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Eye Opener: Feb. 11, 2009

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Wednesday! The Obama nomination train has slowed, but is still far ahead of the Bush administration at this point in its existence, according to the Kamen/Rucker "In the Loop" tag team.

"At this point, three departments -- Labor, Commerce, and Health and Human Services -- have no confirmed secretaries. U.S. Trade Representative-designate Ron Kirk has no Senate hearing scheduled and almost surely could not be confirmed before March. In addition, such departments as Agriculture and Transportation have "home alone" secretaries without a deputy or other confirmed assistants."

"Even so, President Obama's team, with 56 announced candidates at various departments and agencies and the White House for Senate-confirmable jobs, remains substantially ahead of its predecessors. Of the 56, 36 have been officially nominated and the Senate has confirmed 26."

"At its third week, the Bush team had 22 announced candidates, 16 of them officially nominated and all 16 confirmed, according to data compiled by the Presidential Transition Project at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service. The Clinton administration had 44 announced candidates and 23 nominees, 22 of them confirmed."

Meanwhile, there's growing concern about the security of the personal data of federal employees, now that the Social Security numbers of more than 45,000 FAA employees -- almost the entire staff -- who were on the agency's rolls the first week of February 2006.

"That's bad enough, but what also riles workers is the delay between the intrusion and the notice given them Monday," writes The Post's Joe Davidson.

"We were at risk, and nobody knew it," said Tom Waters, president of Local 3290 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

An FAA spokeswoman, Laura J. Brown, wouldn't comment on the delay or precisely when the breach occurred. She did say it took time "to determine exactly what information was stolen."

In other news...

• Federal Facilities Upgrade Would Create Thousands of Jobs: "Bills in both chambers would allocate several billion dollars for facilities improvements, although the Senate version stripped $3.5 billion from such programs. The House bill provides $6 billion to the General Services Administration alone to make federal facilities more energy efficient, and millions more to the Defense Department and other agencies for similar improvements," reports Gov Exec's Katherine McIntire Peters. "Republicans have criticized spending on federal facilities as wasteful, but in a prime time press conference on Monday, President Obama asked, 'Why would that be a waste of money? We're creating jobs immediately by retrofitting these buildings or weatherizing 2 million Americans' homes, as was called for in the package, so that right there creates economic stimulus.'"

Mars Mission Has Some Seeing Red: The Mars Science Laboratory is "a magnet for controversy, and a reminder that the robotic exploration of other worlds is never a snap, especially when engineers decide to get ambitious," reports The Post's Joel Achenbach. "The launch has been delayed for two years because of technical glitches. Approved at $1.63 billion, the mission's price tag will be at least $2.2 billion, NASA now estimates. Critics say the cost has really quadrupled since the project was first dreamed up. What no one can doubt is that ambitious missions tend to become costly ones, which jangles the nerves of officials who know how easy it is for a Mars mission to go bust."

Interior Revamps Plan for Oil, Gas Exploration: "The Obama administration will set aside an 'oil and gas or nothing' approach to energy exploration on the outer continental shelf and consider proposals for offshore wind farms alongside plans for new drilling, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said yesterday," reports The Post's David A. Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin. "Salazar said he will revamp the process for writing a new five-year plan for oil and gas exploration in that zone, which generally extends three to 200 miles from the U.S. coast. The plan, which must be in place by 2012, is intended to guide a new push for offshore exploration, made possible after Congress and President George W. Bush lifted years-old bans last year."

Handling of Odd Mailing Concerns DHS: Maureen McCarthy, a career official in the department's intelligence and analysis directorate, "set off alarms last week after she received white powder and a dead fish in the mail at home and brought them to work," reports The Post's Spencer S. Hsu. "She received a container with the dead fish at home, sources said. According to National Journal's CongressDaily, which first reported the incident, a source disclosed that McCarthy left the fish in her car parked under a ventilation shaft in the DHS building garage and entered a secure area inside, potentially contaminating both places."

Napolitano Visits Kentucky: She said Tuesday the federal government would deviate from normal practice and reimburse Kentucky for 75% of the cost of activating its National Guard in last month's crippling winter storm. "Normally the National Guard is a state responsibility and governors assume that and budget for it and that's the way it is," Napolitano said. "But this situation was so broad and so unique — and the need for the Guard to get out there and do those door-to-door wellness checks, particularly in the western parts of the state, are such that I feel it necessary to create an exception from our normal practice," reports the AP.

• Looking to celebrate Abraham LIncoln's 200th birthday? The good folks at USA.gov have compiled a list of places to celebrate the big event.

Today's Big Event: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner spends a second day on Capitol Hill testifying to Senate Budget Committee's hearing on "Policies to Address the Crises in Financial and Housing Markets" at 10 a.m. More here.

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 11, 2009; 7:36 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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