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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.

Highway Safety Board Found to Be Slow, Timid

The government’s top auto-safety regulator found itself in the bull’s eye of a lengthy New York Times investigative piece published Sunday night. 

Three Times reporters’ analysis of thousands of consumer complaints and a review of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s popular safety rating system found the agency “has a record of missteps that goes well beyond its failure to detect an ignition switch defect in several models of G.M. cars now linked to at least 13 deaths.”

Over the past decade, the Times wrote, NHTSA “frequently has been slow to identify problems, tentative to act and reluctant to employ its full legal powers against companies.”

As major players such as Toyota, Honda and Jeep have struggled with fuel tank fires or air bag ruptures, the agency “did not take a leading role until well after the problems had reached a crisis level, safety advocates had sounded alarms and motorists were injured or died,” the Times wrote.

Agency officials declined to speak directly to the reporters, but answered questions in writing with variations of the following: “NHTSA has a proven record of aggressively investigating and pursuing recalls,” the agency wrote. “NHTSA evaluates each potential safety defect ...

Can't Get Tickets to the White House Tour? Try This Instead.

Washingtonians and visitors will have a new museum option on Sept. 13 with the reopening of the newly refurbished White House Visitors Center.

Inside the Malcolm Baldrige room of the Commerce Department Building on Pennsylvania Avenue are nearly 100 artifacts, many never before displayed, according to Stewart McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Association, who gave Government Executive an advance tour.

At no charge, you’ll see the telegraph key from which President Lincoln got word of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender, the gold eagle finial that was atop the White House for a century, the desk Franklin D. Roosevelt used to deliver fireside chats, and a preserved section of a tree planted by John Quincy Adams.

The “contemporary, modern exhibits are highly interactive, and removable for updates,” McLaurin said while pointing out the push-button displays on political and family life in the surrounding President’s Park. There’s also a state-of-the-art theater and rolling film clips on topics such as the first ladies.

The 16,000-square foot complex also boasts new energy-efficient lighting.

The original White House Visitors Center opened in 1995 in this same vaulted room that was used as part of the Patent Search room ...

HHS Chief Gets Behind One Cause Everyone Can Believe In

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell won't have an easy time making friends on the other side of the political aisle. But on Monday, she did take up one cause that could well be bipartisan. 

"I’ve learned to have respect for every sector of our society and to believe strongly that there really are more things that we have in common as Americans, than things that drive us apart," Burwell said during a speech to The George Washington University students, promoting the Affordable Care Act and highlighting her management background. "That’s why, when we hear good ideas from the other side of the aisle, we want to listen… So when Republican Congressman Fred Upton asked me to join him for a discussion on '21st Century Cures' later this week, I said 'Sign me up.' "

21st Century Cures, as the Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman from Michigan noted on his website last month, is a coming series of white papers and hearings designed to speed the discovery and dissemination of pioneering medical cures, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.

Asked for his response to the shout-out ...

A Modest Proposal: Hire 1 Million New Federal Employees

Give John DiIulio credit for bravery: In a new book and a piece in the Washington Post over Labor Day weekend, he makes the most counterintuitive proposal about the federal bureaucracy in recent memory: that government would be better served if agencies hired 1 million more employees by 2035.

This of course, not only goes against recent trends in executive branch employment, but the long-term picture as well: The federal workforce has hovered around 2 million white-collar employees for decades. The problem, DiIulio says, is that in terms of expectations and outlays, government has grown by leaps and bounds. Federal spending doubled between 1960 and 1975, and then doubled again by 2000.

Implicitly, DiIulio -- a longtime scholar of government operations and director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush --   attacks the conventional wisdom about the government workforce: that it is able to do more with fewer people because advances in information technology have made operations more efficient and workers more productive.

In fact, DiIulio argues, “post-1960 Federal America has become a grotesque Leviathan by proxy, in which an expanding mass of state and local government workers, for-profit contractors, and nonprofit grant recipients ...

Agency’s ‘Technical Competence and Compassion’ Protect Retirement for Millions

Josh Gotbaum’s final day as director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. was timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the landmark law that created the agency, the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

In a Tuesday email to his staff of 2,300, Gotbaum, appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate in 2010, praised the agency’s “special combination of technical competence and compassion.” 

He singled out four chief accomplishments for PBGC under his tenure:

  • The preservation of American Airlines and its multiple pension plans
  • Outreach to stakeholders, including Congress
  • Improvements in retirement security that go beyond defined benefit plans
  • Progress in grooming a new generation of management

“Much more remains to be done,” Gotbaum wrote. “Absent congressional action this year, multiemployer plans affecting millions will probably fail. Absent more flexibility for plans and their sponsors, many more will decide not to offer pensions, leaving responsibility for retirement security in the hands of individuals who are often the ones least able to assure it.” 

His departure, announced in July, also came after the agency posted a week of blog items detailing highlights of PBGC history. Until Obama names his replacement, the director’s duties ...