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The political appointee is one of the most prized and most difficult positions in government. These individuals are plucked (mostly) from the private sector, dragged through the Senate confirmation process and handed the top-job at an agency. They are expected to lead, but often don't have the tools necessary to manage the difficult and nuanced world of the federal government. We talk to the author of a new book on political appointees management.
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But up front: A few must reads from over the weekend
As the Office of Personnel Management launched a new IT strategic plan for retooling its antiquated retirement system [OPM PDF], The Washington Post over the weekend gave us a look at a paper mine where OPM processes federal retirements… by hand… on paper… yes, today!
The story, headlined Sinkhole of Democracy, is illuminating and… well, depressing:
Inside the caverns of an old Pennsylvania limestone mine, there are 600 employees of the Office of Personnel Management. Their task is nothing top-secret. It is to process the retirement papers of the government’s own workers.
But that system has a spectacular flaw. It still must be done entirely by hand, and almost entirely on paper.
The employees here pass thousands of case files from cavern to cavern and then key in retirees’ personal data, one line at a time. They work underground not for secrecy but for space. The old mine’s tunnels have room for more than 28,000 file cabinets of paper records.
This odd place is an example of how hard it is to get a time-wasting bug out of a big bureaucratic system.
Reading the story, one wonders how this goes on in 2014. All of us know the challenges of government work, but by any measure, if you are processing retirements from a cave -- by hand in paper -- by any measure, that is a failure. And OPM needs to do more than just put out a new strategic plan. In the weeks ahead, we will work to help by tapping thought leaders for their assessment.
One indication that would tell me that times had changed at OPM is to bring new levels of transparency and visibility to the program. It would be remarkable to hear senior OPM officials say that they are embarrassed by the situation as it stands today and successive failures. They could start a blog that discusses the ins and outs of the steps they are talking -- yes, in public. They could discuss how things will be different -- how OPM is not doing the same thing over again yet expecting different results. They could decide to break the retirement system into incremental parts and work on an agile development, mitigating risk and helping to ensure user satisfaction. (Hear GovLoop’s DorobekINSIDER interview with Brent Bushey, who was with Homeland Security’s ICE and won a Federal 100 award for his work leading the agile appraoch to system development.)
This is an opportunity to show others how it can be done. Show courage. Show leadership. And with all of that, even if it doesn’t work, can share what you learn -- and you will have been open about what you did.
- NSA Breached Chinese Servers Seen as Security Threat [The New York Times] As the United States made a public case about the dangers of buying from Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, classified documents show that the National Security Agency was creating its own back doors - directly into Huawei's networks.
- The Congress-CIA brouhaha
- Did CIA Violate the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause? [Secrecy News] The Central Intelligence Agency may have violated the Speech or Debate clause of the U.S. Constitution by performing an unauthorized search of Senate Intelligence Committee computers, according to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service.
- Associated Press: Terror report release may fuel Congress's CIA spat: If senators vote this week to release key sections of a voluminous report on terrorist interrogations, an already strained relationship between lawmakers and the CIA could become even more rancorous, and President Barack Obama might have to step into the fray.
- Five questions in CIA-Senate fight - The Hill
The SEVEN stories that impact your life
Washington Post: Hundreds of Personal FBI Flights by Justice Officials Went Unreported - “The General Services Administration did not properly report hundreds of personal and other ‘nonmission’ trips on government jets for senior Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and former FBI Director Robert Mueller, according to a watchdog report.”
CBS-DC: Md. Officials to Push for FBI Headquarters in Prince George’s - “Top federal, state and local officials are scheduled Monday to promote Prince George’s County as the new location at an event at the University of Maryland, College Park.”
GovExec: IRS Reorganizes Division at Center of Controversy - “The Internal Revenue Service on Thursday announced a reorganization of the legal team in its Tax Exempt and Government Entities division, the umbrella unit for the office at the center of the ongoing dispute over mishandling of applications by nonprofits seeking tax-exempt status.”
NextGov: VA Fails to Set Up Registry of Troops Exposed to Burn Pits - “Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., slammed the Veterans Affairs Department for failing to set up a registry of troops exposed to toxic pollutants from trash burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq, as required by legislation they sponsored.”
FCW: Report Estimates Half of Vets on GI Bill Graduate - “The study was done by the Student Veterans of America, an advocacy group, with help from the Veterans Affairs Department and the National Student Clearinghouse. Experts on veteran issues say it's the most comprehensive study to date on a sparsely researched subject -- how vets are performing under a GI Bill program that has spent nearly $35 billion since 2009.”
Texas Tribune: Galveston Bay Spill Will Have Huge Economic, Ecological Toll - “With no end in sight to containing a spill that may have dumped 150,000 gallons of fuel oil into Galveston Bay on Saturday, the hit to Texas’ economy and environment is already huge — and sure to grow.”
FCW: TSP Assets Top $400B for First Time; L-Fund Revamp Continues - “Thanks to a roaring stock market in February, total assets in the Thrift Savings Plan — federal employees 401(k)-style retirement accounts — have climbed to the highest level in the plan's history.”
DorobekINSIDER water-cooler fodder... yes, we’re trying to help you make your water-cooler time better too...
Too often we -- and the country -- focus on the failures of government… and, of course, there is the great debate about the size of government. But few people argue about whether we need organizations like the FBI, particularly given incidents like the Boston Marathon. 60 Minutes last night highlighted why. The CBS News piece also provides insights about the challenges in an era where information is omni-present. I also think that 60 Minutes did a remarkable job of reviewing the difficult decisions -- made in real time -- about whether to release the photos of the two bombing suspects. I think you will also find the leaders of the Boston Marathon bombing investigation thoughtful, insightful… and human. If you missed 60 Minutes last night, it is well worth 22 minutes of your time. Manhunt: Inside the Boston Marathon bombing investigation [CBS News’ 60 Minutes]
G.M. Uses Social Media to Manage Customers and Its Reputation [The New York Times]: To deal with car owners' concerns after a long-delayed safety recall, General Motors is turning to forums like Twitter and Facebook.