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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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DoJ to Federal Judge: Dismiss Insane Clown Posse's Lawsuit

The Justice Department Monday asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit from rap duo Insane Clown Posse, which asked for the removal of "criminal intelligence information" about the group's fans.

The Associated Press reports that Justice is claiming that the rappers and their fanbase -- self-proclaimed "Juggalos" -- "have no standing to sue." The rappers have said an FBI report, which classifies the Juggalos as a gang, is causing the group to lose fans and that it "scared people away from attending concerts and from affiliating together." Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope (née Joseph Bruce and Joseph Utsler) and fans from four states are the plaintiffs in the suit, announced in the fall and filed in January. The fans claim that they've been subjected to police harassment and unconstitutional searches because of their affinity for the Detroit-area duo.

The lawsuit stems from a 2011 FBI report. In “National Gang Threat Assessment: Emerging Trends,” the FBI placed Juggalos next to organized crime groups and street gangs like the Miami-based Zoe Pound Haitian street gang and the infamous Latin Kings. The report called the Juggalos "a loosely-organized hybrid gang" and cited crimes committed by fans of ICP. It also ...

Is the IRS Chief a Quitter?

Internal Revenue Commissioner John Koskinen this week continues his slog through a series of hostile congressional hearings centering on the tax agency’s recent confirmation that some long-sought scandal-related emails from former Exempt Organizations official Lois Lerner went missing.

During Friday’s Ways and Means Committee session, the IRS’ explanations drew scoffs from Republicans and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., looked Koskinen in the eye and said, “I don’t believe you.”

The commissioner, whom Democrats sought to rehabilitate as a witness by recapping his stellar career as a private- and public-sector turnaround manager, said this was the first time he’d ever encountered such a reaction.

But then Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., took things further. “You made a bad choice,” he told Koskinen. “You were brought in as a white knight, and the administration is trading on your reputation.” Saying he didn’t mean to be “condescending,” Roskam predicted that “within several months or a year, you will be gone,” and the troubled IRS will move on with someone else.

Moments later, after Roskam had left the hearing, the commissioner was given time to respond by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who thanked Koskinen for taking on a thankless job.

Koskinen ...

Vanity Portraits: Not Much of a Drain on the Budget

The stunning story made national network news: Agency heads were squandering taxpayer money by commissioning painters to produce vanity portraits of themselves, suitable for framing.

But buried in a recent Congressional Budget Office report scoring Senate legislation to address the situation is the slightly snarkily expressed verdict that the problem is actually minuscule.

The bill, S. 1820, reported by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on May 21, was introduced in December by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; and Deb Fisher, R-Neb. It would limit to $20,000 the federal funds that may be used for portraits of officials in the line of succession to the presidency, and prohibit funding for agency heads outside the line of succession. Under the bill, funds may be used to display such portraits, which may also be paid for privately.  

But CBO estimates that implementing S. 1820 “would have no significant effect on the federal budget.” Current appropriations law prohibits the use of federal funds for portraits in fiscal 2014, the nonpartisan scorekeepers wrote. Likely, the cost “would be less than $500,000 annually because we expect fewer than 20 portraits are purchased for federal officials not in the line ...

Firing Feds, Private Sector-Style

How and when federal employees get fired is a theme in several current Washington stories, from long patient waiting lists at the Veterans Affairs Department to an Environmental Protection Agency employee’s day-long porn viewing habit.

“What does it take to get fired from the EPA?” asked House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., at a May hearing. The session was one of many at which lawmakers have expressed frustration at bureaucratic obstacles to quick removal of bad actors while praising private sector companies for their more decisive wielding of the ax.

But there’s at least one recent episode at which abruptness backfired in the due-process world of the federal sector. It occurred at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, from which Government Executive was able to tease out some fresh details of the situation.

In September 2012, Steven Korn, then-executive director of Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, implemented a plan to modernize, upgrade and perhaps soften U.S. broadcasting operations beaming into Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  The attorney and veteran of Ted Turner’s broadcast empire informed some 40 employees -- 80 percent of the Russian-language reporting staff -- that they were out.

Korn’s message—“Welcome to ...

Accomplishments: Amazing. Bonuses: $0

With all the talk these days of inappropriate bonuses for executives at the Veterans Affairs Department, last night provided a look at the other end of the spectrum. The Senior Executives Association honored dozens of high-ranking career federal officials for highly impressive accomplishments that have received scant attention from the public -- or the nation’s political leaders, for that matter. And this year, those achievements come with bonuses totaling $0.

SEA held a reception at the State Department honoring the finalists for the Presidential Rank Awards, which recognize the highest-achieving senior federal leaders. Only 1 percent of the Senior Executive Service can achieve the rank of Distinguished Executive and 5 percent can be designated Meritorious Executives.

Ordinarily, Distinguished Executives get bonuses equal to 35 percent of their salaries, and Meritorious Executives get 20 percent. But last year, in the midst of the fight over sequestration and with a government shutdown looming, the White House canceled the awards for 2013. Under the law, though, the nomination and selection process for the  awards went on, and last month OPM published the names of the finalists who agreed to be publicly recognized.

Those finalists included:

  • Shay D. Assad, director of defense pricing in ...