Something I’ve been wondering lately, both because Barack Obama the presidential candidate said a lot of good things about whistleblowers, and because I spent a not-inconsequential part of 2008 reporting on Scott Bloch: Why hasn’t the White House appointed a new special counsel?
I know President Barack Obama still has hundreds of positions to fill. But the top job at the Office of Special Counsel would seem to be an important one. The agency hasn’t had political leadership since October 2008, when the Bush administration forced Bloch to resign.
OSC employees I’ve talked to generally say the agency needs some reorganization, but William Reukauf, the acting special counsel, told me last year that he planned to act as a caretaker. Reorganization, in other words, would have to wait for political leadership. He told Government Executive in May that the agency is “looking forward anxiously” for a new political leader.
The president has been accused of “dithering” on his Afghanistan strategy review. (Personally, I think he’s right to take his time: Escalating the war is not an easy decision, and when tens of thousands of soldiers are being sent into combat, better to take some extra time to get it right.)
But that’s not the only important decision on which Obama has delayed. There’s also the question of appointing a “cyber czar,” a White House official to coordinate cybersecurity policy. Obama announced the new position in May, during a White House speech on cybersecurity, but the position has remained vacant for more than five months.
The delay is starting to attract criticism. Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., said last week that he was frustrated with the delay. TechAmerica, an IT industry group, put out a press release this afternoon calling on Obama to appoint a czar “at the earliest possible opportunity.”
The Veterans Affairs Department will soon start a new program to take advantage of VA employees’ expertise nationwide, President Barack Obama said Monday.
Obama announced the program at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Phoenix, Ariz., where he spoke of the agency’s need to better serve veterans. He said asking employees for their ideas can help solve many of the VA’s critical problems, including the backlog of more than half a million veterans’ claims.
Obama said he’d told VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra and Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients to establish a competition to find the very best ideas employees have to improve the VA.
We’re going to challenge each of our 57 regional VA offices to come up with the best ways of doing business, of harnessing the best information technologies, of cutting red tape and breaking through the bureaucracy. And then we’re going to fund the best ideas and put them into action, all with a simple mission: cut those backlogs, slash those wait times, deliver your benefits sooner. I know you’ve heard this for years, but the leadership and resources we’re providing this time means that we’re going to be able to do it. That is our mission, and we are going to make it happen.”
Dr. Regina Benjamin, a family practice doctor who works with the rural poor in Alabama, is President Barack Obama’s choice for surgeon general, Obama said Monday.
Obama praised Benjamin’s commitment to health care and to providing access to care for those who can’t afford insurance. She is the founder of the Bayou Le Batre Rural Health Clinic in Bayou La Batre, Ala., a fishing village, and has served as its chief exective officer since is founding in 1990.
Benjamin has rebuilt the clinic several times, including after it sustain heavy damages by Hurricane Georges in 1998 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Benjamin, 52, received her bachelor’s degree in 1979 from Xavier University of Louisiana, attended Morehouse School of Medicine from 1980 to 1982, and earned her doctor of medicine degree in 1984 from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Her medical schooling was paid for by the National Health Service Corps, a federal program where medical students pledge to work in underserved areas in exchange for paid tuition, earning one year of free tuition for ever year of service.
Atlanta neurosurgeon and CNN correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta was rumored earlier this year to be Obama’s first choice for surgeon general, but Gupta pulled his name from consideration, citing his desire to spend more time on his current work.
Benjamin’s nomination is subject to Senate confirmation.
Melissa Hathaway, the Obama administration’s acting cybersecurity director, said Friday she is one of the candidates being considered for the permanent cybersecurity post.
Hathaway confirmed her candidacy for the “cybersecurity czar” position to reporters after a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C. policy group. Hathaway said the administration is considering several candidates but President Barack Obama has not yet conducted any interviews.
Hathaway, who led the White House’s 60-day review of cybersecurity policy, said Obama is deeply interested in improving cybersecurity and his leadership will help institute change.
“It’s personal to him … they’ve tried to hack into his BlackBerry on a regular basis. This president is going to drive this forward, and it’s being raised on a weekly basis,” Hathaway said.
The Senate approved more than a dozen nominees Monday, including the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.
- Margaret Hamburg to be FDA commissioner, Department of Health and Human Services.
- Roger Baker to be an assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs.
- Charles Blanchard to be general counsel of the Air Force.
- William Gunn to be general counsel of the VA.
- Thomas Lamont to be an assistant secretary of the Army.
- Raymond Mabus, Jr. to be secretary of the Navy.
- Daniel Poneman to be deputy Energy secretary.
- Jose Riojas to be an assistant secretary of the VA.
- David Sandalow to be an assistant Energy secretary.
- John Sepulveda to be an assistant secretary of the VA.
- Paul Stockton to be an assistant Defense secretary.
- Rhea Suh to be an assistant Interior secretary.
- Andrew Weber to be assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Chemical and Biological Defense Programs.
- Neal Wolin to be deputy secretary of the Treasury.
- Robert Work to be undersecretary of the Navy.
All were confirmed by voice vote.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, commissioner of the New York City Health Department, will be the new director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President Barack Obama announced Friday.
He will replace acting CDC Director Dr. Rich Besser, who will return to his role leading the CDC’s Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response.
Please visit Federal Times for updates on this story.
President Barack Obama’s administration put an end to years of debate Wednesday when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will stay within DHS.
FEMA had been an independent agency before the creation of DHS after Sept. 11, 2001, and many have argued that it could respond to disasters best by being removed from the bureaucracy of DHS.
For a full story, check back with Federal Times shortly.
The Senate could vote this week on more of President Barack Obama’s nominees.
The Senate Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee approved two nominations by voice vote Monday: W. Craig Fugate for Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator and John Morton for assistant secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Senate may vote this week on their nominations, which aren’t controversial. No vote has been scheduled.
Meanwhile, senators are debating the nomination of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for secretary of Health and Human Services Tuesday, with a vote expected later in the day. The vote on her nomination has been delayed almost three weeks, as some Republicans have taken issue with her pro-choice stance and her acceptance of campaign contributions from a Kansas doctor who performs late-term abortions.
She must receive at least 60 votes for her nomination to pass, part of a compromise reached by Senate Democrats and Republicans late last week. She’s expected to have the needed number of votes, but not by much.
Want a chance to meet President Barack Obama? Come up with a way to save a lot of money at your agency.
The president laid out a challenge to federal employees this weekend in his weekly blog/radio address, calling for new thinking and creativity among the federal workforce:
“That’s why we’ll establish a process through which every government worker can submit their ideas for how their agency can save money and perform better. We’ll put the suggestions that work into practice. And later this year, I will meet with those who come up with the best ideas to hear firsthand about how they would make your government more efficient and effective.”
There is far to go in modernizing federal agencies to better apply technology, but there also is far to go in modernizing the mindset of how government operates and views itself, he said:
“So much of our government was built to deal with different challenges from a different era. Too often, the result is wasteful spending, bloated programs, and inefficient results. It’s time to fundamentally change the way that we do business in Washington. To help build a new foundation for the 21st century, we need to reform our government so that it is more efficient, more transparent, and more creative. That will demand new thinking and a new sense of responsibility for every dollar that is spent.”
In that spirit, President Obama said he plans to motivate agencies to find savings within their current budgets by allowing them to keep a portion of money they don’t spend and reinvest it elsewhere toward programs that are more effective. The end goal, he said: a smaller budget and more effective government programs.
In addition, Obama said he’s also looking for ideas from businesses and reform experts on how to make government operate leaner and more smartly. Later this year, he said he will host a forum on reforming government for the 21st century as a way to bring outside voices into the government reform discussion.
So, will you take the Obama challenge? Tell us what great ideas you have for saving money.
Tags: Barack Obama