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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.

George Voinovich, the Rare Politician Who Fought for Better Management

Largely lost in the terrible news out of Orlando this weekend was the passing of a central figure in the early 21st century world of federal management: former Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio.

Voinovich, a two-term senator, was a rare political bird: a lawmaker who cared about how government agencies are managed, and especially about the people who work in them.

“He'd talk with anyone who would listen about how the federal government needed to shore up its workforce because impending retirements were going to rob it of a lot of talent,” wrote Stephen Koff in a Cleveland.com obituary.

"We need to stop bashing people who work in government," Voinovich said in 2001. "They are the best-motivated workers we have when they are given the tools, compensation and empowerment to get the job done."

Voinovich’s commitment to government management and workforce issues pre-dated his time in the Senate. As governor of Ohio, he instituted a program called Quality Service Through Partnership to promote labor-management cooperation in the state’s operations.

In 2011, after Voinovich left the Senate, Andrew Richardson, his staff director on the Senate Subcommittee on the Oversight of Government Management, and John Salamone, a staffer on...

It’s Not True That No One in Congress Takes Government Performance Seriously

Henry Cuellar is more than a little delighted to talk about government performance and customer service. After all, it’s not every day the Texas Democrat is asked to expound on a subject that’s clearly near and dear to his heart. And since he’s not only the driving force behind the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act, but a proud holder of a Ph.D. in government from the University of Texas, it’s not hard to get Cuellar to open up on efforts to improve federal agencies’ service to the public.

At the Government Executive/Nextgov Customer Experience Summit Tuesday, Cuellar made it clear he spends more time than the average person poking around on Performance.gov, the Obama administration’s repository of government performance data. (“You should get familiar with it,” he urged the audience. “Whenever you can’t sleep at night, go into Performance.gov and see how we’re doing.”)

Cuellar said the Office of Management and Budget and agencies have “done good work” in implementing GPRMA. He noted, for example, that OMB has reported $2 billion in savings under the contract consolidation effort known as category management.

Now, Cuellar said, government needs...

TSA, Big Government and the Controversy That Was Inevitable

In February 2002, I wrote a story for Government Executive centered on the debate (such as it was) over federalizing airport security under the Transportation Security Administration. After the 9/11 attacks, in a stunning reversal of the trend at the time toward privatizing government services, Congress voted overwhelmingly to federalize security screening — which was then handled by private contractors hired by the airlines.

Among TSA’s challenges, I noted, would be “trying to balance the concerns of the airlines and their passengers about keeping the system moving quickly against the need to provide effective security.”

That’s been a concern since the creation of the agency, and it has become acute this year with stories of endless security lines at airports across the country. As a result, we’re coming full circle, with conservatives arguing for the privatization of TSA in the name of efficiency (and they say, better security).

It’s not like we couldn’t have seen this series of events unfolding this way almost 15 years ago. I ended my 2002 piece this way:

Suppose … there are no new terrorist incidents involving airplanes, yet the TSA continues to perform the law enforcement function set out for...

What the FEMA Director Learned From Watching Monty Python

Over the weekend, Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, became the latest government figure to appear on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, the weekly National Public Radio news quiz. He was a good sport, taking part in the show’s “Not My Job” segment, in which he gamely answered a series of questions about Zima, the once-popular carbonated alcoholic beverage.

But before that, Fugate had a discussion with host Peter Sagal about movies, and the impact they’ve had on his work at FEMA. Here’s part of that exchange:

SAGAL: We have to — despite, you know, a number of disasters the last few years — maybe I'm just a child of the '70s and the disaster movies —  when I think about disasters, I think of disaster movies. Do you like disaster movies?

FUGATE: I trained on them.

SAGAL: Really? Like, which ones and what did you learn?

FUGATE: Oh, let's see “Towering Inferno," you don't want to be at the top of a burning building.

SAGAL: Yeah.

FUGATE: "Monty Python And The Holy Grail."

SAGAL: Wait a minute, "Monty Python And The Holy Grail"?

SAGAL: What did you...


SAGAL: ...the director...

Interagency Collaboration—For the Birds

North America’s migratory bird population—whose delicate health is seen as threatened by climate change—has a tendency to choose flyways without regard to state and international borders.

Hence protecting migratory birds requires an intricate collaboration of federal agencies, academics and nonprofits from three countries. Many of those groups gathered May 18 at the Canadian Embassy in Washington to bestow multinational awards and release the first ever report on the state of North American migratory birds.

Compiled for the 100th anniversary of the U.S.-Canada Migratory Bird Treaty, the report, noted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the first comprehensive assessment of the conservation status of all bird species that occur in Canada, the continental United States and Mexico.

“Where bird populations are dropping, the lands and waters that sustain us are stressed,” the report read.

 “This report shows that more than one-third of all North American bird species need urgent conservation action and calls for a renewed, continent-wide commitment to saving our shared birds and their habitats,” FWS said. “It is a call to action to governments, private industry and the public to come together to support a beloved shared resource.”

From Ottawa, a session...

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