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Eye Opener: March 3, 2009

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

L'ENFANT PLAZA -- Happy Tuesday! The Eye is at the NTEU legislative conference at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel for the morning session and heads later today to President Obama's address at the Department of Interior to mark its 160th anniversary. Follow The Eye's real-time updates on Twitter. Tomorrow The Eye shifts gears entirely to film the second in our "Eye On..." video profiles of federal employees. If you have recommendations on who or what agencies to profile, send your suggestions to federaleye@washingtonpost.com.

Today's big story: "President Obama's budget is so ambitious, with vast new spending on health care, energy independence, education and services for veterans, that experts say he probably will need to hire tens of thousands of new federal government workers to realize his goals," reports The Post's Philip Rucker.

"The $3.6 trillion plan released last week proposes spending billions to begin initiatives and implement existing programs, and given Obama's insistence that he would scale back the use of private-sector contractors, his priorities could reverse a generational decline in the size of the government workforce.

"Exactly how many new workers would be needed remains unclear -- one independent estimate was 100,000, while the conservative Heritage Foundation said it is likely to be closer to a quarter-million.

Among the agencies already preparing for new hires: The Department of Veterans Affairs, Social Security Administration and EPA.

President Obama may face criticism for such a large government expansion, but he's "caught between a rock and a hard place," said Paul C. Light, a professor of public service at New York University. Rucker notes that "Obama inherited a federal workforce of about 2 million that Light described as woefully understaffed, especially to fulfill his bold domestic policy agenda. He predicted that Obama's budget and the $787 billion economic recovery package could require an additional 100,000 federal workers, but warned that the number may be even higher."

In other news...

Legislation Calls For Independent Census Bureau: The Eye reports in today's Post that "House Democrats will unveil a measure today that would separate the U.S. Census Bureau from the Commerce Department and make it an independent government agency similar in design to the National Institutes of Health or NASA. The proposal comes in the wake of Republican allegations that the Obama administration is attempting to politicize the census by giving White House aides responsibility for overseeing next year's head count."

Nominations on Hold For 2 Top Science Posts: The Eye first heard about this last week and was told it was a "routine" hold, but The Post's Juliet Eilperin reports that "The nominations of two of President Obama's top science advisers have stalled in the Senate" because "Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has placed a 'hold' that blocks votes on confirming Harvard University physicist John Holdren, who is in line to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Oregon State University marine biologist Jane Lubchenco, Obama's nominee to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. According to sources who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the matter, Menendez is using the holds as leverage to get Senate leaders' attention for a matter related to Cuba rather than questioning the nominees' credentials."

Sebelius, DeParle Named to Health-Care Posts: In brief remarks at the White House Obama reaffirmed his plans to push ahead with a health care overhaul, despite warnings from some Republicans and others, who say that it will prove too costly and politically perilous, especially given the nation's severe fiscal problems. The Post's Michael A. Fletcher reports that "On Thursday, Obama is scheduled to host a White House summit on health care that is intended to bring together a wide variety of constituencies -- from drug companies to doctors -- who have a large stake in health-care reform. That meeting is seen as the kickoff to the administration's effort to push reform legislation through Congress this year." Who is Nancy-Ann De Parle? Find out here. TIME Magazine notes that "The good news for DeParle is that her new job won't require much public salesmanship" and "Her resume is the kind that Presidents love to promote." Sasha Issenberg of the Boston Globe reports that "The nomination of Sebelius is the latest in an unusual succession of do-overs at top departments, a process that has revealed Obama's hiring decisions to be driven more by a desire to recruit particular people than to match qualified individuals to predetermined missions."

Obama's Trade Pick Owes IRS $10,000: Here we go again. "Former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, who is President Obama's nominee to be the U.S. trade representative, failed to pay almost $10,000 in taxes during the past three years because of a series of mistakes," reports The Post's Michael D. Shear. "His major mistake was in not treating as taxable income $37,500 in speaking fees. Kirk asked that the fees be paid directly to his alma mater for a scholarship fund he had created, and his accountant did not think the donated fees were taxable income, the committee said."

Rendell Advisor Tapped for DOT Post: Roy Kienitz, a deputy chief of staff for Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell (D), has been nominated as the DOT's undersecretary for policy. The White House "credited Kienitz with directing a number of major capital projects during his tenure with the commonwealth, including the expansion of the Convention Center and the Port of Philadelphia. Kienitz was appointed by Rendell as his chief adviser on transportation, energy and environmental policy shortly after Rendell took office in 2003. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Amy Worden reports that "Kienitz is the first Rendell administration official to be named to a post in the Obama administration, but others were considered, including Kathleen McGinty, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, for the Environmental Protection Agency, and Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff for the Agriculture Department."

Post-9/11 Memos Show More Bush-Era Legal Errors: "The number of major legal errors committed by Bush administration lawyers during the formulation of its early counterterrorism policies was far greater than previously known, according to internal Bush administration documents released for the first time by the Justice Department yesterday," reports The Post's Dan Eggen and R. Jeffrey Smith. "Those policies were based on at least 10 legal opinions conferring broad powers on the president that the Justice Department later deemed flawed and ordered withdrawn, including several approving the military's search, detention or trial of civilians in the United States without congressional input, according to the documents."

Blackwater Founder Resigns as Chief Executive: Erik Prince led one of the nation's most notorious/infamous/scandalous contracting companies "used an auto-parts inheritance to build Blackwater into one of the world's most successful defense companies," but he stepped down on Monday, the AP reports. Prince appointed a new president and chief operating officer in a management shake-up that he said was part of the company's "continued reorganization and self-improvement."

Michelle Obama to Visit Arlington Cemetery: She'll visit a women's center at the cemetery today, according to the AP.

Prison Spending Outpaces All but Medicaid: From today's New York Times: "Criminal correction spending is outpacing budget growth in education, transportation and public assistance, based on state and federal data. Only Medicaid spending grew faster than state corrections spending, which quadrupled in the past two decades, according to the report Monday by the Pew Center on the States, the first breakdown of spending in confinement and supervision in the past seven years."

Putting Breaks on Mexican Trucks: "The vision of Mexican 18-wheelers trucking goods across the United States, has, well, run out of gas. Hit the brakes. Broken down. At least some safety advocates hope so," writes The Post's Cindy Skrzycki. "The Senate is close to passing a catch-all spending bill that would seal the U.S. border to Mexican long-haul trucks, ending a 15-year project whose goal was to let U.S. and Mexican trucks carry products from Albany to Acapulco."

Smarter Energy Use at Agencies: Gov Exec's Katherine McIntire Peters reports that President Obama's push to modernize the electricity grid will require agencies to get a lot smarter about how they track energy use.

Legislation Gives Locality Pay to Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. Territories: A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers has introduced the measure, reports Gov Exec's Alyssa Rosenberg, in a move they say is crucial to ensure that those workers have the same retirement security as federal employees in other states.

PBGC Workers Vote for Union Representation: "On Feb. 25, PBGC employees backed union representation from the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers by a vote of 242-7. The agency employs more than 800 people, but only non-managers are eligible to join the union," reports Gov Exec's Brittany R. Ballenstedt.

Economic Stimulus Checklist: Gov Exec has compiled a fantastic checklist of economic stimulus package reporting requirements for the next three months, organized by deadline.

Young Government Leaders Workshop: "Personal Brand and Image Management" is the topic of tonight's YGL workshop, held at the National Academy of Public Administration, 900 7th Street N.W. from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. E-mail younggovernmentleaders@gmail.com for more information.

Today's Big Event: In addition to the NTEU legislative conference and President Obama's appearance at the Interior Department, he'll also stop by the Department of Transportation this morning to talk about the economic stimulus package. Tonight, Women’s Policy, Inc. hosts its annual Congressional gala starting at 6:30 p.m. at Union Station. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is scheduled to deliver a keynote address and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will also address the crowd. More here.

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 3, 2009; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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