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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.

What Government Got Wrong and Right in 2011

Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post has a pair of posts up this week looking back at the year that's rapidly coming to a close: One examines government's biggest "oops" moments and the other, conversely, looks at what the feds got right in 2011.

We've covered the "oops" list before. It includes the serial near-shutdowns of government, the Federal Aviation Administration's seemingly endless travails, and the Office of Personnel Management's USAjobs.com snafu.

The "good" list, on the other hand, includes disaster response, hiring reform and efforts to cut backlogs in such areas as Freedom of Information Act requests.

And there's one slight oddity: the subject of waste, fraud and abuse in federal programs, and the effort to combat it, actually makes both lists. I guess that's one area where a little bit of improvement still leaves a long way to go.

An Agency That Carries Clout with the Pentagon

Can anybody push around the United States military? According to a defense logistics expert, one federal agency can: the Agriculture Department.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Gus Pagonis, who oversaw the drawdown of forces in the middle east after the Gulf War in the 1990s, says that today's forces in Kuwait are no doubt spending a lot of time cleaning up equipment used in Iraq to make sure no unwanted pests make their way back into the United States with the 4 million pieces of equipment coming home from the country.

"The USDA is very, very tough," Pagonis told National Journal.

A Federal Superhero

Isn't it appropriate -- and cool -- that the highest-paid federal employee also has the name that sounds most like a superhero?

Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Electron Kebebew, cancer fighter!

Is it Illegal for Feds to Say "Merry Christmas"?

Here's what Newt Gingrich had to say on the campaign trail in Davenport, Iowa this week:

I've been investigating this for the last three days. I am told that this is actually a 20- or 30-year-old law, which I have to say I find strange, and I would advocate repealing the law. Apparently if the president sends out Christmas cards, they are paid for the Democratic or Republican National Committees because no federal official at any level is currently allowed to say 'Merry Christmas.'


Having seen federal employees exchange Christmas greetings over the years, that seemed unbelievable to me. And it turns out that's because, according to the assiduous fact-checkers at PolitiFact, it simply isn't true.

There's no law or regulation, PolitiFact found, that prohibits federal employees at any level or in any branch of government from saying "Merry Christmas." And in fact there are policies dating back to the Clinton administration that explicitly require agencies to allow a fairly wide range of religious expression in the workplace.

The tradition of using national political committees to send out presidents' Christmas cards appears to exist out of a desire to be seen as good stewards of...

Making Last-Minute History at GPO

Public printer William Boarman, whose long-term appointment by President Obama continues to be blocked in the Senate, made history on Tuesday by naming the first female to the second-highest slot at the Government Printing Office. Davita Vance-Cooks will serve as deputy public printer, GPO announced, having completed nearly a year as chief of staff .

"Over the past year, Davita Vance-Cooks has been a leading member of GPO's senior management team in developing and carrying out our program of reducing the size and cost of GPO, streamlining our operations, and utilizing new technology, a program that has yielded positive results for the government and the taxpayers," Boarman said in a statement.

Vance-Cooks has been at GPO for eight years and has 22 years of private-sector experience, including work in information technology in the health insurance field.

Boarman, a labor union veteran who says he probably will leave government at the end of the month, appears baffled by the unidentified Senate opposition to his confirmation.

"I don't know of anybody that's opposed to me," he told The Washington Post.

"It's really a strange situation," he said. "I'm very disappointed, but I'm honored that the president chose...

White House News Flash: There's a Pay Freeze

The great majority of federal employees are already painfully aware of this fact, but the White House made it official Monday: the freeze on salaries for civilian feds remains in effect for another year.

In an annual exercise, President Obama issued an executive order spelling out exactly what next year's pay rates would be for various federal salary schedules.

This year, though, he noted that the order simply "freezes certain pay schedules for civilian federal employees at 2010 levels through 2012."

More BRAC Road Rage

Northern Virginia lawmakers were nearly shouting from the rooftops on Friday when it became clear that the 2012 Defense appropriations would become law with a cap on parking at the controversial Mark Center office complex in Alexandria, Va.

The Pentagon is in the middle of transferring some 6,400 national security employees from locations in Arlington, Va., and elsewhere to fulfill the demands of the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission. Local lawmakers, however, were appalled at the pending impact on traffic given that the new complex is not close to public transportation.

Both houses of Congress on have passed language that forces the Army, which is running the moves, to limit parking to 2,000 places until the service revises its traffic studies and abatement plans, as called for by the Defense Department inspector general.

"We cannot stop the Defense Department from fully occupying the building, but we now have assurance they will do so in a way that will mitigate the projected gridlock on I-395," said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. The Army "cooked the books," said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

An Army spokesman referred Government Executive to the recent IG report, in which the Army rebuts the IG...

Rick Perry, Double-Dipper

As governor of Texas, Rick Perry gets paid $150,000 a year. But that's not all the compensation he's getting from the state, the Texas Tribune reports. Based on his previous service, since January he's also been collecting a monthly retirement annuity of $7,698.

Perry officially retired as a Texas employee at the beginning of the year, qualifying for retirement under the state's "rule of 80": The combination of his U.S. military service, state service (as a lawmaker and state officer) and age exceeds 80 years.

Perry will get a bigger annuity based on his service as governor after he leaves office.

(Hat tip: USA Today)

NASA vs. NOAA on Comet's Fate

When Comet Lovejoy made its way perilously close to the Sun this week, NASA officials boldly went where few would dare to go, predicting that the comet's encounter with the solar surface would result in its demise.

"Welcome to the beginning of the end of comet Lovejoy's billions of years long journey through space," NASA said in a video issued in advance of the comet's rendezvous with the Sun.

But Jason Samenow of The Washington Post 's Capital Weather Gang reports that Lovejoy in fact did not meet a fiery end. While the 660-foot mass of rock apparently lost its tail, it didn't disappear.

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center said they knew all along Lovejoy would make it. "SWPC researchers were watching this event and predicited that this comet would survive its close encounter with the Sun," they claimed on their Facebook page .

Nothing like a scientist-vs.-scientist smackdown, federal-style.

Here's the NASA video:

Shutdown Preparations: Better Safe Than Sorry


It looks now like Congress has once again found a path to avoid a government shutdown. But because they have once again come so close to fiscal Amageddon, agencies (other than the luck few who already have their appropriations enacted) have had to crank up their preparations for the possibility of a halt in all but essential operations.

The Office of Management and Budget sent a memo to agency heads yesterday, detailing exactly how shutdown procedures would unfold over the weekend and on Monday morning in the event Congress failed to get its act together. Here are key portions:

Friday, December 16: Agencies must complete the process of communicating to all employees their status under a shutdown no later than the end of the day on Friday, December 16.

We will advise you over the course of the day of further developments, including whether there has been Congressional action that would prevent a lapse in funding. If we inform you that such action is not likely to be enacted, then you should prepare to initiate implementation of your shutdown plan beginning on Saturday, December 17. In that case, agencies must instruct non-excepted employees (including those who do not have a...