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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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FEC Member Says it Aloud: We’re Dysfunctional

Seldom does a high-level agency official state baldly in a public venue that her taxpayer-supported regulatory authority is utterly failing to do its job.

Ann Ravel, vice chairwoman of the long-controversial Federal Election Commission, came close to such Washington hari-kari in an op-ed in Thursday’s New York Times. The FEC “is failing to enforce the nation’s campaign finance laws,” the Democrat wrote. “I’ve been on the commission only six months, yet I’ve quickly learned how paralyzed the F.E.C. has become and how the courts have turned a blind eye to this paralysis.”

In a portrayal not likely to win Republican commission members’ sympathy, Ravel said, “the problem stems from three members who vote against pursuing investigations into potentially significant fund-raising and spending violations. In effect, cases are being swept under the rug by the very agency charged with investigating them.”

The gridlock persists because the commission by law must have three Democrats and three Republicans. But citing Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down aggregate caps on campaign giving, she lamented that the FEC had never looked into whether the Karl Rove-founded Crossroads GPS, “a so-called social welfare organization that spent millions on political ...

A Teen, a Typeface, and $136M in Taxpayer Savings

As the world’s largest purchaser, the U.S. government must explore every savings opportunity -- down to the last serif on its millions of printed pages.

But when a Pittsburgh sixth-grader recently detailed a proposal to save the feds $136 million merely by printing documents in a simpler typeface, the Government Printing Office’s reaction was lukewarm. Consider the story as CNN reported it on Friday and judge for yourself.

Suvir Mirchandani, a 14-year-old middle-school science fair participant, took note of the wasteful barrage of paper handouts he was receiving in his classes. Hoping to help the environment and use his computer skills, he zeroed in on the high price of ink -- ink in printer cartridges is more expensive per ounce than French perfume, he found.

“Collecting random samples of teachers' handouts, Suvir concentrated on the most commonly used characters (e, t, a, o and r),” reporter Madeleine Stix wrote on CNN’s website. “First, he charted how often each character was used in four different typefaces: Garamond, Times New Roman, Century Gothic and Comic Sans. Then he measured how much ink was used for each letter, using a commercial tool called APFill® Ink Coverage Software.”

His conclusion? By using ...

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 ...