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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.

Complaints After the Presidential Emergency Alert: Hatch Act Confusion, Technical Troubles and More

On Oct. 3, a test message was sent to every cellular phone on an American network connected to wireless providers participating in the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Integrated Public Alert and Warning System infrastructure. FEMA estimated that 225 million cell phones received the message. Most Americans are familiar with WEA through its Amber Alert notices and weather notices sent to cell phones.

The Presidential Alert—as it was named—was a new test and was covered extensively by the media, but apparently some Americans still didn't know about the message and they were not happy.

Dozens of cell phone users complained to the Federal Communications Commission about the WEA test, according to documents received by GovExec through a Freedom of Information Act request. The complaints ranged from one San Franciscan wrongfully citing the Constitution ("This … alert is an unconstitutional seizure of my property (phone)") to one complainant calling Trump "president jackass" and saying FCC chief "Ajit Pai loves to screw the american people over for the sake of Verizon." 

While many took shots at Trump and his administration, most were just confused and wanted to opt out of the...

Hope for Reforming Government in Polarized Times?

President Trump’s point person for government reform—the busier-than-ever Margaret Weichert—acknowledged earlier this week that she is “standing on the shoulders of giants.”

During a week packed with speeches and duties for her new part-time role as acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, Weichert on Wednesday appeared with three of her predecessor White House deputy directors for management on a panel organized by the IBM Center for the Business of Government.

The veteran of private-sector software entrepreneurship said she valued the advice now readily available from the “community of former deputy directors for management.”  They were represented on the stage by Andrew Mayock from the Obama administration, Clay Johnson III from the George W. Bush administration and Sally Katzen from the Clinton administration.

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The Trump team shouldn't “look a gift horse in the mouth” by arbitrarily rejecting predecessor projects, Weichert said, citing the Obama-created U.S. Digital Service as an example. Such “vehicles left behind are tools, and what I bring to the table is enabled by all these things,” she said.

Asked how she might work to design Trump-era...

Trump Feared Transition Officials Were ‘Stealing’ His Money

Author Michael Lewis deserves credit for some inside-agency scoops in The Fifth Risk, his takedown of the Trump administration’s rocky transition from campaign mode to governing. The title (which refers to the challenges that arise if a project manager is not competent and leaders are shortsighted) spotlights federal heroes unappreciated by incoming Trump appointees, mostly with the Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce departments.

Career civil servants should welcome the fresh eye Lewis brings to the issue. Having long prospered as an explainer of minutiae in areas as far afield as obscure Wall Street investment vehicles to the role of data in Major League Baseball, Lewis successfully exploited his access to well-placed sources.

Perhaps the freshest anecdote is the opener, in which we learn that a newly victorious President-Elect Trump was furious when his key interregnum advisers Chris Christie and Steve Bannon explained that the Presidential Transition Act placed requirements on him—legal requirements. He had wanted them to shut down the newly opened Washington transition office. “You’re stealing my money,” the billionaire businessman said, punctuating with a few F-bombs.

Much of the slim volume, parts of which were previously published in Vanity Fair, documents how Trump appointees tossed out...

With or Without Congress, Would-Be Government Reformers Are Eager to Get Started

Last week’s rollout of yet another white paper on government reform brought to the fore a perhaps not-so-public reality: many experienced agency workforce planners are chafing at the bit to be allowed some experimentation.

The new set of recommendations for creating a 21st century public service assembled by the National Academy of Public Administration is titled “No Time to Wait, Part II.” The title is apt, because waiting is precisely what certain agency notables appear unwilling to do.

The more-concrete follow-up to last year’s conceptual paper proposes greater flexibility for individual agencies to test untried ideas to modernize staff skills; replace the status quo of job specifications with a competency-based talent model; reinforce the pursuit of merit principles that balance fairness and quality; create a strong leadership center on human capital issues; and “clean house” in the U.S. Code’s Title 5 provisions on workforce management.

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The current “crisis,” laid out by agency veterans at a Sept. 25 panel at the National Press Club is that the traditional civil service structure can’t keep up with the ever-in-flux higher-tech demands of...

Why Trump's Pay Freeze Move Shouldn't Have Surprised Anyone

It’s a ritual only a wonk (or a federal employee) could fully appreciate: Every year since 1994, the president, by the end of August, must submit to Congress a plan for paying federal employees in the following fiscal year.

That’s what President Trump did yesterday. This “alternative” pay plan is required under the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act (which actually took effect in 1994). Otherwise, the law triggers an extraordinarily high across-the-board pay increase, based on a pay-gap analysis by the Federal Salary Council. The council’s analysis, which sets the gap at 32 percent, is itself “based on a staggeringly complex methodology that cannot be validated,” according to federal pay expert Howard Risher.

Long story short: every president files an alternative pay plan in August. Even the language Trump used in recommending the pay freeze, citing economic hardship, is essentially prescribed by law.  

You wouldn’t have guessed any of that based on the outrage on Twitter after the White House released Trump’s plan Thursday. Whatever you think about stiffing federal employees on pay, the biggest surprise was that anybody was surprised.

The White House back in February said it would seek a pay freeze...