the alliance will produce “actionable” recommendations for policy development and implementation, according to the release. It will also provide a forum for discussing new ways of strengthening “policy execution at all levels of government.”
The roster of the alliance’s board of directors shows some names that will be familiar to anyone who recalls the National Commission on the Public Service, which Volcker chaired about a decade ago. The board includes four people who served on the commission: former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., former Comptroller General Charles Bowsher, and Richard Ravitch, a New Yorker who’s done a lot of different things.
Some other members of the alliance board are ex-OMB Director Alice Rivlin, political scientist Norman Ornstein, former Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chairwoman Sheila Bair (who last year published a book on her experiences during the financial crisis), and Francis Fukuyama, another author probably best-known for his 1992 book, “The End of History and the Last Man,” which crunched 19th-century German philosophy and the end of the Cold War.
Assuming you can get everyone in the same room, there should be some interesting discussions–or at least a fun cocktail party.
The Department of Homeland Security is keeping tight-lipped about the details surrounding the resignation of its former chief information officer, which it says was not prompted by disagreements over authority issues.
In April, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, sent a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano asking why the department CIO Richard Spires was placed on voluntary or non voluntary leave, who made the final decision regarding his leave and additional information about the current acting CIO.
In a May 13 response, the department’s assistant secretary for legislative affairs, Nelson Peacock, said personnel and privacy rules prohibit DHS from discussing why Spires took elective leave from the agency and later resigned May 17.
Peacock said Spires was not placed in an administrative leave status because of disagreements concerning his authority as CIO but provided no further details. Concerning acting CIO Margie Graves, Peacock said she is fully qualified to serve in her current role and confirmed that she was hired as a Transportation Security Administration employee in 2003 and was not converted from a consultant position.
In a follow-up letter to DHS this week, Thompson pressed for more details, following the department’s refusal to provide adequate responses. This time, Thompson has asked for a copy of Spires resignation letter; an explanation of why he was placed on leave and who played a role in making that decision; an explanation of who is empowered to make information technology decisions at DHS and Graves’ employment history prior to being named acting CIO.
Danny Werfel is just starting his new gig as acting IRS chief, but leaders of a Senate oversight committee are already wishing he were back in his old post as controller of the Office of Management and Budget.
Werfel “has demonstrated integrity in everything he’s done in the federal government,” Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said at a hearing today. “My hope is that he’s there for a short period of time and back where we can use him in a better way.”
“He really has a base of knowledge that very few people have.”
The committee’s chairman, Tom Carper, D-Del., quickly seconded, joking that “I approve this message.”
Werfel had been scheduled to testify at the hearing on program duplication and overlap, but instead assumed his new job today. As a result, Gene Dodaro, head of the Government Accountability Office, had the witness table to himself.
The bipartisan praise suggested one reason that Werfel–a career financial manager (albeit Senate-confirmed) who has worked closely with the committee on improper payment issues–was chosen to run the IRS despite never having overseen a large agency: A straight-shooter reputation with Congress in a job that will likely call for plenty of face time on Capitol Hill in the weeks to come.
But his exit from OMB adds to the exodus of senior leadership at the budget agency. Although Director Sylvia Burwell quickly won Senate confirmation last month, both the deputy director positions are vacant, as is the post of administrator at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and, of course, Werfel’s job.
Although Carper’s committee later in the day approved Brian Deese to be deputy budget director, a final vote by the Senate won’t happen until next month at the earliest. Ditto for the nomination of Howard Shelanski to head the regulatory affairs office. President Obama has so far not formally settled on any candidate for the posts of deputy management director or controller.
“Nobody’s home,” Carper said. “Sylvia’s terrific, but we’ve got to get a really great team around her.”
Attention, Combined Federal Campaign charities, PCFOs, participating employees (and anyone else involved in the CFC)
Dear CFC community:
As many of you know, the Office of Personnel Management is seeking public comment on a proposed overhaul of the campaign. As of this morning, almost 160 comments had been submitted; because the deadline for commenting is June 7, Federal Times would like to do a story for our next print issue on reaction to the plan.
But we need your help. OPM isn’t posting the comments online and won’t otherwise release copies without a Freedom of Information Act request (which typically takes months to process). So, if you’ve weighed in on the plan, we’re asking you to send us your comments directly. If you’re comfortable doing that, please email them to me (Staff Writer Sean Reilly) at firstname.lastname@example.org. With your permission (and please make that clear in your message), we’ll also post as many of the comments on Fed Times’ site as our bandwidth and hard-working web staff can handle.
Thanks in advance for your help!
Four years after President Obama created the post of chief performance officer to some fanfare, the job is now vacant, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget confirmed this week.
“OMB does not currently have a chief performance officer,” Ari Isaacman Astles said in an email to FedLine. “The responsibilities of the CPO are being handled by the OMB management team.”
Back in April 2009, Obama had tapped Jeff Zients, who became OMB’s deputy director for management, to also serve as chief performance officer. In that role, Obama said at the time, “Jeff will work to streamline processes, cut costs, and find best practices throughout our government.” But Zients quietly handled off those duties early last year to Lisa Brown, another White House staffer, when he again took over as acting OMB director. At the beginning of this March, however, Brown became general counsel at Georgetown University.
Astles didn’t say whether Brown was still serving as acting chief performance officer at the time of her departure. No word on a possible replacement, although Chief Information Officer Steve VanRoekel is now temporarily overseeing the management side of the house at OMB. (Zients left the deputy director’s job last month.)
Meanwhile, the Senate is moving forward with the nomination of Brian Deese to serve as deputy OMB budget director. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has scheduled a vote on Deese’s candidacy this afternoon; the Senate Budget Committee could soon follow suit after holding a confirmation hearing yesterday.
So at least one of these jobs may soon be filled.