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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.

The Truth About Government Performance

For more than 20 years, since the passage of the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act, federal agencies have been under the obligation to establish strategic plans, set goals and measure their progress toward achieving them. Their obligations were further refined with the passage of the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act in 2010.

So, where do we stand? Has government performance improved as a result?

The fact that no one really knows says a lot about how efforts to focus federal agencies and managers on delivering results have worked out.  

In a hard-hitting paper in the West Virginia Law Review, Seth Harris, who served as deputy Labor Secretary from May 2009 to January 2014, argues that there are several fundamental problems with the government’s approach to performance measurement and reporting. Two key issues stand out:

  • Congress has exempted itself from the obligation of conducting effective oversight of performance.
  • Agencies and managers are not held accountable in a meaningful way for achieving performance goals.

In the paper, Harris laments his inability to get anyone on Capitol Hill to show any interest in reviewing Labor’s annual performance index:

Beginning in fall 2013, the Labor Department’s congressional affairs...

A Step Forward for a World War I Memorial in D.C.

Just in time for Memorial Day, the congressionally chartered U.S. World War I Centennial Commission on Thursday opened an international competition for the design of a planned expansion of Washington commemorations of the Great War.

The site? Pershing Park, on Pennsylvania Ave. Northwest, right across from the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. The park commemorates the career of Gen. John J. “Blackjack” Pershing.

Often called the “Forgotten War,” World War I (1914-18) drew U.S. forces to Europe only for the final five months. But an astonishing 116,516 American “doughboys” were killed, and another 200,000 wounded. That made the casualty rate greater than World War II’s.

“World War I simply does not exist in the American consciousness,” said commission Vice Chairman Edwin Fountain at the National Press Club. That’s why his group is coordinating with volunteers nationwide on education programs (goal: reaching 10 million students) and commemorations to bring “renewed attention to local World War I memorials around the country.”

For years efforts were made to the rededicate the District of Columbia’s own World War I memorial (built near the Tidal Basin in 1931), but to no avail. Getting directly on the National Mall along with...

Defense IG Official Caught Up in 'Zero Dark Thirty' Dispute Lands on Her Feet

The former Pentagon acting inspector general who was dragged into the “Zero Dark Thirty” dispute involving oversharing of information with Hollywood has landed a Washington private-sector job.

Lynne Halbrooks, who left the watchdog’s office on April 17 without announcing career plans, has joined the law and lobbying firm of Holland & Knight as a partner in its global litigation practice, the firm announced on May 12. “I will have the opportunity to be an immediate contributor to its highly regarded government contracts and white-collar defense and investigations practices," Halbrooks said in the firm’s release.

The circumstances of her hiring were explored in detail by the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, which places her squarely in the cross-hairs of its long-standing crusade against the “revolving door” accessed by government executives. POGO has also been at the center of transparency advocates who believe the Defense Department IG’s office may have softened a report on whether former CIA Director Leon Panetta and others revealed classified details of the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

“Halbrooks’ movement through the revolving door means she is unlikely to be held accountable for her role in the Zero Dark Thirty affair,” wrote POGO investigator...

A Top Spook Reunion, Of Sorts

It’s not every day that 10 former CIA directors and 10 former deputies get together. But when The New York Times recently saw fit to publish the names of three agency covert operatives, the old-boy network went into action.

In a letter to the editor published Tuesday, they expressed displeasure with the Times and outlined the history and rationale for keeping undercover agents’ names out of the newspapers.

The letter was signed by Albert M. Calland, Frank Carlucci, John M. Deutch, Robert M. Gates, John Gordon, Porter Goss, Michael V. Hayden, Bob Inman, Stephen R. Kappes, Richard Kerr, John McLaughlin, John McMahon, Michael J. Morell, Leon E. Panetta, David H. Petraeus, William O. Studeman, George J. Tenet, Stansfield Turner, William H. Webster and R. James Woolsey.

(Image via  / Shutterstock.com)

The SEC's 'Home Court' Advantage

Lawyers talk of “venue shopping,” or filing cases in courts strategically selected as likely to be sympathetic to one’s client. But none can match options available to the Securities and Exchange Commission, where five administrative law judges and even the five commission members have power to rule on enforcement actions.

An investigation by the Wall Street Journal published Thursday found that the SEC is increasingly using its “home court advantage” (the option dates to the 1940s) and enjoying its successes. Of hundreds of decisions reviewed, the regulatory agency for Wall Street won 90 percent of cases against defendants accused of financial crimes from October 2010 to March 2015, compared with only a 69 percent success rate using federal courts.

“Going back to October 2004, the SEC has won against at least four of five defendants in front of its own judges every fiscal year,” wrote reporter Jean Eaglesham.

The success rate also appears at the appeals level, where the commissioners themselves decided in their own agency’s favor concerning 53 out of 56 defendants—or 95 percent of the time—from January 2010 through this past March, the Journal determined.

Though SEC officials declined to comment for the investigation...