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Eye Opener: Feb. 23, 2009

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Monday! The Eye is back in focus after a nine-day vacation to visit family overseas. It promises to be a busy week in Washington, with President Obama's first address to Congress, the release of the first details of his first proposed budget and plenty of other developments across the bureaucracy.

It will also be a busy week for government employees of all stripes, as "thousands of Cabinet undersecretaries, regional agency directors and local contracting officers" start distributing the economic stimulus money

"Obama has cast his election as a repudiation of an anti-government philosophy that has been in vogue for the past three decades," reports The Post's Alec MacGillis today. "The stimulus spending offers the prospect of renewing confidence in the public sector just as many are losing faith in corporate America. If done poorly, though, it could undermine Obama's longer-term vision of reaffirming the positive role of government in the lives of Americans.

"This is an historic opportunity for federal managers to rise to the occasion, to stand up and make sure these dollars are spent well," said Donald F. Kettl, a University of Pennsylvania political scientist. "It's an historic shot, but it's a tough shot. It may be an exaggeration to say they've been set up to fail, but the expectations are very high."

Meanwhile, The Post's editorial board has taken the sides with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood who last week proposed a tax on vehicle miles traveled as an alternative to the gas tax. He was publicly scolded by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs who said the administration would not adopt the idea.

"Too bad," writes The Post's editorial board. "You'd think this young administration would be encouraging an open exchange of innovative ideas." The ed board admits there are significant obstacles to the idea, but "they are not impossible to overcome."

Also -- anyone concerned with the pace of innovation and adaptation within the federal bureaucracy must read Matthew L. Wald's report in today's The New York Times. He shares this startling statistic: "A person born on July 17, 1996, the day that T.W.A. Flight 800 exploded off Long Island, will be old enough to earn a pilot’s license — and maybe even to work for an airline — before the hardware ordered after that crash is installed on all airplanes, in about 2016."

"As aviation safety officials investigate the country’s first fatal airliner accident in 30 months, the crash of a Continental Connection turboprop near Buffalo on Feb. 12, experts say that although airlines are safer than ever, adopting the lessons from such disasters can be excruciatingly slow."

In other news...

Stimulus Corruption Czar Named: Obama is set to name former Secret Service agent and Earl E. Devaney as chairman of the new Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. Devaney also helped expose lobbying corruption at the Interior Department as its inspector general.

Show Me The VSIP: Mike Causey writes today about Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments, or buyouts, for federal workers. The Enviromental Protection Agency, the Departments of Energy, Health and Human Services and Interior, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Election Commission are all offering them this year. Mike shares the important details.

Brotherly (Anti)trust: Al Kamen and Philip Rucker report that "The $2.5 billion merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation to create an entertainment behemoth has drawn the interest of Justice Department investigators and is poised to become an early test of the young Obama administration's antitrust position." The reason? Sitting on the concert promoter's board of directors is none other than Hollywood mega-agent Ari Emanuel, a.k.a. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's little brother. (Ari is also the inspiration for "Ari," on The Eye's favorite TV show, "Entourage." Coincidentally, Almost Mrs. Eye also adores "Ari.")

Limiting The Overclassification of Information: "If it is ultimately upheld, a memorandum opinion written by a federal judge in Virginia and released last week may limit the overclassification of information on national security grounds and prevent future prosecutions for leaking such information," reports The Post's Walter Pincus.

Civil Service Vs. Contractors: Mark A. Abramson pens a fantastic analysis for Government Executive about what the Obama administration should ask itself about striking the right balance between civil servants and federal contractors.

SEC Chief Pursues Reversal of Years of Lax Enforcement: Mary L. Schapiro gets the Old Gray Lady treatment today and tells the paper that she and "aides have begun consulting officials at intelligence and law enforcement agencies about the technology they use to sort through mounds of information. Her hope is to borrow techniques that could help the commission sift through hundreds of thousands of tips it receives annually from informants. Last year, the agency received more than 700,000 such tips."

Budget Secrecy at DOD: "The Obama administration has directed defense officials to sign a pledge stating they will not share 2010 budget data with individuals outside the federal government," reports John T. Bennett of Defense News. "...the administration tells defense officials that 'strict confidentiality' must be practiced to ensure a 'successful' and 'proper' 2010 defense budget process."

EPA Set to Move Toward Carbon-Dioxide Regulation: Reports the Wall Street Journal.

The Census and the Constitution: Columnist Michael Barone weighs in on proposals to separate the Census Burea from the Commerce Department. (More on this soon from The Federal Eye)

NASA on Twitter: The Space agency has provided Twitter updates for the Phoenix Mars Lander Program and recently won an award for its efforts. Don't forget to follow The Eye on Twitter too!

Today's Big Event: You mean besides the return of The Eye? It's a big day at the Newseum, as the Center for American Progress holds the "National Clean Energy Project: Building the New Economy" forum. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and climate czar Carol M. Browner are expected to participate, and, at 10:15 a.m., former president Bill Clinton, former vice president Al Gore, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.N. Foundation President Tim Wirth and oilman T. Boone Pickens will discuss clean-energy policy. More here.

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 23, 2009; 8:05 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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