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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.

DHS Chief Promises Improvements After Show Blasts ‘Dysfunctional’ Department

The Homeland Security Department is a bloated bureaucracy, too large and disparate to effectively manage as one entity.

Such was the takeaway from a report on 60 Minutes, the famed news magazine program on CBS. The report focused on a series of interviews with DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, who defended the department and the progress it has made to better coordinate its 240,000-person workforce and its array of components.

“Johnson’s department has never been more central to the War on Terror,” 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl said. “But it has come under almost constant criticism for, over the years, weak management and low morale.”

She added Johnson faces a “management nightmare,” as DHS agencies and sub-agencies have no clear common functionality binding them together.

“This department is a disparate amalgam of things that don't fit together very well,” said Clark Ervin, the former DHS inspector general. “Making the department work, making it more effective and efficient, economical, is a security issue. To the extent the department isn't optimally performing, that is a security deficiency.”

The report spent little time explaining how DHS came together in its current form. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, the...

Energy Secretary Lands Leading Role in Iran Nuclear Talks

Secretary of State John Kerry was not the only Obama administration Cabinet member appearing in news photos of the nuclear weapons talks in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, whom Kerry summoned to his side in February, is credited with playing a key role on technical issues of verification of Iran’s commitments as laid out in the joint framework agreed to on Thursday.

"The key parameters established today lay the groundwork for achieving the [the six negotiating partners] P5+1’s objective of blocking Iran’s four pathways to nuclear weapons,” Moniz said in a statement. These include “the two uranium pathways through Iran’s Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities, the plutonium pathway at the Arak reactor, and the covert pathway,” he said.

"America’s leading nuclear experts at the Department of Energy and its national labs and sites were involved throughout these negotiations, evaluating and developing technical proposals to help define negotiating positions in support of the U.S. delegation,” Moniz said. “As a result, I’m pleased to say that we are very confident in the technical underpinnings of this arrangement.”

Touting the concessions the negotiators wrung from Iran’s diplomats—details of which await final signing...

Bureau of Prisons Wanted Whistleblower to Work from a Converted Jail Cell

When the Obama administration in recent years has discussed the federal office of the future, it never mentioned converting former jail cells into workspaces.

A jail cell, however, is exactly where the Federal Bureau of Prisons planned to move a whistleblower after she reported malfeasance to the inspector general’s office. The Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency tasked with protecting whistleblowers, said it successfully prevented the bureau from following through with the punishment.

Linda Thomas, a BOP privatization field administrator, was nearly forced to move offices to a converted jail cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago. The new, cozy digs did not even include a computer or a desk, according to OSC, nor were they near other administrative offices. Thomas would have been forced to climb staircases “surrounded by prison inmates” just to get to her space.

The cause of the relocation? According to OSC, the move proposal followed Thomas shedding light in June 2014 on alleged abuse of management authority and a gross waste of taxpayer dollars. In addition to the IG, Thomas raised her concerns to members of Congress and her supervisors at the bureau.

Just one day before Thomas was scheduled to relocate...

What Pizza, Lawnmowers and Veterans Cemeteries Have in Common

Federal agencies can learn a thing or two from John Deere and Domino’s Pizza, a leading Office of Management and Budget official said Wednesday.

Federal customer service has been described as “disastrously weak.” But at the Customer Experience Summit in Washington, hosted by Government Executive and Nextgov, Lisa Danzig, associate director for performance and personnel management at OMB, described ways that federal agencies can “delight” their customers in the way top-performing private sector companies do.

The first step, Danzig said, is knowing your customers really well. She spoke of working at John Deere before joining government, in the division of the company that produced riding lawnmowers. The division produced sophisticated psychological profiles of different segments of mower purchasers. The result was “incredible detail in what they know about their customers,” Danzig said.

Also critical to improving the customer experience is setting expectations and gathering feedback on how you’re doing, Danzig said. She noted that Domino’s Pizza has developed a simple online method of showing its customers exactly where their pizza is in the process of preparation and delivery.

“You can debate whether they have the highest quality pizza,” she said. “But they’re doing incredibly well at...

Learn How to Keep Your Customers Satisfied

"I've been slandered, libeled, I hear words I never heard in the Bible," sang Simon and Garfunkel in a classic tune. "I'm just trying to keep the customer satisfied."

Many federal managers and employees can no doubt relate. After all, it can be a challenge to keep government's many, varied and demanding customers satisfied. To make matters worse, as Camille Tuutti reports in the cover story in the latest edition of Government Executive magazine, the feds don't have a great track record when it comes to customer service. Last November, a Forrester Research study characterized government's service overall as "disastrously weak."

Help, however, is on the way. Government Executive and Nextgov have joined forces to present a Customer Experience Summit next week in Washington. It will explore the issues -- both technological and cultural -- that are critical to improving the customer experience in government. These range from figuring out exactly what it is your customers want to learning about the opportunities for leveraging digital tools to better serve them. 

Here are the details:

  • When: Tuesday, March 24, 7:30-11:40 am
  • Where: Willard InterContinental Hotel

Click here for more information and to register for the Customer...