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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.

Celebrating Substance, Stylishly

Tomorrow night, a throng of celebrities and media personalities will gather in Washington for the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner. It's brings all the glitz and glamour of a Hollywood premier to Washington.

Last night, I was privileged to attend what might be called the anti-WHCA dinner: the Senior Executives Association Professional Development League's Presidential Distinguished Rank Awards banquet. It honors the annual distinguished rank award winners. And it is a triumph of substance over celebrity.

Rather than craning their necks to see Donald Trump or Courteney Cox, guests are treated to stories about senior federal executives whose accomplishments are beyond impressive: Producing and delivering 9,000 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles for troops within two years, building the most powerful superconducting magnetic system used in the open ocean, and piloting the space shuttle, to name just a few.

But it's not that the event isn't stylish. It's a black-tie affair that unfolds in one of the classiest venues in Washington, if not the world: the State Department's Diplomatic Reception Rooms.

The point is that the focus is on the incredibly important work being led by these executives throughout the federal government. And right about...

A Rather Extreme Approach to Downsizing

At our leadership briefing this morning with Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, one audience member rose to ask him about how Defense civilian employees are viewed by the public. But as you can see from a transcript of the exchange, he briefly thought she was suggesting rather dire mistreatment of the civilian workforce:

Questioner: Six to one is the ratio of contractors to civil servants. Yet civil servants continue to endure public opprobrium. What is your position on the total force structure, and who should be doing the work of the government?

Mullen: Civil servants continue to endure what?

Questioner: Opprobrium. A lot of civil servant-bashing.

Mullen: A pogrom?

Questioner: Opprobrium.

Joint Chiefs Chair on Panetta, Petraeus

Mullen briefing.jpgGovernment Executive was pleased to host Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the latest in our series of Leadership Briefings this morning.

Here's some of what he had to say (in case you missed it on Twitter):

  • On the appointment of Leon Panetta to head the Defense Department and Gen. David Petraeus to take over at the CIA: "I've worked very closely with Leon Panetta as well as David Petraeus. I have great admiration for both men." He added that they're "wonderful public servants whose service in their current positions has been extraordinary."
  • On the Defense budget situation: "I've been in a hollow military before and I won't lead a hollow military."
  • On the situation in Libya: "I've been very impressed about how NATO has grabbed this mission and executed it." This prevented a "massive humanitarian disaster." He added that Qaddafi's "days are numbered."
  • On Defense civilians: "We wouldn't be anywhere without the great civil service workforce that we have." Their "dedication and patriotism equals that of those of us in uniform." But Defense "has got to pay attention to refreshing our civilian workforce" as average age...

2,000 Postal Managers Take Buyouts

More than 2,000 Postal Service officials have taken the organization up on its offer of $20,000 buyouts aimed at trimming managerial ranks.

The managers will depart at the end of next month, Federal Times reports. The buyouts are part of an overall USPS effort to eliminate 7,500 administrative and managerial positions. That includes 20 percent of the administrative workforce and 10 percent of postmaster jobs.

In an interview with Government Executive in March, USPS Chief Human Resources Officer and Executive Vice President Anthony Vegliante said that even with the buyouts, the agency would need to rely on reductions-in-force to reach its staffing targets.

DEA Wants Your Surplus Meds

By Charles S. Clark

With abuse of prescription medicines a growing problem, several agencies plan to participate in the second annual nationwide National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, Saturday, April 30, from 10:00 a.m to 2:00 p.m. local time. More than 5,100 sites have joined the effort, says the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is coordinating the effort with White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"I encourage every American to take advantage of this valuable opportunity to safely dispose of unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs," said Gil Kerlikowkse, Director of National Drug Control Policy. "Preventing these readily available and potentially deadly drugs from being diverted and misused is something each and every one of us can do to help reduce the epidemic of prescription drug abuse that is harming so many Americans."

Other federal agencies joining dozens of community and nonprofit groups, according to The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe, include the departments of Health and Human Services, Justice and Transportation.

Army: 'Three Cups of Tea' Not Required Reading

By Charles S. Clark

3CTCoverSmall.jpgSince the "60 Minutes" April 17 investigative piece questioning the honesty of philanthropist Greg Mortenson and his top-selling book about building schools in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has remained silent. That's not surprising given that Mortenson's 2007 memoir Three Cups of Tea has played a central role in inspiring the U.S. Army's efforts to win the hearts and minds of the war-ravaged Afghan population.

According to Monday news reports, the Nobel-Prize nominee, who has denied charges that he has misused donated funds and misstated his accomplishments in his book, has just been admitted to a hospital for heart surgery.

A U.S. Army spokesman, meanwhile, replied to a Government Executive query on the sticky topic. "While I can't speak for every commander, in general, there is no Army 'required reading' list for troops heading to Afghanistan," said Gary Tallman, a civilian deputy in the Army's Media Relations Division. "Some commanders do have professional development reading lists, but in the case of this particular book, it is not an Army requirement to consult Three Cups of Tea before deploying to Afghanistan."

TSA Union Election: Runoff Next Month

Airport screeners at the Transportation Security Administration are going to get one more shot at voting for union representation. Officials from the Federal Labor Relations Authority, as well as the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union, on Thursday agreed to hold a four-week runoff election beginning next month.

AFGE and NTEU have been vying for exclusive representation of 40,000 TSA employees, but an election that concluded this week failed to produce a majority of votes for either organization.

AFGE received 8,369 votes, while 8,095 TSA workers voted for NTEU. In addition, 3,111 employees voted not to elect union representation. Less than 50 percent of eligible employees participated in the election.

The runoff voting period will begin on May 23 and end on June 21. The FLRA will tally the results on June 23. The option for no representation will not appear on the ballot for the runoff, so a simple majority will decide the winner.

BRAC and NOVA traffic revisited

By Charles S. Clark

Just five months before 6,400 Defense Department workers are scheduled to move to a new building in Alexandria, Va., a report by the Pentagon's inspector general's office has handed new ammunition to critics of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

In an April 20 report on the local traffic impact from the move to the soon-to-be-completed Mark Center building at I-395 and Seminary Road, the Defense IG faulted the Army's data in examining traffic mitigating strategies. Calling for more robust traffic studies, the IG said the Army's work concluding there would be "no significant impact" did not "adequately address existing and projected peak-hour traffic volumes; appropriate site variables; and effects of BRAC [site] 133 traffic on additional intersections and interchanges beyond the narrowly defined BRAC" area.

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., who has long opposed the move on the grounds that the new building near his district is not close to public transportation, is hoping the IG report provides local officials with grounds for a lawsuit to block it.

"Unfortunately, the inspector general's report proved what we have said from the beginning -- the Mark Center decision was flat-out wrong," Moran...

Former Top Feds Join Partnership Board

The Partnership for Public Service announced four new members of its board of directors today, and they're some heavy hitters:

  • Retired Adm. Thad Allen, former commandant of the Coast Guard.
  • Tom Davis, director of federal government affairs at Deloitte and former chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.
  • Lloyd Howell, executive vice president, Booz Allen Hamilton.
  • Peter R. Orszag, vice chairman of global banking at Citigroup, Inc., and former director of the Office of Management and Budget and Congressional Budget Office.
The new members, said Max Stier, the Partnership's president and CEO, "will bring energy, ideas and a broad range of experience to our board that will help to enhance the Partnership's ability to advance our mission of revitalizing the federal government."

Charity Campaign Down Slightly From Record Level

In the face of a tough economy, federal employee charitable contributions via the Combined Federal Campaign were down slightly in 2010, the Office of Personnel Management reported today. Still, the total raised, $281.5 million, was less than half a percentage point below the record level in 2009 of $282.6 million.

Campaigns with the largest increase in pledges included South Puget Sound, North Central Kentucky-Southern Indiana-Fort Knox, Greater Chattanooga Area, Lowcountry in South Carolina, Rio Grande Valley, Greater Southwest Texas, Rowan/Iredell counties in North Carolina, Northern Shenandoah Valley, and Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.

"The CFC has been a source of food, of warmth, of light, of medicine, of schoolbooks -- a source of life," said OPM Director John Berry. "For countless Americans and people in need around the world, it has been like bedrock -- supporting them, even if they don't know it's there."

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the CFC.