The noisiest stories of 2011

Online comments provide a gauge of the stories that most intrigued our readers in 2011.

The turn of the year naturally provokes reflection on the year that's winding down, and in this case, it's an unusually turbulent one. Our memories might grow hazy as we try to recall the string of shutdown threats, high-level Obama administration resignations and cost-cutting efforts of varying success, but however imprecise our recollections, we can be sure that 2011 has been a wild ride.

We looked back over the comments our stories received on FCW.com in the second half of the year to defuzzify our memories on just what mattered most to our readers during that time.

They were frequently provoked by articles about efforts to cut federal spending by freezing pay for federal employees and similar measures. One House GOP bill, introduced in June, provides a good example: It would slash the workforce by 10 percent by replacing only one of every three federal employees who retires or leaves government employment.

Reader comments tapped into the frustration of federal employees. “Here we go again,” one reader wrote. “Keep hammering the federal employees (which is what percentage of our entire nation?). We're already under a multiyear pay-raise freeze, and there's talk of freezing pensions or tapping into military retirement pensions, etc. What next??"

“If you replace only one of every three federal workers who retire or quit, you'll end up with some offices that are so understaffed that they will be unable to perform their mission,” another reader wrote. “Some of these offices are only one deep in positions already. It's not as simple as moving a person from one office to another to replace someone because of the specialized experience required to perform a job.”

So far, the proposed bill has not made it to the House floor.

We ran several stories on the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was created to improve the process of issuing so-called contingency contracts, which happen when the urgency of a situation, such as war, makes it necessary to bypass more time-consuming procurement processes.

In August, we reported that the commission had issued its final report and followed up with some analysis of the Defense Department's positions. Our readers proved to be a cynical lot, with many of them commenting on the perceived integrity of some contractors and the wisdom of lawmakers.

“It is time to hold those in charge of the money accountable for this,” one wrote. “If we put them behind bars, then maybe the next time it won't happen. Ha ha, not a chance. They see it as free money because no one is watching.”

A subsequent story on how DOD's efforts to keep better records of wartime contracting were being hamstrung by a lack of resources prompted a reader to comment that the problem is a "buzzword mentality."

"There is no sense of urgency and almost no accountability, and that culture needs to change," the reader wrote. "It's not that government employees are lazy.... The layers upon layers of structures are not value added and take resources away from those who are trying to do their jobs."

Satisfaction surveys and superfluous websites

Another popular topic: How happy feds are in their jobs. We published several stories based on surveys from the Partnership for Public Service, including one on the best and worst places to start a career in government and another on employee job satisfaction.

One reader took issue with the surveys' methodology. “The agencies are too large to normalize a single level of satisfaction across the entire organization,” the reader wrote. “People working in the HR department, for example, might be thrilled with the agency and the senior leadership. But people in the IT department might hate it just because the senior manager doesn't understand their challenges. I would certainly never pick one agency over another on the basis of such a broad-based attitude check.”

Another reader pointed out that factors affecting the workforce, such as pay freezes and staff cuts, might not be reflected in the survey results. “The survey didn't ask about pay satisfaction as I recall,” one wrote. “It was more along the lines of: Do you like the work you are doing?… It didn't ask, 'Are you happy about a pay freeze?'”

Finally, readers got a chuckle out of a story on the White House's plan to reduce the number of unnecessary, duplicative, rarely updated and otherwise superfluous websites, which was published in June. The key laugh line: The effort included the creation of a new website to track federal spending.

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