On the Job With Fed TV

It was only a matter of time before reality television infiltrated the federal government. ABC's Homeland Security USA portrays employees from various agencies-including Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Transportation Security Administration-on the job and protecting the American public from illegal drugs, terrorism and on one occasion, a Swiss belly dancer.

The show has the department's blessing, so it's mainly a valentine to DHS employees and their work, if the Jan. 6 debut episode is any indication of the rest of the season. Even their labor union is a fan. "Most Americans are unaware of the scope of the work they do and this new series will highlight that work for viewers," says National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley. Indeed, DHS employees are a hard-working lot: On an average day, they process more than 1 million travelers arriving in the United States, deal with more than 70,000 cargo containers, and detain more than 600 people, among other duties. But judging from the show's busy online message board on ABC's Web site, reviews are mixed so far. Comments from viewers range from "This is my new favorite show," to "Anyone with any common sense will call on ABC and all of its 'affiliates' to prevent this show from airing." Stay tuned.

-Kellie Lunney

Budget Blips

In recent years, the president's annual budget request has been released like clockwork on the first Monday of February, siphoning attention away from the results of the Super Bowl the night before and toward the pay and other proposals in the lengthy document. But presidential transitions throw off this rhythm. Based on past handoffs, Obama is likely to wait until the spring to publish his fiscal 2010 budget, though he'll probably outline some of his broader priorities much earlier.

-Amelia Gruber

TSP for Everyone?

As uncles go, Uncle Sam is the reliable kind: always ready to bail you out of a tight spot. But innovation is seen as more likely to occur at the more freewheeling state and local levels.

But these days, decision-makers are taking every idea seriously, including those embodied in federal programs, especially those related to health care reform and Social Security. The Federal Employees Health Benefits Program long has been viewed by some as a model for national health insurance.

During the Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., proposed allowing uninsured Americans to purchase insurance through FEHBP as part of her plan to reform health care.

And now some folks are eyeing the Thrift Savings Plan as a prototype for a more stable investment option in un- certain economic times.

In December, The Motley Fool Web site interviewed Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, who said there was some discussion around the possibility of opening up the TSP to nongovernment employees. "I don't want to overstate the talk, but yes, that has been raised," he told the Alexandria, Va.-based financial services company. "I think when you look at the Thrift Savings Plan, it meets a lot of criteria about a low-cost, limited choice agenda for people."

-Kellie Lunney

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