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Eye Opener: March 4, 2009

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Wednesday! Posting will be light today as The Eye and colleague Akira Hakuta travel to Front Royal, Va. to record our second "Eye On..." video profile of federal government employees with cool/unique jobs.

You may have noticed the number of announced Obama administration nominees has slowed to a trickle in recent weeks. As The Post's Michael D. Shear and Philip Rucker report today, that's because "An intensified vetting process has left dozens of President Obama's picks to run the government mired in a seemingly endless confirmation limbo, frustrated and cut off from the departments they are waiting to serve and unable to perform their new duties."

"In the month since $146,000 in unpaid taxes and penalties forced former senator Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) to withdraw as the nominee to become secretary of health and human services, other appointees say an army of investigators from the White House, the FBI and the Senate has descended on them, demanding years-old receipts from business trips, examining minor charitable contributions, digging through 20 years of their associations, and leading them to hire accountants to field a web of complex tax questions."

In the words of one nominee, "You begin to feel removed from the action. You begin to feel removed from the government you were expecting to be part of. I bet people are swallowing a bottle of Maalox to get through this. I'm just very restless."

"Obama has tapped 71 people to positions requiring Senate confirmation. Of those, 41 have been formally nominated and 28 have been confirmed by the Senate, each taking an average of 65 days from the time they were offered the job," and that puts him "far ahead of his predecessors. By the end of February 2001, then-President George W. Bush had nominated 21 people, while at the same point in 1993, then-President Bill Clinton had nominated 26. And Obama has appointed several hundred people to positions in the bureaucracy that do not require confirmation -- more than Bush or Clinton had at this point."

In other news...

Maybe It's Time for 'Help Wanted' Ads: Keeping tabs on the Obama nomination process, Al Kamen notes that "These are just not great days for the White House personnel folks. The team, already stalled by various setbacks, including chronic and seemingly incurable vetting problems for nominees and potential nominees, has lost two more leading contenders for top-level jobs." Kamen reports that former Federal Aviation Administration chief Jane Garvey has declined the number two spot at DOT, while Susan F. Tierney, who had been the leading candidate to be deputy secretary of energy, has also dropped from contention. The Post's "Topic A" feature includes some comments from Karl Rove and Larry Sabato, among others, about the slowing nomination process. Writes Sabato: "The irresistible force, President Obama, is meeting the immovable object, the way Washington works. Washington is winning."

John Berry Named OPM Director: The head of the National Zoo will serve as the head of HR for the federal government. (A reader pointed out the irony of a man once responsible for animals now handling federal employees... hmm...) In addition to his work with Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and the Transportation and Interior departments, "Berry is also known as an advocate for gay and lesbian federal employees. According to the Human Rights Campaign, if confirmed, he will be the highest-ranking openly gay official to serve in the executive branch in any administration," reports Alyssa Rosenberg of Government Executive.

New Post Proposed at Pentagon: "A bill to end cost overruns in major weapons systems would create a powerful new Pentagon position -- director of independent cost assessments -- to review cost analyses and estimates, separately from the military branch requesting the program," reports The Post's Ellen Nakashima. "Those reviews, unlike in the current process, would take place at key points in the acquisition process before a weapons program can proceed, according to legislation sponsored by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)."

Bill Would Put Tobacco Under FDA Control: "In what appears to be the best chance since public health groups started pushing for it in the 1970s, Congress is poised to regulate tobacco, a product linked to 1,200 deaths each day but sold largely unfettered for centuries," reports The Post's Lyndsey Layton. "Legislation that the House Energy and Commerce Committee will take up today would place tobacco under the control of the Food and Drug Administration. Among other things, the bill would restrict the ways tobacco companies market cigarettes, require them to disclose the ingredients in their products and place larger warning labels on packages, and give the FDA the authority to require the removal of harmful chemicals and additives from cigarettes."

GAO Report Says FDA Lacks Authority Over Supplements: The agency "does not have the information, resources or recall ability necessary to adequately regulate dietary supplements" USA Today reports. "Congress requested the evaluation of how the FDA regulates these popular products. The Nutrition Business Journal reports that 79% of adult Americans take dietary supplements."

Report Cites Problems In ICE Training Program: "Immigration officials have failed to develop 'key internal controls' over a controversial program that trains state and local police to identify illegal immigrants involved in crime, so some departments are focusing on minor violations rather than on serious offenses, according to federal investigators," reports The Post's N.C. Aizenman. "A Government Accountability Office report released last night was requested by congressional oversight panels in advance of hearings on the program to be held today by the House Committee on Homeland Security. Known as 287(g) after the legal provision authorizing it, the identification program has expanded rapidly in recent years, receiving $60 million between 2006 and 2008, training 951 state and local law enforcement officers in 67 agencies -- including the police forces of counties including Prince William -- and resulting in the arrests of at least 43,000 immigrants, almost 28,000 of whom ultimately were ordered out of the country."

NTEU Legislative Conference: The Eye was there for the opening session yesterday, and The Post's Federal Diarist Joe Davidson reports that persuading President Obama to alter his proposed 2 percent pay raise for civilian employees will be a big focus of the union this year. "Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told the union leaders meeting that "we must increase salaries" to draw young people to government service, without directly referring to the pay-parity issue. He didn't say by how much or where he'd find the money."

Same-Sex Spouses Sue Federal Government: "Saying they suffered injustices under the Defense of Marriage Act, a dozen legally married same-sex spouses filed suit against the federal government Tuesday, alleging that the 1996 law deprives them of a range of benefits accorded other couples," reports the LA Times. "The suit filed in Boston by the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, or GLAD, challenges a section of the federal law denying gay couples access to more than 1,000 federal programs and legal protections in which marriage is a factor."

LaHood: Raising the Gas Tax a No-Go: From the Wall Street Journal: "Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood rejected increasing the gasoline tax to fix a worsening shortfall in funding for highways and mass-transit systems, saying the government should instead turn to ideas such as private investment and new tolls to raise money. Mr. LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, said that even with $48 billion for transportation projects included in the economic stimulus bill, states would be forced to slash spending and construction jobs this year unless new funds emerge. Less money is available for such projects because the main revenue sources -- taxes on gasoline and vehicle purchases -- are declining amid a cutback in driving, a shift to fuel-efficient cars and slumping auto sales."

DOJ to Reveal More Bush Administration Legal Memos: "Justice Department officials intend to release more secret legal memos that underpinned the Bush administration's approach to national security issues, responding to pressure from Democratic lawmakers and interest groups that have sued for access to the sensitive materials, sources said yesterday," reports The Post's Carrie Johnson. "At his January confirmation hearing, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said he would direct new leaders of the department's Office of Legal Counsel to review opinions issued in the Bush years to determine whether some of the still-private rulings could be published. A formal review has not yet begun..." The Post's editorial board writes that the memos' release "makes clear ... how intellectually dishonest Bush-era lawyers were in coming to these preposterous conclusions."

Campaign Aide Tapped to Head FCC: "President Obama said yesterday that he will nominate Julius Genachowski, a technology adviser during the presidential campaign and law school friend, to head the Federal Communications Commission," The Post's Cecilia Kang reports. "Genachowski, 47, will be charged with designing a plan to bring broadband Internet to rural and low-income areas within one year. That will likely involve altering a $7 billion program already used to bring phone service to those areas. And he will have to work with other agencies that will distribute $8 billion in stimulus funds for the construction of new broadband networks in rural areas."

Controversy Over Yucca Mountain Ending?: The Post's Steve Vogel takes on the thorny issue, reporting that "In keeping with a pledge President Obama made during the campaign, the budget released last week cuts off almost all funding for creating a permanent burial site for a large portion of the nation's radioactive nuclear waste at the site in the Nevada desert."

CIA's Rolfe Kingsley Dies: The 91-year-old "helped revive the agency's troubled Soviet division in the late 1960s after a paranoia-fueled molehunt had decimated morale." He died Feb. 25 of cancer. "Mr. Kingsley was among the earliest employees of the Office of Strategic Services, the World War II precursor to the CIA where he distinguished himself in operations in the Middle East and in Germany. He joined the Central Intelligence Agency after its formation in 1947 and served the directorate of operations in Turkey and as chief of the European division, among other prominent Cold War assignments."

Blogging the Stimulus: Believe it or not, someone's doing it: Post alum Steve Coll is going page-by-page and posting details on his New Yorker blog. Good luck Steve!

Unopened Claims Letters Hidden at VA Offices: From Government Executive's Rick Maze: "A new report about Veterans Affairs Department employees squirreling away tens of thousands of unopened letters related to benefits claims is sparking fresh concerns that veterans and their survivors are being cheated out of money. VA officials acknowledge further credibility problems based on a new report of a previously undisclosed 2007 incident in which workers at a Detroit regional office turned in 16,000 pieces of unprocessed mail and 717 documents turned up in New York in December during amnesty periods in which workers were promised no one would be penalized."

Climate Official Urges Congress To Curb Greenhouse-Gas Emissions: In today's Wall Street Journal, Stephen Power reports that President Obama's special envoy for climate change, Todd Stern told a global warming conference that "It's been a long time now that countries have been looking to the U.S. to lead." More: "Mr. Stern acknowledged that passage of climate-change legislation before December would be 'an extremely tall order,' but added that 'nothing would give a more powerful signal to other countries than to see a significant, major, mandatory plan' from the U.S. before the start of international talks that are intended to forge a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which committed many industrialized nations to cutting their emissions."

Today's Big Event: If you're flipping through the TV channels around 11 a.m. and settle on C-SPAN, do not adjust your set: Yes, that's British Prime Minister Gordon Brown addressing a joint session of Congress. He'll talk to lawmakers before flying home. More events here.

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 4, 2009; 6:39 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Next: Vilsack, Napolitano Find Ways to Trim the Fat

Comments

Hey, animals have rights that Federal Employees would love to have. So maybe some of those animal rights will now become human rights! How many non-profit groups out their are picketing and raising money for us? A few union leaders, is all. No State officials can help us, as all of our contractors are Federal jurisdiction. And the director of OPM is one of the most powerful persons in the country. Through the interwoven contracts, he can threaten hospitals with loss of medicare certifications if they do not refuse treatment to injured workers arriving in ambulances and cars. That's how bad it has become when the powers of the OPM Director has been abused. I'm looking forward to fairness and justice for all, including the Federal workforce. Pay raises are great, but if one is dead, one can't spend the raise.

Posted by: LindaJoyAdams | March 4, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

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