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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.

Did Ben Carson Violate a Federal Law at Trump’s Campaign Rally?

Ben Carson spoke of God, shared values, his career as a surgeon and the fleeting nature of life itself in a short address at a campaign rally for President Trump on Tuesday. At no point did he discuss his current job, the secretary of the Housing and Urban Development Department.

That title, however, is exactly how he was introduced, which could now land him in hot water. The 1939 Hatch Act allows federal officials to attend and speak at political events, but they must do so in a personal, rather than official, capacity. Carson blurred that line when he was introduced as HUD secretary and by failing to clarify he was speaking at the rally solely as a private citizen.

Jerry Brown, a HUD spokesman, said the department does not "believe there was a Hatch Act violation," but noted it is "consulting with [its] ethics office on the matter to ensure it doesn’t occur again." Carson, Brown explained, simply "did not hear his name before he was cued to go on." 

The secretary could face repercussions if an individual files a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, which serves at the Hatch Act enforcer for the federal government...

Cabinet Leaders Distance Themselves From Trump’s Charlottesville Remarks

President Trump may believe there are “two sides to a story,” as he put it during a contentious press conference on Tuesday in reference to the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, but key members of Trump’s cabinet appear to be far less conflicted over where to place the blame.

Soon after a man who appeared in photographs to be protesting with white supremacists allegedly drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring 19 others, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announce that the Justice Department would pursue a civil rights investigation into the events.

"When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated," Sessions said, adding that “justice will prevail.”

At a press conference Wednesday, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said allowing neo-Nazis “to go unchallenged” was a disservice to all veterans. “I am strongly against them, and I believe that we have to all speak up as Americans,” he said.

Likewise, the military service chiefs all have issued unequivocal statements condemning racism and bigotry. As Ben Watson pointed out at Defense One: “The U.S. Army’s top general on Wednesday became the latest high-ranking...

A Whistleblower’s Guide for the Trump Era

The federal whistleblower community in recent years has seen an array of new laws, headline cases and bipartisan calls from lawmakers for new protections.

Whether its members turn out to be misguided attention-seekers or brave souls risking their jobs (and peace of mind) to call out waste, fraud or abuse, they all need legal tools.

Which is why Stephen Kohn, a longtime attorney specializing in whistleblowers at the nonprofit National Whistleblower Center, just released an expanded edition of “The New Whistleblower’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What's Right and Protecting Yourself” in time for the Trump era.

The updated, 550-page paperback comes at a time when the Trump administration has demonstrated some sympathy for whistleblowers, but has also been attacked for allegedly stifling the communications of agency employees who might be exercising their whistleblower rights.

“Good whistleblowing is apolitical, and falls where it falls,” Kohn said in an interview with Government Executive. A disclosure “should be a neutral expose of waste, fraud and abuse and violations of law” regardless of who is president.

So Kohn, in adding 200 pages, wrote a chapter titled “Politics is Poisonous,” which states that “Allegations raised by employees often embarrass elected officials...

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...