Monthly Archives: September, 2011

Don't call us, we'll call you: Tales of a DHS FOIA

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Let’s have a talk about government transparency. It all began earlier this year when I was having trouble reaching various spokespersons and public affairs staff at the Department of Homeland Security. I was repeatedly referred to mediainquiry@dhs.gov for any and all information but had no idea who was in charge of what. When I asked point blank who I should talk to about specific subjects, I was told to just use the email. So I decided file a Freedom of Information Act request for the following information: 1. The names of all public affairs people and spokespersons at DHS. 2.…

Growth in health premiums slows dramatically

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The Office of Personnel Management today announced that health care premiums for federal employees and retirees will increase by 3.8 percent for non-postal employees, a sharp reduction from the 7.3 percent average increase that hit premiums last year. Enrollees with self-only coverage will pay $2.32 more on average per bi-weekly pay period. Those with family coverage will pay $6.18 more on average. And premiums for the most popular plan in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) — the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Standard Option — will actually drop slightly: Enrollees with self-only coverage will pay 81 cents less…

Living people to be pictured on postage stamps and other USPS news

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Once again, there’s so much happening with the U.S. Postal Service that it seems simplest to package (no pun intended) the latest developments together. Here goes: 1) In that rare bit of news that doesn’t revolve around the mail carrier’s cratering finances, the Postal Service today announced that it’s changed a long-standing policy so living people can be depicted on postage stamps. Under the previous guidelines, an individual had to be dead for at least five years to be so honored; starting next year, Americans “will see acclaimed musicians, sports stars, writers, artists and nationally-known figures” on stamps while they’re…

Former White House official in prison for lying about ties to lobbyist

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David Safavian, the Bush-era White House official who accepted a lavish trip to Scotland from lobbyist and friend Jack Abramoff, has entered federal prison for lying to federal officials about his dealings with the lobbyist. Safavian is serving a year sentence at Federal Medical Center Devens in Massachusetts for obstruction of justice and lying to federal ethics officers, investigators and Congress about his relationship with Abramoff and the 2002 excursion. He entered the prison’s custody on July 26, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  Safavian was first convicted in 2006.  That conviction was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District…

Agencies to answer for noncompliance in small biz leadership

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Agencies that refuse to put senior leadership in charge of their small business contracting activities, as required by law, will be asked to explain their noncompliance to a House small business subcommittee. The Small Business Act requires each agency to have an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) that ensures contracts are written with small business participation in mind. By law, the director of these offices should report directly to an agency’s secretary or deputy secretary. The Government Accountability Office reported in June that the Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Justice, State and Treasury departments are not complying with the…

TSA checks for Afro explosives

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An Atlanta TV station recently reported a passenger going through Hartsfield- Jackson International Airport was subject to a TSA “hair pat-down”. The woman had already gone through security when TSA agents tracked her down and asked to search her hair for explosives. She said no, but was then told she wouldn’t be able to board her flight without a “hair pat-down”. The woman has a massive fro and is quite a character, but a terrorist, I think not.  Watch the full report below. [brightcove video=”1173213411001″ /]

Start date set for arbitration between the U.S. Postal Service and rural letter carriers union

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A three-member arbitration panel will begin hearings Dec. 5 on a new contract between the U.S. Postal Service and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, according to a posting on the union’s web site. The panel’s neutral member will be Jack Clarke, a member of the National Academy of Arbitrators and a veteran of the NRLCA-USPS southern area arbitration panel, the posting said. The union has named Joey Johnson, its director of labor relations, to the panel while the Postal Service has appointed Robert Dufek, its manager for labor relations strategies. The first round of hearings will go through Dec.…

OMB review follows report of excessive DOJ pastry spending

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Go figure: The humble muffin has become a government change agent. In what is probably the first-ever Office of Management and Budget directive with a connection to overpriced baked goods, Director Jack Lew is ordering agencies to take stock of their conference spending and report back by Nov. 1. The impetus, of course, is that newly released report by the Justice Department’s inspector general that uncovered numerous examples of questionable expenses at DOJ conferences from October 2007 through September 2009. What really caught the attention of politicians and the media, however, was the finding that muffins at one Washington gathering cost more than $16 each. No matter that the hotel in question…

U.S. Postal Service proceeds with proposed mail delivery changes

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It’s official: the U.S. Postal Service is out with a Federal Register notice today on proposed changes to mail  delivery standards tied to its plans for closing several hundred processing plants with a loss of some 35,000 career jobs. The notice adds detail to what USPS officials have already revealed; of particular interest to postal workers, the notice (in a footnote) says that the downsizing plans should not affect network distribution centers, air mail centers, remote encoding centers and international service centers, although those facilities are a small minority of the total. The 30-day public comment period runs through Oct.…

U.S. Postal Service financial crisis: Little agreement, but lots of commotion

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All of a sudden, federal policymakers have noticed that the U.S. Postal Service is staggering toward financial collapse. There’s little consensus on a solution, but the ensuing attention is generating plenty of news. Here’s a recap of major developments just on Monday: 1)       The Obama administration publicly outlined one approach for putting the Postal Service back in the black (check out p. 23 of the pdf). 2)       A House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee scheduled a Wednesday vote on legislation by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.,  offering an opposing strategy. 3)       Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., and 74 other lawmakers released a letter to…

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