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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.
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Obama: Public Servants Should Be Rewarded, Not 'Vilified'

ObamaBoehner.jpgPresident Obama again waded into the battle over compensation for public sector employees Monday. In a speech before the National Governors Association, he said that while he recognized the importance of making "tough choices" on budget issues, that state leaders shouldn't single out their employees for a disproportionate share of cuts.

From Obama's remarks:

I also know that many of you are making decisions regarding your public workforces, and I know how difficult that can be. I recently froze the salaries of federal employees for two years. It wasn't something that I wanted to do, but I did it because of the very tough fiscal situation that we're in.

So I believe that everybody should be prepared to give up something in order to solve our budget challenges, and I think most public servants agree with that. Democrats and Republicans agree with that. In fact, many public employees in your respective states have already agreed to cuts.

But let me also say this: I don't think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed upon. We need to attract the best and the brightest to public ...

A Three-Year Pay Freeze? Not Really.

In his radio address Saturday, President Obama touted the "tough choices" he's made in the budget process, saying, for example, that he had "frozen salaries for hard-working civil servants for three years."

The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe took note of that phrasing today, pointing out that Obama had only announced a two-year freeze back in November. White House aides told O'Keefe that Obama was not making a below-the-radar pitch for extending the freeze. He was simply conflating the governmentwide freeze with a freeze on salaries for senior White House officials that started in 2010. Altogether, according to Obama's logic, that makes for three years worth of freezes of one sort or another.

Shutting Down Shutdown Talk

In Slate on Friday, John Dickerson flatly dismissed the idea of a government shutdown. The prospect (as GovExec's sister site Nextgov reported last week) that federal employees and possibly even congressional staff could lose access to their BlackBerries was just too horrifying to comtemplate, he wrote.

Tongue less firmly in cheek, Dickerson laid out another simple reason a shutdown is unlikely: Neither Democrats nor Republicans really want it. The White House "cannot have a government shutdown while the economic recovery is still so fragile." And Republicans "can't risk having their first big public act be that they shut down the government."

Dickerson's case is bolstered by recent reports of movement in budget negotiations between the two sides. Still, when 56 percent of Democratic insiders say they think they would win in a shutdown scenario, and Newt Gingrich argues Republicans wouldn't lose this time around, its certainly not out of the question that the two sides could take this debate right over the brink.

Politics as Polarized

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Does it seem like the political situation in Congress is more polarized than ever? National Journal reports that's because it is. Last year, every Senate Republican compiled a voting record more conservative than every Senate Democrat. And the House was nearly as divided, with an overlap between the parties less than at any time in the 30 years the magazine has been analyzing congressional votes.

Who's Winning the Shutdown Showdown? Nobody.

So who's got the upper hand in the epic budget battle underway in Congress? Neither side has much of an edge, according to a new USA Today/Gallup poll. In the survey, conducted this week, 42 percent of respondents said Republicans in Congress were doing a better job on efforts to agree on a new federal budget, while 39 percent said Democrats and President Obama were doing better. Three percent said both sides deserved equal credit (or blame, I suppose) and 16 percent didn't have an opinion.

What's the solution to the stalemate? Well, 60 percent of respondents said both sides should compromise, while only 32 percent said their side should hold out for the plan it wants.

Democrats could interpret the endorsement of compromise as backing for something less than the cuts House Republicans have proposed, but they should be careful: 48 percent of those polled say the Democrats' plans don't go far enough in cutting federal spending, while only 29 percent say they're about right.

(Hat tip: National Journal)

Update, 4:39 p.m.: Here's some interesting new data: a National Journal poll of about 200 Democratic and Republican party officials, consultants ...

Putting a Value on Life, Governmentwide

By Charles S. Clark

Getting agencies on the same page on the value of a human life for legal purposes is no mean feat. A recent New York Times feature highlighted agency differences on the metaphysical question and efforts by the Office of Management and Budget to enforce a minimum of $5 million. That prompted a Union of Concerned Scientists staffer to write to the paper and suggest that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is being derelict by sticking with the same $3 million figure since 1995.

Angels on the head of a pin?

Moammar Gadhafi, Contract Administrator

The Atlantic Wire has a summary today of what news organizations are taking away from their dives into WikiLeaked State Department documents relating to Egyptian Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. There are some choice tidbits, ranging from his passion for flamenco dancing to the fact that he paid Mariah Carey $1 million to perform at a New Year's Eve concert in the Caribbean.

But my favorite piece of information is this: While Gadhafi appears more than a little erratic, he's apparently very concerned about public administration. "He examines every government contract above $200 million and personally scouts for officials to promote within the Libyan bureaucracy," according to the Atlantic Wire.

Getting Paid for Not Working

As Kellie Lunney notes, there's no guarantee that federal employees will get back pay if they end up getting furloughed in a government shutdown.

But some folks seem to be assuming there's nothing to worry about. Here's what one commenter had to say about a previous Fedblog item on the possibility of a shutdown:

Close the Government down. I was in the last close down and it was terrific. Unlike regular holidays this was unplanned so I had time to wax my car and do those other things that never get done. Ultimately, we got paid for not working.

Isn't that the supreme irony of shutdowns? History shows that in the event they happen, federal employees are made whole, and you have a situation in which would-be budget-cutters create the ultimate in government waste: actually paying people not to work. Which begs the question of whether this time around, the Tea Party folks will take a harder line on retroactive pay.

White House: Plans in Place for Shutdown

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling with President Obama on Air Force One Tuesday that the administration continues to believe that "we will be able to work out common ground" on budget issues with congressional leaders and avert a shutdown of government when current funding for agencies expires on March 4.

In the event those efforts fail, though, Carney said the executive branch would follow long-established plans for operating during a shutdown. "I'd simply state that there have been contingency plans for government shutdowns since 1980, and those plans are obviously updated accordingly, but they've been around for a long time," Carney said.

One of the All-Time Great Memos

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It must really have been something to work for former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In connection with a book he's promoting, Rumsfeld has made public some of the documents he generated during his tenure. National Journal highlights one particular memo today, written in 2003 to Douglas Feith, then undersecretary of Defense for policy. The subject is "Issues w/Various Countries."

I can't resist quoting the missive it in its entirety:

We need more coercive diplomacy with respect to Syria and Libya, and we need it fast. If they mess up Iraq, it will delay bringing our troops home.

We also need to solve the Pakistan problem.

And Korea doesn't seem to be going well.

Are you coming up with proposals for me to send around?

Thanks.