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Beth Daley, investigations director at POGO, passes away

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Beth Daley

Beth Daley, the director of investigations at the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, died yesterday after a seven-year fight with breast cancer.

POGO said one of the highlights of Daley’s career was her work exposing the oil industry’s underpayment of royalties from drilling on federal and Indian lands. POGO’s lawsuit ended up netting $440 million for the federal government in a case that still reverberates today.

“Beth’s death is a crushing loss for the POGO family,” Executive Director Danielle Brian said in a statement released today. “Both as a colleague and as a friend, Beth’s fierce passion for POGO’s work inspired all of us to demand more from ourselves.”

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Cult comic writer, VA clerk Harvey Pekar dead at 70

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"American Splendor" writer and retired fed Harvey Pekar

"American Splendor" writer and retired fed Harvey Pekar; photo by Davidkphoto via Wikipedia

Harvey Pekar, the sarcastic and irritable writer who chronicled his life and experiences as a Veterans Affairs Department file clerk in the underground comic book American Splendor, was found dead this morning at age 70.

Pekar’s darkly humorous comic was about as far from standard superhero fare as could be. Besides his misadventures at the Cleveland VA, he wrote about his everyday troubles and anxieties, battles with cancer, family life, and love of jazz. But although his collaborations with artists such as Robert Crumb brought him fame (and several notorious appearances on David Letterman’s show), Pekar had to keep working at the VA to earn his salary and pension until he retired in 2001. As the comics blog The Beat wryly notes, “indie comics was not a cash cow.”

In 2003, actor Paul Giamatti played Pekar in an Oscar-nominated film adaptation of his comic. Videos of Pekar’s verbal duels with Letterman are after the jump.

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NASA “pad fuehrer” Guenter Wendt dead at 85

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Guenter Wendt/NASA

Guenter Wendt, a NASA contractor who was in charge of launch pad activity during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, passed away today at 85.

The German-born Wendt ruled his launch pads with an iron fist — so much so that astronauts affectionately dubbed him the “pad fuehrer.”

“It’s easy to get along with Guenter,” astronaut Pete Conrad once said. “All you have to do is agree with him.”

But deep down, astronauts such as Wally Schirra and Gordon Cooper appreciated his attention to detail and his dogged enforcement of the rules designed to keep them alive. As Wendt said in his 2001 memoir:

If you came up to the spacecraft, you didn’t touch it without my permission. During emergencies, I wouldn’t have time to form a committee. I had to make sure I had the authority to make the decision whenever anything became critical. Simply put, in an emergency the buck stopped with me.

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Partnership for Public Service founder dead at 70

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Samuel Heyman, the businessman who founded the Partnership for Public Service eight years ago, passed away Nov. 7. The New York Times reported that Heyman died due to complications from open heart surgery.

Heyman was an assistant U.S. attorney at the Justice Department until he entered the private sector in 1968.

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Robert McNamara, former Defense Secretary, dead at 93

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Robert McNamara, the controversial former Defense Secretary who spent his twilight years apologizing for escalating the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, died early this morning in Washington. He was 93 years old.

McNamara was a top manager at the Ford Motor Co. and had just taken over the company in 1960 when President John F. Kennedy tapped him to run the Pentagon. According to the Washington Post, McNamara used his considerable management skills to tame the military’s massive bureaucracy:

At the Pentagon, McNamara quickly put his own stamp on the sprawling military bureaucracy in what amounted to a management revolution. He centralized control, broke down the traditional fiefdoms of the individual services, and imposed multi-purpose, multi-service weapons on the brass.

According to an account published in The Washington Post at the time, “he shook all five floors of the Pentagon in his search for the tools he needed to get a firm grip on the biggest military establishment in the world . . . McNamara brought in computers to help with the spade work, hired systems analysts to comb through the technical points and then list the pros and cons for the generalists, reassessed the war plans, regrouped weapons into programs.”

McNamara greatly expanded the United States’ nuclear arsenal and helped Kennedy manage the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

But McNamara’s skills weren’t enough to secure victory in Vietnam, and the conflict cost 58,000 American lives and, in many ways, tore the United States apart.

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Just in: NFFE President Richard Brown dies at 47

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Just in: The National Federation of Federal Employees’ president, Richard Brown, died Tuesday afternoon. He was 47.

Brown was found unresponsive in his Arlington, Va., apartment, said Secretary-Treasurer William Dougan in a press release. Dougan praised Brown’s efforts to revitalize NFFE and getting the union out of debt. He said Brown was a fearless champion for federal workers and will be missed.

Never one to back down, Rick was a strong presence in the fight against several federal workforce initiatives aimed at contracting out federal government jobs and eliminating federal employees’ unions. His most impressive work was done in opposition to NSPS. Just last week, Rick gave impassioned testimony in opposition to NSPS before the Task Group of the Defense Business Board, a panel that is conducting a review of the personnel system.”

Check back with Federal Times for a full story on Brown’s passing.

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FBI's Mark Felt, AKA Deep Throat, dead at 95

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Mark Felt, the former associate director of the FBI who helped break the Watergate scandal, died yesterday at 95.

Felt, who for decades hid his role in the scandal and was known only as Deep Throat, was the consummate whistleblower. As a career agent and the number two man at the FBI, Felt had firsthand knowledge of how the Nixon administration tried to sabotage the Bureau’s investigation into the Watergate burglary. He used that information to guide Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they dug into the scandal.

Felt’s “Deep Throat” moniker, which was given to him by a Post editor, has since become a slang phrase for any well-placed source, especially one in the government.

Side note: Watergate aficionados can visit the parking space where Woodward and Felt held their late-night meetings in the bottom level of the parking garage at 1401 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, Va.

In July, I met with Brad Bunn, the program executive officer in charge of the Pentagon’s National Security Personnel System, in his office at that location. As our interview began, Bunn told me about the garage’s historical importance. I then suggested that Bunn and I put on trenchcoats and continue the interview downstairs.

Bunn nixed my idea. “It’s way too hot for trenchcoats,” he said.

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