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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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A Real Smoking Gun on Politicizing the IRS

The New York Times on Wednesday published definitive proof that the White House used Internal Revenue Service audits to punish its political enemies -- in 1971. 

An obituary of Randolph Thrower, who was commissioner of internal revenue under President Nixon from April 1, 1969 to June 22, 1971, notes that he helped draft the 1969 Tax Reform Act and pushed to revoke the tax-exempt status of private schools that excluded African Americans.

But Thrower was fired in 1971 after he requested an appointment with the president to warn him that White House staffers were pressuring the IRS to audit the tax returns of anti-Vietnam war leaders, civil rights activists, journalists and Democratic members of Congress. Not only did Thrower not get his top-level meeting, he soon got a call from Nixon domestic affairs adviser John Ehrlichman giving him the ax. 

The public was told Thrower resigned “for personal reasons.” But as the celebrated memos and secret tapes of Nixon’s conversations would later show, the president wrote on Jan. 21, 1971, “May I simply reiterate for the record that I wish Randolph Thrower, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, removed at the earliest feasible opportunity.” And during the subsequent search for ...

Air Force Official JFK Called ‘Silly Bastard’ Immortalized on Film

It has to go down in history as one of the great presidential phone calls of all time. It took place on July 25, 1963, after the Washington Post reported that the Air Force had spent $5,000 to refurbish a room at Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts in the event the pregnant first lady needed to use it to give birth. (That’s about $40,000 in today’s dollars.) Upon seeing the story, President Kennedy picked up the phone and called Air Force Gen. Godfrey McHugh at the Pentagon.

What followed was a heated, mostly one-sided conversation in which JFK railed in particular against an Air Force officer who appeared in a photo accompanying the Post article. Listen for yourself:

Some of the more choice tidbits from Kennedy’s tirade:

Kennedy: The Air Force has caused itself more grief with that silly bastard. Did you see the Post this morning?

McHugh: Yes, sir…

Kennedy: Did you see that fella’s picture by the bed?

McHugh: Yes, sir.

Kennedy: And you see that furniture they bought from Jordan Marsh? What the hell did they let the reporters in there for? Are they crazy up there? Now you know ...

Feds Remain a Presence at the Oscars

Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto won acting awards Sunday at the 86th Academy Awards for Dallas Buyers Club, the story of Ron Woodruff, a man stricken with AIDS in the 1980s who battles the laws against experimental drugs that fight the disease. The film depicts the bureaucracy and federal regulations as villains during the early days of AIDS. McConaughey's Woodruff encounters Border Patrol, DEA and FDA antagonists in the film, showing the government agents as inflexible and unimaginative in the face of the devastating new disease.

Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity depicts a NASA spacewalk gone horribly awry. Nominated for 10 awards, the film garnered seven Oscars, including a win for Best Director. Gravity showed the International Space Station, as well as Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as federal employees of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The film's depiction of the vast emptiness of space and its groundbreaking special effects won it several technical awards, as well as the directing award for the Mexican director.

David O. Russell's reimagining of the Abscam scandal involving the FBI and several New Jersey politicians, American Hustle was shut out of wins, despite its 10 nominations. The most fed-heavy of ...

The Era of Security Clearance Self-Review Could Be Permanently Over

Fallout continues from last September’s fatal shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, with a prime federal contractor, U.S. Investigative Services (USIS), emerging seriously but not irreparably scathed.

The Falls Church, Va.-based company, which conducts about two-thirds of federal background checks on private contractors and has been charged with fraud by the Justice Department for submitting incomplete background checks, would no longer be able to review its own work under a Senate bill introduced Thursday. 

Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., joined with Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, to introduce the Preventing Conflicts of Interest with Contractors Act. “Letting federal contractors review their own work is like letting the fox guard the henhouse,” said Tester, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce, in a statement. “This common-sense bill will put national security ahead of profits, hold federal contractors more accountable, and make our nation safer.” 

Added Begich: “Glitches in our government security clearance processes are unacceptable and recent tragedies have shown that there is no room for error. Our bill is a simple fix creating checks and balances on the contractors conducting background investigations by prohibiting the same companies conducting ...

Democrats: The IRS Probe Has Cost Taxpayers $14 Million So Far

Since the scandal at the Internal Revenue Service related to granting tax-exempt status to certain organizations broke last May, the hundreds of hours of congressional hearings and agency document reproduction have cost the agency immeasurable prestige, person-hours and scarce funds. 

But, as of Wednesday, there’s an actual price tag: $14 million.

That’s the figure released by Reps. Sander Levin of Michigan and Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrats on the Ways and Means and Oversight and Government Reform committees, respectively.

A letter from Internal Revenue Commissioner John Koskinen documents “the significant funds expended by the IRS in responding to congressional inquiries to date, including $8 million in direct costs—such as salaries, benefits, and travel—and an additional $6 million to $8 million to add capacity to information technology systems to process materials to investigators.”

In response to a Feb. 7 request from the lawmakers, Koskinen said a “conservative approach” tallies up 255 employees who’ve spent 97,542 hours to date, which does not factor in “ancillary support costs,” such as indirect work by the IRS offices of Legislative Affairs, Public Affairs, Human Capital, and the Executive Secretariat.

A half-million pages of documents have been turned ...