Briefing

In 2020, How About Reindeer?

Postal employees trudge on through rain, snow, sleet and hail. But they have nothing on the census taker. With a work ethic that would make Santa Claus blush, U.S. Census Bureau enumerators crisscrossed the country this year, hand-delivering the 2010 questionnaire to some of the nation's most isolated regions that lack access to regular mail service.

To reach remote villages in Alaska-where the once-a-decade head count began in January-about 700 census takers resorted to bush planes, four-wheel drives, snowmobiles and even dogsleds. Many Alaskan residents leave their homes in the spring for fishing and hunting, making it difficult to get an accurate population count.

Meanwhile, in the far-flung North Woods of Maine, much of which is in-accessible by automobile, Census workers hopped on ATVs, trekked through the snow on cross country skis and boarded small airplanes or lobster boats to reach one of the state's many small islands-all to deliver the 10-question survey.

And don't confuse the travel with a light-hearted episode of The Amazing Race. Part-time workers slogged through subzero temperatures, were met by occasionally hostile residents and dodged enough wildlife to cast a Bambi sequel.

-Robert Brodsky

Master of Disaster

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted an active 2010 season similar to 2005 when Hurricane Katrina and then Rita walloped the Gulf Coast. Federal managers can stay a step ahead of Mother Nature by following these common-sense tips.

Protect data. You know what a glass of spilled water can do to a computer. Imagine the havoc a storm surge wreaks. Managers should make sure electronic data and applications are copied and backed up on equipment that isn't in a storm's path.

Appoint a disaster squad. Enlist employees to act as points of contact during and after an emergency. A cadre of well-trained leaders prepared to make quick decisions, prioritize and delegate duties are vital to avoiding the bureaucratic inertia that can turn a crisis into a catastrophe.

Do a dry run. Practice makes perfect. Simulate a disaster and let your imagination run wild. The more experience people have with practicing emergency procedures, the more confident they'll be when true disaster hits.

Tout telework. A tried-and-true telework policy sets clear expectations for personnel and provides them the necessary equipment to perform their jobs.

-Kellie Lunney

Web Chat

Move over Oprah. The Government Printing Office has launched its own book club. The Government Book Talk blog is a virtual window into a treasure trove of federal publications. Here's what Book Talk has to say about a few favorite picks.

The U.S. Constitution: Analysis and Interpretation, an all-time favorite "weighing in at an imposing 9 pounds, 6 ounces, not counting the supplements," also comes in pocket and online versions.

Occupational Outlook Handbook by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a biennial reference since the 1940s, is "a compendium of information about every job imaginable."

A Short Guide to Iraq, which the War and Navy departments distributed to troops during World War II, "seems relevant even today." Also available: the newer Afghanistan Smart Book and a similar guide to Pakistan from the Army Training and Doctrine Command.

-Susan Fourney

International Cost-Cutting

The United States isn't the only country doing some belt-tightening these days. A number of European countries also are going on fiscal diets of their own to avoid or dig themselves out of financial crises, with pay freezes-and in some cases, cuts-a key ingredient.

Spain

The government is trimming civil servants' salaries by 5 percent on average this year, and freezing pay next year. And retirees will not receive automatic pension increases in 2011.

Britain

Queen Elizabeth II is freezing the salaries of higher-paid employees, delaying repairs to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, and looking for ways to downsize her staff.

France

The government plans to sell 6 percent of its excess building stock during the next three years. This amounts to 1,700 of 28,000 government property assets.

Greece

Public servants won't get a raise until at least 2014; no holiday bonuses for government employees making more than 3,000 euros a month and payouts will be capped at 1,000 euros for those earning less.

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