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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.

Ex-Senator Urges a Return to Bipartisan Oversight

Retired Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., was striving to avoid partisanship when he spoke on Friday at the first “Oversight Summit” organized by the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.

After presenting a state lawmaker (South Carolina Republican Rep. Weston Newton) with Levin’s new namesake award for effective oversight, the 36-year veteran of running investigations in the U.S. Senate acknowledged that he would pause and be “partisan but factual” about Washington’s recent approaches to the art of congressional oversight.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s current investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections “looks real” viewed from his distance at Wayne State University in Detroit, he said. “It is bipartisan and in-depth, but where it ends up I don’t know,” he said.

But on the House side, “things look terrible,” he said. “It’s been political, partisan and, from my perspective, some of their hearings were quickly called and then repeated,” he said citing the multiple hearings in 2015 and 2016 on the deaths of four American agents in Benghazi, Libya, for which Republicans blamed then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Such an approach to oversight “is part of the reason the public is turned off to democracy,” Levin...

State Department Training School Has a New Man on Campus

The State Department would benefit from “a true long-term reinvestment in the department’s talent,” Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said on Friday.

He was referring to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s intention to expand the mid-career education work of the 1,500-employee Foreign Service Institute so that the “workforce is held to the highest levels of training and professionalism in the world.”

Sullivan spoke before swearing in Ambassador Daniel Smith as the 21st director of the Arlington, Va.-based institute, which last year celebrated its 70th year of schooling diplomats in everything from languages to running a consulate to helping families transition to life abroad.

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When Smith was State’s executive secretary, Sullivan said, “Both Secretary [Rex] Tillerson and Pompeo relied on Dan in difficult situations for perspective and judgement. I have too.”

He quoted colleagues who praised Smith for paying as much attention to “the retirement party for a cleaning woman” as to high-level officials.

Smith just last month was honored by the Senate with the prestigious title of career ambassador, State’s highest rank. He previously served as assistant secretary...

Report: Governmentwide Employee Satisfaction Survey Results Mostly Unchanged From 2017

The results of the Office of Personnel Management’s annual survey of employees’ happiness and engagement across the federal government won’t be formally released until later this week, but thanks to officials at the Thrift Savings Plan including governmentwide data as a comparison point in a presentation Monday on the agency’s performance, we have a sneak peek at some of the overall data.

According to the figures in the TSP presentation, governmentwide employee engagement on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey increased by 1 point over 2017, landing at a score of 68 out of 100 in 2018. Within that index, the issues of Leaders Lead, Supervisors and Intrinsic Work Experience all increased by 1 point over last year’s scores.

The Global Satisfaction Index, which measures employees’ overall happiness, reportedly remained flat at 64 out of 100 in this year’s survey. The New Inclusion Quotient, better known as "New IQ," which measures efforts to create an open and inclusive work environment, increased by 1 point from 60 out of 100 in 2017 to 61 this year.

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The Office of Personnel Management declined...

Complaints After the Presidential Emergency Alert: Hatch Act Confusion, Technical Troubles and More

On Oct. 3, a test message was sent to every cellular phone on an American network connected to wireless providers participating in the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Integrated Public Alert and Warning System infrastructure. FEMA estimated that 225 million cell phones received the message. Most Americans are familiar with WEA through its Amber Alert notices and weather notices sent to cell phones.

The Presidential Alert—as it was named—was a new test and was covered extensively by the media, but apparently some Americans still didn't know about the message and they were not happy.

Dozens of cell phone users complained to the Federal Communications Commission about the WEA test, according to documents received by GovExec through a Freedom of Information Act request. The complaints ranged from one San Franciscan wrongfully citing the Constitution ("This … alert is an unconstitutional seizure of my property (phone)") to one complainant calling Trump "president jackass" and saying FCC chief "Ajit Pai loves to screw the american people over for the sake of Verizon." 

While many took shots at Trump and his administration, most were just confused and wanted to opt out of the...

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...