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Is your agency accessible for ALL americans? And new SBA contracting rule gets mixed reviews

On today’s program

  • Disabilities — we talk about disabilities and we think of wheelchairs… or even Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter “Blade Runner” — “the fastest man on no legs.” But as Baby Boomers are aging, more and more people have to deal with disabilities. And we never forget about veterans. What is the government doing to be a good employer for everybody — including people with disabilities? We’re going to talk to Kathleen Martinez, the Labor Department’s Assistant Secretary for the Office of Disability Employment Policy. Click here for the full recap.
  • And new rules from the Small Business Administration that will impact government and contractors. Insights about what they mean. Click here for the full recap.
  • And in the DorobekINSIDER water-cooler fodder — yes, we even try to help you get the most out of your water-cooler time — a FAQ on sequestration.

There is still a lot of buzz around the Mars rover Curiosity as the rover sent its first color photos back from the Red Planet. Just remarkable. And there are some new fed heros. If you watched any of the coverage, you may have noticed NASA’s Mohawk Guy, who has become something of an Internet sensation — to the point that the NBC Nightly News has profiled Bobak Ferdowsi, who is lead and flight director on the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity mission. And he apparently chooses a new hairstyle for every mission. There is a site titled NASA Needs More Mohawks — the URL itself is not really safe for work, but the site is fun.

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The Atlantic has a wonderful set of photos that captures the Curiosity landing reactions so far. We have a linked up here.

PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien noted this week that this is also a big open data moment where everybody has access to the same data — a virtually the same time as the scientist do. And it really enables all of us to be on Mars together. Amazing. Cool.

Last week, we brought you a profile of innovation — we heard from OPM about how they are building innovation into the way they work and we spoke with the team that is helping them do that.

The Washington Post today highlights OPM’s Innovation Lab, which they call a portal to Silicon Valley. The story is great because it talks about the problems OPM had with the re-launch of USAJobs.gov — you remember that, right? The site just didn’t work. And they talk about the team that they brought together to focus on solutions.

The SEVEN stories that impact your life for Wednesday the 8th of July, 2012

  1. President Obama has signed a law requiring the administration toprovide Congress with a list of sequester budget cuts. Should sequestration occur in January, the executive branch would need to make an immediate $110 billion reduction in 2013 spending.Politico says the deadline for making laying out the cuts: September 6 — yes, less than a month from now.
  2. Top Food and Drug Administration officials including Commissioner Margaret Hamburg knew the FDA was monitoring e-mail of scientists who had raised safety issues. The Wall Street Journal, quoting FDA officials and a letter the agency sent to Senate investigators, says the monitoring began in the spring of 2010 after proprietary information about companies’ medical devices was leaked to some media outlets. Lawmakers have objected to the email monitoring, saying it could have a chilling effect on agency officials who might need to report safety issues to Congress.
  3. The General Service Administration’s ethics program was approved by the White House just three days after the Public Building Service’s 2010 Western Region’s Conference in Las Vegas. The Washington Post says the president’s Office of Government Ethics found no problems with the agency’s financial disclosure procedures and ethics training between 2008 and 2009. A year later, Leigh Snyder, an ethics expert at the Office of Governmentwide Ethics, raised concerns about GSA’s history of controlling conflicts of interest.
  4. State Department employees working overseas are still subject to U.S. laws. For example, State is no longer allowed to force employees to retire at 65. The Wall Street Journal says John Miller Jr. worked as a safety inspector at the U.S. embassy in Paris until he was forced to retire in July 2007 — because he turned 65 years old. Miller sued the State Department alleging that his forced retirement violated federal employment provisions of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The State Department argued that it was exempt from the U.S. discrimination law, because of another statute: The Basic Authorities Act, under which Miller was hired. But the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed ruling no such exemption exists.
  5. U.S. Postal Service executives are considering suspending contributions to the Federal Employees Retirement System because the agency may run out of cash. Federal Times reports the USPS Inspector General found the agency could face a $100 million cash gap in mid-October, when it is supposed to reimburse the Labor Department $1.4 billion for workers’ compensation costs. The Postal Service tried to suspend contributions to FERS last year on the grounds that the agency had a $7 billion surplus with FERS, but it later paid up after the money became available.
  6. The Social Security Administration is offering early retirements to 9,000 employees. That’s nearly 14 percent of its workforce. Federal Times reports, anyone accepting the offer has until Sept. 30 to retire. It isn’t a buyout offer. To qualify, an employee must be at least 50 years old and have 20 years of service. Civil Service Retirement System employees must have served at least two years in a CSRS position before being eligible. The agency didn’t say how many employees it expects to take up the offer, or how many it wants to. But SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue has been cutting back hours at Social Security offices and ending overtime as he deals with budget cuts imposed by Congress.
  7. On GovLoop, there’s been some debate about creativity – or lack thereof – within the Government workforce. However, the Office of Personnel Management is taking a new approach to fostering innovation. OPM has brought (or bought) a piece of Silicon Valley into its Washington, D.C.-based headquarters. OPM has created an employee Innovation Lab, similar to that of a San Francisco Internet start up, within its age-old Government office building. What do you think? Will it work?

A Few Closing Items

It feels like we JUST finished the last Census, but that means it is time to gear up for the next one — 2020. Robert Groves, who leads the Census, tells the Washington Post, that the Cenus needs to change with the times. The Post notes that Groves presided over the 2010 Census, probably the last one to rely on paper questionnaires mailed through the Postal Service. And he was the first to write a blog (though he never got around to Tweeting). Now, as he prepares to leave the Census Bureau to become provost of Georgetown University this month, Groves is warning that the agency’s methods of collecting statistics are unsustainable. He says that the country will always have a census because of the Constitution, but the way that survey is done has to change. One big reason: cost. The 2010 census cost $13 billion — yes, that is $2 billion under budget, but it is still $42 a person — and the cost has doubled every decade since 1970.

“Because of the Constitution, the country will always have a census,” he said in an interview Friday at his office in the bureau’s Suitland headquarters, already stripped of his personal belongings. “But how we do the census and surveys will have to change.”

Cost is a big reason. Even though it came in $1.9 billion under budget, the last census cost $13 billion, about $42 a head. The price tag has doubled every decade since 1970. To cut costs, Groves closed six of the 12 regional census offices and oversaw early retirement offers that ushered out 200 veteran employees. And we have a link to his most recent blog post about the cost of this data.

We talk about sequestration a lot. The Associated Press has actually done a great FAQ — frequently asked questions — about sequestration. And it is great because it answers some basic questions like… how did we get here.

What is the most used word in the English language? A hint: I have used the word three times in the past 15 seconds… and there was the fourth. A post about the word ‘the’

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