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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.

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...

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...