Briefing

Get Color-Coordinated

A makeover is in the works for the government's color-coded threat level system. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has assembled a task force to review the department's advisory of potential terrorist threats, and final recommendations are expected this fall. The system, introduced by President Bush in March 2002 to improve agency and public coordination in the event of a terrorist attack, has been criticized by some as ineffective and vague.

The advisory, which runs the spectrum from green (low risk) to red (severe), gauges the current terrorist threat to the United States in various sectors, including mass transit, aviation and financial services. Since its creation more than seven years ago, the threat level has switched between yellow (elevated) and orange (high) 16 times. For three days in August 2006, the system moved to its highest level-red-for all commercial flights leaving the United Kingdom and bound for the United States after a terrorist plot to blow up airliners traveling between the two countries was uncovered.

The advisory system task force is led by Frances Townsend, former White House homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, and William Webster, former director of the FBI and CIA. Other members of the diverse 17-person group include Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin; Joe Shirley, president of Navajo Nation, and Atlantic Media owner David Bradley. (Full disclosure: Atlantic Media Co. owns Government Executive.)

-Emily Long

Emerald City

Federal agencies are going green, and soon their employees could be eating green on the job. The Interior Department is working on a cafeteria that offers sustainable and healthy dining options, as part of an 11-year overhaul of its headquarters building in Washington. According to Rhea Suh, assistant secretary for policy, management and budget at Interior, the new cafeteria is an important aspect of the department's modernization initiative and the broader federal mandate to increase healthy eating and reduce carbon footprints.

Other agencies could follow suit. Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry announced last spring a "work-life campus project," along with Interior, the General Services Administration and Federal Reserve Board.

In a series of summer meetings, agency heads discussed creating a farmers market, developing green space and planting gardens in a coordinated approach to boosting workforce wellness and morale.

-Emily Long

Smoke Out?

If stress relief is just a cigarette away, then soldiers need not worry. Defense Secretary Robert Gates this summer announced that troops in high-pressure combat zones can keep puffing away.

Gates made his comments despite a June Institute of Medicine report that recommended phasing out tobacco use in the military, starting with the service academies and officer training programs and eventually covering all active-duty personnel.

The Pentagon and armed services have tobacco-free policies for personnel and facilities, yet more than 30 percent of military members use tobacco products, compared with 20 percent of the U.S. population.

The report found that the medical and societal consequences among military personnel are high: decreases in readiness, productivity and attendance as well as $564 million in annual military health system costs.

On the flip side, Defense earns substantial revenue from tobacco sales at military exchanges, nearly $88 million of which went to morale-boosting programs in 2005.

Defense has introduced tobacco- cessation projects. "Quit Tobacco-Make Everyone Proud" is a Web-based campaign that is aimed at young enlisted smokers. The site (www.ucanquit2.org) offers message boards, self-assessments, information sheets and an interactive live chat feature that allows users to talk privately with trained smoking cessation coaches.

While tobacco use among military members might filter out eventually, it still has a long way to go.

-Emily Long
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