Around Government

Wildlife’s public health risk; John Montgomery makes a difference.

Stranger Danger

The U.S. Geological Survey is campaigning against invasive species and the hand that feeds them.

By Andrew Lapin

If Burmese pythons overrunning the Florida Everglades, killing alligators and destroying native endangered species sounds like the beginning of a long-lost Hitchcock movie, then the U.S. Geological Survey is fighting to rewrite the ending.

"We are seeing an unprecedented increase in the number of new and emerging infectious diseases," warns USGS National Wildlife Health Center Director Jonathan Sleeman. But as demonstrated during a November 2011 news conference, the agency is leading the charge against those diseases and the global illegal wildlife trade that reels them in.

Through a public-private partnership with global nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, USGS is educating the public about the dangers of trafficking illegal wildlife. Jonathan Epstein, an associate vice president at EcoHealth Alliance, urges close surveillance of both sick and healthy wildlife to stay one step ahead of the pathogen game.

More than 13 million of these black market animals have been confiscated by U.S. officials during the past two decades. But millions more have not, costing taxpayers money.

Controlling invasive species costs $137 billion annually. Illegal animals also bring new diseases to the United States. In 2003, for instance, an outbreak of monkey pox resulted from Americans adopting prairie dogs as pets. USGS and EcoHealth Alliance have placed ads in international airports warning of the dangers of illegal trade.

Fixing USAJobs The Office of Personnel Management made over its online jobs board to give applicants and hiring managers a more user-friendly browsing experience. But the Oct. 11, 2011, launch of USAJobs 3.0 was anything but smooth, and it took several weeks for help desk inquiries to die down and applications to pick up.

Building Bright Futures What do a research physicist for the Navy and a Federal Aviation Administration attorney have in common? The answer: improving public service. Both won the 2011 Roger W. Jones Award for Executive Leadership, awarded annually by American University's School of Public Affairs to civil servants who demonstrate a strong commitment to organizational development and educating future managers and executives.

Award honoree Margaret Gilligan began her career as a lawyer litigating challenging cases for FAA, and now is the agency's associate administrator. During her tenure, the International Air Transport Association declared 2010 the safest year in aviation history.

John Montgomery, research chief at the Naval Research Laboratory, started out as an engineer in 1968. He now corrals scientists and researchers with programs designed to attract the best and the brightest in the field.

"Some of my colleagues literally change the world, though it may take 20 years before their ideas mature, " Montgomery said.

-Caitlin Fairchild

Feds by The Foot

Size does matter when it comes to government agencies and the space they take up.

When speaking of the largest federal agencies, one can go by their budgets (Defense Department), number of employees (again, Defense) or the land they control (Interior Department). But in an era of scrimping and saving, an increasingly relevant measure is the amount of space an agency controls.

In a November 2011 report on how government agencies can better prioritize their investments in building maintenance, the National Research Council noted dryly that "the accumulation of excess and underutilized properties is a result of 200 years of acquiring facilities to support changing missions and new federal programs, and of the difficulty of disposing of facilities once they are acquired."

It included a list, compiled by the General Services Administration, of the seven agencies that manage the most square footage. Once again, the Pentagon is tops, with the Army managing 932 million square feet, followed by the Air Force (606 million) and Navy (578 million). The next largest agency footprints include GSA (408 million), and the departments of Veterans Affairs (156 million), Energy (129 million) and State (73 million).

As the government gears up to unload excess properties, watch for the total-2.9 billion square feet-to shrink, at least a bit.

By Charles S. Clark