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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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A Cabinet Full of Entrepreneur Helpers

These days, Cabinet meetings are mostly for show, and generally designed to promote the idea that all departments are behind some aspect of the president's agenda. Today's meeting was a case in point. President Obama welcomed Karen Mills, administrator of the Small Business Administration, to the Cabinet, and emphasized that other agencies would be pitching in to help people who want to start their own businesses -- even some you might not expect.

Here's what the president said:

In addition, we've got all the Cabinet agencies, who are here represented. They are putting forward their own initiatives to enhance the ability of entrepreneurs to get up and running. So, for example, the Department of Homeland Security, my understanding is we're going to be talking about how we can improve the visa process for those who are interested in investing in the United States and starting businesses here in the United States.

I know that the Department of Commerce, Energy, and Education, as well as the SBA, are all launching complementary initiatives to support entrepreneurship as well. And so what we want to do is to make sure that every single agency, even as they're tending...

Regular Regulatory Habits

Cass Sunstein, administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, has never been shy about showcasing the administration's regulatory accomplishments. On Monday, he went a step further, writing in a blog post that the effort, ordered by President Obama a year ago, to "look back at existing rules, and to streamline, fix, or eliminate those that aren't working, is now becoming a regular part of agency practice."

Sunstein highlighted progress by individual agencies, noting that the Federal Communications Commission alone has eliminated 190 regulations. Others he singled out include the Commerce, State, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Labor, Homeland Security and Transportation departments, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

What Does BRAC Stand For?

Sharp-eyed followers of the current debate over defense cuts might notice an oddity in language.

What is officially called the Defense Base Closure and Realignment process takes the acronym BRAC -- even officially -- which logically would stand for Base Realignment and Closure, reversing the priorities and, one guesses, making the word more pronounceable.

Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan, a spokeswoman of the Office of the Defense Secretary, has an explanation.

"The 1988 authorizing act was the `Defense Authorization Amendments and Base Closure and Realignment Act' (PL 100-526), and although it did not formally name the commission, it referred to it as the Commission on Base Realignment and Closure," she told Government Executive in an email.

"The 1990 authorizing act (Public Law 101-510) -- which created the process for the 1991, 1993, 1995, and 2005 rounds -- was the `Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990,'" she continued. "At some point early in the process, folks began referring to the process and the commission as BRAC, even though the letters were out of order, and it stuck. We suspect the term BRAC is a remnant of the phrasing used in the 1988 act."

Interestingly, the BRAC Transition Center in Arlington, Va., one of the...

Who Gets to Occupy the Oval Office Next Year? Maybe Nobody

No matter who emerges victorious in this year's presidential campaign, the winner may not be able to occupy the Oval Office for at least part of next year, Washingtonian's "Capital Comment" blog reports. Ongoing renovations of the White House could force the president out of one of the most famous offices in the world.

In fact, much of the West Wing of the White House could be off-limits to the president and his team in 2013. It's all part of a renovation effort that has already seen much of the facility torn up for several years. The press office and briefing room was completely overhauled, and parts of the area around the Wing Wing currently are fenced off for ongoing work.

(Photo: Pete Souza/White House)

Patent and Trademark Office Sides with Beyonce, Jay-Z

If you're thinking you might be able to capitalize financially on the birth of Beyonce and Jay-Z's baby daughter, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has a message for you: Back off.

The Smoking Gun reports that a New York City clothing designer, Joseph Mbeh, tried to obtain a trademark for "Blue Ivy Carter NYC" for use on baby and toddler clothing. Not at all coincidentally, Blue Ivy Carter is the name of Beyonce and Jay-Z's newborn daughter.

A PTO attorney looked askance at the trademark request, noting that little Blue Ivy is a "famous infant," and that consumers would likely conclude that a clothing line in her name was somehow connected to her even more famous parents. Mbeh then thought better of the idea, and withdrew his application.

Apparently, though, PTO attorneys can expect to continue to have to deal with such efforts. Another New York firm already has tried to trademark "Blue Ivy Carter Glory IV" for use on such products as fragrances and body glitter. Good luck with that.
 

GAO Tastes Its Own Medicine

It would be wrong for an agency to pass judgment on the performance of others without willingness to subject itself to the same standards.

So perhaps the Government Accountability Office should be applauded for releasing on Thursday its Performance and Accountability report.

"In fiscal year 2011," GAO analysts wrote, "we met or exceeded 13 of our 15 annual performance targets by, for example, identifying $45.7 billion in financial benefits for the federal government -- a return of $81 for every dollar we spent -- and 1,318 improvements in broad program and operational areas across the government."

An impressive 80 percent of GAO's recommendations were implemented by agencies or Congress last year, and staff testified some 174 times before Congress.

The watchdog agency's 3,200 employees will continue to focus on three main challenges, their colleagues wrote: physical security, information security and human capital. They've also made "significant progress" on design of a new performance system. And, wrote Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, "We met or exceeded six of the targets for our seven people measures -- retention rate (with and without retirements), staff development, staff utilization, effective leadership by supervisors and organizational climate."

Defense Budget's Civilian Cuts -- Explained

The announcement of a new round of BRAC closures and some careful trimming of military pay raises might have been the biggest personnel news from the highlights of the fiscal 2013 Pentagon budget released Thursday.

But a statement about civilian federal workers tucked in the plan's "operations expenses and personnel costs" section of the budget warrants some explaining.

The document said it would save $60 billion over the next five years with some of those cuts coming from "reductions in planned civilian pay raises." It turns out that Defense must plan for what the White House is going to do with civilian pay; President Obama will propose a 0.5 percent pay raise for civilian employees in fiscal 2013.

The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe offers an explainer today: "The Pentagon had to make a guess on federal pay in order to write its budget, but the rate of civilian federal pay is proposed each year by the White House and set by Congress. (In this case, the military's bean counters guessed low -- but that's probably a smart guess considering the government's current financial condition.)"

HHS Works Below Political Radar

Conspicuous by its absence in President Obama's reelection campaign is a loud defense of the controversial Affordable Care Act, which many Republicans want to repeal and is up for review by the Supreme Court. But the Health and Human Services Department has been anything but silent on promoting the impact the law is having on diverse participants in the huge health care industry.

On Thursday, officials from HHS' new Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation gathered in Washington with some 1,000 medical professionals to showcase at least six new innovations authored by health care organizations. They include techniques for reversing the trend in diabetes, advances in treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's disease, and tools for improved resistance to HIV/AIDS.

"The Affordable Care Act gives us tremendous new tools to innovate and improve our health care system," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "We'll discuss how we can work together to make innovative ideas a reality in communities across the country."

Added innovation center director Dr. Richard Gilfillan, "The fact that all of these disparate interests share the aim of better health care and are willing to work for it not only means that...

A Sneak Preview of the New GovExec.com

You may have noticed the peel-back teaser in the upper right corner of our site these days, featuring a sneak peek at the new GovExec.com. (If not, click here to take a look -- and give us your feedback.)

We're excited about our fresh new look. But the changes are more than a facelift. We're adding key new elements to the user experience, making the site a critical all-day resource:

  • We'll be faster, posting not only our own breaking stories, but aggregating news and information from our technology-focused site, Nextgov.com, and our sister publications, The Atlantic and National Journal. Key articles and features will be highlighted at the top of the page.
  • The site will be more social and more interactive, with new and easier ways for users to share our content on Twitter, Facebook and other networks. And each article will include an updated comments section, enabling discussion around all of the subjects we cover.
  • Voices, a section featured front and center, will highlight our daily columns and blogs. It will provide in-depth analysis on subjects ranging from management to politics to leadership.
  • As major events develop, we'll create special reports pulling together key...

Preparing for School Lunches

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Tuesday night was revealed out to have been the one Cabinet member who traditionally stays away from the State of the Union address as a security precaution.

That assignment may have given him more time to prepare for his department's big event on Wednesday, the rollout in Fairfax, Va., with First Lady Michelle Obama, of new federal standards for school meals affecting 32 million school children.

The standards, which were last revised 15 years ago, are designed so that students are offered both fruits and vegetables daily; that they are served more grain-rich foods; that they drink fat-free or low-fat milk; that their total calories are limited depending on a child's age; and that they consume less saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.

"Improving the quality of the school meals is a critical step in building a healthy future for our kids," said Vilsack. "When it comes to our children, we must do everything possible to provide them the nutrition they need to be healthy, active and ready to face the future - today we take an important step towards that goal."