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Eye Opener: March 24, 2009

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Tuesday! Here's a quick review of the day's big headlines from the federal government:

Expanding National Service: "The nation is close to a major civic breakthrough," opines the New York Times editorial board about bipartisan plans to expand national service. "This is a chance to constructively harness the idealism of thousands of Americans eager to contribute time and energy to solving the nation’s problems — a chance not to be missed."

Obama Lacks a Secretary of Selling It: An LA Times analysis by Peter Nicholas and Peter Wallsten write that "In assembling his economic team, the president gave first priority to technical skill and intellectual achievement. So far, none of his senior advisors has shown the extra ability to inspire as well -- both on Wall Street and Main Street. Because the programs are complex, costly and politically unpopular, the dearth of administration officials who can dominate the stage is becoming a serious handicap."

Obama Makes Senior Picks at Treasury Dept.: "Obama will nominate Neal S. Wolin, an insurance executive and former Treasury general counsel, as deputy Treasury secretary, and Lael Brainard, a Brookings Institution scholar on the global economy, as undersecretary for international affairs. The administration will also retain Stuart A. Levey, who was undersecretary for financial terrorism matters under the Bush administration," reports The Post's Neil Irwin.

Postmaster General Faces Congress Over Compensation: "With the U.S. Postal Service headed for its third year with a multibillion-dollar deficit, Postmaster General John Potter will face tough questioning on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to explain the red ink as well as his compensation package," reports Gov Exec's Michael Posner. The Post's Joe Davidson notes that Potter's pay raise comes as USPS plans to close six postal facilities.

Lawmakers Eye Claims Backlog at SSA: A joint hearing today of two House Ways and Means subcommittees will review how the Social Security Administration is addressing the significant backlog of disability benefits claims. Gov Exec's Elizabeth Newell reports that "The agency is facing an unprecedented backlog of more than 1.3 million claims for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability benefits. The claims bottleneck seems to be particularly problematic at the hearings stage, where the backlog has more than doubled since 2000 -- from about 310,000 claims to more than 765,000 -- and the average waiting time per claim is now nearly 500 days."

Reines Storm: Clinton Conflict Brews: Politico's Ben Smith reports that "State Department reporters and observers have been buzzing about the brewing conflict since her second foreign trip, earlier this month, to Europe and the Middle East. On that trip, her long-time Senate press secretary Philippe Reines -- one of the combatants in Hillaryland’s long civil wars -- took over as the political staffer charged with handling the press."

Foreign Service Jobs in Afghanistan to Grow: Foggy Bottom "will significantly expand its presence in regional capitals in western and northern Afghanistan in coming months, part of the Obama administration's plans for a 'surge' in civilians going to the country," reports The Post's Karen DeYoung. "As part of our expanding efforts in Afghanistan," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a cable sent Saturday to all Foreign Service officers, "the Department intends to create 14 additional FS positions in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif."

Clinton Pushes e-Diplomacy: The AP notes that "Her videos aren't quite viral yet and she's not tweeting, but Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is embracing new media, using the Web to promote the agency and her role as the nation's top envoy."

FDA Ordered to Rethink Age Restriction for Plan B: A federal judge ordered the agency to reconsider its 2006 decision to deny girls younger than 18 access to the morning-after pill Plan B without a prescription. The Post's Rob Stein reports that in his 52-page decision, U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman in New York instructed the agency to make Plan B available to 17-year-olds within 30 days and to review whether to make the emergency contraceptive available to all ages without a doctor's order. He repeatedly criticized FDA for its handling of the issue, agreeing that their decision was "arbitrary and capricious" and influenced by "political and ideological" considerations imposed by the Bush administration.

Census Bureau Will Try Ad Campaign To Reach Minorities: The Eye and colleague Steve Vogel report that "the Census Bureau will launch a $250 million promotional campaign to encourage participation in the decennial head count, especially among hard-to-reach minority groups in urban areas."

Community Policing Defines Kerlikowske: The Post's Amy Goldstein on how the Seattle police chief may serve as drug czar: "In a city with greater tolerance for drugs than much of the United States, he has seldom bucked the prevailing local sentiment."

NOAA Chief Believes in Science as Social Contract: "The marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco has long urged scientists to abandon the habitual reticence of the research community and spend more time engaging the public and public officials about scientific and technical issues," reports the New York Times' Cornelia Dean. "Now Dr. Lubchenco, a professor at Oregon State University, is following her own advice all the way to Washington to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of the government’s premier science agencies."

No More Freebies at EPA: The Boston Globe's Derrick Z. Jackson opines that new administrator Lisa P. Jackson is making it much harder for polluters to get away with it.

EPA Presses Obama To Regulate Warming: "The agency's new leadership, in a step toward confronting global warming, submitted a finding that will force the White House to decide whether to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the nearly 40-year-old Clean Air Act," reports The Post's Juliet Eilperin.

Grading WhiteHouse.gov: Five online experts weigh in on the administration's online efforts thus far.

Nuclear Security Official Hints at Leaner, Less Costly Weapons Complex: Walter Pincus recaps testimony by Thomas P. D'Agostino, who heads the National Nuclear Security Administration to the House Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development.

Today's Big Event: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing at 2:30 p.m. on the nomination of Thomas Strickland to be assistant secretary for fish and wildlife at the Interior Department. Strickland will testify. More events here.

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 24, 2009; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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