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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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The Ambassadorial Confirmation Scorecard

The Senate’s last-minute flurry of ambassadorial confirmations was no doubt better than gridlock for the American Foreign Service Association. That union has long complained of extended vacancies in key overseas posts due to Senate internal politics, and earlier this year took a rare position criticizing the Obama administration for nominating too many campaign donors with questionable expertise in the host nation.

In December, the Senate approved 14 ambassadors—among them envoys to Afghanistan and India—along with three key State Department leaders, including the new Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

But according to AFSA’s tally, that still left 12 ambassador nominees hanging after months in limbo, along with four candidates for senior State positions. (Hotel executive and Obama campaign donor George Tsunis, who waited 462 days with hope of being ambassador to Norway, told Newsday this month he is withdrawing.)

Here are those in limbo, along with their time in line:

Ambassadors
Nominee Position Date Nominated Days Waiting Home State FSO or Appointee
John Estrada Trinidad and Tobago 07/31/13 504 FL Political (*)
George Tsunis Norway 09/11/13 462 NY Political (*)
Cassandra Butts Bahamas 02/10/14 308 DC Political (*)
S. Fitzgerald Haney Costa Rica ...

The New American Ambassador to New Zealand is a Former Baseball Player

Early in 2014, The Daily Show ran a segment examining the credentials of ambassadors-to-be during their confirmations. Examples included since-confirmed Noah B. Mamet and Robert C. Barber -- neither of whom had traveled to their posts in Argentina and Iceland, respectively -- and former Sen. Max Baucus, who declared that he is "no real expert on China" before being sent to one of the United States' largest trade partners.

Jon Stewart's show featured another segment earlier this month on the highly visible political appointees at the State Department, showing Mamet and his admission that he does not -- unlike over 35 million Americans -- speak fluent Spanish. This segment also featured Colleen Bell, the newly-confirmed Ambassador to Hungary, who is a television producer responsible for The Bold and the Beautiful.

The crux of criticism against the ambassadorships is that these people were nominated solely because they are Democratic bundlers for Obama's campaigns. Barber, Mamet and Bell all raised more than 500,000 for Obama's 2012 presidential campaign, with Barber raising over $1.5 million.

Expect more criticism for the man now on his way to be the ambassador to New Zealand. Mark Gilbert is a banking executive, a member of Obama ...

How to Beat Bureaucracy and Change a Federal Agency

You can’t turn around a federal bureaucracy--certainly not in the limited amount of time the typical political appointee is at the helm of an agency. Genuine innovation is difficult, if not impossible, in the public sector. There’s no way to manage a government organization and its programs to win support across the political spectrum.

If you believe any or all of these things, you won’t get much in the way of evidence for your position from Rajiv Shah, the outgoing head of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Shah told his staff Wednesday that he’ll be stepping down in mid-February, presumably to pursue a political career or some other form of public service. He will leave behind a legacy of transforming his agency over five years by fundamentally changing the way it operates.

USAID’s traditional approach was to funnel billions of dollars in federal funds to large American contractors, who then distributed it overseas. Shah, who worked at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation before entering government (he served at the Agriculture Department early in the Obama administration before taking the helm at USAID) shifted the emphasis to directly funding local groups and tapping ...

Federal Employees Honored in Time's 'Person of the Year'

Think all the rhetoric toward federal employees is negative and inflammatory?

Well, you’re mostly right. But in a rare exception, some federal employees were recognized in Time’s Person of the Year.

The annual recognition went to “Ebola fighters,” and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health both receive special shout-outs in the write up.

Two NIH employees -- NIH virologists Nancy Sullivan and Gary Nebel, who have worked on an Ebola vaccine -- received direct mentions.

CDC Director Thomas Frieden was quoted in the story, while the agency’s response efforts drew major praise.

“The CDC, a large and very well-regarded public-health agency, is unsurpassed in its capacity for action, maintaining some 2,000 field workers in 60 countries around the world,” Time wrote. “Those workers in turn can often summon resources from the U.S. to smother epidemics in their infancy abroad.”

The article went on to cite CDC’s training of local volunteers in the “crucial techniques of tracing and evaluating the contacts of Ebola patients.”

So while the federal bureaucracy remains the scourge of many lawmakers and talking heads, at least some federal employees are basking in appreciation. A small victory ...

A Beatle’s Role in Obama’s Immigration Order

While conservatives continue to attack the constitutionality of President Obama’s recent immigration executive order, a voice from the past has emerged to take credit for some of its legal underpinnings.

Michael Wildes, a New York City attorney whose father represented the late ex-Beatle John Lennon in his famous early 1970s battle to avoid deportation by the Nixon administration, has weighed in with an essay bound to thrill the average music-loving Baby Boomer.

“The recent steps announced by President Obama to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and now to offer deferred action to certain parents of U.S. and permanent residents have their roots in the John Lennon case,” Wildes wrote in a Dec. 2 op-ed in the North Jersey Record.

British citizen John Lennon and his Japan-born-but-American-raised wife Yoko Ono “were placed in deportation proceedings precipitously in 1972 when their request for an extension of their visitors' stay was summarily denied,” the essay said. The reason “was not because they had broken any American law, but simply because then-President Richard Nixon felt that their presence in the United States could adversely affect his chances for reelection.”

During the five-year battle, immigration officials publicly said they were ...