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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 Double Dose of Luck for the Park Service

National Park Service staff at Arlington House in Virginia are celebrating their good fortune of late, having received not one but two significant gifts from private donors.

On Oct. 9, park rangers at the onetime home of the Custis and Lee families overlooking Arlington Cemetery unveiled  for reporters a striking Civil War-era stereo-view photograph of the enslaved Lee family housekeeper Selina Gray. It’s the second known image of an identifiable person among the 63 slaves owned by Robert E. Lee, but it’s also important because Gray played a leading role in preserving artifacts from George Washington’s family when they were threatened with looting by occupying Union troops.

The find illustrates the value of modern digital communications. Arlington House volunteer researcher Dean DeRosa, a specialist in vintage photography, discovered a Briton was selling the photo on eBay.

The opening bid? $20. The final sale price? $700, which the Park Service was able to come up with thanks to a donation from the private nonprofit friends group Save Historic Arlington House.

The second blessing is that the image—taken in front of the former slave quarters now used as exhibit space—will now be displayed more prominently in a ...

How to Stump the Smartest Man in Obama’s Cabinet

Billed as “the smartest man in President Obama’s Cabinet,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was a good sport during a Saturday appearance on the National Public Radio quiz show “Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!

Moniz, who has chaired the Physics Department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, calmly took the ribbing for his erudition from motor-mouth host Peter Sagal and his comedian co-conspirators. But the jabs were mostly about his “California in the 1970s” long hair, which Moniz noted has been described as the “best hair in the Cabinet since 1794.” He wowed the panel by insisting that, though he’s not a “nerd,” he does get approached by strangers who are young scientists expressing their awe at his scientific achievements.

Moniz took the broadcast opportunity to educate the national audience by promoting the president’s climate change initiative, labeling solar as his “favorite energy source” and noting the Energy Department’s role since World War II (by predecessor agencies) in caring for the nation’s nuclear weapons.

Sagal noted that Moniz’s predecessor on Obama’s team, Steven Chu, also appeared on “Wait, Wait…” four years ago.

The current Energy secretary was then hit with three trivia questions related ...

DHS Chief to Washington Post: Actually, 90 Percent of our Senior Positions Are Filled

With all he has on his plate at a time of border crossings and threats from ISIS, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson took time to rebut a long Washington Post feature faulting his massive department for heavy turnover.

The Post’s Sept. 22 front-page article “disregarded the present,” Johnson wrote in a letter to the editor published Wednesday.

The Post had charged that DHS employees over the past four years have left “at a rate nearly twice as fast as in the federal government overall, and the trend is accelerating, according to a review of a federal database. The departures are a result of what employees widely describe as a dysfunctional work environment, abysmal morale, and the lure of private security companies paying top dollar that have proliferated in Washington since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.”

But Johnson argued that during his tenure, “in the past nine months, there have been 12 presidential appointments to senior-level positions…In fact, 90 percent of all positions at the senior, executive-service level and above across this 240,000-person department are filled.”

He then listed the top executives either in place or as nominations pending in the Senate. “Over nine months, this department has ...

Amazing True Stories of the Bureaucracy!

Have you heard about the big scandal at the Veterans Affairs Department? Thought so. How about Dr. William A. Bauman and Ann M. Spungen of the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, who have worked tirelessly for years to help people with spinal cord injuries? Didn't think so.

Have you heard about the United States’ struggles to respond to the ebola epidemic in Africa? Thought so. How about Dr. Rana Hajjeh, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who led a campaign to get 60 countries to adopt the use of a vaccine against Haemophilus influenza type b that is projected to save the lives of 7 million children by 2020? Didn’t think so.

Have you heard about the billions of dollars government has lost to Medicare fraud? Thought so. How about special agents Omar Perez Aybar and Reginald J. France of the Office of the Inspector General at the Health and Human Services Department, who teamed up with the Justice Department to win 685 convictions and return nearly $1 billion to the Medicare Trust Fund? Didn’t think so.

All of the people named above are winners of this year’s ...

Ex-IRS Executive Lerner Breaks 15 Months of Silence

After 15 months of silence since invoking her Fifth Amendment rights before Congress, Lois Lerner, the former Internal Revenue Service executive whom Republicans place at the center of the targeting controversy, has weighed in.

In an exclusive two-hour interview with Politico, the former head of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division and her attorneys displayed some attitude toward her accusers and described her inability to find a new job.

Direct discussion of how she may have mishandled applications for tax-exempt status from conservative nonprofits, however, was off-limits due to the ongoing legal battle.

Lerner “has been painted in one dimension: as a powerful bureaucrat scheming with the Obama administration to cripple right-leaning nonprofits,” wrote reporter Rachael Bade. “Interviews with about 20 of her colleagues, friends and critics and a survey of emails and other IRS documents, however, reveal a much more complicated figure than the caricature she’s become in the public eye.”

Though some ex-colleagues said she played favorites, had a temper and made snap judgments, others called her highly professional, noting that she called hundreds of employees to boost morale. Lerner also did volunteer work rescuing animals after Hurricane Katrina, Politico noted.

Friends told Politico Lerner didn’t talk ...