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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.
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Wasteful Government Project or Indie Rock Band?

Earlier this week, Sen. Jeff Flake released a study called Wastebook: The Farce Awakens, a painfully Star Wars-themed report detailing what his office characterized as “egregious, outrageous and unnecessary government spending.”

The report continues a tradition established by former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., of issuing annual, barbed reports on questionable federally funded projects. (And Flake’s not the only one to pick up Coburn’s mantle. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., released his own waste report, called Federal Fumbles -- a painfully football-themed study -- in late November.)

Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel took notice of Flake’s report and developed a quiz for his studio audience to test whether they could tell the difference between the senator’s description of allegedly wasteful federal projects and the names of independent rock bands. The examples he provided:

  • Sheep in Microgravity
  • Jets to Brazil
  • Super Furry Animals
  • Life-Sized Pac-Man
  • Car Seat Headrest
  • Suspicious Bar Coasters

Can you tell which is which? Watch the clip below for the answers.

By the way, lest the waste-watching senators get too self-congratulatory about their efforts, Kimmel said that “most projects on the list are science experiments that sound dumb if you don’t bother to learn...

A Crime Thriller, Office Decorating Tips and GovExec

Here at Government Executive world headquarters in Washington this week, we’ve been moving into a new suite of offices. That involves a lot of packing and unpacking, which in turn has unearthed some interesting items.

GovExec editor at large Tim Clark found a long-forgotten copy To Live and Die in L.A. by Gerald Petievich, a Secret Service agent-turned crime novelist. The potboiler, published in 1984, tells the story of law enforcement agencies’ pursuit of counterfeiter Rick Masters. “Two Treasury agents, John Vukovich and Richard Chance, are breathing down his neck,” according to a description of the novel on Petievich’s website. “Chance is a reckless hotshot who doesn't believe in playing by the rules; he'll get evidence anyway he can. If he catches Masters and makes it stick, he's a hero. But if Chance is caught he's finished -- unless he's willing to sacrifice Vukovich to save himself.”

In the novel, Petievich goes to painstaking lengths to realistically set the scene in the federal workplace. Witness this moment, when Vukovich is called into the office of Agent-in-Charge Tom Bateman:

Vukovich stepped inside. An abundance of hanging plants and family pictures decorated the office; Vukovich...

No, 72 DHS Employees Are Not on a Terrorism Watch List

When a member of Congress refers to federal employees as terrorists, it’s bound to turn some heads.

That was exactly what happened when Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., told a radio station in Boston last week that 72 employees at the Homeland Security Department were on a terror watch list. The comment spurred several outlets running the headline that dozens of DHS employees were on the list.

One problem, however: Lynch’s claim was not true. The radio station -- WGBH -- asked him why he was one of 47 Democrats in the House that voted to effectively block Syrian refugees from entering the United States.

The DHS inspector general, he said, conducted an investigation and found “72 individuals that were on the terrorist watch list that were actually working at the Department of Homeland Security.”

Therefore, he reasoned, the data collected by the department could not be trusted, and Syrian refugees needed to go through a more rigorous review process than DHS was conducting.

Turns out, no such investigation ever took place. Lynch, typically an advocate of federal employees and a member of the subcommittee with primary oversight of the federal workforce, was likely referring to a June report titled, “TSA...

More on Woodrow Wilson’s Legacy of Segregating the Civil Service

Last week, I wrote about the troubled legacy of President Woodrow Wilson with regard to his effort to re-segregate the federal workforce. Today, the grandson of one of those directly affected weighs in with a real-world story of the impact of Wilson’s policies.

Writing in The New York Times, Gordon J. Davis, a partner at the law firm Venable, describes the experience of his grandfather, John Abraham Davis, who found genuine opportunity in working for government--and then saw it cruelly taken away.

Davis writes:

Even as the strictures of Jim Crow segregation began to harden in the South, Washington, and the federal Civil Service, offered African-Americans real opportunity for employment and advancement. Thousands passed the civil-service exam to gain coveted spots in government agencies and departments. In 1882, soon after graduating from high school, the young John Davis secured a job at the Government Printing Office.

Over a long career, he rose through the ranks from laborer to a position in midlevel management. He supervised an office in which many of his employees were white men. He had a farm in Virginia and a home in Washington. By 1908, he was earning the considerable salary — for an African-American — of...

When Woodrow Wilson Segregated the Federal Workforce

This week, Woodrow Wilson became the latest historical figure to be drawn into ongoing battles over the legacy of racism at colleges and universities. A group of Princeton students demanded that Wilson’s name be erased from campus facilities and programs--a huge undertaking, given that there’s an entire school at the university (where Wilson served as president before entering the White House) named in his honor.

It’s tempting to dismiss this crusade as an exercise in political correctness, but, as Vox’s Dylan Matthews points out today, Wilson has a checkered past when it comes to race relations. Indeed, he was an ardent segregationist, even by the standards of his time--especially when it came to managing the federal workforce.  

Here’s how William Keylor, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, describes the atmosphere in government when Wilson took office in 1913:

Washington was a rigidly segregated town--except for federal government agencies. They had been integrated during the post-war Reconstruction period, enabling African Americans to obtain federal jobs and work side by side with whites in government agencies. Wilson promptly authorized members of his cabinet to reverse this long-standing policy of racial integration in the federal...