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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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Is Burning Man Really a Government-Free Zone?

Last week, our friends at National Journal reported on Grover Norquist’s announcement that he would be attending this year’s Burning Man event in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. This was noteworthy for two reasons:

  • Norquist is a buttoned-down, conservative, Washington-based longtime anti-tax activist.
  • Burning Man is an annual artistic adventure in radical self-expression in which attendees, as NJ put it, “dress up in crazy costumes, waltz around naked, take copious amounts of illicit substances, and generally do whatever they want.”

So what attracted Norquist to the event? Well, Burning Man also professes to be an experiment in “radical self-reliance,” which “encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.”

That concept apparently appeals to the anti-government crusader in Norquist. (He’s famous for advocating cutting the federal establishment “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”)

“There's no government that organizes this," he told NJ. "That's what happens when nobody tells you what to do. You just figure it out. So Burning Man is a refutation of the argument that the state has a place in nature."

But is it?

Not really, argues Tom Berman at Vice ...

What We Talk About When We Talk About the VA

This week, GovExec’s sister publication, Defense One, co-hosted a symposium on veterans issues with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The timing couldn’t have been better: the day after House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., reached a deal with his Senate counterpart, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on VA reform legislation, Miller appeared at the event to make the case for a long-range effort to overhaul the Veterans Affairs Department.

Outsiders, too, showed their support for veterans. Longtime broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien screened The War Comes Home, a documentary on vets struggling with post-tramautic stress, that is scheduled to run on CNN Aug. 12.

TV personality and actor Montel Williams, a veteran himself, gave a mesmerizing address at which he drew an enthusiastic reaction both from attendees and an even larger audience on Twitter to his attacks on congressional inaction and indignation that VA employees would continue to be eligible to receive bonuses under the reform legislation.

Watch Williams’ remarks:

As I sat watching the event, I tweeted about Williams impassioned call for a “surge” in federal efforts to provide care for veterans. It quickly drew dozens of retweets:

She Never Stopped Working to Make Government Better

Sometimes in life, you’re lucky enough to encounter people who are willing to take the time to help you learn how to do your job better. For a journalist, that means finding someone who guides you through complex subjects until you reach at least a minimal level of understanding of key issues.

For me, one such person was Rosslyn S. Kleeman, or as she was known by all whose lives she touched, Roz. She died on July 18 at the age of 92.

Roz had a long and distinguished career in public service, including stints as deputy director of the Women’s Action Program at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare; project director at the Office of Management and Budget; director of federal workforce future issues at the General Accounting Office; and distinguished executive in residence at The George Washington University’s School of Public Policy and Public Administration. For years after her retirement, Roz was active in the National Academy of Public Administration and chaired the Coalition for Effective Change.

She was, in short, at the center of the good government movement for decades.

“So many people greatly admired Roz for her devotion to effective government, accountable ...

USPS Is Recruiting a Firer-in-Chief

This story has been updated with comment from USPS. 

We’ve been down this road before.

As mail volume has trended downward in recent years, the U.S. Postal Service has cut jobs. Lots of them.

In 2005, USPS employed more than 700,000 people. It now has fewer than 500,000 workers.

These reductions, postal management is always proud to note, have come through attrition rather than layoffs. USPS does not replace every employee who retires, and sometimes pays employees to leave. It has also offered incentives for employees to retire early.

The latest example of this will occur in January 2015, when USPS will separate 3,000 postmasters. While the Postal Service is offering these employees incentives to leave, it will resort to reductions in force -- government speak for layoffs -- if enough workers do not voluntarily separate.

To ease this process -- and perhaps in a sign of more such arrangements to come -- the Postal Service has posted a job opening for “RIF Administrator.”

The employee will “develop and implement policies and procedures governing the conduct of all reduction-in-force activities that take place within the Postal Service,” according to the posting.

The Lord of Layoffs will administer all RIFs ...

Umm, Congressman, Those Federal Executives Testifying Before You Are Not Foreigners

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more strange on Capitol Hill comes this story of an embarrassing case of mistaken identity.

On Thursday, Nisha Biswal, assistant secretary of State for south and central Asian affairs, and Arun Kumar, assistant secretary of Commerce for global markets, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. The subject was U.S.-India relations.

It was an uneventful hearing until, as John Hudson of Foreign Policy’s “The Cable,” reports, Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Fla., began his questioning of the witnesses. At that point, it quickly became clear he thought Biswal and Kumar were representing the Indian government, not that of the United States.

"I'm familiar with your country; I love your country," Clawson said, adding, "anything I can do to make the relationship with India better, I'm willing and enthusiastic about doing so." He went on to make a plea for economic cooperation: "Just as your capital is welcome here to produce good-paying jobs in the U.S., I'd like our capital to be welcome there. I ask cooperation and commitment and priority from your government in so doing. Can I have that?"

After ...