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Eye Opener: May 5, 2009

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Tuesday! The Eye is still recovering from witnessing last night's Washington Capitals victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in person. And Alex Ovechkin's first playoff hat trick. More in The Post's Capitals Insider blog or at the HomerMcFanBoy blog, by "Murf," (who The Eye met last night). Don't be surprised if you see The Eye in his lucky solid red tie the next few days as the series continues.

Cabinet, Staff and Nomination News: LaHood gets the Old Grey Lady treatment courtesy of Mark Leibovich: "one of the astonishing things about Mr. LaHood, 63, is how limited his transportation résumé is, how little excitement he exudes on the subject (other than about high-speed rail) and how little he seems to care who knows it." Napolitano says swine flu remains a threat. Gates, in Egypt, throws a cocktail reception for his traveling press corps, which includes Katie Couric. Former DHS Secretary Ridge may run for Pennsylvania senator. Border Czar Alan Bersin profiled. The Senate Finance Committee meets today to vote on the nominations of William V. Corr to serve as deputy secretary at HHS, Demetrios J. Marantis to serve as deputy U.S. trade representative and Alan Krueger to serve as assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will meet next Tuesday to consider the nomination of Robert Groves to serve as Census director, despite some displeasure that he's yet to answer questions submitted by Republican senators, according to GOP Congressional sources. CNN senior producer Sasha Johnson becomes Transportation Department press secretary starting May 19. Johnson most recently worked as political correspondent Candy Crowley's main producer and is married to NBC Deputy Political Director Mark Murray. She will work with DOT Communications Director Jill Zuckman, a former Chicago Tribune reporter.

Time to Give Public Servants Some Credit: "This week is Public Service Recognition Week, a time to honor workers at all levels of government. Part of the celebration is a fair, Thursday through Sunday, on the Mall, where more than 100 agencies and other organizations will offer exhibits showcasing the work of public employees," reports The Post's Joe Davidson. "One of the highlights will be a Capitol Hill ceremony tomorrow in which 30 finalists for the Service to America Medals, or Sammies, will be honored. These folks have made outstanding contributions to the nation, often in the form of work that directly saved lives."

VA Benefits System Still Has Problems: "The department created the Veterans OnLine Application (Vonapp) site in response to the new GI bill," reports Next Gov's Bob Brewin. "The site either timed out or responded slowly on May 1, the first day post-9/11 veterans could file for the rich package of educational benefits. Vonapp continued to frustrate veterans trying to file benefit applications, with the site prominently displaying a message warning users they could experience problems uploading attachments to their online applications."

A Look at the Dropping of Espionage Charges: "When the Justice Department on Friday formally dropped its four-year-old case against two former pro-Israel lobbyists for allegedly conspiring to violate the 1917 Espionage Act, prosecutors cited several reasons for their decision but did not provide details," writes The Post's Walter Pincus. "Some details from the point of view of the defendants, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, can be gleaned from a March 27 letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., asking the Obama administration to review the case. That was written by the pair's lead defense attorneys, Abbe David Lowell, John N. Nassikas III and Baruch Weiss."

Group Seeks Public Access to Congressional Research: Stephanie Strom of the NYT reports that "American taxpayers spend more than $100 million a year supporting the work of the Congressional Research Service, a little-known but highly regarded division of the Library of Congress. But unlike the library itself, the research service is by law exclusively for the use of members of Congress. Only they and their staffs have access to the reports and memorandums it generates, and only they can decide to make its work public. A nonprofit group, the Center for Democracy and Technology, is leading a fight to change that."

Senate Moves Up Confirmation Hearing for FDA Chief: All thanks to the swine flu outbreak, reports WSJ's Alicia Mundy: "The hearing at the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee for Margaret "Peggy" Hamburg will be held this Thursday instead of May 12 as previously scheduled, officials said. Dr. Hamburg is an expert on bioterrorism and pandemics."

Army's Largest Contractor in Iraq Under Renewed Attack: "Kellogg Brown & Root, the Army's largest contractor in Iraq and frequent target of critics for its alleged wasteful management of a $31.7 billion logistics contract, came under renewed fire Monday from a special bipartisan oversight panel and the Pentagon's top auditor of defense contracts," reports CongressDaily's Carrie Dann.

NOAA Retires Names of Deadly Hurricanes: The Jamaican Observer reports that "The names Gustav, Ike and Paloma will never be associated with future hurricanes or tropical storms on account of their deadly romp through the Caribbean last year, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced."

OPM Approves New Long-Term Care Contract: "Agency officials said the contract with John Hancock Life and Health Insurance -- which has been a 50 percent insurer for the government's long-term care program since it was created in 2002 -- contains premium increases that follow industry trends," reports Gov Exec's Alex M. Parker.

All TSP Funds Increase in April: Gov Exec's Alyssa Rosenberg has the details.

USAID Reviews For-Profits' Role in Foreign Assistance Grants: The agency "is reviewing its long-standing practice of allowing nonprofit assistance grant recipients to subcontract with for-profit companies, in a move industry representatives say would starve projects of needed expertise," reports Gov Exec's Elizabeth Newell. "USAID awards about $4 billion annually in federal contracts and grants. The agency uses contracts primarily for technical assistance and logistics such as equipment and transportation. According to industry sources, nonprofits often turn to for-profit companies when they lack the in-house capability to manage elements of massive humanitarian projects."

CPSC to Allow Youth ATV Sales: "The Consumer Product Safety Commission's two commissioners agreed to allow retailers of youth-model all-terrain vehicles to unload their older inventory despite new restrictions on lead content that had prohibited sales," reports Melanie Trottman of the WSJ. "But trade groups representing makers of these products said the decision is legally inadequate because it leaves the industry vulnerable to lawsuits and actions by federal and state agencies."

Today's Big Event: White House Deputy Chief of Staff Mona Sutphen and Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth are honored tonight at the Women to Watch Awards, sponsored by Running Start, a group created to inspire young women to run for public office. The event starts at 6 p.m. at the National Press Club. More events here.

Event Reminder: The Young Government Leaders scavenger hunt is this Saturday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. rain or shine. Registration starts at 12:30 p.m. at the National Building Museum. All you need is a digital camera and a few friends. RSVP to younggovernmentleaders (at) gmail (dot) com with "Scavenger Hunt" in the subject line. Registration fee is $35 per team with all proceeds going to YGL.

By Ed O'Keefe  | May 5, 2009; 5:56 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Comments

Of course the VA has technical issues. I fear GEN Ric Shinseki is having to drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century while reminding employees that they are supposed to be the veterans' advocate rather than adversary which they have been for years.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7ELX0VTxn0

Posted by: bfjackjernigan | May 5, 2009 9:08 AM | Report abuse

The biggest problems the VA must solve are attitude toward change and its basic isolationist culture. All VA's have a computer system, but it only works for each individual VA, or those within their group. The VA's computers can't communicate with other VA's to the extent necessary to aid veterans who move from one location to another. There is little sharing of resources that would benefit both the VA and the veterans. Whether this is done intentionally or not, it must be changed.

Posted by: CVal | May 5, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

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