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Eye Opener: Feb. 26, 2009

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Thursday! It's Budget Day (What? You're not excited?) and The Eye will spend most of it poring over the details... look for updates here and across washingtonpost.com.

Reinforcing his international appeal, check out the quick clip above of The Eye providing post-speech analysis of President Obama's first speech to Congress on France 24, a fast-growing, Paris-based English-language news channel. And you should always track The Eye's movements on Twitter.

Send your news tips, event listings, questions and comments to federaleye@washingtonpost.com.

As for the president's budget, it "sets aside up to $250 billion dollars to add to he existing bank bailout, which would bring the 2009 budget deficit to $1.75 trillion dollars," according to The Post's Lori Montgomery. "Overall, the massive spending plan is built on the assumption that lawmakers can resolve some hugely contentious issues -- and it relies on a few well-worn budget tricks."

Tricks! The Eye loves tricks! Which ones?

"His proposal for the fiscal year that begins in October abandons some of the budget tricks of previous administrations, including the fiction that the alternative minimum tax will generate billions in fresh cash, that Medicare physicians will have their wages slashed and that spending on Iraq will fall to zero. But the spending plan is not free of the budgetary maneuvers routinely found in any new president's first attempt at reducing his vision for the nation to cold, hard numbers, sources said. Congressional Democrats defended the proposal, while conceding that the chances of achieving its goals are highly uncertain."

In other news...

Napolitano Testifies: Several highlights from her first appearance before the House Homeland Security Committee. "Aiding the Mexican government's fight against drug cartels is a top priority that demands the 'utmost attention' of U.S. security officials," she said, according to The Post's Spencer S. Hsu. She also said she is "exploring the possibility of extending collective bargaining rights to airport screeners," according to Government Executive's Alyssa Rosenberg. "Many of them came to the department because of the events of 9/11, and that is the essential motivating factor of the department," Napolitano told the panel. "Napolitano said she has directed the general counsel's office to look into whether she has the legal authority to grant collective bargaining rights to Transportation Security Administration employees. That review is in progress, she said." Hsu also notes that "Napolitano omitted the word 'terrorism' from her prepared remarks for the three-hour hearing, referring instead to the department's mission of protecting the nation from a range of man-made and natural disasters."

CIA Adds Economy To Threat Updates: Post intelligence reporter Joby Warrick writes that "The daily White House intelligence report that catalogs the top security threats to the nation has a grim new addition, reflecting the realities of the age: a daily update on the global financial crisis and its cascading effects on the stability of countries through the world." More: "The addition of economic news to the daily roundup of terrorist attacks and surveillance reports appears to reflect a growing belief among intelligence officials that the economic meltdown is now preeminent among security threats facing the United States."

Diplomat to an Ever-Changing Region: Al Kamen and Philip Rucker better define what exactly Dennis Ross will be responsible for at the State Department as the guy in charge of the "Gulf and Southwest Asia." It's apparently now defined as "Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Yemen," according to State's spokesguy Robert Wood. More: "Ross may not be a 'special envoy,' but he's certainly being treated like one. He's been given an office, right next door to [Richard] Holbrooke's, on Envoy Avenue. (This was formerly known as the George W. Bush Hall of Diplomatic Glory.) That office had been given last month to special envoy George J. Mitchell, who's in charge of arranging peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Signs identifying the office as Mitchell's have been removed, but it's unclear where he went. So if you're wondering where Southwest Asia really is, it's in the hallway just between Ross's and Holbrooke's offices."

Rehiring Federal Retirees Going to Get Easier?: Rosenberg also reports that "Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) introduced two bills on Tuesday to make it easier for agencies to bring back and retain retirees to meet the government's critical workforce needs. The first bill would allow federal retirees to return to work without having their salaries reduced by the amount of their pension payments. The second piece of legislation would grant employees under the Civil Service Retirement System who work part-time instead of retiring pro-rated credit that would count toward their annuity payments." Rehiring retirees may be a good idea since, as Federal Diarist Joe Davidson writes today: "A new report by the Government Accountability Office says the federal government should do a better job of retaining and hiring older people. Doing so 'may serve to make the federal government a more competitive and productive employer overall,' the GAO says. This is an important issue, because so many federal staffers are nearing retirement age. By 2012, one-third of the federal workforce will be eligible to retire. In some agencies it's 46 percent."

'Stress Tests' Could Stress Feds: FedLine blogger Gregg Carlstrom provides a good, quick explainer of the upcoming assessments of the nation's major banks, writing that Treasury Department employees tasked with the unenviable job are "in an incredibly high-pressure situation. If banks do poorly, Treasury will be forced to ask Congress for more bailout money — a political impossibility. But if these tests are overly optimistic about the health of our biggest banks, the financial system won’t get fixed."

Pentagon Will Meet Deadline on Lockheed Jets: "The Pentagon will tell lawmakers whether it plans to spend extra funding approved to buy parts for four more F-22 fighter jets by a March deadline," the AP reports. "The department will notify Congress next month of its plans to spend the remaining $90 million authorized to buy advanced materials for Lockheed Martin Corp.'s stealth fighter jet, Defense Department press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters Wednesday."

Rules Target Genetic Bias: "The federal government took a big step yesterday toward implementing a ban on genetic discrimination in hiring and promoting workers, a move that will expand the bounds of anti-discrimination law beyond the traditional realms of age, race, religion, sex and disability," reports The Post's Steve Vogel. "The new law, which bars discrimination by insurers and employers based on genetic test results, represents the first legislative expansion of employment discrimination law since the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act."

Postal Service to Revamp Bulk Mail Center Network: According to ParcelPool.com, USPS plans a "significant transformation of their entire Bulk Mail Center network-likely the biggest change since the 21 BMCs were created more than 30 years ago. At the same time, they have apparently shelved plans to outsource both the operation of those BMCs and a significant portion of their ground transportation network."

Submit Your Questions: For former Obama-Biden transition project co-chair John Podesta and architect Ed Mazria as part of the "For the Greener Good" lecture series at the National Building Museum.

Today's Big Event: Michelle Obama makes her next stop on her federal agency tour with a morning visit to the Environmental Protection Agency. More here.

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 26, 2009; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Next: The Budget: First Glance

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