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Obama: OPM’s Berry ‘a champion for federal workers’

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John Berry (from Office of Personnel Management)

President Obama this afternoon bid farewell to departing Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry today in a statement:

John Berry has served the American people well as Director of the Office of Personnel Management.  He’s streamlined the way federal employees are hired, modernized the workplace, made the federal workforce more diverse, and increased the number of returning servicemembers hired by the government.  John has been a champion for federal workers – men and women who devote their lives to vital tasks like securing our borders, curing disease, and keeping the American people safe.  This country is better off because of John’s talent and dedication, and I’m grateful to him for his service.

After the jump, you can find Berry’s complete goodbye message to OPM staff.

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Memphis soul comes to the White House tonight

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Mavis Staples will sing at the White House this evening. (photo by Jalylah Burrell from Wikipedia, under Creative Commons License)

The White House will host a who’s-who of legendary soul musicians and modern stars Tuesday night in its latest “In Performance” concert.

This will be the tenth “In Performance at the White House” show, and will focus on Memphis Soul. Several artists from the classic Stax-Volt record label will be featured, most notably Mavis Staples, who sang classics such as “I’ll Take You There.” Guitarist Steve Cropper (who played for Booker T and the MGs, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and pretty much everybody else on the Stax-Volt label), Sam Moore from Sam and Dave, “Knock on Wood” singer Eddie Floyd, and William Bell will also perform.

Justin Timberlake, the Alabama Shakes, harmonica virtuoso Charlie Musselwhite, Ben Harper, and Queen Latifah are also on the bill. The only performer that really makes me scratch my head, however, is Cyndi Lauper. (Yes, I know she released a star-studded blues album in 2010. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that the woman who sang “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” is trying to remake herself as a blues shouter.)

Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MGs will be tonight’s bandleader. It will stream starting at 6:55 p.m. EST on the White House’s website, and will air on PBS stations nationwide April 16 at 8 p.m.

Past shows have paid tribute to Motown, blues, country, Latino music, Broadway showtunes, and music from the Civil Rights movement. During last year’s blues concert, President Obama even took a turn at the mic during the all-star jam on “Sweet Home Chicago.” But for me, the funniest moment from that show came during Gary Clark Jr.’s smoldering performance of “Catfish Blues,” when the camera caught Obama lost in the music, with his eyes closed, head bobbing, and mouthing the lyrics. That moment of presidential music geekery can be seen at the 1:30 point in the following video.

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Obama, BB King sing ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ at White House blues night

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BB King performs at the White House, Feb. 21, 2012 (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Barack Obama may be angling for a second career in rhythm and blues (if this whole “leader-of-the-free-world” thing doesn’t pan out). Last night, he took the mic at the White House’s all-star blues tribute night and sang a chorus of “Sweet Home Chicago” with BB King.

The AP said that during the finale, Mick Jagger held the mic out “almost by way of command,” and Obama evidently couldn’t resist. Blues guitarist Buddy Guy also pushed Obama by pointing out that he sang a line from “Let’s Stay Together” last month at an Apollo Theater fundraiser, and said, “You gotta keep it up.”

Besides King, Guy and Jagger, the White House hosted New Orleans musician Trombone Shorty, singers Shemekia Copeland and Susan Tedeschi, and guitarists Jeff Beck, Keb Mo, Gary Clark Jr., Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes. Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MGs was the bandleader.

Check out some clips — including Obama’s turn in the spotlight — below. The entire concert will be aired on PBS Feb. 27.

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Budgetball: Flex your mind and your muscles

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So let’s say you’re sitting around on a Saturday afternoon, thinking, “Well shucks, I’d sure like to finally get around to solving America’s national debt problem today, but I’m really starting to get a little soft in the middle … maybe I should go outside and get some exercise instead.”

We’ve all been there, right? Well, worry no more: Budgetball is here!budgetball

Budgetball is, no lie, “an active sport of quick passes, tough defense, and bold comebacks designed to increase awareness of the national debt and reward strategic thinking and collaborative problem-solving around the issues of fiscal responsibility.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Analysts: Obama’s freeze won’t be too painful

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Much has been written about the politics of President Obama’s call for a partial spending freeze. (In short, they’re hard to figure out: The freeze annoys liberals, it’s too small to placate conservatives, and because it exempts defense spending, it hasn’t earned many plaudits from real fiscal hawks.)

Less has been written about the policy side, partly because the details of the freeze won’t be public until Obama releases his budget on Monday. But the sense I get — and I alluded to this in a quick State of the Union story last night — is that the freeze will really have a minimal impact on federal employees, both on their priorities and their pay.

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Obama to slash bonuses, raises for political appointees

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In addition to calling for a freeze on non-security discretionary spending, the White House also plans to freeze the pay and suspend the bonuses of more than 1,200 political appointees.

Obama will issue a directive in the next few days suspending the bonuses, according to administration officials. That directive will cover more than 3,000 appointees. And his budget request, scheduled for release on Feb. 1, will propose a pay freeze for top political appointees — a move which would affect 1,200 people, including White House officials, department heads and ambassadors (except for career foreign service officers serving as ambassadors).

The White House wouldn’t say how much money it expects to save with this plan — though the savings would be relatively modest, at least compared to the $1 trillion+ federal budget deficit.

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Nabors: “Not an across-the-board cut”

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OMB deputy director Rob Nabors held a conference call with reporters a little while ago to talk about President Obama’s proposed three-year “non-security discretionary spending freeze.”

As we mention over on the homepage, the freeze only affects a fraction of the federal budget: $447 billion, or about 17 percent of total spending. Nabors clarified that it exempts Defense, Homeland Security, the VA, and the entire State/international affairs section of the federal budget. He also emphasized that the cuts aren’t uniform.

It’s not an across-the-board cut. We have honored the president’s commitment and gone line-by-line through the budget trying to find those programs that aren’t working, aren’t achieving their mission.

So some agencies in that “non-security discretionary” category will see their budgets continue to increase. Education, for example, probably will see some gains.

The flip side is that other agencies could actually see their budgets shrink. That’s simple math: If the $447 billion figure is fixed, and some agencies get more money, others have to receive less. We won’t know for sure until Monday, though, when the administration’s budget request is released. (And of course this all assumes Congress agrees to a freeze, which it hasn’t yet…)

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WH to officially name cyber czar today

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President Barack Obama will officially name Howard Schmidt, President Bush’s former cybersecurity chief, as the White House “cyber czar,” the White House has confirmed.

Schmidt spent about 18 months in the Bush administration, from December 2001 to May 2003, before returning to the private sector. He has also worked as Microsoft’s chief security officer, and eBay’s chief information officer; the White House says Schmidt’s close ties with industry were a factor in his appointment.

The Washington Post first reported the news of Schmidt’s nomination last night. Schmidt was long considered one of the two front-runners for the job, which Obama announced he would create during a White House speech on cybersecurity in May.

We’ll have more details about the announcement, including reactions from the cybersecurity community, throughout the day.

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Rockefeller: ‘Cyber czar’ has too many bosses

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I spent the morning in a Senate Commerce committee hearing on transportation security challenges. I’ve got a story on the hearing going up on the homepage soon: DHS secretary Janet Napolitano was the lone witness, and she spent a while talking about collective bargaining rights for Transportation Security Administration employees.

One other item of note that didn’t quite fit into the TSA story: Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., offered a bit of insight into his thinking on cybersecurity. Rockefeller said he was worried about President Barack Obama’s plan to name a “cyber czar” — but, unlike other legislators, he’s not concerned that the czar will be unaccountable to the Senate. Rather, he’s worried that the new cyber coordinator, who will report to the National Economic Council and the National Security Council, will have too many bosses:

We say there ought to be somebody who reports only to the president. If that’s another “czar,” then that’s the kind of czar you want to have, because that [cybersecurity] is the number-one national security threat to the United States. I feel there ought to be somebody who reports directly to the president… otherwise we’re going to drift away from cybersecurity being the top priority.

Rockefeller and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine (they’re the “we” in that quote) have introduced legislation that would create a “czar” accountable directly to the president.

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Obama to outline civilian goals for Afghanistan

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Two White House officials held a conference call for reporters this afternoon to preview the president’s Afghanistan strategy speech tonight. (It was on background, so we’re not allowed to say who they were — frustrating, but those were the rules.)

Most of it was focused on the military aspects of Obama’s new strategy, but the officials also said Obama will spend some time in tonight’s speech talking about the civilian role in Afghanistan:

The president will announce how we’re sending additional civilian experts to Afghanistan to team up with military units.

[...] Their approach has to go well beyond Kabul. They have to reach out in a bottom-up approach, in the provinces and districts… and he will announce that our top development priority in Afghanistan will be agriculture.

The administration has struggled to find civilians to deploy to Afghanistan, though. Obama announced a 1,000-strong “civilian surge” in March; Richard Holbrooke, his envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, says those personnel won’t finish deploying until early next year. And many experts have said Afghanistan needs thousands more civilians for meaningful development work.

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