Around Government

Tim Tadder/AP

Battle of the Blaze

Crews stand by for another dangerous wildfire season.

Federal wild land managers predict another volatile forest fire season in 2012, particularly in the Southwest, where states experienced record-breaking blazes in 2011 and Texas remains gripped in a tinder-producing drought. New Mexico battled another epic fire this spring that churned through 390 square miles.

The Interior and Agriculture departments have a combined firefighting budget of $2.9 billion, and masses of personnel and equipment are standing by.

In this season’s forecast, the National Interagency Fire Center held out slim hope that El Niño—a warm weather pattern in the Pacific that can promote quenching rainfall—could abate conditions that resulted in last year’s 469,000-acre Wallow Fire, which started
in Arizona, and the 150,000-acre Las Conchas Fire in New Mexico.

- Bob Brewin

Pulling Ahead

One month after the summer Olympics, another gathering of the world’s best athletes will take place in London: the Paralympic Games. And for one military service member, the games are part of an unexpected journey.

Two years after losing both his legs in an explosion in Sangin, Afghanistan, Marine Sgt. Rob Jones will be representing Team USA in the Paralympics. Jones, with teammate Oksana Masters, will be rowing in the trunk and arms double sculls event. Not bad for only taking up the sport in 2011. A Marine who once chased explosives may soon be on his way to a medal. 

- Andrew Lapin

Counting Plum Jobs

Congress is mulling legislation to speed the infamously slow presidential appointment process. The ability of senators to hold nominees hostage to unrelated political imperatives has long brought despair to agency staff, good-government advocates and nominees in limbo.

But how many would be affected is a bit murky. A bill that cleared the Senate in 2011 would remove 170 mid-level presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed positions from a larger list that the
Congressional Research Service puts at 1,200 to 1,400.

Only 900 to 1,000 of those are full-time jobs, the remainder being part-time memberships on commissions and advisory boards. The reason for the range, according to CRS analyst Maeve Carey, is the total is extrapolated from the Plum Book. That’s a listing of more than 9,000 civil service leadership and support positions in the legislative and executive branches compiled every four years by the Office of Personnel Management.

CRS says it has uncovered errors in the Plum Book where positions have been added or eliminated or advice and consent requirements have changed. Also, the book does not include positions typically considered routine nominations, such as military officers. In any case, if the House were to approve the Senate plan to remove slots from the list of those subject to becoming pawns in the great political game, the change might result in 170 more satisfied public servants.

Charles S. Clark

Invisible War

Documentary reveals that sexual assaults are more prevalent in the armed forces.

When Oscar-winning director Kirby Dick set out to film The Invisible War, a new documentary about the epidemic of sexual assault in the armed forces, what he found disturbed him. Dick, whose father served in the Navy during World War II, tracked down more than 100 victims of military rape and interviewed many of them for the movie.

“The reality is that people who come into the military have a greater incidence of having sexually assaulted someone prior to coming into the military,” Dick says. The premise behind his footage is that a lack of accountability in the chain of command perpetuates the problem, refuting the Defense Department’s
theory that assaults in the military are simply a reflection of civilian society. 

“The military has to realize that they have a situation here that is not the same as the civilian society,” Dick says. “I don’t really understand why they haven’t gone after this as aggressively as they should have, because they are
losing so many good soldiers.”

Currently in limited release, The Invisible War already has reached its single most important audience: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. 

Andrew Lapin

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