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Eye Opener: March 19, 2009

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

GO AU! Tonight the American University Eagles face off against the Villanova Wildcats in Philadelphia in the opening round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. The Eye will don his Eagle red, white and blue today with pride. (Watch a performance of the AU fight song above.)

Speaking of Eagles, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar joins bird research and conservation groups to release "The U.S. State of Birds," "the first ever comprehensive report on bird populations in the United States." The report -- the result of a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, state government wildlife agencies and nongovernmental organizations -- comes out at 2:30 p.m. ET. (More of the day's events here.)

Today's Big Story: "A civilian 'surge' of hundreds of additional U.S. officials in Afghanistan would accompany the already approved increase in U.S. troop levels there under a new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy being completed at the White House," reports The Post's Karen DeYoung.

"Some of the proposed new civilian force in Afghanistan -- diplomats, specialists from federal departments such as Agriculture and Justice, and hundreds of new 'full-time, temporary' hires -- would work at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, officials said. Others would be assigned to U.S. provincial reconstruction teams, or PRTs, located primarily in eastern Afghanistan, and to other efforts to build Afghan civilian capacity around the country. Patterned on a program first established in Iraq, the PRTs assist and advise Afghans in economic and local governance development."

More National Service Opportunities Soon?: "The House voted Wednesday to approve the largest expansion of government-sponsored service programs since President John F. Kennedy first called for the creation of a national community service corps in 1963," reports the New York Times' David M. Herszenhorn. "The legislation...would more than triple the number of service positions by expanding AmeriCorps and creating volunteer programs focused on education, health care, clean energy and veterans. The total number of positions would grow to 250,000 from 75,000 now in AmeriCorps. The Senate is expected to adopt a nearly identical bill early next week."

In other news...

Army to Phase Out 'Stop-Loss' Practice: "In the meantime, the Pentagon will offer extra pay to soldiers who continue to serve under the policy, Gates said," reports The Post's Ann Scott Tyson. "About 13,000 soldiers are serving under the stop-loss policy, nearly double the total of two years ago. Gates said the goal is to reduce that number by 50 percent by June 2010 and to bring it down to scores of soldiers by March 2011."

House Committee Does Right by Retirees: "The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform won kudos from federal employee and retiree organizations yesterday, as it approved measures designed to improve retirement programs for Uncle Sam's workers," reports The Post's Joe Davidson.

Obama Drops Plan to Bill Veterans' Private Insurers: A big victory for Veterans groups and the administration avoids a potential big embarrassment: "The proposal would have authorized the Department of Veterans Affairs to charge private companies for treating injuries and other medical conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, that are related to military service. The measure was intended to save VA about $530 million a year," notes The Post's Philip Rucker.

Early Stimulus Contracts Face Scrutiny: "Vice President Joe Biden's office acknowledged possible flaws in several of the first contracts awarded under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act," reports Gov Exec's Robert Brodsky. "Several of the 11 contracts issued using stimulus funds by late Wednesday afternoon were marked by paperwork errors, while others apparently were let without competition."

Military Weighing Its Use of Contractors: "A top Pentagon budget official told a congressional panel yesterday that the military is reexamining how it uses contractors and how it spends money on large, costly weapons programs," reports The Post's Dana Hedgpeth. Federal Times notes that Pentagon comptroller Robert Hale said that sometimes it costs less to hire Defense Department employees than to contract with outside firms for some types of work.

Locke Has Little Trouble At Senate Hearing: Yours truly reports that "Clearing up any concerns that President Obama might have to seek a fourth nominee for the job, former Washington governor Gary Locke (D) sailed through his confirmation hearing on his nomination as commerce secretary yesterday, with nary a sign of tax or legal problems nor a shred of doubt that he wanted the job."

A Defining Moment for Treasury Secretary: The New York Times' Jackie Calmes on the rough week for Timothy Geithner.

How the Fed Failed to Tell Obama About Bonuses: Michael. D. Shear and David Cho with the news that "As pressure mounted on AIG employees to return the bonuses, new details emerged yesterday about what the Fed, the Treasury Department and the White House knew regarding the payments and when. AIG executives said the Fed was informed three months ago by the company that it would pay $165 million by March 15 to employees working at its most troubled division."

SEC Faults Its Handling Of Tips on Short Sales: The Post's Zachary Goldfarb reports that the agency "doesn't have the right guidelines in place to enforce laws surrounding a form of short selling that some investors blame for exacerbating the financial crisis."

4 Workers In D.C. Tech Office Put On Leave: The actions come less than a week since federal agents arrested two employees "charging them with conspiring to steal city money through a scheme involving 'ghost' employees and kickbacks," reports The Post David Nakamura. The pair reported to Vivek Kundra, who has not been implicated in the scheme and now serves as Obama's chief information officer.

Obama's Civil Rights Nominee Upsets Some Latinos: "Thomas Perez is Maryland's highest-ranking Latino, but his selection as the nation's leading civil rights enforcer has provoked sharp criticism from some Latino civil rights advocates. The criticism isn't directed at Perez... Instead, it revolves around a belief that the administration passed over another Latino attorney for the position as head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, possibly out of a desire to avoid a fight over immigration," reports Paul West and Richard Simon of the LA Times.

Blogging While Publicly Employed: Some First Amendment Implications: The University of Louisville Law Review lays out what government employees can/should and cannot/should not do about blogging.

Mail Carrier Saves Woman From Fire, Completes Rounds: "Going beyond the Postal Motto, an Indianapolis mail carrier didn’t let even saving a woman’s life keep her from the swift completion of her appointed rounds. When Jackie Jefferson realized an 80-year-old woman was inside a burning house on Monday, she didn’t hesitate to rush inside to help. ... Jefferson’s actions got the woman, who uses a wheelchair, out of her house. Then, true to her postal duties, Jefferson resumed walking her mail delivery route."

Administration to Stop Raids on Medical Marijuana Dispensers: It's a "shift in the enforcement of federal drug laws" that effectively ends the Bush administration’s frequent raids on distributors, according to David Johnston and Neil A. Lewis of the New York Times.

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 19, 2009; 7:58 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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