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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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Why Government Matters

When the deep economic recession hit in 2008, the unemployment rate doubled, from 5 percent to 10 percent. Experts on criminal behavior predicted that this would lead, almost inevitably, to a spike in crime. When times get bad, the theory goes (and history, to a large degree, shows), more people turn to a life of crime.

But in this recession, the opposite happened: Crime rates fell. In 2009, the FBI reported an 8 percent drop in robberies nationwide and a 17 percent reduction in auto thefts. Cities across the country also reported declines in crime.

James Q. Wilson, a senior fellow at the Clough Center at Boston College who also has taught at Harvard, UCLA and Pepperdine (and who wrote the seminal public administration text Bureaucracy) explores the reasons why this is the case in a piece published in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend.

A primary reason, it turns out, is action taken by government at all levels. In some ways, the effects of government intervention are direct and obvious: With stepped-up efforts to punish criminal behavior, the United States has a high incarceration rate compared to the rest of the developed world. Not only that, but policing...

Bid to Delay BRAC Moves Advances

Traffic.jpgBy Charles S. Clark

The push by Northern Virginia lawmakers to delay Pentagon plans to move thousands of employees to new digs in Alexandria got a major boost on Thursday with House passage of the fiscal 2012 Defense authorization bill. The legislation includes a cap on parking at the newly completed Mark Center off of I-95, a tactic employed by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., to force the Defense Department to cough up money for traffic abatement (new exit ramps, for example) as part of his longstanding opposition to moves required for national security reasons by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

"This parking cap is critical to prevent a traffic nightmare that will be caused by full occupation of the Mark Center this fall," said Moran. "The alternative is unendurable delays on already overcrowded roads."

Also in the bill is a provision giving authority to the Defense Secretary to delay seven BRAC relocations for up to one year. Some 20,000 employees of various Army offices and agencies such as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency are being moved from sites such as Bethesda, Md., and the Arlington neighborhood of Crystal City out to Fort Belvoir in Fairfax. About 6,400...

Blinded Vets Visit British Comrades

As most Americans gear up to kick of a summer of barbecuing and beachgoing this Memorial Day weekend, a group of blinded military veterans are on a different kind of mission.

Under an initiative known as Project Gemini, the Blinded Veterans Association, headquartered in Washington, and St. Dunstan's, a British group dedicated to supporting the country's blind veterans, has arranged for six American vets to visit London and meet some of their British comrades. The idea, says BVA, is to "provide veterans who have lost their sight recently with examples of and opportunities to interact with men and women who have led happy and prosperous lives despite their blindness."

The group also was scheduled to visit American military staff and Foreign Service personnel at the U.S. Embassy in London and compare the British veterans' health care system with the network of facilities operated by the Veterans Affairs Department in the United States.

The group includes Operation Iraqi Freedom blinded veterans Douglas Cereghin of Phoenix, Ariz.; Jeffrey Mittman of New Palestine, Ind.; and Andrew Tong of Snoqualmie, Wash. Also traveling is Steven Beres, who was blinded in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

British Forces News has video of...

At DoD, No Raises for Underperformers

If you're in the approximately 1 percent of Defense civilian employees whose job performance is rated "below satisfactory," the House of Representatives wants to send you a message: You're not getting a raise.

Stephen Losey reports in Federal Times that the 2012 Defense authorization bill, which passed the House Thursday, contains a provision that would deny poor performers annual across-the-board pay increases approved by Congress (well, the raises that used to be approved before the pay freeze went into effect). Under the measure, underperforming civilians still would be eligible for step increases within the General Schedule system.

"An incentive is necessary to entice these employees to improve their job performance," the House Armed Services Committee said in its report on the Defense bill.

JFK on Moon Shot: An Expensive 'Stunt'?

Apollo11.jpg John F. Kennedy may be well known for issuing the challenge to the United States to land on the moon and return safely to Earth by the end of the 1960s, but privately he expressed doubts about how expensive the endeavor would be, James Warren writes at The Atlantic.

"This looks like a hell of a lot of dough to go to the moon when you can go -- you can learn most of that you want scientifically through instruments and putting a man on the moon really is a stunt and it isn't worth that many billions," Kennedy told NASA Administrator James Webb on Sept. 18, 1963, just a little more than two months before the president was assassinated.

The conversation was revealed in tapes made public Wednesday in connection with the 50th anniversary of the speech to Congress in which Kennedy issued his moon-shot challenge. It is a dramatic foreshadowing of the debate that has dogged NASA ever since over whether various human space flight endeavors are worth the cost.

Rebecca Carroll has more on NASA's budget woes, including more detail on Kennedy's concerns about the cost of getting to the moon, in the June issue...

Women Making Progress in Breaking Glass Ceiling

womeningov.jpgThe glass ceiling for women in the federal workforce isn't the barrier it used to be, according to a new report from the Merit Systems Protection Board. But it hasn't completely disappeared.

The report, Women in the Federal Government: Ambitions and Achievements, concludes that in the past two decades, "the federal government has made substantial progress in hiring and advancing women in the federal workforce." More women now hold professional and administrative jobs, which provide the greatest opportunities for advancement, and the increase in the percentage of women in the executive ranks has exceeded projections in a landmark 1992 MSPB study of women in the federal workforce.

Women now hold 44 percent of professional and administrative positions in government, and make up about 30 percent of the Senior Executive Service. They are about as likely as men to be promoted.

MSPB's analysis of promotion rates "supports a belief that the prevalence and force of stereotypical assumptions about the abilities and appropriate roles of women have greatly diminished," according to the report.

Still, the report noted, women remain less likely than men to be serving in high-paying jobs and supervisory positions. And their numbers are relatively low in...

Gen. McChrystal Speaks

McChrystal.jpg

We wrapped up the first of our three day-long Excellence in Government conferences this evening with a closing keynote by retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

He talked about his "plywood" theory of leadership, inspired by the building material of choice for military forces in Afghanistan. (The theory has to do with being adaptable and relying on multiple layers of strength in an organization to bond together to form a stronger building material).

Along the way, he made several observations about leadership, in the context of both the military and civilian worlds. The events of Sept. 11, McChrystal said, represented a "failure of leadership at many levels." While a great deal of information about terrorist plotters was available prior to the attacks, he said, "a lot of people didn't coordinate well enough to protect Americans."

On the issue of facilitating coordination within organizations, McChrystal said properly using technology was critical. "People say, 'I'm not a technical person, I'm a people person.' I say that's absolute hogwash."

He was forthright in addressing questions about his unplanned retirement in the wake of a controversial Rolling Stone article about his tenure as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, saying he...

HUD Glass Called Half-Full

By Charles S. Clark

Last week's Washington Post investigative series blasting the Housing and Urban Development Department for failing to follow up on 1,300 stalled or abandoned housing projects around the country prompted a rebuttal.

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In a letter the Post published on May 21 about the series titled "Million-Dollar Wasteland," David M. Cohen, director of HUD's HOME Investment Partnership Program from 1990 to 1994, said reporters Debbie Cenziper and Jonathan Mummolo "painted a distorted picture" by citing troubled projects and highlighting a few dramatic failures that occurred in a troubled housing market.

"In looking at 5,100 active projects, they found that 1,300 (25 percent) were delayed or defunct," Cohen wrote, adding that out of $30 billion spent by HUD, only $650 million, or 2 percent, was spent on unfruitful projects. "Left unstated: Despite the daunting challenge of producing affordable housing during a crippling recession, 75 percent appeared to be moving toward completion."

SEC Data Breach Affects 4,000 Employees

About 4,000 employees of the Securities and Exchange Commission have been notified that their Social Security numbers and other payroll information were sent out in an unencrypted email message, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The email was sent May 4 by a contractor at the Interior Department's National Business Center, which handles payroll processing for numerous federal agencies. Such messages are supposed to be encrypted. A department spokesman said there's no indication anyone intercepted the data, which only was exposed for about a minute.

Still, employees have been offered 60 days of free credit monitoring to determine if any data fell into the wrong hands.

How About If We Just Stop Paying Congress?

With Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., openly floating the idea that if we exhaust all options for avoiding the debt ceiling by Aug. 2, the government could just stop paying federal employees and members of Congress for awhile, Reuters blogger Felix Salmon asks a question: When it comes to Congress, why wait?

But here's what I don't understand: we've already reached the debt ceiling. At this point, [Treasury Secretary Timothy] Geithner can point at just about anything and say that it's an expenditure we can't afford right now, and we'll have to put it off until the debt ceiling is raised. Why doesn't he just do that with all Congressional salaries? If the House Republicans had to live without pay between now and when the debt ceiling is raised, that would surely concentrate their minds a bit.

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)