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Eye Opener: Swine Flu Guide for Federal Workers

By Ed O'Keefe

Women wearing surgical masks to avoid swine flu pray in the Zocalo Plaza in Mexico City on Sunday. (Photo by AP)

Eye Opener

Happy Tuesday! The concern and intrigue surrounding a potential swine flu pandemic continues around the world and here in Washington, as the Office of Personnel Management has issued guidance to federal agencies about how to react to the illness. A memo issued Sunday is addressed specifically to federal employees working in areas where they may interact with infected people. Customs and Border Protection officers or Transportation Security Administration guards are at obvious risk. OPM instructs that workers should:

• Separate that individual to a private room or area maintaining six feet distance from employees and the public.
• Notify the CDC quarantine station upon separating the traveler from others.
• Instruct the ill traveler to wear a surgical mask.
• Place the traveler in a room that separates him from the airspace of others.

Taking preparations a step further, OPM has also circulated a memo with job leave options should an employee or family member fall ill. The Fed Line's Gregg Carlstrom also notes that OPM permits hiring flexibilities during emergency situations including severe weather and public health scares. Agencies could temporarily hire medical professionals and other staff if necessary, but no federal agency has yet done so.

Two other notes: Michael D. Shear, Spencer S. Hsu and yours truly report today that the Obama administration "is attempting to implement a never-before-tested pandemic response plan while dozens of key public health and emergency response jobs in the administration remain vacant. The president has yet to fill 15 top positions at the health department or name a full-time director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and five more nominations -- including that of former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to be HHS Secretary -- are waiting to be confirmed by the Senate."

Meanwhile NextGov's Aliya Sternstein reports on the federal government's Web-based coordination with international colleagues to ensure a unified message across agencies.

Cabinet and Staff News: Swine flu thrusts Napolitano into the spotlight. Senate set to (finally?) confirm Sebelius. Clinton says U.S. ready to lead on a new global warming treaty. Holder visits the Tower of London. Locke discusses stronger trade with Chinese officials. FDIC's Sheila Blair once again calls for broader powers for her agency. Obama picks Dr. Eric Goosby to lead U.S. efforts to fight AIDS globally. President and Mrs. Obama host a private reception for cabinet secretaries at the White House tonight at 7:30 p.m.

Gender Pay Gap in Federal Workforce Narrows: "The pay gap between male and female federal government employees has closed significantly in the last 20 years as workers have become more alike in education, experience, and the occupations they hold, according to a report to be released today by the Government Accountability Office," The Eye reports today. "Women earned 89 cents for every dollar earned by their male co-workers men in 2007, the latest figures available, up from 72 cents in 1988."

Meet the New Chief Performance Officer: Federal Times' Elise Castelli notes that Jeffrey Zients has no government experience, federal or otherwise, but he'll try to adapt his private-sector experience and success to the federal sector.

U.S. Plans Attack and Defense in Cyberspace Warfare: The New York Times publishes an extensive review of American strategy, writing that "Just as the invention of the atomic bomb changed warfare and deterrence 64 years ago, a new international race has begun to develop cyberweapons and systems to protect against them. Thousands of daily attacks on federal and private computer systems in the United States — many from China and Russia, some malicious and some testing chinks in the patchwork of American firewalls — have prompted the Obama administration to review American strategy."

Plan to Cut Weapons Programs Disputed: "Some of the nation's largest defense contractors, labor unions and trade groups are banding together to argue that the Obama administration is putting 100,000 or more jobs at risk by proposing deep cuts in weapons programs," reports The Post's Dan Eggen. "The defense industry and its supporters argue that the proposals by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will increase unemployment during a historic economic crisis. Why, they ask, would President Obama push hundreds of billions in stimulus spending to create jobs only to propose weapons cuts that would eliminate tens of thousands of them?"

Airborne Intelligence Growing Component of Fight Against Insurgents: "A recent U.S. airstrike in Iraq's Diyala province killed a group of al-Qaeda fighters whose positions were exposed. The back story of the successful strike tells a lot about how the U.S. military stalks and kills its insurgent enemies these days," writes The Post's Walter Pincus.

Soldiers Receive Purple Hearts: "The ceremony at Walter Reed Army Medical Center yesterday was not part of the official centennial celebration this week to mark the hospital's 100th year. It wasn't printed in any of the brochures, or advertised on the hospital's Web site, or open to the general public," reports The Post's Christian Davenport. "But in a time of war, it's a ceremony that happens all too often at the hospital."

Plane Scare Has Happened Before: Monday's photo-op over the skies of Manhattan has occurred there before. The FAA hasn't always coordinated well with the city, notes the Wall Street Journal.

White House Web Presence Gets Low Marks: "In a recent poll by, new media experts from across the political spectrum gave an average grade of C+. Although they mostly saw the site as an improvement from the previous administration's, many noted that it remained a one-way forum and suggested it be opened to allow comments and make greater use of the 'Open for Questions' feature," writes National Journal's David Herbert.

Employee Says FDA Seeks Resignation in Settlement: "A Food and Drug Administration employee who accused her boss of sex discrimination and won a judgment said the agency has asked her to resign as part of a settlement," writes WSJ's Alicia Mundy. "An administrative law judge at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found in August 2008 that the FDA promoted a hostile work environment in the case of Cindy Demian, a bioengineer in the medical-device division. The judge said the FDA failed to act when Ms. Demian's supervisor made derogatory sexual comments."

Stalled Nomination Weighs on Commodities Oversight: "President Obama's pick to head the federal agency in charge of policing commodities futures is languishing in the Senate despite the troubles in the market and planning for new financial regulations," reports The Post's Zachary A. Goldfarb. "Gary Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs banker and Treasury Department official in the Clinton administration, was nominated on Dec. 18 to lead the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. In March, his nomination cleared the Senate Agriculture Committee, which oversees the CFTC, but the full Senate hasn't held a vote because Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) is blocking his appointment."

White House Preparing Ambitious Green Goals: "The White House will outline tougher goals for greening federal agencies under an executive order now being developed," reports Tim Kauffman of Federal Times. White House Environmental Adviser Nancy Sutley "did not say when the order will be issued. But she said it will go beyond existing laws and executive orders, which require agencies to cut their energy and water consumption, increase their use of renewable energy, purchase environmentally preferable products and buy alternative fuel vehicles."

Preservation Group Lists 11 Sites in Need: "The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which today releases its annual list of the most endangered historic places in the United States, is urging the federal government to do more to encourage homeowners and businesses to recycle existing structures rather than build new ones," reports The Post's Steve Vogel. "The 2009 list includes historic buildings in Galveston, Tex., damaged by Hurricane Ike; an industrial village in Easton, Mass., threatened by development, and the Memorial Bridge between Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery, Maine, suffering from postponed maintenance."

Administration Seeks Reversal of Mountaintop Mining Rule: The Post's Juliet Eilperin reports that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar declares a Bush administration regulation allowing mining companies to dump their waste near rivers and stream is "legally defective," and he instructed the Justice Department to ask the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to vacate the rule.

Outgoing DOD Acquisition Chief Warns Against Excessive Regulation: John Young expressed concern that increased attention to contracting reform would lead to requirements and processes that put an additional burden on program managers, reports Gov Exec's Elizabeth Newell.

California Air Traffic Facilities Rely On Trainees: The AP reports that the Transportation Department inspector general report expressed concern about air traffic controller staffing levels at the Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility near San Diego, as well at the Northern California Terminal Radar Approach Facility near Sacramento. The two facilities handle planes approaching and leaving California airports.

New TSP Options Likely: Congress is poised to add three benefits to the popular Thrift Savings Plan, write Tim Kauffman and Markie Harwood of Federal Times.

Postal OIG Wants to Know How You Feel about Sick Leave: The USPS OIG blog writes that "The Postal Service’s sick leave absence rate (absenteeism) was 4.3 percent in 2008. This seems high compared to the 1.1 percent rate the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports for employees in the private sector and 1.7 percent rate for employees in the federal sector. So why was the Postal Service’s rate higher?"

Today's Big Event: Former senator John Warner, Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth and George Washington University President Steven Knapp announce a major commitment to the Post-9/11 GI Bill Yellow Ribbon program. From 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at GWU's Kogan Plaza. Also: Obama visits the FBI. More events here.

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 28, 2009; 5:49 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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