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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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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 ...

Federal Employees Really, Really Like Their Health Benefits

Federal employees are happy with their health care benefits.

Ecstatic, in fact.

A new survey from Morning Consult shows near across-the-board satisfaction with the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Nearly 100 percent of respondents—99 percent, to be exact—said they are satisfied with their health care coverage under FEHBP.

About 97 percent of respondents—both current employees and retirees—said they are satisfied with the number of plan options in the program, while 96 percent are satisfied with the value of their plan.

FEHBP enrollees will pay an average of 3.8 percent more toward their health care premiums in 2015, which the Office of Personnel Management has called a relatively low increase.

At least three-quarters of respondents are either “very” or “extremely” satisfied with their coverage across the three categories. Not a single respondent answered “not at all satisfied.”

Morning Consult conducted the survey of 500 current or retired federal employees from Nov. 1 to 13. The margin of error is 4.4 percent.

(Image via Syda Productions/Shutterstock.com)

Writing the Book on Moneyball Government

From the moment the movie version of Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball opened three years ago, folks have pushed to adapt its themes of data-driven decision-making to the federal space. Now these ideas have been collected in a new book written by a conspicuously bipartisan roster of Washington insiders.

Titled Moneyball for Government (Disruption Books), the book repeatedly riffs on the original Moneyball, a tale of how Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane put together a winning team with baseball’s smallest player payroll.

“At its heart, moneyball is about crunching numbers and relying on hard evidence—not emotion or tradition—to drive decisions about allocating scarce resources,” write Jim Nussle and Peter Orszag in the book’s introduction. Nussle is a former Iowa Republican congressman and budget director under President George W. Bush, and Orszag was  President Obama’s first budget director after previously heading the Congressional Budget Office.

Many in government, of course, are already moneyballers. Researchers “are coming to conclusions that are reducing homelessness and improving hospice care,” writes former Bush top economic adviser Glenn Hubbard in Moneyball for Government. “They’re simplifying financial aid forms and boosting college enrollment for disadvantaged students,” using many of the same ...