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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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Did VA Officials Encourage Employees to Pay To Talk to Dead People?

Data manipulation and mismanagement of the mail at the Veterans Affairs Department’s regional office in Philadelphia apparently isn’t bad enough. Managers at the facility also are allegedly encouraging employees to pay to talk to dead people.

Lucy Filipov, assistant director of VA’s Philadelphia Regional Office, allegedly threw a party at her house that included Gary Hodge, head of the pension management center, his wife, and several employees. So far, okay. Except Hodge’s wife professed to be a medium who could help the living commune with the dead. And the invited guests (employees) allegedly were encouraged to pay her $30 each for that experience. Soliciting money from subordinates in the federal government is a no-no.

That gem was among the many disturbing and hard-to-believe stories that emerged during a Wednesday congressional hearing on problems at Veterans Benefits Administration facilities in Philadelphia, Pa., and Oakland, Calif. But tales of the alleged “medium” and “fortune-telling” party were certainly the most entertaining.

Filipov was at the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, and Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., asked her directly about the supernatural soiree. She said she was told by an employee of the inspector general’s office...

Postal Worker Lands Helicopter on U.S. Capitol Grounds to Make Special Mail Delivery

This story has been updated. 

A U.S. Postal Service worker from Florida flew a small helicopter through restricted airspace and onto the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building on Wednesday, where he was promptly arrested.

Doug Hughes, the gyrocopter’s pilot, flew his mission with the same goal he had each day during his normal job as a letter carrier: deliver the mail. This mail had a special message he drafted for members of Congress, letting them know the federal government was corrupt and he wasn’t going to take it anymore.

Hughes spelled out the whole plan before he executed it to the Tampa Bay Times, which published his story only after he had already taken flight. The Florida mailman said prior to his attempted delivery the act was in protest of corruption and money in politics.

The Secret Service was already aware of Hughes’ plans, according to the Times. Last spring, an agent visited him at his Florida home and interrogated him about his intentions, to which the Secret Service had been tipped off. The agent talked to Hughes for 45 minutes, and that was the last he heard from the agency.

While USPS could probably...

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...