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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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Are Recusals Slowing Down SEC Decision-Making?

More indicators surfaced that critics may have had a point when they warned that Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White might be hampered in leading the agency because of her past Wall Street legal work.

The New York Times business section on Friday gave details on the independent regulator’s on-again, off-again resolution of an accounting fraud case against large federal contractor Computer Sciences Corp.

Key questions of the amount of the settlement, whether the corporation admits wrongdoing, and which officers would be charged have divided the commission evenly along Republican and Democratic lines, the Times noted. Recused from participating in deliberations on the case by the nominally five-member commission is former prosecutor White, whose husband John has represented CSC as a partner in the law firm of Cravath, Swaine and Moore. “Because Cravath’s involvement neutralized Ms. White, it has arguably opened the door for the company to obtain a smaller penalty,” wrote reporters Ben Protess and Peter Eavis.

White has recused herself in four dozen commission actions, they reported. Though the SEC declined comment, the commissioners generally deny that ideology or their party dictates their decisions on punishing corporate misdeeds.

When the Best and Brightest Say No to Government

Much has been written about the views of the millennial generation toward public service:  They don’t seem to mind big government in theory, but they’re not particularly enthralled by the idea of careers in federal agencies.

To the extent millennials are disenchanted with the way government operates, they’re a lot like other Americans: repulsed by the dysfunctional political system at the national level. Jennifer L. Lawless and Richard L. Fox explore this phenomenon in their new book Running From Office: Why Young Americans are Turned Off to Politics.  

In an interview with Lawless published this week, Vox editor in chief Ezra Klein asked her whether this attitude extended into millennials’ view of government employment:

EK: Something your data doesn’t really go into is whether these attitudes toward elected political positions bleed over into attitudes toward working for government agencies. That’s a place where I really do worry about the best candidates simply steering clear of government work — because we really do need good people in state transportation agencies and administering Medicare. And that’s true even if, and maybe especially if, Congress is collapsing into gridlock and dysfunction.

JL: What emerged in the survey and...

What Government Will Look Like in 2020

At our sister site, Nextgov, a team of talented writers and editors spend their days exploring how information technology is shaping the future of government. And once a year, they take that conversation public in a big way.

At Nextgov Prime, held annually in Washington, government and industry decision-makers, along with thinkers and innovators from a range of fields, convene to talk about the big trends and initiatives in the IT world are shaping how government will operate in the coming years.

These days, that conversation is more relevant than ever, with the Obama administration aggressively reaching out to Silicon Valley for help and setting up operations such as the U.S. Digital Service and 18F to show agencies the way to a more agile and (the theory goes) efficient and effective future.

This year’s Nextgov Prime will be held Sept 9 at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington.  The theme is “Gov2020: Technology and the Government of Tomorrow.” Registration is now open.

Sessions will cover a range of topics, including:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Data
  • Customer Experience
  • Emerging Tech
  • Tech Leadership

Nextgov Prime will also feature the winners of the Bold Awards, which recognize federal employees who tackle big challenges. Nominations for...

The Truth About Government Performance

For more than 20 years, since the passage of the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act, federal agencies have been under the obligation to establish strategic plans, set goals and measure their progress toward achieving them. Their obligations were further refined with the passage of the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act in 2010.

So, where do we stand? Has government performance improved as a result?

The fact that no one really knows says a lot about how efforts to focus federal agencies and managers on delivering results have worked out.  

In a hard-hitting paper in the West Virginia Law Review, Seth Harris, who served as deputy Labor Secretary from May 2009 to January 2014, argues that there are several fundamental problems with the government’s approach to performance measurement and reporting. Two key issues stand out:

  • Congress has exempted itself from the obligation of conducting effective oversight of performance.
  • Agencies and managers are not held accountable in a meaningful way for achieving performance goals.

In the paper, Harris laments his inability to get anyone on Capitol Hill to show any interest in reviewing Labor’s annual performance index:

Beginning in fall 2013, the Labor Department’s congressional affairs...

A Step Forward for a World War I Memorial in D.C.

Just in time for Memorial Day, the congressionally chartered U.S. World War I Centennial Commission on Thursday opened an international competition for the design of a planned expansion of Washington commemorations of the Great War.

The site? Pershing Park, on Pennsylvania Ave. Northwest, right across from the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. The park commemorates the career of Gen. John J. “Blackjack” Pershing.

Often called the “Forgotten War,” World War I (1914-18) drew U.S. forces to Europe only for the final five months. But an astonishing 116,516 American “doughboys” were killed, and another 200,000 wounded. That made the casualty rate greater than World War II’s.

“World War I simply does not exist in the American consciousness,” said commission Vice Chairman Edwin Fountain at the National Press Club. That’s why his group is coordinating with volunteers nationwide on education programs (goal: reaching 10 million students) and commemorations to bring “renewed attention to local World War I memorials around the country.”

For years efforts were made to the rededicate the District of Columbia’s own World War I memorial (built near the Tidal Basin in 1931), but to no avail. Getting directly on the National Mall along with...