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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.

Fighting Back Against the Conference Spending Crackdown

Three and a half years after the General Services Administration extravagant conference scandal broke, scientists are warning that the crackdown on travel to confabs imposed by Congress and the Obama administration has gone too far.

“The restrictions on conference participation threaten the quality of research at our federal labs, the stature of U.S. science on the global stage and agencies’ abilities to recruit and retain the best and brightest,” wrote Sandra H. Magnus, executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, in a Monday Washington Post op-ed.

She cited a March Government Accountability Office report showing that would-be Energy and Defense department federal participants in conferences often have to wait months to receive approval to participate in the events, sometimes getting permission just days in advance. This prevents many scientists and engineers from taking speaking roles. “Delayed approvals also lead to last-minute bookings and increased travel costs, all borne by taxpayers,” Magnus wrote, adding examples of scientific careers that were altered by participation in a key conference.

To ease the problem, her aeronautics institute has joined with more than 100 scientific and engineering organizations to meet with lawmakers and the White House to press for an immediate...

Defense Chief Says Treatment of Civilians Is ‘Appalling’

The Defense Department’s civilian personnel system is so broken it’s a wonder anyone sticks around to work there, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference just outside Washington, Carter promoted the department’s Force of the Future initiative, which he said would bring long overdue change for its 800,000 civilian employees. A proposal in the plan to move most of those workers out of the civil service system that governs most of the federal workforce has come under fire. But Carter said it represents just one option he is considering.

“We're thinking many ideas through, and we need time to get the best ideas and advice, especially from the armed services,” Carter said. “The people of the U.S. armed forces are the best and always will be the best, and how we manage them should be too.”

He noted the military has a “fantastic system” to manage its people. The civilian system, he said, is another story.

“I can't really claim we have a good system for managing civilians,” Carter said. “I actually think it's appalling and we don't treat them...

Public Service is No Longer Just Government Service

On Sept. 11, 2001, a young David A. Bray, who was then working for the Centers for Disease Control's Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Program, was supposed to brief the FBI and CIA on what technologies could be used to respond to a bioterrorism event. Bray had to postpone that briefing to shift into emergency response mode. The events of 9/11 and the anthrax episodes that closely followed it spurred him to extend a planned three-year tour in public service into a longer stint that led to becoming a career federal executive. He is now the chief information officer at the Federal Communications Commission.

In May, I wrote about what might happen if the “best and brightest” of the millennial generation just say no to working in government. That post prompted Bray to share some thoughts about the distinction between the perceived dysfunction of the political system and the effort required to make representative democracy work. Bray, who characterizes himself as a Generation X/Generation Y “tweener,” argues that we should broaden the conversation to be not just about government but rather about redefining public service as a whole.

Below are some of Bray’s more specific thoughts, with...

Happy 50th Birthday, HUD!

The agency that was created as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty turned 50 on Wednesday.

The Housing and Urban Development Department certainly has had its ups and downs since it was established on Sept. 9, 1965, with the aim of providing safe and affordable housing in sustainable communities across the country. HUD for decades was the “poster child” for waste, fraud and abuse in government, and at times has faced criticism for failing to enforce fair housing laws and ensure that its public housing remained both safe and livable for residents. But the department also allocates billions each year to help sustain and encourage affordable housing (an increasingly rare commodity) and community development projects in this country.

Mayors of both parties especially love the Community Development Block Grant program, which allows them to use federal funds for a wide range of local needs that go beyond just housing. Since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, HUD has played a more significant and crucial role in rebuilding after disasters and finding short- and long-term housing for victims.

In July, HUD announced a new rule that would require more specific reporting from localities and grantees...

Refugees Find Accommodation in Army's Former Heidelberg Home

Military personnel who formerly served in Heidelberg, Germany, might not recognize their old stomping grounds today. In response to Europe's deepening refugee crisis, the Germans have turned Patrick Henry Village—formerly a housing area for Army families—into a shelter for those fleeing chaos in the Middle East and North Africa. 

Patrick Henry Village was a special place for many who lived there, prompting former residents to create at least one website and an unofficial Facebook page to share memories of military childhood in one of the most picturesque areas of Germany. The installation opened in 1947 following World War II; the Army returned it to Germany in 2013. At its peak, 16,000 Americans lived there.

While the current residents of PHV are there under very different circumstances, one hopes they find their new home as congenial as those who lived there in years past. You can glimpse their lives in this photo slideshow that appeared in this Mannheim publication

(Image via nnattalli/Shutterstock.com)