Management Watch


The 6 biggest federal foul-ups in 2011

Readers of the Washington Post’s Federal Eye blog have voted and determined that the biggest "government “oops of 2011 was federal waste — erroneous payments to dead people, fraud linked to the economic stimulus program and inadequate oversight of tax cuts.

Here at Management Watch, we took a similar approach and called on our readers to find other events or political leaders that deserved to be included on this list of 2011 federal fiascoes. Here is a breakdown of some those suggestions:

Pay freeze extension: “Expanded federal pay freeze is unacceptable to me,” commented Scott. “I have a family and bills, why should my family suffer because of the debt, we did not create it. The lawmakers need to vote this bill down. The rich need to be taxed accordingly. As it is now the poor and middle class are being taxed way too much.”

Congressional inaction: “The biggest waste is that we have paid salaries to Congress and their staff for a year of nonsense and lack of action,” another reader said. “Instead of a continuing pay freeze and fed workers paying more for their benefits, I think Congress ought to work with no salary until they get it fixed.”

Transportation Security Administration: “TSA gets my vote for a too powerful department who under the guise of protecting us from 'terrorists' and with the protection of the Orwellian 'Patriot Act',’ treats American travelers with disrespect and a fascist-like approach that makes flying a chore rather than a pleasure,” reader Stig Larsen said.

Republican lawmakers: "Congressional Republicans' DELIBERATE holding the U.S. debt limit hostage to their ‘no new taxes for the rich’ ideology,” Susan S. Pastin said. “Their spurning of Obama's $4 TRILLION offer to ‘go big’ on deficit reduction. Their attitude - if Obama's for it, we're against it.”

Cancellation of Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository: “How about this one, the Obama administration (DOE) canceled the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository after spending $11 billion as a political favor to Harry Reid,” commented Joe NRC. “Reid even had his former aide at NRC, Chairman Greg Jaczko, stop the legally mandated safety review that the NRC was conducting.”

Federal Aviation Administration furlough: “I was totally disgusted with the way the FAA furlough was handled (July 25 through Aug. 5, 2011),” GRL wrote. “As employees, we were treated very poorly. Information was not provided on a timely basis and it took a long while for the decision to be made to reimburse employees for the time lost. Shame on a prestigious agency like the FAA! We expect better from you.”

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Dec 21, 2011 at 12:19 PM7 comments


5 steps to a successful virtual office policy

The federal virtual workforce saw some significant growth and attention in 2011, and shows no signs of slowing down in the new year. For those considering implementing a formal virtual office policy, a new white paper from Runzheimer International, a provider of employee mobility services, lays out five must-dos when crafting telework guidelines.

Define your policy: What does a “virtual office” mean to you? Getting the lingo down and writing a formal definition ensures that everyone in your office knows exactly what constitutes a virtual office and a virtual workforce. The policy should also include who’s covered by it, and could read something like this: “A virtual office is a location where work is performed outside of a traditional company facility, whether it be working from home or working from an airport, hotel, or other off-site location. Performing work in such settings often requires telecommunications capability as well as access to technology. This policy does not cover situations where an employee occasionally works from home during evenings or weekends or during the day on an irregular basis.”

Determine who’s a virtual worker: Many agencies have several types of virtual work. For example, the Office of Personnel Management identifies three types of telework: Full-time, part-time and situational. Full-time teleworkers perform most or all of their duties outside a traditional office setting, and part-timers work on a regularly scheduled basis, but not five days per week. They may work remotely one or more days a week, every pay period or several days in a month. Situational or episodic teleworkers do as the names imply: telework occasionally, whether it’s a result of a medical issue or inclement weather that prevent them from working in a traditional office environment. A comprehensive virtual office policy should address these different roles and outline their responsibilities.

Detail equipment requirements: Because of the high level of trust required in a telework situation, virtual workers, probably more than regular office workers, heavily depend on technology. As Pat Tamburrino, deputy assistant secretary for civilian personnel policy at the Defense Department, told me in a previous interview, “telework is teletrust.” In a virtual workforce, there’s no room for technologies that break or employees who don’t know how to them. A lapse or delay in communication due to a technology breakdown could result in a manger wondering why his or her employee isn’t responding, which could plant doubts about that employee’s ability to telework. A virtual office policy needs to define a specific set of hardware, software, connectivity and reimbursement requirements. This policy also needs to be clearly communicated to managers and employees alike.

Develop security policies and training: A virtual office policy also needs to address mobile technology security to ensure all employees know their responsibilities in safeguarding potentially sensitive information. For example, a policy could include language that specifies how agency-provided technology be used for work purposes only and used exclusively by the employee. The policy could also detail procedures to take in the event of stolen or lost equipment, or document formal training procedures for employees.

Formalize governance: A defined governance program will help your organization ensure compliance with policy and gauge success. The program should focus on tracking all the virtual employees, the technology they use, and any training they have received. The program should also yearly review the virtual work agreement and objectives of the arrangement. And last but not least: Every employee in the program should receive individual security training once a year.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Dec 20, 2011 at 12:19 PM0 comments


The pros and cons of working IT in spy agencies

Don’t mind a government job with immense scrutiny? Then the spy agency could be one way to go -- if you pass the intense close-up, that is.

Anyone who’s ever applied to an IT job in an agency that required a top secret clearance is well aware of the intense process they have to go through. But as a 2008 Computerworld article (old but still relevant) pointed out, the scrutiny doesn’t stop at the hiring level. After you get the job, the CIA will continue to do frequent reinvestigations, even throw in regular polygraphs to prevent nefarious activity or an employee gone rogue.

"It's interesting: there's so much scrutiny that a normal person might not want to put up with that. But it's part of the mission,” then-CIA CIO Al Tarasiuk told Computerworld.

The topic was the subject of renewed interest when it was picked up at Slashdot.org and a vigorous debate ensued about the pros and cons of working for agencies like the CIA.

“Not only are the entry requirements and investigations rigorous, the continual monitoring of bank accounts, credit cards, social media, email and regular polygraphed interviews are not what most IT personalities would be down for,” one reader wrote. “The pay and other compensation are incredible, though,” he added.

Another reader agreed and said the cumbersome hiring process at certain agencies could make it difficult to hire specialized staff. “I'm aware of a few people employed with three-letter agencies doing sys admin work at remote facilities that bring in ~$150K. The worse part of it, in my opinion, is that the background checking must be so stringent, it apparently makes it hard to hire competent admins.”

And as for raking in the big bucks while working for a secretive agency, one reader had a more sober view on the current reality. “Most federal IT workers won't get past GS-12 in their career,” he/she said. “And with so many years of pay freezes, they're not going to be anywhere near their top salary when they retire. Also, keep in mind that retirement is all or nothing. If you leave after 20 years but before you're 60, you get nothing.”

Do you agree that it take s certain kind of individual to work for a secretive agency? Is the hiring process alone a deterrent to apply for a job at an agency like the CIA? Have you ever gone through the process? What was your experience?

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Dec 19, 2011 at 12:19 PM1 comments


Will the Senate save feds from a pay freeze extension?

The House has passed a bill that would extend the federal pay freeze and require government employees to pay more toward their pensions, but feds can relax: The bill looks to be unlikely to survive in the Senate.

Passed Dec. 13, the House measure would also extend a one-year break in the payroll tax that expires late December. The bill would have workers paying 6.2 percent in wages starting Jan. 1, up from this year’s 4.2 percent.

However, Senate Democrats have vowed to reject the bill, partly because they oppose legislation that would speed up the controversial U.S.-Canada oil pipeline that the Obama administration wants to postpone.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he’s not overly concerned about the bill and stressed there is more important work to be done. "It was dead before it got to the Senate," he said after the House passed the bill earlier this week. "The Senate will not pass it. The sooner we demonstrate that, the sooner we can begin serious discussions on how to keep taxes from going up on middle-class Americans."

On the other side of the floor, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continues to insist that the Senate should foremost focus on keeping the government running after its funds expire Dec. 16.

“First things first: Let’s keep the government from shutting down,” he said, according to reports in the Washington Post. “If the majority leader is correct that the House bill won’t pass the Senate, why won’t he talk to the speaker and work out something that can pass on a bipartisan basis?”

The threat of a government shutdown has rung hollow lately, with many federal employees suffering from shutdown fatigue. As Time magazine’s Jay Newton-Small put it, the Dec. 16 deadline has not received much attention “because a) we’re all tired of writing the same fishbowl, government shutdown story, and b) congressional negotiators for once in their lives are on track to sign off on a bipartisan omnibus that would fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year, thus avoiding more of these embarrassing showdowns.”

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Dec 14, 2011 at 12:19 PM15 comments


10 reasons to bring your own device to work

Experts who have read the tea leaves for 2012 say more federal employees will begin to bring their own devices to work in the new year, but why should they?

The consumerization of IT has led to more people bringing their preferred technology to work. In the federal government, the push toward a more mobile workforce means that employees could soon see an environment in which any device is acceptable, whether it is a smart phone, tablet or laptop, something Casey Coleman, CIO at the General Services Administration, highlighted at a conference in October.

Her colleague, Veterans Affairs CIO Roger Baker, also made some predictions earlier this year that it wouldn’t take long for federal agencies to allow workers to use employee-provided devices that could connect to the network, FierceGovernmentIT reported.

But while the federal government is inching its way toward a more widespread adoption of BYOD, the private sector long ago realized BYOD is more than code for “my CEO bought an iPad,” as CIO.com's Kim S. Nash put it. 

According to a November survey by Citrix, more than 90 percent of the companies polled said some employees are already using noncompany-issued computing devices for work-related tasks. Those surveyed reported that nearly 28 percent of the workforce is already using noncompany-issued computing devices for work-related tasks, a number expected to reach 35 by mid-2013.

So what motivates users in the private sector to adopt BYOD? According to the survey, the top 10 drivers were:

1. Ease of working off-site.
2. Employees have relevant equipment.
3. Attract and retain top talent.
4. Decrease device management costs.
5. Attract and retain younger workers.
6. Attract and retain other worker types (such as home-based).
7. Reduce training and on-boarding costs.
8. Enable self-service IT.
9. Bolster business continuity.
10. Best way to handle proliferation of devices.

For the federal workforce, it’s hard to see that the list would look much different. Weigh in: What’s your No. 1 reason for wanting to bring your own device to work? How open is your agency to a BYOD policy? Does it make any sense in your particular role to BYOD?

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Dec 13, 2011 at 12:19 PM17 comments


Union coalition urges feds to take action against pay cuts

If you’re steaming about the proposed cuts to federal jobs and pay, it’s time to call your congressional representatives and give them a piece of your mind, says the Federal Workers Alliance, a coalition of 22 unions.

The coalition is urging federal employees across the nation to call their members of Congress to tell them to prevent cuts to government jobs and compensation as part of a payroll tax cut extension.

Government employees are “sick and tired of being used as a political bargaining chip,” said FWA Chairman William R. Dougan. Not only did federal employees accept a two-year pay freeze, they have also put up with being called “overpaid, underworked bureaucrats more times than I can count,” he said.

“At some point, you have to stand up and say enough is enough,” Dougan added. “That day will be today for thousands of dedicated federal employees.”

FWA has also released a flyer that urges federal employees to take action. “Here we go again,” it reads. “Washington politicians are trying to play politics with federal workers over extending the payroll tax cut. As you read this, they are considering a pay freeze extension, cuts to your retirement plan, and the elimination of hundreds of thousands of federal jobs.”

"Tell Congress you’re not a political bargaining chip!” the flyer continues and lists the number to the Capitol switchboard (in case you don’t have your rep on speed dial): 202-224-3121.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Dec 12, 2011 at 12:19 PM23 comments


Federal fiascoes of 2011: What tops the list

Want to sound off on pay freezes, government shutdowns and Muffingate? Now you can, by voting on the biggest federal fiascoes of 2011.

Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe announced earlier this week on the Federal Eye blog that he was looking for readers’ help to determine the biggest government “oops.”

And readers were more than happy to oblige: At the time of writing, 7314 votes have been cast on 12 ideas. Did the mismanagement at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary anger you? Vote for it. Were you bemused when the social media world erupted in outrage over a Transportation Security Administration screener's note telling a passenger “Get Your Freak On?” It's on the list too.

But what really disgusts many is federal waste. Benefits paid to dead government workers and stimulus recipients owing millions in taxes currently top the list of “oops,” followed by the Justice Department’s “Fast and Furious” scandal and the various threats of government shutdown.

You can vote on existing ideas or even submit your own. Think the supercommittee’s breakdown was a scandal? Or that Solyndra was an outrage? Perhaps you’d like to include a particular government official on this list, someone who embodies public sector flops? (Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is already on the list.) Submit your vote on Federal Eye or on Twitter, using the #govoops hashtag.

You can also share your comments here below on what other events (or people) deserve to be on the list of federal failures. It won't count in the Post's poll, but we're interested.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Dec 09, 2011 at 12:19 PM13 comments