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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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A Pep Talk for Federal Employees from NIH’s Collins

As with sequestration in 2013, federal employees now are living in “another of those uncertain times,” said Francis Collins, the award-winning physician-geneticist who directs the National Institutes of Health.

They also are “an amazing group of dedicated, talented and hard-working people who are often unappreciated,” he said on Wednesday at a panel discussion staged by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service to discuss a new survey showing gaps between agencies on employee engagement.

Feds are competitive, Collins added. Folks at NIH with its 27 institutes and centers and 17,000 employees did not fail to notice that they were “edged out” on workforce survey scores by peers at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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NIH for the first time, Collins said, recently released its data from the survey in the name of transparency, despite some staff nervousness.

“NIH is not just an institution, though we are that, but we’re a community,” in which employees are not just “cogs in a wheel,” Collins said. He regularly updates staff on “good news...

Mattis Takes on the Pentagon Bureaucracy

In a pair of memos to his deputy last Friday, Defense Secretary James Mattis signaled his readiness for battle against an especially entrenched foe—the department’s sprawling bureaucracy.  

Both memos support requirements in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act and aim to address concerns on Capitol Hill about Pentagon efficiency. In one memo, Mattis asked Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work to lead a broad review of the department’s business operations with an eye to centralizing some functions now handled separately by the military services. “We have sometimes allowed our focus on service uniqueness to extend into business operations, leading to duplication of effort and costs we can no longer afford,” Mattis wrote.

Work certainly has a decent blueprint for his starting point (something Mattis pointed out in his directive): the Defense Business Board’s 2015 study “Transforming DoD’s Core Business Processes for Revolutionary Change,” which Work supported.

It appears that virtually everything is now on the table. As Mattis wrote:  

“I direct you to further this work by exploring efficiencies across the following core business functions: human resource management; financial management (to include improvements in cost accounting); real property management; acquisition and contract management; logistics and supply...

Some Surprising Facts on the 'Swamp' and the Hiring Freeze

Political scientist John J. Dilulio Jr., who worked briefly in the George W. Bush White House, believes the ongoing debate over President Trump’s hiring freeze and vow to “drain the swamp” could use a more extremely vetted set of (nonalternative) facts.

In a Feb. 13 blogpost for the Brookings Institution, where he is a telecommuting senior fellow, he lays out 10 points designed to better define “big government,” whether one cares most about spending, activity or workforce size.

“America has over-leveraged, not limited, government,” says the author of the 2014 book Bring Back the Bureaucrats: Why More Federal Workers Will Lead to Better (and Smaller!) Government. "Our debt-financed and proxy-administered system has been growing for a half-century under both parties. Freezing our federal workforce, which is the same size today as it was in 1960, will have no significant impact on federal spending.”

What’s more, Dilulio writes, to “drain the swamp” in Washington as President Trump promised “would mean draining state and local governments, private contractors, nonprofit grantees and middle-class entitlement beneficiaries like most Medicare beneficiaries.”

The size of the federal workforce (civilians, not uniformed military or postal workers) has remained roughly the same for the past 57...

DHS Won’t Confirm Trump’s Assertion That U.S.-Mexico Wall Design Is Underway

President Trump said Wednesday his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is “being designed right now.”

Those plans appear to be very closely held—so closely held the agency responsible for border security is possibly unaware of them.

When asked by Government Executive whether the design work has been bid out through contracting procedures or if it was being handled internally, a spokesperson for the Homeland Security Department referred questions to one of its components, Customs and Border Protection. Carlos Diaz, a CBP spokesman, said the agency had “nothing available to share.”

The spokesman declined to confirm Trump’s assertion that the design is already underway.

The administration could be in the opening stages of drafting a request for proposals from contractors, or perhaps plans are being kept under wraps, or maybe Trump spoke ahead of schedule. Whatever the case, the White House has made clear the president will stay directly involved in the planning and construction of the wall.

“On the wall, I mean, the president is a builder,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday. “He understands and I think he’s going to make sure that as this project moves forward, that he’s...

Congressman: Career Feds ‘Soak Off the Lifeblood of the American People’

Draining the swamp means ridding the federal government of career employees, according to one congressman who has introduced a bill to ease the process of firing them.

Federal employees “become where they are career bureaucrats who soak of the lifeblood of the American people,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., said in a video posted to his Facebook page Wednesday. The problem, Loudermilk said, stems from the lack of attrition and accountability in the federal workforce. While administrations change, he said, the culture never does.

The federal government employs one individual for every 76 citizens, Loudermilk said. Trump’s hiring freeze is a “tremendous first step” toward addressing that issue, the Georgia Republican said, but further action must be taken to deal with poor performers and misbehaving feds more quickly. Congress, he explained, can provide the pumps that put Trump’s “drain the swamp” mantra into action.

Loudermilk recently introduced the Modern Employment Reform, Improvement and Transformation (MERIT) Act, which would severely cut the amount of time federal workers have to appeal a negative personnel action. It would empower agency heads to fire any employee, provided they give a notice in writing. Employees would have seven days to appeal a removal to...

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