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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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What Are the Lessons Learned from the 2013 Shutdown? Agencies Have No Idea.

On Dec. 11, federal agency coffers are scheduled to run dry, creating the possibility for another government shutdown.

The key word there appears to be “another;” agencies went through the whole shutdown thing just one year ago, so they should be ready for it again. They should have learned from what happened in October  2013 to allow for a smoother potential shutdown and lessened disruption on operations, right?

Not so, says the Government Accountability Office.

A recent audit of three agencies’ response to last year’s shutdown found government offices never documented what they did during that time; they have no record of what worked well and what did not, what they might want to try again in a future lapse of appropriations or what they might need to rethink.

“[Office of Management and Budget] staff told us that after the shutdown, they did not direct agencies to update their contingency plans or document in another way how the shutdown was planned for, managed, or implemented in terms of lessons learned for future reference,” GAO wrote in the report.

The auditors said that “documenting what actually happened once a shutdown is over,” including how the agencies got back up and ...

One Way Officials Can Dodge a Question

Top federal officials who speak in public usually feel some obligation to submit to tough questions from the press—or from anyone in an audience who manages to get to the microphone. But retired federal officials may be a different story.

Just ask Ray McGovern, a long-time CIA analyst and active critic of recent U.S. military involvements and clampdowns on whistleblowers at national security agencies. On Oct. 30, McGovern was arrested and briefly jailed by New York City police for attempting to gain access to a speech by ex-CIA Director and Iraq war strategist Gen. David Petraeus.

“I had hoped to hear the photogenic but inept Petraeus explain why the Iraqi troops, which he claimed to have trained so well, had fled northern Iraq leaving their weapons behind at the first whiff of Islamic State militants earlier this year,” McGovern recounted in the Nov. 8 issue of Consortium News. “I even harbored some slight hope that the advertised Q & A might afford hoi polloi like me the chance to ask him a real question.”

McGovern, who had arranged for a friend to buy him a $50 ticket to hear Petraeus at the 92nd St. Young Men's and Young ...

Senator: Good Federal Employees Can’t Be Ordered on Amazon

Good federal employees cannot be mail ordered.

That was the closing argument from Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., the outgoing chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, at a hearing Wednesday to discuss a White House request for $6.2 billion in emergency funding to aid the fight against Ebola.

“We need to have a civil service that is reliable,” Mikulski said. “We can’t order it at Amazon.com.”

She went on to say lawmakers need to show they “respect” the federal service, which could be demonstrated by granting President Obama’s funding request.

“Just one year ago they were told they were not essential,” Mikulski said, referring to the 2013 government shutdown. “Now we’re asking them to risk their lives.”

Hundreds of civilian federal employees from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Institutes of Health; and State, Defense and Health and Human Services departments have been deployed to West Africa to fight the spread of Ebola, in addition to military personnel in the region. Unlike many in Congress, those workers are not taking “lavish trips,” but instead going to severely infected countries, Mikulski said.

Citing Obama’s funding request for Ebola and, more generally, tightened budgets due ...

Actually, the Elections Were About Making Government Work

Republicans are in an an ebullient mood this week, having exceeded their own electoral expectations by taking over the majority in the Senate and padding their advantage in House seats.

You might expect that this would unleash the firebrand side of the GOP, with renewed talk of slashing and burning the federal establishment and forcing President Obama to back down on efforts to expand government’s scope in areas ranging from health care to immigration.

But it’s remarkable how little of such rhetoric has been floating around. What we haven’t heard this week--at least not much, anyway--is much discussion of slashing the bureaucracy, deeply cutting agency budgets and shutting down government if Obama puts up any resistance.

That, says Republican pollster Frank Luntz, is because the election results were not an endorsement of a Republican revolution, but a plea on the the part of Americans for Washington to get things done.  Writing in the New York Times, Luntz said the elections “were less about the size of government than about making government efficient, effective and accountable.”

That means, first and foremost, not simply throwing sand in the gears of the process. Here’s what presumptive Senate Majority Leader ...

John Lennon and GAO’s High Risk List

Few agencies enjoy being perennials on the Government Accountability Office’s high-risk list of programs with deep program management issues.

But perhaps some will take comfort in the words spoken on Tuesday by Tim DiNapoli, GAO’s director of acquisition and sourcing management, at a panel discussion on best practices for agencies still haunting the list, which has been compiled biennially since 1990.

Intending to encourage managers of the blacklisted programs not to lose hope, DiNapoli said, “I’m reminded of the words of John Lennon, who wrote, `You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,’ ” a reference to the late Beatle’s 1971 classic hymn to world peace “Imagine.”

Interagency contracting was taken off the high-risk list in 2013, “so it’s not impossible,” he assured colleagues.

Joseph Waddell, deputy associate administrator for acquisition and project management at the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, noted that even though his large-scale projects have been on the list for decades, his team benefits from GAO’s oversight and finds its employees “reasonable,” though they approach  agencies’ struggling to resolve problems “in the mode of `show us, don’t tell us.’ ”

Harry Hallock, deputy ...