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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.

How Much Patriotism do Military Bands Inspire? Watchdog Wants Better Measures

When talking about the arts, it is often said that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." The Government Accountability Office isn't so sure this is true for music, though, at least in the case of U.S. military bands. The watchdog on Thursday issued a report recommending that the Defense Department do a better job of measuring how the bands are doing at accomplishing their mission of "inspiring patriotism and enhancing the morale of troops."

The GAO report is part of a review requested by the House Armed Services Committee, which stated that it "believes that the services may be able to conserve end strength by reducing the number of military bands" and asked for an assessment of the costs of military band operations.

According to GAO, military bands decreased across the service branches from 150 in fiscal 2012 to 136 in fiscal 2016, and total military personnel authorizations dedicated to bands decreased by 7.5 percent (7,196 to 6,656) during the same period. The operating costs similarly decreased across all services

GAO's report lamented the lack of objective measures of anything other than simple numbers on costs and personnel.

The military services’ approaches...

John Oliver: We've Been Here Before with a Border Patrol Hiring Surge

During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump made securing the border a centerpiece of his message. In addition to his signature border wall program, Trump promised to beef up the ranks of federal employees along the border. Much of that hiring would entail bringing in more Border Patrol agents, despite a recent Homeland Security inspector general report suggesting such a surge is not necessary and nearly impossible to implement.

Sunday night, Last Week Tonight's John Oliver examined the proposal for HBO viewers and noticed some large holes in the plan. Oliver first looked at the Border Patrol hiring surge during the George W. Bush administration. Oliver joked about the agency's recruiting campaign tied to the hiring surge, including the NASCAR team that the Border Patrol sponsored.

"They sponsored a NASCAR team, putting the Border Patrol in such fine company as other actual NASCAR sponsors Depends Underwear and Boudreaux's Butt Paste," Oliver joked.

At one point in the segment, Oliver played some of a 2013 KGTV interview with a Border Patrol agent who had said that agency standards were lowered during the previous hiring surge.

"They cut back on Spanish and physical training – so the new standards affected...

Daring to Defend the Federal Bureaucracy

In an age where “unelected bureaucrats” is a common Washington epithet, give credit to a law professor, former college president and experienced federal manager for cutting against the grain.

“The need for a robust civil service has never been greater,” writes Paul R. Verkuil in Valuing Bureaucracy: The Case for Professional Government. “To be effective, government must be run by professional managers,” says the former president of William and Mary College who served five years in the Obama administration as chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States.

“When decisions that should be taken by government officials are delegated to private contractors without adequate oversight, the public interest is jeopardized.”

Most of Verkuil’s book—researched with an array of good-government groups and scholars—was prepared before the election. So he had to rush an opening chapter on the Trump phenomenon.

In this new era, he said, “policy expertise, what professionals embody, may be something that Trump appointees do not value.” The evidence, Verkuil told Government Executive, is clear in the completed or looming employee dismissals at agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the General Services Administration, and in the Trump team’s ill-fated effort to demand...

Education Department Cannot Elaborate on Trump’s Donation

The Education Department could offer few details on President Trump’s donation to the agency after Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the gift on Wednesday, saying only it would be going toward a camp.

DeVos briefly discussed Trump’s donation of his second quarter salary at a White House press briefing, explaining the $100,000 check would go toward a camp focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. A spokesperson for the department declined to elaborate when asked for more details on the camp, whether it was a new program, if it would receive other funds and the mechanism by which Trump was making the contribution.

The announcement follows a $78,000 donation the president made with his first three months of salary to the National Park Service, which went toward restorations to the Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland.

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“Today's and tomorrow's economy requires students prepared for STEM careers,” DeVos said Wednesday. “That's why we've decided to use the President's second-quarter salary to host a STEM-focused camp for students at the Department of Education. We want to encourage as many children...

What Senators Really Think of the Administration's Approach to Budgeting

After a Tuesday morning markup hearing of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, seemingly forgot to turn off her microphone before she began a short conversation with her colleague, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. It quickly got interesting. 

In what appears to be a moment of candor, the two questioned the sanity and knowledge of both the president and officials at the Office of Management and Budget.

As reported by the Washington Post on Tuesday, Collins wondered if White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and the Office of Management and Budget staff had a plan—other than to cut anything with the word "grant" in it—when releasing the administration's budget earlier this year.

"I swear, OMB just went through and whenever there was ‘grant,’ they just X it out," Collins said on the hot mic. "With no measurement, no thinking about it, no metrics, no nothing. It’s just incredibly irresponsible."

Later in the conversation, Reed questioned the numbers released by Mulvaney and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin regarding the costs of Trump's promises.

"You’ve got Mulvaney saying we’re going to put in all sorts of stuff...