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Defense civilians get TSP Roth option today

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The Thrift Savings Plan’s new Roth option opened up to civilian Defense Department employees today, the Air Force said.

Defense civilians can now elect to contribute all or parts of their TSP savings to the Roth option on an after-tax basis. The Air Force said that elections made on or before June 30 will be effective July 1, and will be reflected on employees’ July 20 leave and earnings statement.

Under the Roth option, participants pay taxes when they make contributions into the TSP. Those contributions then grow over time, and are not taxed when they are withdrawn years later. This differs from the standard TSP plan, in which participants make their contributions tax-free and pay their taxes when the money is withdrawn. The plan is expected to primarily benefit military service members — who usually have lower tax rates during their service years — and select groups of civilian federal employees, such as judges. Most civilians would not benefit from the Roth option.

Agency automatic and matching contributions will be deposited as regular TSP contributions, which are tax-deferred.

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service’s effort to roll out the Roth option has been complicated by the multiple, balkanized pay and personnel systems its customer agencies use. Marine Corps service members got the Roth option in June, and all other uniformed service members are expected to get it in October.

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Were you demoted during NSPS transition?

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Are you a Defense Department employee who was transferred into, and then out of, the now-defunct National Security Personnel System? Were you placed into a General Schedule grade that was lower than your original grade, or did your new GS grade not take into account a promotion you received under NSPS?

Federal Times would like to hear from you. E-mail me at slosey@federaltimes.com to talk. If you’d like to talk anonymously, that’s fine.

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Defense employee raps in Pizza Hut Super Bowl ad

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Keep an eye on the Super Bowl ads this Sunday, feds, because you might see one of your own. The Washington Post reports that David Johnson, a switchboard operator at the Defense Department, will be rapping about the joys of Pizza Hut pies in the company’s 30-second spot.

Johnson won Pizza Hut’s Top This! contest with a rap he wrote. Pizza Hut then flew him first-class to Santa Monica to record it over a track built from samples of the company’s old “makin’ it great!” jingle. I think my favorite line is, “It’s not about the Benjamins/Just ten George Washingtons” — which one do you like?

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And here’s a short “making of” video showing Johnson recording in the studio and on the soundstage filming the ad.

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Taps for the National Security Personnel System

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As of this Sunday, the National Security Personnel System is officially defunct.

In a Federal Register notice published today, the Office of Personnel Management and the Defense Department report that they are repealing the regulations accompanying the controversial pay-for-performance system effective Jan. 1. The repeal is basically just housekeeping; the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act ended the legal authority for the NSPS and declared that any existing regs would be toast by the beginning of 2012.

Should anyone need a refresher on what the very long-running flap was about, incidentally, this Federal Times article offers a good recap.


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DoD launches IT exchange program

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The Defense Department has launched its Information Technology Exchange Program to share IT civilian employees with the private sector.

The personnel assignments will range from three months to a year and focus on sharing best practices and expertise on cloud and mobile computing, infrastructure management and cybersecurity, according to a July 1 announcement.

Private sector participants will work with the chief information officer, Joint Staff, U.S. Cyber Command, the National Security Agency and other departments. Workers must be US citizens, be equivalent to a grade level 11, and lending organizations will pay the salaries of their workers. Secrete clearance is required, but top secret is preferred.

Interested companies should send an email with their name, company, email address and phone number to askitep@osd.mil. Federal Times would like to hear from potential applicants. Please contact Nicole Johnson at 703-750-8145 or njohnson@federaltimes.com

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DoD cancels plans to move DISA to U.S. Cyber Command

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The Defense Information Systems Agency will not move to U.S. Cyber Command, following concerns of major policy, operational and practical challenges, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in an undated memo.

After reviewing the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Gates said he recognizes that shifting DISA to U.S. Cyber Command is no longer “a viable approach.”

As part of Gates’ push to eliminate billions in spending, he directed Chief Information Officer Teri Takai to shutter the Pentagon’s Networks and Information Integration by Sept. 30.

The portion of NII responsible for major automated information system acquisition oversight and command and control will transfer to Office of the Under Secretary of Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. The move will create a smaller but strengthened CIO office that has a strong relationship with DISA and Cyber Command, Gates said.

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AFGE takes its ball, goes home

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UPDATE BELOW: Citing alleged “union busting” activities at a Nebraska Air Force base, the American Federation of Government Employees said Tuesday it is pulling out of Defense Department talks to design a new performance appraisal system.

AFGE objects to Offutt Air Force Base’s refusal to allow registered nurse Julie Sheehan to attend the design team meetings in Washington. AFGE said the base’s refusal is retaliation for her successful organizing and collective bargaining efforts. Sheehan is vice president of AFGE Local 1486 at Offutt.

AFGE said Sheehan attended an initial labor-management meeting in Los Angeles last September, and attended the first round of meetings in Washington last month. But AFGE said Offutt is refusing to let Sheehan attend further meetings. AFGE said the base’s supervisors have accused Sheehan of poor performance and placed her on a performance improvement plan — which they called “trumped-up charges” — though they said she has consistently received top performance ratings.

“They are targeting this employee to discourage union membership,” said Don Hale, president of AFGE’s Defense Conference. “This is nothing less than union busting, and we won’t stand for it. We are pulling out of the design team, and the Air Force Command and DoD’s senior leaders can explain it to Congress.”

Hale said AFGE will return to the personnel system discussions — which also aim to design new hiring flexibilities and work-force incentives such as bonuses — if Offutt allows Sheehan to participate and drops its claims of poor performance.

Offutt spokespeople were unavailable for comment.

UPDATE: The Pentagon issued this statement Wednesday morning regarding AFGE’s pullout:

The Department of Defense recognizes and respects the right of the union leadership to select the bargaining unit representatives they believe are best suited to serve on the design teams for the National Defense Authorization Act 2010 personnel initiatives. Unfortunately, a significant workload requirement precluded management from releasing one of the selected individuals. We have provided the union leadership the opportunity to select an alternate for this very important initiative. This option is strongly encouraged in view of the workload considerations of the previously selected individual.

The NDAA 2010 personnel initiatives present the Department with both a tremendous challenge and opportunity. In crafting the new authorities, our goal has always been to assure broad based participation. AFGE is one of several unions participating in the design and development process. As we proceed, we will continue efforts to assure the union perspective is fully considered.

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Contract confusion

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A little fuzzy on the distinctions between various types of federal contracts?

Don’t feel bad, because some federal contracting officers are, too, according to a Federal Register notice published today.

In a jointly filed proposed rule, the Defense Department, NASA and the General Services Administration indicate that they are trying to correct the mistaken impression among contracting officers “governmentwide” that the fixed labor rates in time-and-materials/labor-hour contracts make them “fixed-price type contracts.”

In fact, as the Government Accountability Office reported last year, time and materials contracts are considered high-risk because the contractor’s profit hinges on the number of hours worked.

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Bulk of BTA workforce comes from contractors

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Almost two-thirds of the workforce at the Business Transformation Agency, a Pentagon shop slated for the chopping block, is made up of contract employees, according to figures obtained by Federal Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

Of 1,124 workers, 725 are contractors, 375 are civilian and 24 are military personnel, the figures show. In announcing his decision to close BTA within the next year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last month that the agency employed “approximately 360 people.” Gates was apparently referring only to government civilian employees.

Federal Times filed the FOIA request after repeated attempts to obtain the workforce information from Gates’ office went unanswered. So far, no response from a Pentagon spokeswoman this afternoon on the contractor ratio.

Although BTA was created several years ago to modernize DoD’s business practices, Gates said at the Aug. 9 news conference that its focus had shifted more “to day-to-day oversight of individual acquisition programs, a function that can be performed by a number of other organizations.”

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The Washington Post’s ‘Top Secret America’

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52207228AW006_Meet_The_PresThe Washington Post this morning has a must-read story illustrating how massive, unwieldy and redundant the federal government’s post-9/11 security mission has become — and questioning whether it’s actually made us safer. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Dana Priest and writer William Arkin’s three-part, two year investigation found that “after nine years of unprecedented spending and growth”:

  • Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence at about 10,000 locations nationwide.
  • About 854,000 people hold top secret security clearances.
  • In the Washington area, 33 complexes for top secret intelligence work — the equivalent of three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings — are under construction or have been built since 9/11.
  • 51 different federal organizations and military commands in 15 U.S. cities are all assigned the same job — to track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.
  • One senior official in the Defense Department — a so-called Super User with the rare authority to have total knowledge of the department’s intelligence workings — became overwhelmed at the amount of information being dumped on him in his first briefing, threw up his hands and yelled, “Stop!”
  • Because of the crushing bureaucratic secrecy surrounding the homeland security, counterterrorism and intelligence mission — secrecy that in some cases undermines the chain of command — nobody knows exactly how much it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs it has or how many of those programs are redundant.

The Post’s article raises good questions about whether the government — desperate to show results after the Sept. 11 sneak attack — has grown its counterterrorism apparatus so large that it risks collapsing under its own weight. “These are not academic questions,” Priest and Arkin write. “Lack of focus, not lack of resources, was at the heart of the Fort Hood shooting that left 13 dead, as well as the Christmas Day bomb attempt thwarted not by the thousands of analysts employed to find lone terrorists but by an alert airline passenger who saw smoke coming from his seatmate.”

The intelligence community is already firing back at the Post. Acting Director of National Intelligence David Gompert this morning released a statement saying “The reporting does not reflect the intelligence community we know,” but did not challenge any of the article’s specific findings. And last week, someone in the intel community leaked an ODNI memo to the Washington Times that expressed concern that the Post was going to reveal sensitive information. (The Times published the memo under the headline, “Is Wash Post harming intelligence work?” drawing dozens of frothing, angry comments.)

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