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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.

Bill Would Afford Benes to New Dawn Vets

Veterans serving during Operation New Dawn in Iraq would be eligible for VA health care benefits under a bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif. Operation New Dawn began Sept. 1, 2010, and marked the official end of Operation Iraqi Freedom and combat operations in Iraq.

The legislation ensures that service during Operation New Dawn would be considered military service, and vets would receive VA hospital care, medical services and nursing home care.

Filner, the ranking member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, introduced a similar bill in September 2010.

Soft Landing For Postmasters?

The U.S. Postal Service may be downsizing, but the agency aims to take care of employees to the extent it can, according to a top official.

USPS on Thursday proposed changes to the process for closing postal facilities that would streamline the review process and cut the total time from 18 months to just 138 days. The new rule also would allow postmasters to manage more than one post office location.

The overhaul comes in the midst of a complete restructuring of agency operations and the postal workforce. USPS last week kicked off a voluntary early retirement process and began offering $20,000 buyouts to employees in an effort to cut 7,500 administrative and supervisory jobs.

According to Dean Granholm, vice president of delivery and post office operations at USPS, it's difficult to say which postmasters will be affected by post office closures. But employees can rest a bit easier knowing the Postal Service tries to take care of its own, he added.

"It would result in fewer postmasters over time," said Granholm. "We do have a lot of vacant positions...we have a long tradition of ensuring we have landing spots for employees. Even in this...

Sign of the Times?

You know those signs that seem to adorn every federal building, at least in the Washington area? The plain, gray, extremely functional, just-the-facts, relic-of-the-70s slabs that identify federal buildings? At first glance, they'd appear to be indestructible.

But the Washington Post reports today on the curious case of one of the signs, in front of IRS headquarters downtown. It was suddenly and mysteriously ripped apart last month, and now stands as a shredded hulk of its former self -- and possibly a symbol of public attitudes toward all of government right now. This being the IRS, after all, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that a disgruntled taxpayer simply couldn't take it any more and took a sledgehammer to the sign in the dark of night.

But nothing that nefarious or symbolic actually happened, the IRS insists. Officials say the sign was ripped apart in the high winds that tore through the Washington area on Feb. 25. Since the gales did reach as high as 65 miles per hour that day, it's certainly a plausible explanation. Still, the IRS won't agree to show the security footage confirming it, so, really, who knows?

USPS Delivery Cuts Will Save, But...

The U.S. Postal Service is likely to save a significant sum by eliminating a delivery day, but a new watchdog report suggests the actual figure is dependent --in part -- upon the productivity of the agency's workforce in the remaining weekdays.

The Government Accountability Office on Tuesday determined that the Postal Service could achieve "substantial" savings by cutting Saturday delivery, but the agency would have to increase its efficiency Monday through Friday. If city letter carriers do not boost their productivity, USPS will miss out on $500 million in savings, the report said. Postal officials have estimated nearly $3.1 billion savings per year with a shift to five-day delivery.

The Postal Regulatory Commission last week issued an advisory opinion on the issue, noting that the Postal Service overestimated potential savings and underestimated potential losses in revenue associated with dropping Saturday delivery. The actual savings would be approximately $1.7 billion annually, but only after three years, according to the PRC.

GAO also noted that eliminating Saturday delivery alone would not solve the Postal Service's current financial predicament. Additional restructuring is necessary, and other issues, such as the agency's obligation to prefund retiree health benefits and its...

DeMint: Cut Collective Bargaining

After pay freezes and furloughs, a ban on collective bargaining rights for federal employees may be the next topic of discussion for lawmakers.

In a recent interview with ThinkProgress, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said he'd like to see collective bargaining eliminated for all government employees. Currently, most federal workers can bargain over some workforce issues. Airport screeners at the Transportation Security Administration, one of the most notable exceptions, recently were granted limited bargaining privileges.

"I think it just doesn't make sense," DeMint said. "When we're elected as representatives to determine the fiscal condition of the government, then to have an unelected third party bargaining at the table with monopoly power, it just doesn't make any sense."

Watch the interview:

New Collective Bargaining Pact at VA

The largest federal employee union and the Veterans Affairs Department signed a new collective bargaining agreement that expands training and telework opportunities for VA workers.

The American Federation of Government Employees on Monday announced the pact, which covers more than 200,000 workers at the department. The agreement replaces the previous contract signed in 1997.

"This master agreement is on the cutting edge of technology and incorporates wellness, telework, partnership and many other initiatives designed to make the Department of Veterans Affairs an employer of choice," said Alma Lee, president of AFGE's National VA Council.

The contract also adds protections to health care employees exposed to hazards on-the-job while treating veterans and clarifies worker rights and protections under Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Pay Raise Payback

Recent pay raises awarded to top career executives at three federal agencies were an honest mistake and will be returned to the government, according to an administration official.

Nancy Kichak, associate director for employee services at OPM, said on Tuesday that 220 senior executives at the Energy Department, along with nearly 20 employees at two other federal agencies, will have to pay back performance-based awards they received in December 2010.

Energy last week informed its senior executives that it would revoke performance-based pay raises awarded late last year. According to Kichak, the law prohibits agencies from awarding performance-based increases more than once in a calendar year. The affected executives already received bonuses in January 2010.

Kichak said OPM discovered the error while reviewing a routine data submission and informed Energy of the problem. Energy officials then took corrective action and asked executives to return the overpayments. This hasn't happened in past years, but Energy wasn't trying to duck the pay freeze in awarding its bonuses early, she said.

"I think someone just got their wires crossed," she said. "We just know that they made a mistake. Agencies are allowed to change their performance cycle, so if an agency...

Shutdown Odds Increase

The chances that government will shut down when the latest continuing resolution runs out on April 8 just got a lot bigger. National Journal reports that Republican leaders have backed away from a tentative deal to cut $30 billion from fiscal 2011 spending levels -- a figure that would have met the GOP halfway on its goal of slashing $61 billion this year. The tea party wing of the party apparently still is in no mood for compromise, while Senate Democrats can't muster the votes to pass any spending bill yet.

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein says that at this point, if he were betting, he'd put his money on a shutdown:

The negotiations have become too acrimonious, the issues at their heart too numerous and personal to the parties, to make a deal likely even in normal circumstances. But in circumstances in which newly elected Republicans are trying to prove to their base that they won't catch Beltway fever and compromise while Democrats are trying to prove they won't get pushed around by a party that controls a minority of the federal government? A deal seems near impossible.

On the plus side, all that's...

Gas-Guzzling Federal Fleet

gas.jpgDespite efforts by the Obama administration to push the use of economic stimulus funds to update the federal fleet with more fuel-efficient vehicles, federal agencies' gas consumption is on the rise, Federal Times reports.

General Services Administration data indicate the total amount agencies consumed (excluding gas used in military vehicles) jumped 7 percent last year, the biggest increase in five years.

What accounts for the jump in fuel consumption? One big factor is a growing fleet of law enforcement vehicles across several agencies, which are exempt from federal mandates to cut down on petroleum use.

Pay Freezes: More Harm Than Good?

Pay freezes and other restrictions on federal compensation could hurt the government more than help it, a leading budget analyst said on Thursday.

"Yes, you can get some savings, but in the long run, I think it could be counterproductive," said Jim Horney, Vice President for Federal Fiscal Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, during a conference call on the center's new report outlining a framework for deficit reduction.

Horney said recent legislative proposals to cap federal employees' pay, freeze bonuses, and reduce other benefits could make recruiting and retaining an able government workforce even harder than it already is. "It is absolutely important that we have a highly skilled and highly motivated federal workforce."

President Obama has proposed and Congress have agreed on a two-year pay freeze for federal workers, which the administration estimates will save $28 billion during the next five years. A recent report from the Congressional Budget Office said reducing annual pay increases for federal civilian workers and military personnel would save the government billions of dollars during the next decade. Lawmakers have introduced a raft of legislation ranging from eliminating pensions for federal employees hired in 2013 and after to denying...