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Obama to feds: Thanks for standing firm during shutdown debate

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The Washington Post reports that federal employees today received the following letter from President Obama, thanking them for their “patience and professionalism” as a possible shutdown and furlough drew closer:

To All Federal Employees:

Late Friday evening we reached an agreement on the budget that will keep the Government open. I know the past few weeks have been a time of uncertainty and concern for you and your families, but your patience and professionalism throughout this entire period have affirmed my confidence in you, and everyone who works in our Government.

You do your jobs without complaint or much recognition. But it is men and women like you who help make America all it is, by responding to the needs of our people, and keeping our country safe and secure. And so, I want to thank you not only for your forbearance in recent weeks, but for the service you render each and every day to the United States of America.

Barack Obama

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Obama: “In our democracy, government is us”

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President Obama delivers the commencement address at the University of Michigan.

President Obama delivers the commencement address at the University of Michigan.

President Obama delivered a commencement speech Saturday that turned into a passionate defense of the role of government in our society and, partially, the civil servants and military service members who make it run. His whole speech to the University of Michigan’s graduating class is worth reading, but here are some passages well-suited for Public Service Recognition Week:

For when our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it conveniently ignores the fact in our democracy, government is us.  We, the people, hold in our hands the power to choose our leaders, change our laws, and shape our own destiny.

Government is the police officers who are here protecting us and the service men and women who are defending us abroad.  Government is the roads you drove in on and the speed limits that kept you safe.  Government is what ensures that mines adhere to safety standards and that oil spills are cleaned up by the companies that caused them.  Government is this extraordinary public university – a place that is doing life-saving research, catalyzing economic growth, and graduating students who will change the world around them in ways big and small. 

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First meeting of labor-management council next Friday

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The National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations will hold its inaugural meeting next Friday, Feb. 26. The council will hear comments from federal agencies and members of the public on how agencies will create labor-management forums across the federal government, the Office of Personnel Management said in a Federal Register notice released this morning.

OPM said agencies need to submit draft plans for implementing the forums by March 9. President Barack Obama created the council in a Dec. 9 executive order and ordered it to recreate the labor-management partnerships that operated under President Bill Clinton.

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Obama: CIA bombing casualties “part of a long line of patriots”

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The Memorial Wall at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Va., anonymously honoring fallen officers

The Memorial Wall at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Va., anonymously honoring fallen officers

President Obama just issued the following statement regarding yesterday’s suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan’s Khost Province that killed seven CIA officers and at least one other person:

To the men and women of the CIA:

I write to mark a sad occasion in the history of the CIA and our country. Yesterday, seven Americans in Afghanistan gave their lives in service to their country. Michelle and I have their families, friends and colleagues in our thoughts and prayers.

These brave Americans were part of a long line of patriots who have made great sacrifices for their fellow citizens, and for our way of life. The United States would not be able to maintain the freedom and security that we cherish without decades of service from the dedicated men and women of the CIA. You have helped us understand the world as it is, and taken great risks to protect our country. You have served in the shadows, and your sacrifices have sometimes been unknown to your fellow citizens, your friends, and even your families.

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Obama again calls for 2.0 percent pay raise

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President Barack Obama today sent a letter to Congress reiterating his call for a 2.0 percent pay raise for federal employees in January.

Obama said that the ailing economy, increasing demands on the federal government and the ongoing terrorist threat are straining the federal budget. And since the federal government’s attrition continues to be relatively low, Obama said it will be tough to justify a larger pay raise.

The letter is something of a formality. In the unlikely event that Congress forgets to pass a federal pay raise, last year’s increase in the Employment Cost Index (which was 2.9 percent) would automatically become the average pay raise for federal employees unless the president sends Congress a letter setting an alternative pay raise.

But while it’s doubtful that Congress will cede its raise-setting power, Obama’s letter could give more strength to the House lawmakers who in July approved a 2.0 percent pay raise next year. The Senate, on the other hand, is pushing for a 2.9 percent raise.

National Treasury Employees Union National President Colleen Kelley, however, is not happy:

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White House doesn't back down from postal dig

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8/21 UPDATE: U.S. Postal Service spokesman Gerry McKiernan just dropped me a line disputing Peter Roff’s take on the post office’s tax exemption. First, the Postal Service doesn’t own any planes on which it could pay taxes. Secondly, the Postal Service for many years was not allowed to run profits as a corporation does, meaning it had no income on which it would pay taxes, even without the exemption. (A 2006 reform allowed the Postal Service to turn a profit on competitive products like Priority Mail and package services, but in lieu of taxes, the post office uses some of that money to help cover the costs of first-class mail and other universal service obligations.)

Finally, while the Postal Service’s quasi-governmental status does yield some benefits (such as tax exemption on property), McKiernan pointed me towards a January 2008 Federal Trade Commission study that said the Postal Service’s obligations — primarily its requirement to deliver universal mail service to every household and business in the country — far outweigh those benefits. Those obligations, FTC said, actually leave the Postal Service at a disadvantage when compared to its private-sector counterparts.

ORIGINAL POST: At a White House press briefing yesterday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about the National Association of Postal Supervisors’ pushback against President Barack Obama negatively comparing the U.S. Postal Service to FedEx and UPS:

Q: In a letter sent last week to the White House from the National Association of Postal Supervisors, the president of that union, Ted Keating, said that his union had a “collective disappointment that you — meaning the President — showed the Postal Service as a scapegoat and an example of inefficiency.”  Does the President — has the President seen that letter?  Has he responded?  Does he regret using the post office as an example of inefficiency?

MR. GIBBS:  I doubt he’s seen that letter and I don’t have any reason to believe he regrets it, since he repeated it.

(Just for the record, NAPS isn’t a union. It’s a management association that does not collectively bargain. But that’s neither here nor there.)

Also, I wanted to clarify a point I made slightly inelegantly in Monday’s blog entry, which U.S. News and World Report picked up on.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Postal supervisors: Obama swipe "a kick to the chest"

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The National Association of Postal Supervisors has fired back at President Barack Obama for dragging the U.S. Postal Service further into the health care debate. In an Aug. 14 letter, NAPS President Ted Keating accused Obama of using the Postal Service as a “scapegoat” and unfairly painting it as “an example of inefficiency” during a health care town hall meeting last week. Obama told a crowd in Portsmouth, N.H., Aug. 11 that private health care insurance providers should be able to compete with a government-run public option because “UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. … It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.”

Keating pointed out that UPS and FedEx revenues are falling faster than Postal Service revenues, and reiterated the overtime, management and work hour reductions the Postal Service has made over the last year:

With all of these efforts underway within the Postal Service community, it was a kick to the chest to have you take a shot at a group of federal employees who are working hard every day to support this country.

Employees of the Postal Service are largely represented by unions and management associations, all of whom strongly supported your candidacy last year. For our support we do not expect any special consideration. However, we would like to be treated fairly and not have our current situation misrepresented, especially by the Commander-in-Chief.

What Obama also ignored last week was that the Postal Service isn’t on the same playing field as FedEx or UPS. The Postal Service has to contend with unions, lawmakers and the Postal Regulatory Commission and as a result, can’t raise prices or close facilities on a whim the way its private-sector counterparts can when mail volume plunges.

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Postal Service: Whipping boy of the health care debate

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Postmaster General John Potter

Postmaster General John Potter

As the debate over health care reform boils over, both sides are now using the U.S. Postal Service to score points. House Minority Leader John Boehner, June 11:

If you like going to the DMV and think they do a great job, or you like going to the post office and think it’s the most efficient thing you’ve run into, then you’ll love the government-run health care system.

And President Barack Obama at this afternoon’s health care town hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., as reported by the Associated Press:

[Obama] also disputed the notion that adding a government-run insurance plan into a menu of options from which people could pick would drive private insurers out of business, in effect making the system single-payer by default.

As long as they have a good product and the government plan has to sustain itself through premiums and other non-tax revenue, private insurers should be able to compete with the government plan, Obama said.

“They do it all the time,” he said. “UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. … It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.”

That sound you just heard was Postmaster General John Potter’s head hitting his desk.

There’s one man, however, who will stick up for the embattled Postal Service: Jon Stewart. Video after the jump:

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Obama signs tobacco bill containing TSP provisions

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President Barack Obama today signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which contains several major overhauls to the government’s Thrift Savings Plan retirement program. The TSP overhaul will:

  • Create a Roth option, which will allow TSP participants to pay taxes on money they invest in the program and make tax-free withdrawals in retirement years later. The Roth option is expected to mostly benefit military service members.
  • Automatically enroll all new civilian federal employees in the TSP’s G Fund. Military service members will not be automatically enrolled.
  • Allow new enrollees to receive automatic matching contributions from their agency right away, instead of the six months to one year waiting period now in effect. This will be in place by Aug. 1, the board said.
  • Allow the board governing TSP to create a mutual fund option if it chooses.
  • Allow spouses to maintain the TSP accounts of deceased participants. Spouses are now required to withdraw money within 60 days of a participant’s death and reinvest it in another retirement account.

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"Civilian surge" planned for Afghanistan

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The Washington Post says President Barack Obama is planning to deploy hundreds of diplomats and other federal employees to Afghanistan as part of a major effort to bolster reconstruction efforts in the war-torn country.

The Post reports that aside from senior State Department diplomats, “other civilian officials are to be drawn from government departments such as Agriculture and Justice, and hundreds of new ‘full-time, temporary’ positions are planned” under a new strategy expected to be approved next week.

During last year’s presidential campaign, Obama promised to refocus U.S. attention on Afghanistan, where the Taliban is regaining strength and Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s government is struggling.

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