Buzz of the Week

GSA struggles to be heard

GSA struggles to be heardGiven the tough time the General Services Administration has been having and the personal trials of the agency’s administrator, Lurita Doan, it’s no surprise that rumors were flying last week that she planned to resign.

After months of battering by lawmakers on Capitol Hill and numerous front-page stories in the Washington Post about her potentially unethical conduct, it’s understandable that Doan might decide she’s had enough and wants to spend more time with her family.

However, she said last week that she is not leaving GSA and instead asserted that GSA is, as she puts it, getting its groove back.

During testimony before the House Appropriations Committee’s Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, Doan said, “Great things are happening at GSA.” She went on to say, “I am quite proud of the fact that GSA was probably the only federal agency that submitted a budget that called for voluntary cuts to our fiscal 2006, fiscal 2007 and fiscal 2008 budgets and [that] identified over $1 billion in potential cuts.”

Unfortunately for Doan, the ambient noise level at GSA right now mutes any good news about progress at the agency.

Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), the subcommittee’s chairman, said the controversies surrounding GSA must be resolved. “I don’t want to have to convince my committee members that this is the right thing to do for GSA,” he said to Doan. “This cloud has to be cleared out in a satisfactory way.”

A person with knowledge of GSA added another perspective. “Unfortunately, GSA does not need any more turmoil at this point. They are just getting their act together.… I see more unnecessary stress put on the great employees. They need to get back to business and cannot with all this swirling around.”

Fairly or unfairly, Doan has become a lightning rod for criticism of the agency. One has to respect her for standing her ground and fighting. But one also has to wonder who might get caught in the crossfire.

The Buzz contenders

#2. Happiness is working for Uncle Sam
Federal employees are satisfied with their jobs for the most part, and none more so than workers who perform their public service at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

That finding emerged from an analysis of the latest data from the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Human Capital Survey in which 221,000 federal employees participated. The federal government employs 1.9 million people, but the survey results are widely viewed as a useful gauge of workplace morale and productivity.

Employees were most unhappy with their compensation and benefits package at the Homeland Security Department. Those happiest with their pay are employees of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which earned a score of 81.6 out of a possible 100 on the pay satisfaction scale. FDIC has had to adapt to stiff competition with the financial services industry, which pays high salaries.

#3. E-voting systems are high maintenance
Securing electronic voting systems is much more complicated than you might think. Ferreting out system design flaws is one small piece of a complex challenge on which the Government Accountability Office briefed lawmakers last week.

Security challenges occur at every stage in the life of an electronic voting machine, and meeting those requires vigilance at all levels of government, said Randolph Hite, director of information technology architecture and systems issues at GAO.

Vague voting systems standards, system design flaws, poorly developed security controls, incorrect system configurations, inadequate testing and poor operational management — any one or all of those problems — can make e-voting systems unreliable. It’s every election official’s civic duty, at the federal, state and local levels, to make sure that doesn’t occur, Hite said.

#3. The incredible shrinking watch list
Officials at the Commerce and Transportation departments wore smiles last week because the Office of Management and Budget removed nearly all of their businesses cases from its Management Watch List. The list contains the names of agencies that haven’t made a good business case for certain information technology projects.

DOT and Commerce had been among the top five agencies with the most business cases on OMB’s list, with DOT at 33 business cases and Commerce at 30.

Some chief information officers question the fairness of OMB’s Management Watch List, saying that Congress often wants a certain IT project for which it’s difficult to make a good business case. But at Commerce and DOT, at least, no one’s complaining.

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