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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 IG Recalls Revealing Conversation With Mueller

In a wry anecdote illustrating the power of inspectors general, acting Pentagon watchdog Glenn Fine on Thursday recalled a revealing conversation he had with current special counsel Robert Mueller, back in the day when Mueller was FBI director and Fine was the Justice Department’s IG.

Speaking this week to attorneys at the Federal Bar Association’s conference on qui tam procedures under the False Claims Act, Fine was making the point that IGs, though independent “dual-reports” to both Congress and agency heads, do consult with agency chiefs on what issues the IG should investigate. But the agencies don’t always respond helpfully, he said.

When Fine was at Justice (2000-2011), he recalled, he once tapped Mueller, whom he considers an exceptional leader, for good ideas, to which the FBI chief replied, “Do more work on the Drug Enforcement Administration.” The IG was “doing enough work on the FBI,” Mueller said.

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But Fine retrieved the numbers and showed Mueller that only about 30 percent of his work was on the FBI—about equivalent to the bureau’s share of Justice Department employees. The laconic Mueller...

Government's Grand Challenges

In 1970, just a year after Government Executive began covering the business of government, Alvin Toffler published Future Shock, a huge international bestseller about the disruptive effects of rapidly evolving technologies on individuals and society. It was a year of tremendous upheaval: The Vietnam War raged; National Guard troops killed four students during an anti-war protest at Kent State University; the radical Weather Underground declared a state of war against the government; the Concorde took off on it's first supersonic flight; and the peace-and-love movement crashed with the deaths of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.   

Nearly 50 years later, the phenomenon of accelerating change Toffler described still reverberates. We see it in scientific advances in medicine, transportation and weaponry; in the economic dislocation of millions of people whose jobs have been upended by new technologies. We see it in climate change and in global mass migration. We see it in ourselves, in how we cope with “information overload,” a term Toffler and his wife Heidi coined.

More remarkable, perhaps, is how slowly government has evolved in response to these rapid changes. In an effort to address that gap, the National Academy of Public Administration has launched a Grand Challenges...

Yay! We’re Back to Traditional Dysfunctional Spending Negotiations

In the wake of the longest government shutdown in history, negotiations over a massive federal spending measure have returned to their traditional level of dysfunction. Believe it or not, that’s a good thing, because at least then there’s some level of predictability to the process. Indeed, it usually unfolds in some or all of the following stages. (Keep in mind that between any of them, a shutdown could occur or continuing resolution be enacted, in which case the process is rebooted at the beginning.)

  • We’re appointing a bipartisan group to get a deal worked out.
  • We’re making progress!
  • No wait, talks have stalled.
  • We are pleased to announce an agreement in principle!
  • Veiled/actual presidential veto threat.
  • Lawmaker not included on negotiating team: I don’t know anything about this deal, and may not support it.
  • Non-germane issue becomes bone of contention.
  • Random (or lately, Rand) senator filibuster threat.
  • To hell with it, we’re voting anyway.
  • We haven’t even had time to read this bill, and they’re asking us to vote on it!
  • Members of a particular House caucus threaten to pull support; only those facing a legitimate potential primary challenge actually do...

Administration Officials Downplay Feds' Financial Struggles During Shutdown

More than 800,000 federal employees have worked or been furloughed through two pay cycles since the partial shutdown began on Dec. 22. While backpay is guaranteed to them when their agencies eventually reopen, those struggling with bills in the interim have had to make serious adjustments.

The White House, administration officials and some supporters of the president do not seem overly sympathetic to these struggles.

In days leading up to the shutdown, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said that shutdowns are "just part of the job" of public service and Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., asked on Dec. 20, "Why are government employees so sacrosanct?" adding, "Private sector employees deal with this all the time . . .The government’s not immune to these things." Their comments were met with derision online by feds and non-feds alike.

Since the shutdown began that week, President Trump committed what many considered verbal faux pas. On Jan. 4, Trump said that feds told him they support his fight for the border wall (despite repeated polling that shows most do not) and that they will surely be able to make deals with those to whom they owe money.

I’ve been a landlord for a long...

A Shutdown-Era Visit to Park Service Ops at Trump’s D.C. Hotel

Though the partial government shutdown has idled many National Park Service operations, a notable exception in the nation’s capital is the historically protected Old Post Office tower on Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.

That tourist destination showcasing a vintage clock and spectacular 12th-floor views shares a building under a government lease to the Trump International Hotel, which opened after renovations in September 2016 and has been the subject of lawsuits over alleged presidential conflicts of interest.

So after the lapse in appropriations hit at midnight on Friday, Dec. 21, confusion ensued.

The self-guided tours with elevator access supervised by Park Service rangers came to a halt for a week. But they resumed on Saturday Dec. 29, as confirmed by Mike Litterst, chief spokesman and acting chief of public affairs for the Park Service’s National Capital Region.

“The National Park Service staffs the tour under an interagency agreement with the General Services Administration, which owns the building and provides funding for the NPS personnel,” he told Government Executive on Monday. Operational details, including dates of operation, are established by GSA.”

On Jan. 4, GSA—which has long come under fire by ethics critics for approving the Trump Organization’s plan...