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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.

Why Federal Employees May Soon Want to Go Electric

Much like Bob Dylan in 1965, federal employees may soon want to go electric.

An amendment approved by the House on Tuesday as part of a much larger transportation bill would authorize federal agencies to install electric car charging stations in their parking lots. The measure, introduced with bipartisan support, would charge each individual employee using the station a fee, making the proposal budget neutral.

Lawmakers currently have that option at the Capitol, and the amendment’s authors wanted to expand the program to the entire federal workforce. The General Services Administration would be tasked with the construction, installation and operation of the charging stations on federal properties.

"I was surprised to learn that members of Congress can recharge their cars when they are at the House of Representatives but my constituents who work at other federal offices are actually barred from having charging facilities at their federal workplace," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a cosponsor on the amendment, when introducing a similar, standalone bill last year.

Reps. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who powers his Kentucky home with solar energy and himself drives an electric car, and Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who represents 5,000 federal employees in Silicon Valley, also put...

VA Official Says He Will Allow Senior Executives to Speak More Freely

Members of Congress long have been frustrated with what they perceive as the Veterans Affairs Department’s lack of transparency as well as foot-dragging when it comes to firing poor-performing and corrupt senior executives. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., subpoenaed five VA employees to testify at hearing Monday night about questionable relocation expenses, pay raises and hiring practices; two of them pleaded the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions.

“I am sick and tired of asking for information from the department, and being given a runaround,” Miller said on Monday.

Democrats aren’t happy either with the VA’s approach to communication. “Don’t expect the VA in this environment to get the benefit of the doubt on anything,” Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., told witnesses, before taking the department to task for withholding information from the press and restricting access to senior leaders.

The media “can’t get a straight answer; they don’t know what’s going on,” Walz said, adding that the department should make senior leaders “who know what’s going on” more available to journalists. “Can’t you give them some rein to answer questions from the press without having to clear...

Fighting Back Against the Conference Spending Crackdown

Three and a half years after the General Services Administration extravagant conference scandal broke, scientists are warning that the crackdown on travel to confabs imposed by Congress and the Obama administration has gone too far.

“The restrictions on conference participation threaten the quality of research at our federal labs, the stature of U.S. science on the global stage and agencies’ abilities to recruit and retain the best and brightest,” wrote Sandra H. Magnus, executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, in a Monday Washington Post op-ed.

She cited a March Government Accountability Office report showing that would-be Energy and Defense department federal participants in conferences often have to wait months to receive approval to participate in the events, sometimes getting permission just days in advance. This prevents many scientists and engineers from taking speaking roles. “Delayed approvals also lead to last-minute bookings and increased travel costs, all borne by taxpayers,” Magnus wrote, adding examples of scientific careers that were altered by participation in a key conference.

To ease the problem, her aeronautics institute has joined with more than 100 scientific and engineering organizations to meet with lawmakers and the White House to press for an immediate...

Defense Chief Says Treatment of Civilians Is ‘Appalling’

The Defense Department’s civilian personnel system is so broken it’s a wonder anyone sticks around to work there, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference just outside Washington, Carter promoted the department’s Force of the Future initiative, which he said would bring long overdue change for its 800,000 civilian employees. A proposal in the plan to move most of those workers out of the civil service system that governs most of the federal workforce has come under fire. But Carter said it represents just one option he is considering.

“We're thinking many ideas through, and we need time to get the best ideas and advice, especially from the armed services,” Carter said. “The people of the U.S. armed forces are the best and always will be the best, and how we manage them should be too.”

He noted the military has a “fantastic system” to manage its people. The civilian system, he said, is another story.

“I can't really claim we have a good system for managing civilians,” Carter said. “I actually think it's appalling and we don't treat them...

Public Service is No Longer Just Government Service

On Sept. 11, 2001, a young David A. Bray, who was then working for the Centers for Disease Control's Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Program, was supposed to brief the FBI and CIA on what technologies could be used to respond to a bioterrorism event. Bray had to postpone that briefing to shift into emergency response mode. The events of 9/11 and the anthrax episodes that closely followed it spurred him to extend a planned three-year tour in public service into a longer stint that led to becoming a career federal executive. He is now the chief information officer at the Federal Communications Commission.

In May, I wrote about what might happen if the “best and brightest” of the millennial generation just say no to working in government. That post prompted Bray to share some thoughts about the distinction between the perceived dysfunction of the political system and the effort required to make representative democracy work. Bray, who characterizes himself as a Generation X/Generation Y “tweener,” argues that we should broaden the conversation to be not just about government but rather about redefining public service as a whole.

Below are some of Bray’s more specific thoughts, with...