Briefing

Peace Corps Turns 50

On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order creating the Peace Corps. The first group of volunteers, led by Sargent Shriver (left), departed later that year. In the five decades since, the agency has deployed more than 200,000 people to 139 countries, including 8,655 today in 77 communities worldwide. View a slide show of the agency's history at www.govexec.com/peacecorps.

The Motivation Factor

After 32 years in government, including a stint as chief of the Veterans' Benefits Administration's human resources division, Stewart Liff has seen his fair share of employee performance issues. After leading the Veterans Affairs Department's Los Angeles Regional Office to national recognition, Liff has put his management insights to the page in his fifth book, Improving the Performance of Government Employees (AMACOM, 2011). He shared these thoughts with Government Executive:

Q: How can managers counter budgetary measures targeting federal workers?
A: Employees react-more than anything else-to good management. When they see good employees are rewarded and actions are taken to improve the performance of poor employees-that is going to motivate employees. People are not coming to work because they want a step increase. They are coming to work because they want to be part of a winning organization and do a good job.

Q: How can they promote teamwork?
A: If performance standards reward only individual performance, then what is the incentive for someone to work in a team? If everybody is behind high partitions and never see each other, you are probably not going to have a lot of teamwork. If you don't share metrics with anybody, then people are going to work individually and not focus on what is best for the organization.

Q: How important are effective metrics?
A: Metrics become disincentives when they are not meaningful to the employees. That could be because people are given metrics that have no relationship to their job, or because the metrics are out of whack with reality.

Saluting a Stellar Job

The world's largest customer for satellite services is not the National Weather Service, the navigation-equipment maker Garmin, or even NASA. That distinction goes to the Defense Department. So it makes sense that the second-highest ranking military officer received a new prize honoring public servants who have contributed to the industry.

In March, Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was recognized by the Society of Satellite Professionals International with the inaugural Stellar Award. Society leaders said the Defense official shaped satellite policy for the most active user of the technology.

Cartwright expedited acquisitions in a field where the rate of innovation often surpasses the pace of the procurement cycle, they noted. He clarified contract requirements so technologies would meet the needs of front-line soldiers, sailors and airmen, regardless of funding delays.

And in 2008, Cartwright announced the United States would avert disaster by shooting down a 5,000-pound rogue satellite containing hazardous materials. A Navy ship launched a missile that successfully intercepted the satellite, neutralizing the toxins, before the wreckage could re-enter the Earth's atmosphere.

-Aliya Sternstein

Traveling Man

Tim Burke climbed the career ladder the old-fashioned way. The director of travel and transportation services at the General Services Administration's Federal Acquisition Service loaded baggage onto airplanes at the Rochester, N.Y., airport in the 1970s. "It was my first job in travel," says Burke, who recently was named one of 2010's top 25 most influential executives in business travel by Business Travel News.

The Pittsburgh native, who joined GSA in 2001 and became a member of the Senior Executive Service in 2007, has helped shepherd the e-government travel program during the last decade.

Burke notes, "I've worked a lot with GSA on strategic sourcing and embraced moving to the online world." He's now gearing up for the second phase of the E-Gov Travel System, which he says will incorporate the most mobile and progressive technology available.

"I've never been in a career as fulfilling, exciting and interesting as the federal government," says Burke, who also worked for a decade at United Airlines and owned a travel-related business. "As a manager, you've got to have a 360-degree view of everything around you."

-Kellie Lunney

Paperless Trail

The annual release of the president's budget has long doubled as a chance for feds to save trees by steering users to the electronic rather than the print version. January's unveiling brought continued progress, as the print order for the four-volume, 10-pound set shrunk from 30,968 copies produced for the fiscal 2011 budget to 30,149 for the 2012 version.

That is impressive progress, given that back in 2000, fully 69,528 hard copies were produced, according to the Government Printing Office. In 2008, the Office of Management and Budget estimated that by not printing any copies for its own use, it saved more than 20 tons of paper and roughly 480 trees. If the government continued that paperless practice, it claimed, Uncle Sam would save more than $1 million over five years. Alas, word from an OMB spokeswoman in March is that hard copies have been spotted around the office. Two steps forward, one step back.

-Charles S. Clark

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