Eye Opener: March 6, 2009
Happy Friday! In the clip above, watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta explain to Larry King why he withdrew his name from consideration to serve as the next surgeon general.
Gupta said: "It really came down to a sense of timing more than anything else," Gupta told King on the show. "This job that we have collectively takes us away from our children. . . . I just didn't feel like I should do that now." He said the surgeon general "has to have a little bit of a higher profile. Whoever takes this job has to be out there really advocating the issues of public health. At no time is it probably more important than right now, as we're dealing with health-care reform. These issues really go hand in hand."
As The Post's Michael D. Shear and Howard Kurtz report today, "Gupta is the latest in a string of dropouts among likely candidates for top posts in Obama's administration. Also Thursday, two people who had been leading candidates for jobs at the Treasury Department withdrew abruptly."
In other news...
• 2010 Census Imperiled by Troubles, GAO Says: The Eye attended two Congressional hearings on the Census on Thursday, and along with colleague Steve Vogel reports today that "The accuracy of the 2010 Census remains threatened by computer problems and untested methods the Census Bureau plans to use for conducting the count, according to testimony yesterday from the Government Accountability Office."
• OPM Urged to Offer Rapid Hiring Authority for Stimulus: It "should give federal agencies blanket fast-track hiring authority to bring back former employees and recruit new workers to implement the massive economic stimulus package, watchdogs and lawmakers said on Thursday," reports Gov Exec's Robert Brodsky. "Currently, agencies must seek waivers from OPM to rehire federal annuitants. They must also get OPM's permission to use direct-hiring authority, a process that can expedite the government's often slow and cumbersome recruitment procedures. The standard hiring process is not conducive to the urgency and specific needs of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, said Gene Dodaro, acting comptroller general, in testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee."
• Moving In, Moving Out: Al Kamen has news of several Obama administration hires and the future of former Bush administration folks. The AP notes that Timothy Geithner's having a hard time of it, because "Not one of his top 17 deputies has been named, let alone confirmed. And without senior leadership, lower-level Treasury employees can't make decisions or represent the government in crucial conversations with banks and others."
• Postal Service Draws Criticism for $1.2 Million Home Buy: A CNN investigation finds that "At a time when the U.S. Postal Service says it is experiencing a financial crisis, it purchased a $1.2 million home from an employee so he could relocate, a CNN investigation has found. The Postal Service bought this 8,400-square-foot South Carolina home so an employee could relocate. Postal Service spokesman Greg Frey said the home will be resold, as others have been. 'It's not like we threw away a million dollars,' Frey told CNN. 'We are hoping it's going to go for the appraised value.' But a real estate agent in the area said the home could be a tough sell in a depressed housing market -- and the USPS said it lost an average of more than $58,000 on the 500-plus homes its relocation program bought and sold in 2008."
• IRS Gives the Boot to Private Tax Collectors: Last night, IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman announced the agency will end its contracts with private tax collection services. "I believe this work is best done by IRS employees," he said. "And there will be more of them to do the work," reports The Post's Joe Davidson. " The IRS plans to hire 1,000 new collection personnel this year. That's good news for [Uncle] Sam's tax collectors and his taxpayers."
• Bill Seeks to Let FDIC Borrow up to $500 Billion: "Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd is moving to allow the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to temporarily borrow as much as $500 billion from the Treasury Department," reports The Wall Street Journal's Damian Paletta. "The Connecticut Democrat's effort -- which comes in response to urging from FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner -- would give the FDIC access to more money to rebuild its fund that insures consumers' deposits, which have been hard hit by a string of bank failures."
• Nominee for Solicitor General Revises Her Opinion on Opinions: "Perhaps every nominee committed a dark, regrettable act in the past that he or she hopes will never see the light, but unfortunately for Elena Kagan, hers was discovered pretty quickly after she was nominated to be solicitor general: She once wrote that nominees should answer questions from senators," reports The Post's Robert Barnes. She lost the votes of six of eight Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee because she failed to provide specific answers to some questions. "Kagan, the dean of the Harvard Law School, told the lawmakers she had endeavored to answer their questions but acknowledged: 'I am . . . less convinced than I was in 1995 that substantive discussions of legal issues and views, in the context of nomination hearings, provide the great public benefits I suggested.'" Of course she is!
• Political Lobbying Drove FDA Process: Alicia Mundy of The Wall Street Journal reports that "The recent approval of a new device to treat knee injuries followed a lobbying campaign that overcame repeated rejections by scientists within the Food and Drug Administration, agency documents show. The FDA's internal dissent over Menaflex, which targets the most-common knee injury afflicting everyone from high-school athletes to baby boomers, is straining a government agency that oversees a quarter of the U.S. economy. Some senior FDA staff members complained in documents that the handling of Menaflex, made by ReGen Biologics Inc., shows how political and industry pressure can influence scientific conclusions. The Menaflex implant serves to reinforce damaged or weakened tissue in the knee. It was approved under fast-track rules. At issue isn't just the efficacy of the device -- that remains in dispute -- but the nature of the FDA's own approval process."
• New Life for 'Clean Coal' Project: The Post's hard-working investigative reporter Kimberly Kindy finds that "clean coal" research project known as FutureGen "is on the verge of resurrection. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said yesterday that he would support the plant with 'some modifications.'" Did we mention this power plant will be built in Illinois, home of Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel and Ray LaHood?
• Clash Over Auto Emission Standards: "California officials told the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday that major automakers are already on track to meet the state's strict proposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles," reports the LA Times' Jim Tankersley and Ken Bensinger. "But they clashed again with auto industry supporters at a daylong hearing over whether the EPA should grant California's request to allow it and 13 other states to set their own emission standards."
• DHS Staffers Upset With Personnel Policies: "The Homeland Security Department should focus on retaining senior executives, who are leaving DHS at a fast clip, union and nonprofit leaders told a congressional committee on Thursday." Gov Exec's Alyssa Rosenberg was there and notes that "Since its creation in October 2003 to September 2007, 72 percent of its career executives have left DHS, according to data from Homeland Security's fiscal 2009-13 strategic plan -- a rate significantly higher than other Cabinet-level departments, testified Max Stier, president of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Investigations, and Oversight."
• New Bill Enhances Retirement Benefits: "Federal Employees Retirement System employees would have their unused sick leave added to their annuity calculations when they retire, under a House bill introduced Tuesday," reports Federal Times' Rebecca Neal. "Currently, unused sick leave does not factor into the calculation of FERS employees’ annuities as it does for the annuities of Civil Service Retirement System employees. The 2009 Federal Retirement Reform Act, HR 1263, also automatically would enroll new civilian and military employees in the Thrift Savings Plan. The bill would steer new employees’ investments to the stable G Fund, which invests in government securities, unless they choose another fund to invest in."
• OPM Delays Implementing New Promotion Rules: "The Office of Personnel Management on Thursday decided to postpone issuing rules to abolish the one-year time-in-grade requirement for federal employee promotions," reports Gov Exec's Brittany R. Ballenstedt "The regulations, which allow federal employees to climb the career ladder faster, were scheduled to take effect March 9, but OPM's decision will delay their implementation until May 18. Under current rules, employees in competitive service General Schedule positions at grade levels 5 and above must serve 52 weeks in a grade before becoming eligible for promotion. The new rule eliminates the 52-week condition, provided employees meet occupational and job-related qualification requirements."
• Presidential Copter Cost in Rapid Climb: The Post's R. Jeffrey Smith reports that "The defense contractor building a fleet of new presidential helicopters has privately advised the Pentagon that its total cost has gone up by at least $1.8 billion in the past year to $13 billion, several government officials said. The development makes the embattled program less likely to be completed."
• Spitzer's Back... in D.C.: Don't blink if you see the former New York governor on the streets of Washington. The Wall Street Journal reports he's purchased "a prominent office building blocks from the White House through his father's real-estate company. The Spitzers are paying $180 million to buy 1615 L St. NW, a 13-story dark-glass building" just paces from world headquarters of The Washington Post.
• But Who's Counting?: Today's Federal City Digest debunks the myth that Barack Obama was only the third president to visit the Department of Transportation. A reader recounts the visit of a fourth commander-in-chief.
• The Big Event: The 2009 National Whistleblower Assembly starts Sunday at the University of the District of Columbia and continues across Washington through next Wednesday. It starts Sunday morning with an opening address by tobacco industry whistleblower Dr. Jeffrey Wigand. Click here for more information.
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