Like a Business

The common refrain among some in the media and on Capitol Hill is the federal government can't be trusted to run large banks or auto plants because its business sense, to put it tactfully, is sub par.

But according to a panel of leading figures in American business, at least two government agencies are outperforming the private sector in some categories. The Government Printing Office and the Air National Guard were among those honored at the seventh annual American Business Awards this summer. The so-called Stevie awards recognize the achievements of organizations, executives and workers nationwide.

GPO won for PR Production of the Year for its video on the printing of President Barack Obama's official photograph. The Air National Guard's recruiting and retention program, meanwhile, was named Human Resources Team of the Year.

Other winners included OnStar, eHarmony, Nike and E*Trade, which won best financial services ad campaign for its ad campaign featuring babies trading stocks.

-Robert Brodsky

Beach Reading

From Recovery Act guidance to fiscal 2010 budget documents, federal employees aren't lacking reading material this summer. But public servants also could use some inspiration that isn't in the form of a presidential directive. A few suggestions for your beach bag:

Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook by Martha Davis (New Harbinger Publications, 2008): Feeling overwhelmed by the demands of the new administration? This 371-page workbook of self-assessment tools and calming techniques includes suggestions on setting goals and managing time efficiently as well as assertiveness training.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich (Holt Paperbacks, 2001): Enter the world of low-wage, soul-crushing jobs in America as depicted by a journalist who tried it temporarily in the pre-stimulus 1990s.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (Scribner, 1929): What's summer without romance? Dive into this classic about an American soldier serving in the Italian army who falls in love with an English nurse during World War I. It's got passion, tragedy and first responders. Sure beats a PowerPoint presentation.

-Kellie Lunney

Straight Talk

More than 13,000 men and women have been discharged from the military since the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law banning openly gay people from serving in uniform was passed in 1993. Now critics are pressuring President Obama to make good on his campaign pledge to repeal the law, saying it has hampered readiness, especially in critical occupations, and has cost millions in lost training dollars and recruitment of replacements.

Sizing Up Self-Worth

"Think you merit more salary? Separate fact from fiction here." That's the tag line of an online self-assessment tool that General Schedule employees can use to estimate potential pay raises., an interactive Web site devoted to government IT issues, created the three-minute quiz cleverly dubbed, MeritMore.

Users are asked to provide basic information, including job title, agency and rating from their most recent performance evaluation, and to check which of 14 work-related statements applies to them (for example: "I have initiative to complete projects without manager direction"). It's an exercise that's definitely more art than science-self-assessments usually are-but who doesn't like to hear they should be making more money?

And the quiz offers additional guidance on how to make the case for extra dough to your manager.

-Kellie Lunney

Language Skills

The administration is using social media tools that translate English into Middle-Eastern languages for both diplomatic and military purposes.

President Obama posted his remarks about the June Iranian presidential election in English, Persian and Arabic on the White House blog and broadcast text-messaging service Twitter.

Government contractors now are taking note. Sakhr Software, a Washington-based provider of Arabic translation technology has acquired Dial Directions, a Silicon Valley-based speech recognition company that specializes in mobile applications, to deliver a translation tool for iPhone and BlackBerry devices. Federal users who buy the program can simply say a sentence in English or Arabic and then view a written translation on their mobile device's screen, as well as hear a spoken translation through the phone's receiver.

Nevertheless, e-government specialists have argued that too often federal agencies overlook non-English-speaking people in seeking feedback on improving public outreach.

-Aliya Sternstein

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