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Eye Opener: The Vacation's Over

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Monday! The Eye loves Mondays like this one -- the president refocuses after two extended trips abroad and Congress gets back to work after a two-week break. This means the whole of official Washington refocuses and the news starts churning once again, making it a busy and exciting week.

"President Obama plans to convene his Cabinet for the first time today, where he will order members to identify a combined $100 million in budget cuts over the next 90 days," reports The Post's Michael A. Fletcher.

"The budget cuts, while they would account to a minuscule portion of federal spending, are intended to signal the president's determination to cut spending and reform government, the official said.

"Obama's order comes as he is under increasing pressure to show momentum toward his goal of eventually reducing the federal deficit, even as he goes about increasing spending in the short run to prop up the economy and support his priorities." HHS nominee Kathleen Sebelius will be the only nominee not at the meeting, since she's yet to win Senate confirmation.

Incidentally, "Looks like showdown time in the Senate this week, probably this afternoon, on the nomination of veteran diplomat Christopher Hill to be ambassador to Iraq," reports The Post's Al Kamen. "Democrats say they also have to votes to confirm three nominees to head Justice Department divisions. The trio -- Tony West for the civil division, Lanny Breuer for the criminal division and Christine Varney for the antitrust division -- were left dangling when the Senate left town."

"If that quartet, plus up to half a dozen other nominees awaiting Senate action, are confirmed next week, that will give Obama as many as 58 confirmed nominees in the White House and Cabinet departments."

Also -- if lawmakers had to pick health care reform or climate change to tackle first upon their return, it appears health is winning, according to Greg Hitt of the Wall Street Journal.

Spring Cleaning: The Sunday Outlook published a series of well-timed and brilliant essays on things our society should consider doing away with -- all timed to the annual right of Spring cleaning (The Eye did some this weekend!). Among the suggestions: the elimination of the vice presidency, military academies, the White House press corps and Obama economic adviser Larry Summers. Submit your ideas for elimination here.

In other news...

Obama Picks Technology And Performance Officers: Obama has tapped Virginia Technology Secretary Aneesh P. Chopra to be the nation's first chief technology officer and Jeffrey Zients, a chief executive and former management consultant, to be his chief performance officer. "Chopra and Zients will work with Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, formerly chief technology officer for the District, to make government work more efficiently," reports The Post's Michael D. Shear and Anita Kumar. More detailed profiles of both guys available here. The tech industry cheers the Chopra choices, the WSJ's Amy Schatz reports.

Justice Dept. Memos' Careful Legalese Obscured Harsh Reality: "The four Justice Department memos to the CIA's top lawyer that were released last week reflect an effort by Bush administration appointees to create finely tuned justifications for harsh interrogation techniques, all under a blanket of secrecy covering the agency's prisons and the questioning," writes The Post's R. Jeffrey Smith. "In the wake of the memos' disclosure, it is clear that the lawyers and the CIA got it wrong in measuring the methods against their selected legal test: that they must not 'shock the conscience.' The brutality of the interrogation measures -- including repeatedly slamming people into walls, simulating their drowning and stuffing them into dark, constricting boxes -- shocked the conscience of at least some."

Emanuel Rejects Trial for Memos' Authors: R. Jeffrey Smith recaps White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's turn on the Sunday shows: "The Obama administration opposes any effort to prosecute those in the Justice Department who drafted legal memos authorizing harsh interrogations at secret CIA prisons."

Army More Selective as Economy Lags: "The Army last month stopped accepting felons and recent drug abusers into its ranks as the nation's economic downturn helped its recruiting, allowing it to reverse a decline in recruiting standards that had alarmed some officers," reports one of The Post's DOD reporters Ann Scott Tyson. "While shunning those with criminal backgrounds, the Army is also attracting better-educated recruits. It is on track this year to meet, for the first time since 2004, the Pentagon's goal of ensuring that 90 percent of recruits have high school diplomas."

Former C.I.A. Director Defends Interrogation: Gen. Michael V. Hayden said Sunday that the Obama administration’s recent release of memos detailing harsh interrogation techniques would limit the agency’s ability to pursue terrorists in the future. Joshua Brustein of the New York Times reports that "speaking on 'Fox News Sunday,' General Hayden said that the descriptions gave Al Qaeda a tactical advantage by allowing them to prepare for specific practices used by the C.I.A., even if those practices are not in use now."

Salazar Reviews 'Midnight' Endangered Species Rule: The interior secretary "says he will make a decision in the coming weeks on whether to overturn a controversial Bush administration regulation that limits the reach of the Endangered Species Act," the AP reports. "The outgoing administration finalized a rule in December that allows federal agencies to issue permits for mining, logging and other activities without consulting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service about endangered wildlife and plants. President Barack Obama signed a memorandum in March to put the regulation on hold pending a review. Any action on the rule has to be taken by May 9. Salazar expects to make a decision before that. "We have concerns about it and because of those concerns we're taking a very extensive review of the rule," he told The Associated Press during a visit Friday to Albuquerque.

No Appeal of Court Ruling on Guns in Parks: "The Obama administration says it will not appeal a court ruling that prohibits carrying loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges," the AP reports. "Last month, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of Federal District Court [in Washington, D.C.] struck down the policy allowing guns in parks. She called the rule, issued in the last days of the Bush administration, severely flawed and said officials had failed to evaluate its possible environmental impact, as required. She set a deadline of Monday for the Interior Department to indicate its likely response."

TVA Under Growing Pressure to Clean Up its Act: Sue Sturgis of the fantastic Facing South blog writes that "Last week, a federal judge denied the federal utility's appeal for more time to install pollution controls on coal-fired power plants that are dirtying North Carolina's air... U.S. District Court Judge Lacy Thornburg decided against giving TVA more time to address emissions from four coal-fired power plants within 100 miles of North Carolina."

Kentuckian Hopes to be First Black Federal Co-Chair of Appalachian Regional Commission: "Some key Kentucky supporters of President Obama are asking him to name a well-known Appalachian acdemic the first African Amercian to head the Appalachian Regional Commission," writes Al Cross in his "Rural Blog." William Turner is the son of a coal miner in the Harlan County town of Lynch and was a former high-ranking official at the University of Kentucky and interim president of historically black Kentucky State University.

Spirit Is Ailing But Still Running: The Post's Joel Achenbach gives a progress report on NASA's Mars rover.

U.S. Border Screening Under Fire: Spencer S. Hsu reports that "In a report to be released today, the Asian Law Caucus of San Francisco cited more than 40 complaints from U.S. citizens and immigrants that it has received since 2007 as evidence of 'a much wider pattern of profiling and discrimination at U.S. borders.'" More: "Separately, Muslim Advocates, the advocacy arm of the National Association of Muslim Lawyers, issued a report saying that citizens should not be threatened with detention for not answering questions that go beyond establishing their legal status to enter the United States or whether they are carrying contraband."

Air Force Fast Tracks Hiring for Acquisition Jobs: Gov Exec's Katherine McIntire Peters reports that "The conventional government hiring process takes 80 to 120 days on average, from identifying an acquisition-related vacancy to getting a qualified individual sitting behind a desk, said William Caffaro, chief of the contracting career field management team at the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. Under the streamlined procedures, that takes about 17 days, he said."

Report Questions Ballooning Use of Cost-Plus Contracts: "Cost-reimbursement contracts and similar deals in which agencies offer contractors incentives or award fees based on their performance are popular with procurement officials for projects that require significant research and development, and for complex programs where costs are difficult to estimate," according to Gov Exec's Robert Brodsky. "But in a report to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, OMB Director Peter R. Orszag suggested that the use of cost-reimbursement contracts increased at a troubling rate during the previous administration."

Today's Big Event: Political technologists from across the country will converge on the George Washington University Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet's annual two-day Politics Online Conference, which will be held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. This year's theme is "Politics on the Internet Comes of Age." More here.

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 20, 2009; 5:57 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Next: Trimming the Federal Fat, Part One

Comments

The national park rule wasn't actually "struck down." The court just blocked application of the rule immediately pending trial. From the AP article linked: "A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Friday that the department was not completely discarding the Bush rule and that officials intended to complete an environmental impact statement on the possible effects of the rule, as well as a range of alternatives."

Posted by: k_romulus | April 21, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

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