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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.

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...

Can Feds Counter-Protest the White Supremacists in D.C. Without Violating the Hatch Act?

Feds in the Washington, D.C.-area have likely heard about road closures and local emergency operations activations in anticipation of the Unite The Right 2 rally taking place on the National Mall on Sunday. The organizers of 2017's infamous Charlottesville rally were approved to hold a rally on Aug. 12 with the stated purpose of highlighting "civil rights abuse in Charlottesville Va / white civil rights rally," according to the organizers' permit application to the National Park Service.

NPS officials estimate that hundreds will attend the rally, with just as many likely counter-protesting the white nationalist event. According to WAMU, two dozen organizations are planning to counter-protest. There might even be some feds there, according to emails FOIA'd by transparency group Property of the People.

In a 2017 email exchange, a fed emailed the Office of Special Counsel asking if counter-protesting white nationalists on federal property would constitute a violation of the Hatch Act. While OSC's Erica S. Hamrick could not answer the question about federal property, she did say that "counter-protesting against white nationalists would not constitute political activity for purposes of the Hatch Act" because it would not specifically be a protest against "the success...

Data: Public Servants Are Older Than Almost Everyone In the American Workforce

As many of our readers have complained, the stereotypes of civil servants run the gamut from "slow" to "lazy" to, increasingly, "old." Unfortunately, that third stereotype seems to be rooted in truth.

According to an analysis by data scientist and blogger Randal Olson, the oldest profession in the U.S. workforce is funeral home employee and the youngest is shoe salesperson. Olson looked at 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics data and found that the average age of someone working in shoe sales is 25.6 years old and the average age of a funeral home worker is 53.1.

What does this have to do with the government workforce getting older? Public servants' median age (45.6) is closer to the embalming and casket industry than it is to the boot and sandal industry and public finance employees have the eighth-oldest median age of all workers in the labor force.

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With the caveat that BLS doesn't break down public administration into state, local and federal, the statistics show that no category of public administration job notches a median age younger than 42.6 ("Justice...

The Problem With Government Is Not the People

Twenty-five years ago, then-Vice President Al Gore’s National Performance Review issued a report on the Clinton administration’s plans to “reinvent” the federal government. The document made Gore’s position very clear: Bureaucrats were not to blame for government’s woes:

The problem is not lazy or incompetent people: it is red tape and regulation so suffocating that they stifle every ounce of creativity. No one would offer a drowning man a drink of water. And yet, for more than a decade, we have added red tape to a system already strangling in it.

The federal government is filled with good people trapped in bad systems: budget systems, personnel systems, procurement systems, financial management systems, information systems. When we blame the people and impose more controls, we make the systems worse.

I thought of those words while reading a transcript of an interview Kara Swisher of the Recode Decode podcast did with Matt Cutts, acting head of the U.S. Digital Service. Cutts, in discussing how USDS operates—it is, in essence, a group of short-term employees drafted from the private sector to parachute in to agencies to help them solve pressing problems—said the organization doesn’t typically...

Inspectors General Mark 40th Year Feeling Needed But Stretched

Sen. Chuck Grassley called them “a force multiplier.” Former Attorney General William Barr said they have “the hardest job in any organization.” And Special Counsel Henry Kerner said that without a connection to them, his agency would be a “leaf in the wind.”

All spoke on Wednesday to an assembly of inspectors general staged on Capitol Hill to mark the 40th year since passage of the Inspector General Act. The all-day event delivered a mélange of praise, tips for improvement, and an ambitious future agenda that seeks more resources and sharing of administrative services.

The work of the government’s 73 watchdogs in search of waste, fraud and abuse is “more challenging in today’s polarized environment, but the good news is we are getting called up to do this work,” said Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general and chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. “After 40 years, the administration, Congress and the public see us as independent.”

Horowitz—who enjoyed a moment in the spotlight after having delivered last month a historic and lengthy report on the FBI’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s controversial email conduct during the 2016...