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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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What if the Problem Isn’t the Rules, but the People?

One school of thought holds that the rules and regulations governing the federal acquisition process are so byzantine that the government simply can’t get access to the latest technology in a timely fashion.

But what if the problem isn’t the rules, but the people who must work within them?

At an event in Washington on Tuesday, the National Academy of Public Administration and ICF International unveiled the results of their Federal Leaders Digital Insight Study. Among the subjects covered in the survey of senior federal leaders was the technology acquisition system.

The study found that while there certainly are problems in buying and implementing the latest technology in government, “many federal leaders believe that these problems are the result of execution of the procurement process rather than regulatory requirements.” While nearly 40 percent of the more than 500 survey respondents had some influence in the procurement process, only one of them cited problems with the Federal Acquisition Regulation in written comments.

“The FAR isn’t always the main hurdle,” said Beth Cobert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, at the event. “The processes really need to be tackled.”

“One hundred page [requests for ...

Clapper and L 'il Bub

Who knew the director of national intelligence had a soft spot for The Most Amazing Cat on the Planet? When our friends at the D Brief wrote this morning that “Jim Clapper talked about his big trip to North Korea last week with some amazing details,” they weren’t kidding. We highly recommend that anyone interested in the hermit kingdom, U.S. intelligence or cybersecurity read the text of Clapper’s fascinating remarks at Fordham University Jan. 7, where he addressed the International Conference on Cybersecurity.

Clapper spoke at length about his extraordinary mission to Pyongyang last November to win the release of two American prisoners. He also discussed steps companies should take to enhance their cybersecurity. Our favorite takeaway, though, was this gem:

Two years ago, I didn’t know what a “Tumblr” was. Two weeks ago, Tumblr featured our site, the IC’s site, as one of a select few “Big in 2014” sites for their end of year review. We were right up there with “L’il Bub.”

I’m here to tell you, sharing the stage with a famous cat—on the Internet—that’s how you know you’ve arrived. 

The Civil Servant Who Didn't Show Up to Work for 24 Years

One of the big criticisms of the U.S. civil service system is that it's simply too hard to fire poor-performing employees. But compared to India, it's apparently a breeze. 

Reuters reported this week on the case of A.K. Verma, an employee of India's Central Public Works Department, who recently was fired for failing to show up for work.

"He went on seeking extension of leave, which was not sanctioned, and defied directions to report to work," the Indian government said in a statement.

That was in December 1990.

You read that right: Verma skipped out on his job for 24 years. In 1992, he was found guilty of "willful absence from duty," but it took another 22 years before he was finally dismissed. India's civil service protections are considered some of the most stringent in the world. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Reuters reported, has sought to crack down on "rampant absenteeism" by making government employees check in for work each day using a fingerprint scanner. 

In Search of Heroes of the Public Service

Do you think it’s about time that outstanding public servants get some recognition for the work they do? Well, here’s your chance to do something about it.

Nominations for this year’s Service to America Medals, sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service, are closing soon--Jan. 16, to be exact.

All career civilian federal employees are eligible for the honor. Medals are awarded in eight categories:

  • Career Achievement
  • Call to Service
  • Citizen Services
  • Homeland Security and Law Enforcement
  • Management Excellence
  • National Security and International Affairs
  • Science and Environment
  • Federal Employee of the Year

Honorees are selected, the Partnership for Public Service says, based on the “impact of their work on meeting the needs of the nation, on-the-job innovation, and commitment to public service.”

Thirty finalists for the awards will be recognized at a Capitol Hill event this spring. Winners will be honored in the fall at a gala dinner in Washington.   

Click here to submit a Service to America Medal nomination

An Astronaut’s Life: Hyperscheduled and Bureaucratic

What is the most bureaucratic, rule-bound workplace in the world? It turns out it might be one that’s actually floating above the earth.

In the latest issue of The Atlantic, James Fishman takes a fascinating look at life aboard the International Space Station. “All day, every day, half a dozen men and women, including two Americans, are living and working in orbit, and have been since November 2000,” he writes. Life aboard the immense outpost presents a host of ongoing challenges, from figuring out how to get regular exercise to avoid loss of bone density to devising a means of sleeping without floating throughout the cabin.

There’s no laundry, very little fresh food, and much work to be done. And it turns out that work is rigidly controlled by NASA officials at Mission Control in Houston. Fishman writes:

Every day starts and ends with a daily planning conference, during which the astronauts briefly check in with all five control centers around the world to talk about schedule glitches or pending maintenance, or look ahead to the next day. (NASA has a second facility, in Huntsville, Alabama, to handle scientific research; Moscow has a Mission Control for the Russian ...