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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.

John Lennon and GAO’s High Risk List

Few agencies enjoy being perennials on the Government Accountability Office’s high-risk list of programs with deep program management issues.

But perhaps some will take comfort in the words spoken on Tuesday by Tim DiNapoli, GAO’s director of acquisition and sourcing management, at a panel discussion on best practices for agencies still haunting the list, which has been compiled biennially since 1990.

Intending to encourage managers of the blacklisted programs not to lose hope, DiNapoli said, “I’m reminded of the words of John Lennon, who wrote, `You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,’ ” a reference to the late Beatle’s 1971 classic hymn to world peace “Imagine.”

Interagency contracting was taken off the high-risk list in 2013, “so it’s not impossible,” he assured colleagues.

Joseph Waddell, deputy associate administrator for acquisition and project management at the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, noted that even though his large-scale projects have been on the list for decades, his team benefits from GAO’s oversight and finds its employees “reasonable,” though they approach  agencies’ struggling to resolve problems “in the mode of `show us, don’t tell us.’ ”

Harry Hallock, deputy ...

About the House Republicans’ New IRS Video

Among the Internal Revenue Service's many missteps in recent years was spending money to produce comical training videos for use at conferences. So eyebrows were raised this week when, a week before the mid-term election, House Republicans on two committees took to YouTube with their own video “highlighting key events in the IRS targeting scandal.”

There is little new in this recap of President Obama’s criticisms of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United  campaign finance decision and hearing testimony about Lois Lerner’s lost emails, produced jointly by the Ways and Means and the Oversight and Government Reform panels. But the forward lean is that Obama administration “stonewalling” means that the controversy is far from a resolution.

“This IRS, this Treasury Department, and this White House have not given Congress the cooperation they promised,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the oversight panel. “This new presentation should remind Americans that this is not over: the House of Representatives continues our investigation, our demand for a credible criminal probe, and to protect the rights of all Americans to participate freely and openly in the political process.”

Asked how much it cost taxpayers to have congressional staff make this ...

What the Decline in Public Trust Means for Government

When it comes to dealing with the threat of Ebola, writes Ron Fournier in National Journal today, the problem is trust:

The White House doesn't trust the governors. The governors don't trust the White House. Doctors don't trust nurses. Nurses don't trust hospital administrators. Hospital administrators don't trust federal officials, and the feds don't trust them. Nobody trusts the media. The public trusts nothing.

But other than that, everything’s fine.

Actually, everything’s a fine mess. A Dallas hospital fumbled the first case of Ebola in the United States, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t exactly cover itself in glory, either. So New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie decided they would substitute their judgment for that of the public health professionals at the CDC. The president’s response has been to offer repeated reassurances to the public that everything will be fine, and to appoint the latest in a long line of federal czars to manage the crisis.  

The tangled web of responses stems, ultimately, from the trust issues Fournier identifies. The decline in faith in public institutions in recent years is well-documented. But ...

Do Stoners Come Up With Government-Funded Research Programs?

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., released his final "Wastebook" this week, outlining what he considered misguided spending by the federal government on things like research programs. Some of the programs sound ridiculous -- a life-size foosball game? But are they ridiculous enough to have been thought up by someone stoned out of his mind?

Jimmy Kimmel seems to think so, as he played a game with his audience Wednesday evening called "Expenditure or Stoner?" Kimmel described a government program included in the Wastebook and asked his audience if they thought it was real or the workings of a weed-addled mind. Of the five programs Kimmel described, only two were made up by the show.

The actual programs Kimmel highlighted included the National Science Foundation-funded $856,000 study of mountain lion energy that had the cats on a treadmill in a lab in California, and a $171,000 study using monkeys to examine the idea of streaks in gambling. The monkeys gambling made the cover of the Wastebook.

Kimmel did up the government with two stoner ideas:

  • A metal foil that can keep mountains cold.
  • A microchip that can read a cat’s emotions.

Let's hope no one from NSF was watching ...

Feds Send Obama an Early Christmas Wish: An Extra Day Off

Christmas is still more than two months away, but one federal employee is not leaving anything to chance when it comes to time off around the December holidays.  

A petition published on the White House’s We the People website Monday asks President Obama to grant federal employees an extra holiday on Dec. 26, as a “good gesture to improve the morale of the federal workforce.” Since Christmas falls on a Thursday this year, the extra day off would create a four-day weekend around the holiday.

The petition – started by an employee in Oklahoma City – notes that such a move would not be without precedent. The two most recent years Christmas fell on a Thursday were 2003 and 2008. In both cases, President George W. Bush gave federal employees a four-day weekend.

President Obama did not offer feds any extra time off around the holidays last year, when Christmas fell on a Wednesday. But he did give them Christmas Eve off to create a four-day weekend in 2012, when Christmas was on a Tuesday.

To bolster the argument for an extra day off, this year’s petition also said some military bases are closing on Dec. 26 and forcing employees ...