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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.

Former Cabinet Secretaries Decry Lack of Leadership

Bemoaning a “dysfunctional” Washington, two former Cabinet members on Tuesday implored Congress to tackle the tough decisions of annual spending and curbing deficits by returning to “regular order.”

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell —both former White House budget directors—expressed longing for the days when lawmakers passed spending bills on time and negotiated budgets and policy in committees with actual experts and “analysis and [discussion about] the tradeoffs,” as Burwell put it.

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The two came to the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington to receive the Elliot L. Richardson Prize organized by the National Academy of Public Administration. As panelists, they deconstructed what ails the government during skeptical questioning from conservative commentator George F. Will.

“This town is fundamentally dysfunctional,” Panetta said. “In a democracy, we govern either by leadership or by crisis. If the leadership is not there, we govern by crisis,” he said, adding that “Today, we’re governing by crisis.”

The reason the American people have lost trust in government’s effectiveness, said Burwell—now president of American University—is “a lack of...

Short-Lived Shutdown Sparks Confusion Across Federal Agencies

The short-lived shutdown caused mass confusion across federal agencies Friday morning, as employees awaited the official green light from the White House to resume their work.

Government funding lapsed for about five hours Thursday evening and into Friday morning, but agencies did not receive word to reopen for several more hours as they awaited President Trump’s signature on the bill and for the subsequent all-clear memorandum from the Office of Management and Budget. Just before Congress allowed the deadline to pass, an OMB official said the administration was preparing for a "short-technical lapse." As of 8 a.m. Friday when many federal workers on the East Coast were reporting to their offices, the Office of Personnel Management still had an alert on its website that “due to a lapse in appropriations, federal government operations vary by agency.”

One Education Department employee said as of 8:15 Friday morning, her office was still initiating shutdown procedures. OMB Director Mick Mulvaney issued guidance late Thursday advising agencies to “undertake orderly shutdown activities” despite the administration’s belief that the lapse would “be of short duration.”

It had “been a highly confusing morning,” the Education staffer said.

Several agencies took to social...

How Come FBI’s McCabe Gets to Take Leave Before Retiring?

In reading news reports about the abrupt departure of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe yesterday, I was struck by one aspect of the story.

As the Washington Post reported, “McCabe had planned to retire in March and use accrued vacation time to reach the date he becomes eligible for full pension benefits. On Monday, people close to the matter confirmed that McCabe’s plan is unchanged. Technically, he will remain an FBI employee for the next several weeks, but he has left the deputy director position and is not expected to return to work, these people said.”

Using up vacation time immediately before retirement is what’s known as “terminal leave,” and ordinarily it’s a no-no for civilian federal employees. In 1945, the Comptroller General of the United States ruled that “terminal annual or vacation leave may not be granted immediately prior to separation from service in any case where it is known in advance that an employee is to be separated from service.”

It’s pretty clear to everybody at this stage that McCabe is not coming back to the FBI. So how is this happening?

Well, as is so often the case in government, there are loopholes...

Critics Decry 'Propaganda' Posters in EPA Offices

The Environmental Protection Agency wants its employees to know it is proud of all they accomplished in 2017, even if that amounted to undoing the work they did in 2016.

In an array of posters displayed at EPA offices across the country, the agency is applauding “a year of great environmental achievements for America.” The posters include among notable accomplishments the preliminary repeal of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan and walking back the Waters of the United States rulemaking. In a display listing its “New Environmental Achievements,” EPA notes it provided “confidence for American families” and “certainty for American businesses.”   

The agency also boasted that its Superfund taskforce is “encouraging private investment” while expediting cleanup and land reuse.

The displays include a photograph of President Trump’s swearing-in ceremony, photos of Trump with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and photos of Pruitt surrounded by agency staff. They were first reported by Eric Lipton of The New York Times.

John O'Grady, president of the American Federation of Government Employees council that represents 9,000 EPA employees, called...

CDC To Brief the Public on Responding to a Nuclear Attack

As the war of words between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un escalated this week, stoking worries about nuclear conflict, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a briefing later this month on the public health response to a nuclear detonation.

“While a nuclear detonation is unlikely, it would have devastating results and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps,” the CDC said in a statement yesterday promoting the Jan. 16 briefing, first reported by STAT news.

“Despite the fear surrounding such an event, planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness. For instance, most people don’t realize that sheltering in place for at least 24 hours is crucial to saving lives and reducing exposure to radiation,” the agency said.

The event will feature speakers from CDC, the Food and Drug Administration and the Georgia Department of Health, who will discuss “preparing for the unthinkable,” response plans, public health resources and related issues. It is part of CDC’s virtual Public Health Grand Rounds series aimed at educating health professionals.