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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.

Pentagon Suffering From Civilian 'Bloat'?

The Defense Department's civilian workforce, which currently numbers around 750,000, is an example of the "bureaucratic bloat" the government has undergone in defense and intelligence since the 9/11 attacks, former Navy Secretary John Lehman said on Wednesday at a panel discussion by former members of the 9/11 Commission.

When the department was created in 1947, he told the audience at the Bipartisan Policy Center with a touch of nostalgia, the Office of the Defense Secretary was envisioned with a modest 50 employees.

Obama Demands Back Pay for Furloughed FAA Workers

faa_logo.jpgWhen the House and Senate finally struck a deal early this month to end a two-week partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, left up in the air was the question of whether furloughed employees would receive back pay for the time they weren't allowed to work. Traditionally, back pay has been awarded to employees placed in furlough situations due to funding squabbles, but in today's budget environment, all bets are off.

Well, now we know where President Obama stands on the issue, anyway. Today, in a statement in the Rose Garden, he made a plea for Congress to approve a transportation bill providing funding for highway construction, bridge repair, mass transit and other projects. And he added this:

Just a few weeks ago, Congress refused to act on another bill, typically a routine bill, that would have ended up pulling thousands of aviation workers off the job and delaying necessary airport improvement projects across the country. And when Congress finally got their act together, they only funded the FAA until September 16th. That's why, when they come back next month, not only do they need to pass the transportation bill but they've also got to...

USPS Woes Threaten Workers' Comp

Financial trouble plaguing the U.S. Postal Service could have a broader impact on all federal employees, according to the Labor Department.

If USPS, which expects to run out of cash by the end of September, fails to make its scheduled $1.2 billion payment to the government's workers' compensation, Labor will be unable to provide any benefits in the last four months of fiscal 2012, Reuters reports. Postal employees are the largest group of workers covered under the 1916 Federal Employees' Compensation Act, representing 40 percent of the benefits paid for work-related disabilities.

According to the report, USPS officials expect to make the workers' comp payment but could consider making a smaller contribution -- just enough to allow Labor to meet its obligations. The Postal Service already has suspended payments to its Federal Employees Retirement System account in an effort to conserve cash.

FEMA and the Federal Family

Perhaps just a coincidence, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency picked the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall -- perhaps the low point in FEMA's controversial history -- to publish on Monday an impressive time line of actions by the entire "federal family" in response to Hurricane Irene.

A bonanza for future historians, it begins on Aug. 19, when FEMA began monitoring the building storm. Over 10 days it ropes in actions by agencies ranging from Homeland Security to the Consumer Product Safety Commission to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to the Energy Department. It ends with President Obama signing a disaster declaration for Vermont.

That's one way to put out the message that times have changed since the name FEMA was in many a curse.

Expansion of Bethesda Naval Delayed

Just as patients were arriving from the closing Walter Reed Army Medical Center, planners at the National Naval Medical Center learned to their frustration of delays in the planned building expansion due an over-burdened power grid, the Washington Examiner reported on Tuesday.

The local power station in Bethesda, Md., cannot handle any more capacity,the Defense Department said in an Aug. 16 letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.

That unexpected news means the Pentagon must come up with $36.6 million to boost the grid before construction can proceed.

Government Gets It Right

Irene New York.jpgIn an opinion piece yesterday, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank highlighted a telling story: Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate pointed out at a White House press conference that 10 years ago, the state of Florida likely would have been evacuated in advance of Hurricane Irene, because forecasting models would not have been able to accurately predict where the hurricane would make landfall.

Instead, during the past decade, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has made great strides in improving its models, enabling the agency to predict within 10 miles where Irene would hit the United States.

Likewise, FEMA itself has made great advances since Hurricane Katrina six years ago, and was able to anticipate needs up and down the entire eastern seaboard and coordinate a huge-scale response effort.

"Don't expect anybody to throw a tea party, but Big Government finally got one right," Milbank writes.

I have only one quibble: "Finally"?

Big government gets it right on a fairly regular basis. It's just that these days, success in government often means the absence of something bad happening: planes crashing into one another, terrorists carrying out plots, civil rights being denied, veterans going without vital medical...

Federal Wage Growth Slowest in Decades

Private sector wages increased by 3.1 percent in 2010 -- slightly more than the 2.5 percent rise in federal wages, according to new Bureau of Economic Analysis data that were highlighted by the Cato @ Liberty blog.

BEA also found federal wage growth was the slowest in at least two decades.

The average federal civilian wage was $83,679 in 2010, 17 percent higher than the average private sector wage of $51,986, the Libertarian think tank's blog noted. The average military wage in 2010 was $71,295.

BEA also compiled data on wage growth for the entire decade. From 2000 to 2010, military wages grew 6.6 percent a year, federal civilian wages 5 percent annually and private sector wages 3.0 percent.

Teleworking Through Irene

Hurricane Irene could be the first major test of new federal telework policies that were required to be in place by June, according to the latest Wired Workplace post from Nextgov's Brittany Ballenstedt.

"Some agencies, most notably the Patent and Trademark Office, have their acts together when it comes to allowing employees to telework during emergency situations," Ballenstedt writes. Most, however, do not.

Read the whole post.

Congressman: The Pay's Not That Great, and We Get Shot At

Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., has had it with people who complain that members of Congress are overpaid and enjoy cushy benefits.

Florida Capital News reports that during a town hall meeting at a retirement community in his district, Southerland took issue with those who questioned whether pay and benefits for lawmakers were too lavish.

"If you took the hours that I work and divided it into my pay," the rate wouldn't seem that high, he said. Plus, ethics rules prevent him from having any contact with his family business, Southerland griped.

On the subject of benefits, Southerland said, "the health insurance plan that I have is no different than any other federal employee's in the United States government. I pay my portion."

"And by the way, did I mention? They're shooting at us," Southerland added, in a reference to the attack earlier this year on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. "There is law enforcement security in this room right now, and why is that?"

(Hat tip: Talking Points Memo)

Polls: Uncle Sam Keeps Us Safe

Longtime polling expert Karlyn Bowman, of the American Enterprise Institute, just delivered a pat on the back for the federal employees who toil to keep the country safe from another terrorist attack.

In her new compendium of opinion data going back 10 years, Bowman writes:

"At a time when criticism of government is widespread, Americans believe the country is safer due to the government's efforts. They also believe George W. Bush made us safer and that Barack Obama has kept us safe. 69 percent told Pew that the government was doing very or fairly well in reducing the threat of terror. 50 percent in 2008 told CBS that George W. Bush had made the country safer; 21 percent said less safe. 63 percent approved of the job President Obama was doing handling terrorism in a June 2011 Quinnipiac poll."