GovExec.com at 10, Part Two: The Big Stories

When we launched GovExec.com 10 years ago, we figured we'd add brief news updates (mostly summaries of stories in other publications) a few times a week, and refresh the site with repurposed content from the print magazine once a month. That approach lasted less than 24 hours, before Government Executive Editor Timothy B. Clark strolled down the hall and asked a question of our online publishing team -- consisting of our webmaster, Michael Reeder; one grossly underpaid part-time intern, Brian Friel (whose byline GovExec readers would become very familiar with over the following decade, and who still contributes a column to each issue of the print magazine from his current perch at National Journal); and me (also on a part-time basis, since I was then spending most of my time editing stories for the print magazine).

"What's new on the site today?" Clark asked. "After all, we're in the news business now, right?"

With the bar thus raised, we did our best to respond. Ten years later, we've had the opportunity to cover more than 20,000 stories, from the mundane to the historic. We cut our teeth on the Clinton administration's reinventing government effort. At the moment we launched, the "reinvention revolution" was giving way to a second-term effort that focused more on cutting programs, staff and budgets than on empowering front-line workers and eliminating regulations. Indeed, in our first month online, we asked, "What Happened to REGO?"

Some stories never seem to change. Does this 1998 headline sound familiar? "Clinton Approves 3.6 Percent Pay Raise." How about this one from the same year? Federal Benefits Outweigh Private Sector's."

Other stories stood out more boldly. Some of our most memorable came on election nights, both when the results were clear-cut and when they weren't.

By the time the Supreme Court sorted it all out in 2000, we were bold enough to issue some advice to George W. Bush: "Attention, Mr. President: Federal Management Matters." And we were there when he issued his response, in the form of the President's Management Agenda.

Just days later, that agenda would be overshadowed by the tragedy of Sept. 11. We published 10 stories on that day's events, followed by hundreds more over the following weeks. We became a virtual round-the-clock news operation, with reporters dispatched to New York and dashing back and forth to the Pentagon to file stories that our small staff struggled to edit and post as quickly as we could. In the midst of the horror, confusion -- and then the steely resolve to go to battle against a new kind of foe -- we were never more proud of the people who we are fortunate enough to report and write about on a daily basis.

In Sept. 11's aftermath, we were among the first news organizations to report on and publish the Bush administration's complete plan to create a new Homeland Security Department. We followed up with dozens of stories on the movement of the plan through the legislative process. When bargaining rights for federal employees became the key sticking point in the battle over the legislation, we were there to provide expertise on relations between public employee unions and the administration.

Later in 2002, our reporter Jason Peckenpaugh, relying on sources he had cultivated over more than a year, broke the story that the Army was planning the most ambitious federal outsourcing effort ever, putting more than 200,000 jobs up for competition with the private sector. Soon, Army agencies, federal labor unions and congressional offices were abuzz with the news. By Nov. 3, The Washington Post had published a Page One story on the controversy, noting that the GovExec.com story had started the furor.

In the years since, our reporters have produced other groundbreaking stories too numerous to count. Here are just a few examples:

But in the midst of all the big stories, sometimes it's the little things that stick out. Like Peckenpaugh's suggestion that we launch a recurring feature to fact check a fairly popular little TV show called The West Wing. Or the time in December 2001 when Friel jumped on top of a White House announcement that President Bush had decided to give federal workers Dec. 24 off, with pay. In just one afternoon, the story received 80,000 hits, as employees, managers and executives e-mailed the link to the piece back and forth. Our "little engine that could" server at the time buckled under the strain, but held up.

Sort of like GovExec.com as a whole over the past 10 years.

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