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Eye Opener: April 7, 2009

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Tuesday! Defense Secretary Robert Gates' budget proposals mean big changes for wide swaths of the defense and government contracting communities -- if of course they win Congressional approval.

"The recent surge in the Washington area's defense-contracting workforce would begin to ebb" under Gates' plans, writes The Post's Dana Hedgpeth. "The budget would reverse a contracting boom, beginning after the 2001 terrorist attacks, in which the proportion of private contractors grew to 39 percent of the Pentagon's workforce. Gates said he wants to reduce that percentage to a pre-Sept. 11 level of 26 percent. The government said it would hire as many as 13,000 civil servants to replace contractors in the coming year and up to 39,000 over the next five years."

Gates "announced cuts in missile defense programs, the Army’s expensive Future Combat Systems and Navy shipbuilding operations. He would kill controversial programs to build a new presidential helicopter and a new communications satellite system, delay the development of a new bomber and order only four more of the advanced F-22 fighter jets. But he also said plans to increase the size of the Army and the Marine Corps, while halting reductions in Air Force and Navy personnel," reports Christopher Drew and Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times.

"The recommendations also are sure to generate a lot of pushback from lawmakers. Within an hour of Gates' briefing to reporters, a bipartisan group of senators sent the president a letter protesting recommended cuts in missile defense funding," reports Gov Exec's Katherine McIntire Peters. "Gates said Defense had three main objectives: take care of troops; rebalance programs to adequately support the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and reform how the services buy weapons."

As for how the defense chief handled this whole matter, "Aides say that the experience was like a baptism for Gates into the weirdness of the Pentagon's weapons-procurement system, which experts have long assailed for buying the wrong arms and paying far too much," reports The Post's R. Jeffrey Smith.

Remember however: "The congressional blowback set the stage for a long and potentially nasty battle among the administration and the Pentagon on one side, and lawmakers and defense contractors on the other — with plenty of room for changing sides in the bid to protect or kill rival weapons programs," reports Politico's Jen Dimascio.

In other news...

Report Calls CIA Detainee Treatment 'Inhuman': The Post's Joby Warrick and Julie Tate report that "Medical officers who oversaw interrogations of terrorism suspects in CIA secret prisons committed gross violations of medical ethics and in some cases essentially participated in torture, the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a confidential report that labeled the CIA program 'inhuman.'"

A Wide Assault on Pay-for-Performance: "The personnel system President George W. Bush advanced in an effort to replace the traditional General Schedule wage scale, has come under tough scrutiny by federal employee unions and their allies on Capitol Hill," writes The Post's Joe Davidson. "The assaults often have been agency-specific -- the Pentagon's National Security Personnel System, for example, was the subject of a congressional hearing last week. But now, eight chairmen and subcommittee chairmen in the House have upped the ante and urged the Obama administration to suspend any further implementation -- government-wide -- of pay-for-performance."

Pistachio Recall Signals Tough Stance on Safety: "The second-largest pistachio processor in the nation yesterday significantly expanded its recall of nuts after federal investigators found salmonella bacteria in "critical areas" of its California facility," reports The Post's Lyndsey Layton. Gardiner Harris and Andrew Martin of the New York Times note that "The Obama administration issued a tough warning to all food makers that sloppy manufacturing practices would no longer be tolerated. With the warning, the administration signaled that it was substantially changing the way the government oversees food safety. Food-handling practices that in the past would have resulted in mild warnings may now lead to wide-ranging and expensive recalls, even before anyone becomes ill from contaminated food."

FISA Court Gets New Chief Judge: "U.S. District Judge John D. Bates has been tapped to be the next chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court," reports The Post's Del Quentin Wilber. "Bates, 62, replaces U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who has been chief FISA judge since 2002. The FISA court has 11 judges, who are appointed to seven-year terms by the chief justice."

Thousands Locked Out Of Commenting Process At USDA: The Obama Foodrama blog reports that "Over the weekend, thousands--perhaps tens of thousands--of concerned citizens tried to send in comments on the 2008 Farm Bill Farm Program Payment Limitation and Payment Eligibility rule making process, only to have these 'bounce back.' Apparently the comments inbox for the E mail address provided by USDA...was 'full.'"

OMB Directs Agencies to Continue Weekly Stimulus Reporting: Gov Exec's Elizabeth Newell reports that "In a memorandum OMB Director Peter R. Orszag signed on Friday, the Obama administration announced it has eliminated monthly reporting requirements 'for the foreseeable future...given the continued demand for timely reporting.' The now-permanent weekly reports will include total obligations and outlays and a short bulleted list of major actions taken to date and major planned actions."

General's Paper Sheds Light on Counterinsurgency: Details of a three-page counterinsurgency guidance paper, written by Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, provided to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week by Gen. David H. Petraeus, "puts in practical terms hard lessons learned by the U.S. military over the past eight years in Iraq and Afghanistan," reports The Post's Walter Pincus.

Latest Postal Casualty: Wilderness Airmail: Tim Kauffman reports in the FedLine blog that "A rural airmail service that provides weekly mail delivery to about 20 addresses scattered across hundreds of square miles of Idaho backcountry" has been cut by USPS.

DOJ Lay Out Reasons for Collapse of the Stevens Conviction: "Lawyers poring over the wreckage said they believed the case had been poorly managed and inadequately supervised, lacked sufficient resources and been hampered by conflicts between prosecutors and F.B.I. agents going back months," reports Neil A. Lewis and David Johnston of the New York Times.

Salazar Gets Earful on Drilling: A contentious New Jersey hearing shows the challenge of crafting offshore energy policy, reports Brian Baskin of the Wall Street Journal.

Senators Fault Science Agency Over Handling of Porn Cases: Gardiner Harris of the New York Times writes that "The National Science Foundation has failed to respond adequately to a government investigation that found that more than a dozen agency employees viewed or shared sexually explicit materials, two senators contend in a letter sent to the agency on Monday."

V.A. Patient Tests Positive for H.I.V.: The department said late Friday that "a patient had tested positive for H.I.V. after being exposed to contaminated equipment at a medical facility."

IRS Probes Nonprofit Pay Practices: The WSJ's Mike Spector reports that "Lois Lerner, the IRS's director of tax-exempt organizations, told a gathering of lawyers representing charities Monday that scrutiny of nonprofits' pay practices is likely to increase. Nonprofit leaders should be sure to practice due diligence in making sure their executive pay can be justified through data on comparable practices at similar organizations, she said."

New NOAA Limits on Fishing Pared, but Will Sting: "The new head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued restrictions yesterday on New England fishermen that are expected to cut the region's fishing revenue by $17.4 million," reports Beth Daley of the Boston Globe. "The decision was a compromise that took into account the ongoing economic crisis. NOAA had first proposed rules that would have meant a 20 percent cut in revenue, but lowered it to a 9 percent reduction."

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 7, 2009; 7:29 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Comments

I hope that President Obama doesn't think that the DOD is the only group of Federal Employees who intensely hate any of the new Pay for Performance systems. After many years, for the past two years I have received the lowest ratings under our new system, that I have received in 31 years. For two years we haven't received any kind of bonuses for performance. There is no morale in our Office within the FDA. We are rated as "mediocre employees", but are expected to perform as though we had something to reward our efforts. There is no incentive for employees to stay here, and many have left and more are leaving and going to other employment centers where they seem to be appreciated. Management wonders why they are losing employees right and left. The mirrors don't lie. Poor management is no excuse! Only certain groups get promoted and I can assure you that they work no harder than the rest of us. Who wants to stay in a job where even "atta-boys" require an act of Congress?

Posted by: NARA1 | April 7, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Pay for Performance has led to a culture of favoritism at DoC/NIST. There is no good way to restrict Division-level misuse of functions that are supposed to be in OPM's domain. Unfortunately, OPM can't manage the most basic functions of its mission, e.g., hiring, recrutiment, etc. until it is infused with new blood.

Posted by: curtis789 | April 7, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

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