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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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Rand Paul Airs His Grievances Against Government

Fans of Seinfeld are no doubt already aware that today, Dec. 23, is Festivus, the Frank Costanza-invented anti-consumerist counter-holiday celebration. Festivus begins with the Airing of Grievances, in which participants let loose with all the faults they find in others:

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is apparently a Seinfeld fan, because he used his Twitter account Monday to air his grievances for 2014. It started out in lighthearted fashion, with the senator and likely presidential candidate poking fun at those who poke fun at his hair:

But then Paul let his libertarian streak take over, and the stream of tweets turned into an anti-government rant, centered around federal spending the good senator finds questionable:

Really, senator? Even at the holidays, you can’t find something nice to say about government and its employees?

(Top image via Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com

Cigar Enthusiasts Champing at the Bit

Many U.S. businesses spent the weekend salivating over new trade and investment possibilities in Cuba that may be hastened by President Obama's move to begin normalizing relations with the left-wing dictatorship.

But few took action quicker than the American cigar industry publication Cigar Aficianado, which took out a full-page ad on the last page of The New York Times Business Day section. "Pres. Obama: Here is what you should do about Cuba," it read, displaying covers of back issues featuring Fidel Castro holding a fresh smoke, a model, and an article debating, "Is it time to End the Embargo?" For the past 20 years, the magazine boasts, "we've covered Cuba like no one else." 

No indicator yet whether Obama, who chews Nicorette gum to kick his smoking habit, will now subscribe.

(Image via  / Shutterstock.com)

The Ambassadorial Confirmation Scorecard

The Senate’s last-minute flurry of ambassadorial confirmations was no doubt better than gridlock for the American Foreign Service Association. That union has long complained of extended vacancies in key overseas posts due to Senate internal politics, and earlier this year took a rare position criticizing the Obama administration for nominating too many campaign donors with questionable expertise in the host nation.

In December, the Senate approved 14 ambassadors—among them envoys to Afghanistan and India—along with three key State Department leaders, including the new Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

But according to AFSA’s tally, that still left 12 ambassador nominees hanging after months in limbo, along with four candidates for senior State positions. (Hotel executive and Obama campaign donor George Tsunis, who waited 462 days with hope of being ambassador to Norway, told Newsday this month he is withdrawing.)

Here are those in limbo, along with their time in line:

Ambassadors
Nominee Position Date Nominated Days Waiting Home State FSO or Appointee
John Estrada Trinidad and Tobago 07/31/13 504 FL Political (*)
George Tsunis Norway 09/11/13 462 NY Political (*)
Cassandra Butts Bahamas 02/10/14 308 DC Political (*)
S. Fitzgerald Haney Costa Rica ...

The New American Ambassador to New Zealand is a Former Baseball Player

Early in 2014, The Daily Show ran a segment examining the credentials of ambassadors-to-be during their confirmations. Examples included since-confirmed Noah B. Mamet and Robert C. Barber -- neither of whom had traveled to their posts in Argentina and Iceland, respectively -- and former Sen. Max Baucus, who declared that he is "no real expert on China" before being sent to one of the United States' largest trade partners.

Jon Stewart's show featured another segment earlier this month on the highly visible political appointees at the State Department, showing Mamet and his admission that he does not -- unlike over 35 million Americans -- speak fluent Spanish. This segment also featured Colleen Bell, the newly-confirmed Ambassador to Hungary, who is a television producer responsible for The Bold and the Beautiful.

The crux of criticism against the ambassadorships is that these people were nominated solely because they are Democratic bundlers for Obama's campaigns. Barber, Mamet and Bell all raised more than 500,000 for Obama's 2012 presidential campaign, with Barber raising over $1.5 million.

Expect more criticism for the man now on his way to be the ambassador to New Zealand. Mark Gilbert is a banking executive, a member of Obama ...

How to Beat Bureaucracy and Change a Federal Agency

You can’t turn around a federal bureaucracy--certainly not in the limited amount of time the typical political appointee is at the helm of an agency. Genuine innovation is difficult, if not impossible, in the public sector. There’s no way to manage a government organization and its programs to win support across the political spectrum.

If you believe any or all of these things, you won’t get much in the way of evidence for your position from Rajiv Shah, the outgoing head of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Shah told his staff Wednesday that he’ll be stepping down in mid-February, presumably to pursue a political career or some other form of public service. He will leave behind a legacy of transforming his agency over five years by fundamentally changing the way it operates.

USAID’s traditional approach was to funnel billions of dollars in federal funds to large American contractors, who then distributed it overseas. Shah, who worked at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation before entering government (he served at the Agriculture Department early in the Obama administration before taking the helm at USAID) shifted the emphasis to directly funding local groups and tapping ...