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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.

Shuttle Workers Get Job Search Help

Space Coast.bmpThe Office of Personnel Management and NASA are trying to do their part for the thousands of contract employees who are losing their jobs as a result of the end of the space shuttle program.

On Tuesday, the agencies hosted a job fair at the Radisson Cape Canaveral hotel in Florida. According to OPM, more than 1,000 people attended the event, hearing from federal agencies and private sector employers about job openings and getting tips on applying for federal jobs.

The workers "have these naturally transferable kinds of skills," Angela Bailey, OPM's associate director of employee services, told Greenwire. "The kinds of skills that might put the shuttle up in air are the same kind of skills used by Boeing or federal agencies to do things like green technology."

The 30 federal agencies represented at the fair included the Secret Service, Tramsportation Security Administration, Veterans Health Administration and Census Bureau. In addition, 32 companies participated.

What Is 'Big Government,' Really?

James Kwak has a highly instructive post at the Atlantic arguing that it's simply not helpful to think in terms of one monolithic "big government" that must be shrunk to get our budget deficit problem under control. In fact, he notes, what is traditionally thought of as "the government" (what he characterizes as "Everything Else" besides Social Security, Medicare and interest on the debt) is not getting bigger as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product:

In 1960, the last full year of the Eisenhower administration, taxes were 17.8 percent of GDP and primary spending (excluding interest) was 16.4 percent. Social Security took in and paid out 2.2 percent. Medicare didn't exist. So Everything Else had a primary surplus, with taxes at 15.6 percent and spending at 14.2 percent.

In 2010, in the supposed age of "big government," spending on Everything Else was only 14.7 percent of GDP, and that was swollen by the recession and stimulus spending. By 2021, according to the CBO's alternative fiscal scenario (the pessimistic one), spending on Everything Else will be 13.0 percent--less than in 1960. Everything Else tax revenues--that is, everything except the Social Security...

A Model Public Servant

staats.jpgThe world of public administration and accountability in government lost a giant this weekend.

Elmer B. Staats, a longtime public servant whose federal career culminated in a 15-year stint as Comptroller General of the United States and head of the General Accounting Office, died of congestive heart failure at Sibley Hospital in Washington. He was 97.

According to a GAO release, Staats started his career in 1939 at the Bureau of the Budget, now the Office of Management and Budget. He ended up serving at the agency under Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. In 1966, Johnson named him to head GAO, where he served until 1981.

After his service at GAO, Staats became president and later chairman of the board of trustees of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. He was a member of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board from 1984 to 1990.

Staats also was active in a variety of good government organizations. He was president of the American Society for Public Administration and was one of the founding members of the National Academy of Public Administration in 1967.

"I had the pleasure of working with Elmer for a number of years here at GAO," said current Comptroller...

Furloughs, Taxes and Airline Prices

The Federal Aviation Administration is in partial shutdown mode, after Congress failed to reach agreement late last week on a stopgap funding measure for the agency.

So is there any silver lining in this budgetary cloud? There might have been, reports J. Jennings Moss in Portfolio.com, but apparently it's not going to turn out that way:

For a brief moment, it seemed as though passengers might actually see an upside to the budget impasse. Without congressional authorization, the FAA is unable to collect certain taxes on tickets, about $30 on a $300 ticket. But never count out the airlines' ability to see a chance to make a few bucks. Airlines like American, JetBlue and others raised their prices over the weekend. The hike? About $30 on a $300 ticket.

Post-9/11 Report Card

Getting a jump on the wave of 9/11 retrospectives being prepared for this September, the Homeland Security Department on Thursday issued a 67-page progress report titled "Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations."

As one might expect, it says "the United States has made significant progress in securing the nation from terrorism" but notes that "work remains as the terrorist threats facing the country have evolved in the last ten years, and continue to change."

The report proceeds to address specific recommendations in such vital areas as information sharing, enhancing screening for explosives and protecting cyber networks and critical physical infrastructure. It concludes that "we are a more prepared and resilient nation, able to bounce back and rebuild stronger after a major crisis or disaster."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in response: "As the DHS self-administered report card notes, considerable progress has been made in achieving goals to strengthen our security. When it comes to our homeland security, however, we are truly only as strong as our weakest link. The assessment is correct that we have improved information sharing, but troubling examples of not connecting the dots persist, including the...

Love of Government

Michael E. Ruane has a nice piece in the Washington Post today on the famous "Sullivan Ballou letter," the heartbreaking piece of correspondence featured in Ken Burns' Civil War documentary. In case you've somehow managed not to be exposed to this letter, it was written by Ballou, a Union officer, to his wife Sarah just days before he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Bull Run in July 1861.

The letter is best remembered for its romantic flourishes. "If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved," Ballou tells Sarah, "I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights . . . always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by."

But Burns notes that the missive expresses other kinds of love as well: "It's a Grand Canyon of a letter," he tells Ruane. "You can read the strata of meaning. It's all about love. First and foremost is love of country. . . . It's about love of government. . . . It...

From Six to Five to Three?

The U.S. Postal Service could cut mail delivery in half in the future, according to the agency's top executive.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe on Tuesday told USA Today that he believes USPS will end Saturday delivery soon and within 15 years could consider delivering mail just three days a week.

Postal officials expect the agency to be $8 billion in the red by the end of the fiscal year and have been requesting legislative changes to ease the agency's financial burden, including the flexibility to drop a delivery day. Other changes include adjusting the size of the workforce, closing post offices for financial reasons and ending an obligation to prefund retiree health benefits at $5.5 billion annually.

Few lawmakers have actively supported USPS' request to drop to five-day delivery, however. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., have introduced legislation granting this flexibility, but other bills floating in Congress fail to address the issue.

Furlough Scare: Part II

Should federal employees be worried about furloughs if Congress and the administration don't reach a deal soon on raising the debt ceiling?

Yes, according to William Galston, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. "Without an agreement, the government won't have the money to pay federal employees, and most of them would have to be furloughed immediately, or within a few days," Galston wrote in response to a question during a live web chat Wednesday on the debt ceiling.

There is no clear roadmap for agencies or federal employees to follow if the government defaults on its obligations after Aug. 2. The ramifications might not be obvious in the short term. As long as there is money in the coffers, government operations will continue, but once funds start to dry up, the Obama administration will have to choose which employees and which services to continue paying -- politically painful decisions.

So will Uncle Sam have the money to pay his bills and run the daily operations of government?

"From Aug. 3 to Aug. 31, we'll take in about $170 billion, versus about $300 billion in legal obligations. The Republicans wants the Treasury Secretary [Geithner] to choose...

Are You More Likely to Die on the Job Than Get Fired?

USA Today is at it again, with another subtle, nuanced, balanced look at the federal workforce. The headline on this one: "Some federal workers more likely to die than lose jobs."

First off, not to put too fine a point on it, but I think all workers are more likely to die than lose their jobs. Unfortunately, your chances of death in this world are 100 percent. But what the article really means is that in some agencies, your chances of dying while holding a particular position are higher than being fired from it.

There's no question that federal agencies don't fire or lay off large numbers of employees. Federal managers' track record, on the whole, in dealing with poor performers is not exactly stellar, if you believe employee surveys. Still, there's once again an apples-to-oranges element to USA Today's analysis. By comparing federal agencies to the entire universe of private companies, the report doesn't take into account that government's workforce is more professional than the private sector as a whole.

Nona Willis Aronowitz of Good quotes Heather Boushey, senior economist for the Center for American Progress, on this point: "Many federal workers are...


The habitually businesslike Office of Management and Budget joined the Twitter generation today. An announcement from its press officers said, "We deal with a lot of big numbers in our daily work here at OMB, but now we will start focusing on a small one: 140."

After an inaugural tweet announcing the new account, the OMBers proceeded directly to tweets that deal not with dry numbers or management directives but rhetorical licks from the Obama administration on the continuing debate over raising the debt ceiling.

Get a taste here.