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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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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 ...

Former Postmaster General: Stop 'Prostituting' the Stamp Program

Add "angry ex-postmaster general" to the list of problems affecting the U.S. Postal Service.

Benjamin F. Bailar, who led the service from 1975 to 1978, has problems with current Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe's stewardship of the stamp program. In his letter resigning from the Citizens’ Advisory Stamp Committee, Bailar accused USPS of "prostituting" the program by issuing pop culture stamps in lieu of higher-minded cultural figures.

The Washington Post first reported the letter, which came after the board complained to Donahoe that they were being ignored in the decision-making affecting stamp issues. November's stamps featuring fictional British boy wizard Harry Potter were cited by members of the board as a cash-grab, as they had not been advised on the choice.

Bailar's letter does not pull punches about his feelings regarding such stamps.

The stamp program should celebrate the things that are great about the United States and serve as a medium to communicate those things to a world-wide audience... To prostitute that goal in the pursuit of possibly illusory profits does not make sense to me.

Bailar also said the committee has become too heavily weighted toward designers and he suggested that it be dissolved, "given ...

Is Burning Man Really a Government-Free Zone?

Last week, our friends at National Journal reported on Grover Norquist’s announcement that he would be attending this year’s Burning Man event in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. This was noteworthy for two reasons:

  • Norquist is a buttoned-down, conservative, Washington-based longtime anti-tax activist.
  • Burning Man is an annual artistic adventure in radical self-expression in which attendees, as NJ put it, “dress up in crazy costumes, waltz around naked, take copious amounts of illicit substances, and generally do whatever they want.”

So what attracted Norquist to the event? Well, Burning Man also professes to be an experiment in “radical self-reliance,” which “encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.”

That concept apparently appeals to the anti-government crusader in Norquist. (He’s famous for advocating cutting the federal establishment “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”)

“There's no government that organizes this," he told NJ. "That's what happens when nobody tells you what to do. You just figure it out. So Burning Man is a refutation of the argument that the state has a place in nature."

But is it?

Not really, argues Tom Berman at Vice ...