The best of the federal blogosphere

VA Opens a New Dialogue

The Veterans Affairs Department has entered the federal blogosphere to give veterans a new channel for getting information and providing feedback.

The blog, titled "Vantage Point," includes a main column written by VA Staff Writer Alex Horton and Lauren Bailey, special assistant to VA Chief Technology Officer Peter Levin.

It will also feature guest columns from VA stakeholders, such as VA doctors and veterans who are attending school through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the department said in a statement.

“All pieces will be considered for publication based on their rationale and reasoned points — not on how closely their views align with those of the department,” according to the VA statement.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said the blog seeks to expand VA’s outreach by encouraging two-way communication and comments from readers.

“This tool will allow us to interact with veterans, their families and the public in ways we’ve never done before,” Shinseki said. “Instead of waiting for veterans to find us, we’re going to seek them out where they already are — which is, increasingly, online.”

The blog has already received hundreds of comments since it launched Nov. 5.

— Alice Lipowicz

The Simplicity of Rocket Science
Nov. 9, 2010

Despite all the advanced engineering that goes into making a rocket engine fly, the basic concept is as simple as a child’s balloon.

Picture a child blowing up a balloon and then letting it fly until it loses all its air and falls to the ground. Technically, that balloon is “a pressure-fed, mono-propellant rocket,” writes NASA rocket scientist William Greene, whose official title is upper stage engine element associate manager.

Whether fueled by air or a J-2X engine, a rocket can fly because of Newton’s principle that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The difference, of course, is that a J-2X engine creates a lot more energy, Greene writes.

“Thus, the tough part about rocket engines is not their basic concept. That's simple,” he writes. “The tough part is building a device that can harness the power necessary to make that simple concept useful.”

State’s International Phone-a-Friend
State Department
Nov. 10, 2010

Janice Jacobs, assistant secretary of State at the Bureau of Consular Affairs, makes a case for people to enroll in the department’s Smart Traveler program.

The idea is to for international travelers to provide the department with information on how to reach them in case of emergency — for use by embassy officials or family members.

“Over the years, our consular officers in embassies and consulates around the world have assisted thousands of U.S. citizens overseas who have lost passports, had their passports stolen, experienced health problems, been detained, dealt with natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, and other emergencies,” Jacobs writes.

As an example, she tells the story of a woman who took a job at a university in Tbilisi, Georgia, not long after which a military conflict broke out. The embassy provided her with e-mail updates as the situation progressed and eventually helped her get out of the country safely.’s Family Snapshot
Census Bureau
Nov. 10, 2010

The Census Bureau was sharing its data with the public long before President Barack Obama’s website and other transparency initiatives came along. But its official blog gives the bureau an easy way to highlight and share interesting tidbits from the voluminous data it collects. Those snapshots often give us a view into how the nation looks today compared to the past.

A recent blog post provides a link to the latest datasets on U.S. families and makes this interesting comparison: "In 1960, the average household size was 3.33, and men and women married in their early 20s. Only 6 million children lived with one parent...and 7 million people lived alone. Today, our average household size is 2.59, men and women are waiting until their late 20s to marry, 20 million children live with one parent, and 31 million people live alone."

Interpretations of what those changes mean are, as always, in the eye of the beholder.

About the Author

Connect with the FCW staff on Twitter @FCWnow.

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