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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.
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TSA Election Set

Transportation Security Administration employees are one step closer to long-awaited union representation.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority on Wednesday confirmed that TSA's union election will begin March 9 and end April 19, the same timeframe tentatively scheduled in January. Employees will be able to vote online and via phone. The American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union have been vying for exclusive representation of 40,000 TSA workers, including transportation security officers, behavior detection officers, security training instructors and equipment maintenance technicians.

The announcement comes in the midst of a controversy over newly-granted collective bargaining rights for TSA employees. TSA Administrator John Pistole on Feb. 4 determined that workers will be allowed limited bargaining privileges over issues that do not interfere with national security. Though union leaders praised the decision, several Republican lawmakers have pushed to grant TSA employees other workplace rights not including collective bargaining.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Pistole, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, requested information about the collective bargaining decision. Granting those privileges may force TSA to seek union approval before making critical security decisions, they wrote.

TSA has been asked to deliver all documents and...

Lawmakers Protect Pensions

From Ben Terris at National Journal:

They introduced legislation to reduce printing, cut the House compost program, voted against an automatic 5 percent pay raise, and agreed to cut back on office budgets all in the name of curbing spending. But one thing Congress hasn't discussed is doing away with a pension program that an analysis by Roll Call finds is costing taxpayers $26 million a year.

The figure comes from Congressional Research Service data that tracked payments to 455 former members as of October 2009.

"Along with the franking privilege, pensions represent a valuable perk to both political parties that lawmakers don't want to touch," National Taxpayers Union spokesman Pete Sepp told Roll Call.

While $26 million isn't that much in the grand scheme, the new Congress, especially the GOP, has made a big show of making symbolic cuts. Doing so has been an important way to demonstrate to constituents, especially those influenced by the tea party movement, that they are serious about changing the way things are done in Washington.

Two Illinois Republicans who rode in on this tea party wave, Reps. Bobby Schilling and Joe Walsh, have each said they would not participate in...

Pentagon: Bring on the Contractor Mergers

Navy ships.jpgFar from opposing mergers and acquisitions among defense contractors, the Pentagon is "actually quite welcome to that," Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition Ashton Carter told Bloomberg Television. The department expects shakeups among contractors in reaction to the impending downturn in defense spending.

But there's an exception to the general acceptance that mergers are inevitable: Defense officials don't want to to see the country's biggest contractors get any bigger. The Pentagon is "down to about five or six very large prime contractors who bid on many, many of our jobs and, in the interest of competition, we are not interested in seeing further consolidation and reduction in that number," Carter said. So Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics won't be joining forces any time soon. Which probably won't bother them too much, since each of those companies took in more than $14 billion in defense contracts all by themselves in fiscal 2009.

After All These Years, Still Divided on TSA Unionization

By Charles S. Clark

Back in 2002, Democratic Sen. Max Cleland battled GOP challenger Saxby Chambliss bitterly over the collective bargaining question in an age of heightened terrorist threats. Now that the Transportation Security Administration has just granted limited collective bargaining rights to its 40,000 airport screeners, neither of the erstwhile opponents appears interested in revisiting the controversy.

Chambliss, who defeated the Vietnam veteran Cleland in a campaign marked by TV ads featuring menacing photos of Osama bin Laden and charges of weakness in protecting the homeland, would give only one-word answers on Tuesday to two questions from Government Executive. Does he still oppose unionization at TSA? (yes); and has he changed his views since the hard-fought 2002 race ? (No.)

Cleland, who is now secretary of the Arlington, Va.-based American Battle Monuments Commission, declined comment but referred a questioner to the record of the 2002 campaign.

In his 2009 memoir Heart of a Patriot, Cleland recalled how he worked with Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, then a Democrat, on the Governmental Affairs Committee to press a bill to create a new Homeland Security Department, a move initially opposed by the Bush administration. The original bill included all of the...

Getting Out In Front Of The GOP Budget Knife

By Charles S. Clark

"The easy cuts are behind us," wrote Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew in a Saturday op-ed in The New York Times.

In what might be seen as a bid to model the self-sacrificing behavior the Obama White House would like to see from Republicans, Lew offered three specific program cuts in the spirit of a need to "look beyond the obvious and cut spending for purposes we support. We had to choose programs that, absent the fiscal situation, we would not cut," he wrote.

The three programs on the hook? Community service block grants (so dear to the president from his days as a community organizer), to save $350 million; the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, to save $125 million; and community development block grants, to save $300 million. A journey of a thousand miles begins...

Dems: GOP 'Playing With Fire' on Shutdown

As House Republicans unveiled their proposal Thursday to slash tens of billions of dollars in federal spending this fiscal year (which already is four months old), Senate Democrats are decrying budget brinksmanship and the threat of a government shutdown.

"It's playing with fire," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said yesterday, according to a Federal Times report.

Prior to last fall's elections, GOP leaders indicated their unwillingness to provoke a shutdown, given that their party bore the brunt of the blame for the last big shutdown in 1995-96. Since then, though, the signals have gotten more mixed. As Federal Times reported:

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that a shutdown is not the goal. Last month, however, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., was quoted as saying that "we are going to have to be brave this time" if President Obama vetoes Republican spending legislation and tries "to force us to shut government down."

Understanding the Continuing Resolution

Experiencing some budget beffudlement in regard to the fiscal 2011 continuing resolution agencies are operating under until March 4? John Kamensky of the IBM Center for the Business of Government has shared a slide deck prepared by his colleague Carl Moravitz that sheds some light on the situation.

"We've had CRs for most of the past 30 years," Moravitz notes in the deck. "However, seldom have they been across all of government for this long." (The last extended CR came in 1995.)

The big sticking point this year, Moravitz notes, is that the House GOP leadership wants not only to hold the line on spending (which the CR does, in most cases), but actually significantly reduce it. The result could be a "perpetual CR," or at least one lasting through fiscal 2012, that would cut funding not only at domestic agencies, but at departments that have traditionally been protected from reductions: Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security.

Even if that doesn't happen, Moravitz says, the current CR is likely to be extended for the rest of fiscal 2011, unless the House and Senate can come to some agreement on spending levels.

Punxsutawney Phil vs. NOAA

Punxsutawney Phil went out, looked for his shadow in vain, and made it official this morning: Spring is destined to come early this year (and not a moment too soon).

It's an annual ritual, but does Phil really have any predictive powers? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has run the numbers and, unfortunately, the news isn't good for groundhog lovers: A table of national temperature averages "shows no predictive skill for the groundhog during the most recent years of this analysis," the agency reports.

If you happen to be a true believer in large-rodent-and-sunshine-based weather analysis, the NOAA scientists are determined to burst your bubble. "It really isn't a 'bright' idea, they note, "to take a measure such as a groundhog's shadow and use it as a predictive meteorological tool for the entire United States."

Hat tip: Dorobek Insider

For Agencies Across U.S., a Wintry Mix

ObamaFEMA-DHSbriefing.jpgPresident Obama gets a briefing from DHS, FEMA officials Tuesday.

While federal employees in the Washington area brace for freezing rain that could cause more commuting snafus, agencies in the rest of the country are steeling themselves for weather problems of a potentially more serious nature.

The National Weather Service has issued winter storm watches, warnings or advisories in more than 30 states, and blizzard warnings in eight of them. Today, President Obama got a briefing in the White House from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate about how the federal government is preparing to respond to the extreme conditions.

They told the president that the following states have taken FEMA up on its offer to deploy personnel and coordinate with local officials on response efforts: Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Even while events in Egypt rapidly unfold, Obama is clearly aware that failing to respond effectively to natural disasters at home can cost a president dearly.