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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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Did Big Government End Slavery?

The debate over the size of the federal government took a turn for the absurd this week, as former Sen. Jim DeMint, now head of the Heritage Foundation, found himself in the spotlight for mounting an argument that big government had nothing to do with ending slavery in the United States.

Appearing on a radio talk show, DeMint said “a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people. It did not come from the federal government.” In fact, he said, the “real reason” the slaves were freed was the Constitution, which “kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God.”

In the end, DeMint insisted, “no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.”

There were a couple of problems here, as many commentators pointed out. The first is that the “all men are created equal” language DeMint highlights appears in the Declaration of Independence, not ...

A Symbolic Victory for Open Office Setups

The General Services Administration has won at least a symbolic victory that should help its push for the "Total Workplace."

That’s the office design—now in place at GSA’s F Street headquarters and recommended to other agencies—aimed at achieving savings and collaboration through desk sharing, telecommuting and mobile devices.

GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini has made no secret of the fact that he embraced the idea after a trip to New York City in 2012, during which he saw the famous “bullpen” office arrangement used by the top aides to then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The downsides to the open office, critics note, are reduced privacy and the distractions of noise. Debate over such issues even entered into the 2013 New York mayoral election, the one that resulted in the swearing in of Democrat Bill de Blasio this January.

After multiple inquiries to City Hall from Government Executive, de Blasio’s busy press team on Tuesday finally reported the new mayor’s plans for his office arrangement: Mayor de Blasio is keeping the bullpen.

Lawmaker: We Deserve a Pay Raise

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., has made a career out of sticking up for Executive Branch employees, consistently fighting for pay raises and other benefits to support the federal workforce.

In the twilight of his congressional career, however, the 23-year lawmaker is turning his attention to the Legislative Branch, and concerning himself with a different group’s pay: his own.

In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Moran – who will retire at the end of 2014 -- said members of Congress, whose base pay is $174,000 annually, do not make enough money.

“I think the American people should know that the members of Congress are underpaid,” Moran said. “I understand that it’s widely felt that they underperform, but the fact is that this is the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world.”

He added many members “can’t even afford to live in Washington,” and many lawmakers live in “small little apartment units” or in their offices. Moran said he plans to introduce an amendment to the appropriations bill for the Legislative Branch to provide legislators their first raise since 2009.

He concedes, however, the provision is not likely to prove popular. 

FEC Member Says it Aloud: We’re Dysfunctional

Seldom does a high-level agency official state baldly in a public venue that her taxpayer-supported regulatory authority is utterly failing to do its job.

Ann Ravel, vice chairwoman of the long-controversial Federal Election Commission, came close to such Washington hari-kari in an op-ed in Thursday’s New York Times. The FEC “is failing to enforce the nation’s campaign finance laws,” the Democrat wrote. “I’ve been on the commission only six months, yet I’ve quickly learned how paralyzed the F.E.C. has become and how the courts have turned a blind eye to this paralysis.”

In a portrayal not likely to win Republican commission members’ sympathy, Ravel said, “the problem stems from three members who vote against pursuing investigations into potentially significant fund-raising and spending violations. In effect, cases are being swept under the rug by the very agency charged with investigating them.”

The gridlock persists because the commission by law must have three Democrats and three Republicans. But citing Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down aggregate caps on campaign giving, she lamented that the FEC had never looked into whether the Karl Rove-founded Crossroads GPS, “a so-called social welfare organization that spent millions on political ...

A Teen, a Typeface, and $136M in Taxpayer Savings

As the world’s largest purchaser, the U.S. government must explore every savings opportunity -- down to the last serif on its millions of printed pages.

But when a Pittsburgh sixth-grader recently detailed a proposal to save the feds $136 million merely by printing documents in a simpler typeface, the Government Printing Office’s reaction was lukewarm. Consider the story as CNN reported it on Friday and judge for yourself.

Suvir Mirchandani, a 14-year-old middle-school science fair participant, took note of the wasteful barrage of paper handouts he was receiving in his classes. Hoping to help the environment and use his computer skills, he zeroed in on the high price of ink -- ink in printer cartridges is more expensive per ounce than French perfume, he found.

“Collecting random samples of teachers' handouts, Suvir concentrated on the most commonly used characters (e, t, a, o and r),” reporter Madeleine Stix wrote on CNN’s website. “First, he charted how often each character was used in four different typefaces: Garamond, Times New Roman, Century Gothic and Comic Sans. Then he measured how much ink was used for each letter, using a commercial tool called APFill® Ink Coverage Software.”

His conclusion? By using ...