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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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'Curiosity' Leads Man to Steal Federal Explosives During a Camping Trip

Theft of federal property isn't always the most logical practice, but a man in Wyoming took the act to a new high (low?) last year when he stole more than 500 pounds of Forest Service explosives while camping.

Budd James Nesius, 33, pleaded guilty to charges of possession of stolen explosives in federal court last week. “I guess curiosity got the best of me, and I took it way too far,” Nesius said in court.

In April 2013, Nesius was out with friends on a camping trip and happened upon a bunker on Forest Service property. According to The Casper Star-Tribune, the area is marked by signs noting the explosives in the bunker.

These signs apparently gave Nesius an idea.

Nesius told his friend he intended to steal the explosives. He returned later with bolt cutters, cut the locks and loaded 10 boxes of explosives and 3,936 feet of detonation cord into the back of his truck, [Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan] Whittaker said.

According to court records, prosecutors said Nesius kept the explosives in a travel trailer for weeks and tried, unsuccessfully, to sell them. As soon as the Forest Service discovered the explosives were missing, another ...

Comparing the Watergate Gang With Lois Lerner

Veteran Washington chronicler Elizabeth Drew, who’s been promoting the re-release of her 1970s New Yorker magazine Watergate articles to mark the 40th anniversary of the Nixon resignation, is eager to draw contrasts with the drama in today’s polarized government.

Speaking Tuesday night at the Arlington County Central Library, the essayist and television commentator warned the crowd of some 130 that she would weigh in on the current controversy over alleged political bias at the Internal Revenue Service. “I expect some tweets on this,” said the alumnae of Congressional Quarterly now writing mostly for the New York Review of Books.

Drew’s new volume, “Washington Journal,” collects the best of her detailed weekly reports on the nation’s most famous political scandal and adds a new afterword on Richard Nixon’s life after he helicoptered away for the last time from the White House lawn.

Most of her talk dealt with the illegal burglaries and co-opting of agency machinery conducted “under the aegis” of Nixon, who, as demonstrated in his secretly taped Oval Office conversations, was often drunk when he delivered “strange” orders designed to retaliate against many perceived enemies.

But the “scary” constitutional crisis over impeachment in ...

Does Obama Have ‘Zero Control’ Over the Bureaucracy?

Last week, in Rolling Stone, Reid Cherlin, a former spokesman for President Obama, explored the reasons for the president’s uncomfortable, adversarial relationship with the media. In the process, he illuminated an ongoing issue for the administration: Even in Obama’s second term, it’s clear that he and his team are having a difficult time making the transition from campaigning to governing -- and in some ways they appear to have all but given up hope on effectively managing government.

Cherlin recalled the wisdom of a veteran staffer on the first campaign he worked on: “Just remember, your worst day on the campaign is better than your best day in the White House." That, said Cherlin, turned out to be not much of an exaggeration.

“The president is nominally in charge of so much that it often feels like the power dynamic inverts, and that the White House exists to take blame for the misdeeds of others -- very often agencies or bureaucrats over which you have essentially zero control,” Cherlin wrote.

“Zero control”? It’s true that the federal government is a massive, incredibly complex enterprise that extends into myriad aspects of Americans’ lives. But a president has much more ...

What Government Never Could Have Expected from President Nixon

Forty years ago, on Aug. 8, 1974, President Richard Nixon addressed the nation in a televised speech from the Oval Office. Faced with the near-certainty of impeachment and removal from office, he did what had until recently had seemed unthinkable: announced he would resign as president of the United States.

A little more than five years earlier, a magazine called Government Executive made its debut, with Nixon on the cover. The lead story in the issue was called “What Government Can Expect From President Nixon.”

The article was just a bit off in its predictions.

What the editors anticipated at that time sounds a lot like what has become the common starting point for virtually every president from Nixon to Obama: “The whole federal activity is in for a major reevaluation, a reshuffling of program priorities. The basic theme: how to get more done better at less cost.”

What they didn’t anticipate was a president who would attempt to leverage the power of the federal bureaucracy to take down his opponents -- a president whose White House counsel actually wrote a memo detailing “how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” The memo described how ...

Obama: It Shouldn’t Be So Hard to Fire Incompetent, Unethical Execs

One of the central provisions in the Veterans Affairs reform bill President Obama signed into law Thursday allows for the streamlined firing of VA senior executives for alleged misconduct. Under the law, VA Secretary Bob McDonald can fire any Senior Executive Service member immediately, and his or her only recourse is an expedited appeals process.

If there was any doubt about where Obama stood on that issue, he cleared it up at a  signing ceremony at Fort Belvoir, Va. And in the process, he hinted that he favored a streamlined firing process not just at the VA, but in government generally.

“We’re giving the VA secretary more authority to hold people accountable,” Obama said.  “We’ve got to give Bob the authority so that he can move quickly to remove senior executives who fail to meet the standards of conduct and competence that the American people demand. If you engage in an unethical practice, if you cover up a serious problem, you should be fired. Period. It shouldn’t be that difficult.”

The Senior Executives Association strongly opposed the provision, saying that it's actually "very easy" to fire SESers under the current system, provided agencies issue a 30-day ...