The Battle for the Public Service Is Just Beginning

In his article on the critical debate over the future of the federal workforce, Donald Kettl argues that despite disagreeing, Sherk and Howard have nonetheless laid out important problems in the civil service largely ignored by their opponents on the left. Too often, the public service has become the front lines of a proxy war over the size, shape, goals, and performance of government itself. This debate is not about how to use the public service to fight partisan right v. left partisan or ideological battles. If we disagree about those mega-issues, we ought to contest them directly, instead of fighting them out over the desks of those who go to work trying to do the public’s business. What matters most is creating a system that improves the government’s ability to do the public’s work. 

 In October 2019 Former president Trump signed an executive order to make it facile to fire federal workers. When President Biden, in January rescinded that executive order, some were relieved that federal workers were protected from political impinging. While others were despondent, they could no longer fire poor performers. The critical debate over the future of the federal workforce raised questions among right reformers. Questions that speak to the character of administrators in our constitutional system of governance and, indeed, the Constitution itself. The debate isn’t being joined by the left, besides blocking efforts to cut the number of federal employees. However, both sides are missing the important matter: how to make provisions in the federal government, so that services can be delivered to the public in the best way possible.

 Right reformer Philip K. Howard’s on his Op-ed in USA Today argued that “Public union power is largely an accident of ancient history.” and guaranteed a “Republican Form of Government”. In other words, “elected officials lack the ability to run government.” Trump administrator official James Sherk developed the details of Howards theory in a memo written in 2017. He argued that “There are legal arguments that Article II executive power gives the president inherent authority to dismiss any federal employee.” that created the legal foundation for the president to issue an executive order to dismiss any federal official without cause.

 The schedule F debate is far from over, pressing at state level. These arguments compound to create a true constitutional crisis about the ability of voters to shape government through the decisions of the people they elect. Since the dilemma won’t subside, we need to dig deeper into the four problems at play: the constitutional debate; the question of firing feds; the problem of accountability; and the challenge of agile government.

Sherk and Howard’s contention based on Article II of the Constitution that holds that the executive power should be vested in the president. It so profoundly happens that the article they cited does not say what they say it says. That part of the Constitution was vague, and the founding fathers were far more concerned with creating the chief executive that they knew and ensuring that the power of the president could be checked by the other branches. In Federalist 70, Alexander Hamilton wrote about the president’s connection with citizens, the power to appoint ambassadors, and his power with respect to the legislature. There’s nothing about the ability to fire federal employees. In truth, the founders didn’t explore how to remove federal bureaucrats.

“At the center of the case for a radical change in the civil service system is the argument that, over time, it has evolved from a system that hires the best and brightest to one that protects the lame and the lazy.”  The protections provided to employees has evolved since the 2,600-word long Pendleton Act in 1883. Title V of U.S Code that contains the regulations to administer the civil service system, is more than 1,000 pages. The current merit system covers 80% more feds than the original act. Title V, in fact, covers only half of all the federal employees. There’s a very important discussion to be had about the need to figure out which policies ought to apply to all feds and the agencies they work for, and what flexibilities ought to be allowed to agency managers. According to Sherk and Howard we do a poor job of managing federal workers performances even though there is an initial probationary period and long-established due process protections. This issue arose from the assumption about the private sector: that private managers can fire employees with less hassle and do so often. There aren’t any records of private sectors firing employees at a faster rate than in the federal government, but there are anecdotes about outrageous behavior by both private sector workers and federal employees.

There’s evidence that, during the Trump administration, members of the career civil service slowed, obstructed, or sometimes ignored the policies laid out by superiors to undermine the Trump agenda. They were understandably enraged, but more fundamentally it framed the central battle: how much authority political appointees should have in pursuing the president’s agenda, and what responsibility career officials should have in repelling on issues they believe are immoral or illegal. 

Trump administration officials are angst with their inability to force a policy agenda through a federal bureaucracy they viewed as obstructionist, at best. Scholars have uncovered substantial evidence that political meddling in the work of government would “reduce the effectiveness of government and increase corruption,” There are laws that stop federal employees from blocking the legal decisions of their political superiors, based on political differences. The issue here is how best to ensure that the federal bureaucracy acts professionally on the political choices made by voters. What the debate does not need is an executive order that hides the big questions in the fog of an ideological war. It needs an out in the open debate.

We need a way forward that builds a government and a merit system that fits the needs of the 21st century. Before the creation of the civil service system, the federal government was plagued by incompetence, corruption, and political favoritism. Mission matters most. The fundamental purpose of the public service is to do the public’s business. Merit is key. The basic principle of hiring people for what they know, not who they know, has been the foundation of the public service since the very start. So, of course, is the principle of separating people who don’t effectively serve the public’s mission. Accountability lies at the core. Like every other element on American government, we need effective accountability for public employees. Human capital ought to drive the pursuit of performance. Viewing government employees as the government’s most important assets and creating a system that finds and nourishes those most important to achieving its mission. 

When it comes to federal employees, it’s unclear about how much partisan bias there might be. In any event, every public servant swears an oath to serve the country, not their partisan beliefs. It’s time to shift the debate about the public service from partisanship to pragmatism: how best to accomplish the work of the people, with a workforce expert enough to do the job.

By: Tanezha Mingo

What I Learned While Eavesdropping on the Taliban

 Ian Fritz’s job was providing “threat warning” to the allied forces from 2008 to 2013. Fritz had many duties as one of two linguists aboard Air Force Special Operations Command aircraft. Fritz heard a lot during 600 hours of combat missions.  While eavesdropping on the Taliban he heard both horrific and ordinary things. One conversation he overheard took place during winter while in northern Afghanistan, where the average elevation is above 7,000 feet, and the average temperature is below freezing. Two men were discussing placing an IED on a bend, determined to kill as many Americans as possible. They ended up making Fritz laugh after making a joke about the weather and how it was just too cold to go to war.

 The cargo planes he was aboard had enough range to destroy a building, but they used them against people.  It was Fritz’s job to help decide which people.  100 of those hours was the villains discussing usable intelligence, the rest consisted of everyday things and reveling in the idea of retaking their country. However, most of all they spent a lot of time talking crap. Pashto and Dari, the two main languages spoken in Afghanistan, have a rhyming inherent to the language and many words share double meaning. They have a liking for repetition. Fritz heard this from a man named Kalima. The man on the radio called his name again and again, 50 times in every possible combination of syllabic prominence, “Kalima! Kaliiiiiiima. Kalimaaaaaaa. Kalima Kalima Kalima Kalima Kalima.” No one ever responded.

 The Taliban had enthusiasm and pep talk’s before and after war. This ceaseless gloating was not because they are well equipped, or because they believed in the holiness of their mission. It is what keeps them fighting. During one battle, fighter jets dropped 500-pound bombs into a landscape killing 20 men. When two more jets arrived, they yelled “Keep shooting. They will retreat!” “Brothers, we are winning. This is a glorious day.” “Waaaaallahu akbar, they’re dying!” They had only killed six Americans and one hundred of them died that day. Fritz had a revelation. Nothing else mattered for them if they kept their spirits high encouraging one another. That not only were they winning, but they’d get us again, better, next time.

 Throughout Fritz’s deployment, he began to experience déjà vu. It wasn’t until one boring mission that he realized they knew he heard the boasting and planning. It just didn’t matter because it was much more than pep talk and empty rhetoric. They were self-fulfilling prophecies. No matter what they did, where they went, or how many of them they killed, they came back. Fritz was not surprised that the Taliban reclaimed Afghanistan. The bombs and bullets ensured the young boys of their village were more likely to join. They told him that even if they died, they were confident that their goals would be achieved by their brothers in arms. He refused to hear until he understood exactly what they were saying: Afghanistan is ours.

By: Tanezha Mingo


Agencies get another tool for recruiting and hiring student interns, OPM says

Thanks to the Office of Personnel Management, federal agencies will have new tools and resources to help in the recruitment process of student interns. They will be able to use strategic skills to reel in students to specific temporary positions. In a final rule, which focused on hiring authority for post- secondary students, the Office of Personnel Management made it known that eligible students will be those pursuing a bachelors or graduate degree.

The temporary positions for these students will vary from one to four years depending on the term appointment. While the students are in school, they will have to work in General Schedule 11 level or lower. Those who have obtained their degree and fit the criteria of the further eligible requirements (like working a minimum of 640 hours during their employment), will be allowed to be appointed to a permanent position.

President Biden and his administration shared that there has been a struggle in hiring entry-level, young individuals under the age of 30, then that of 10 years ago. In essence, this new authority will give those in academic programs the opportunity and ability to get paid while at school, and while contributing to agencies with the skills they bring into the “work world.” Without the use of normal procedures in seeking employees, agencies can use different methods to recruit diverse and qualified students. For example, use program advertisements on their websites, and/or use third party platforms, essentially creating flexibility in who and how they identify and recruit applicants. With this new authority, vacancies in job positions, retirements, and budget cuts no longer pose a hindrance to federal agencies.

By: D’Andrea Tucker

Source: Agencies get another tool for recruiting and hiring student interns, OPM says | Federal News Network

NSA wants you to be careful where you log in to telework

The National Security Agency (NSA) urges you to be more mindful and careful of logging in to telework at public places (like your local Starbucks or coffee shop for example). As teleworking becomes more common, NSA believes that federal employees and contractors should prioritize securing their data when in public as public Wifi networks are oftentimes unsecured and active Bluetooth signals can give access to private information on your devices.

As the United States faces cyber threats, The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has launched a public-private partnership to develop and combat defense strategies and incident response plans to ransomware and threats. In an effort to strengthen the cyber workforce, training has been provided by CISA with certification prep courses and resources to help federal employees strengthen and tighten their cybersecurity skills.

A bill has been formulated and specifies that the crash course training should include the ethical practices, the security risks and a thorough understanding of what the AI technology poses. The bill is being sent to the Senate floor to be voted on.

By: D’Andrea Tucker



The Story of How One Small Firm is Clinging to its Chances of Being Selected for NITAAC’s CIO-SP4 program.

On July 19, the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) IT Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC) issued an addendum to the CIO-SP4 contract. TCX (Technology Company X) has operated in the federal market for over 30 years and intends to bid on the contract. Because the actual firm is still intending to bid and doesn’t want to jeopardize its connection with NITAAC, it agreed to tell its tale on the condition of anonymity.

TCX, a small contractor in the, says changes to its self-scoring system have hurt its chances of making it into the second round of NITAAC. Pat said TCX pulled two large businesses onto their team of small firms to help increase its total points. “It’s unclear where the cut is, so you’d be stupid not to compose your team of large and small contractors to maximize your points,” Pat stated.

The Small Business Administration’s CIO-SP4 procurement is assisted by TCX, a small-business teaming organization. Pat, of TCX, stated they need to locate new colleagues in the little period of time they have until bids are due, which NITAAC has given them. The

changes also have an impact on their relationships with major companies, as they must now ask them to leave their CIO SP4 team. Pat stated that the proposal expenses and staff hours spent on this procurement were more than $50B.

Pluribus Digital has filed a second bid complaint regarding the agency’s decision to include only small company experience in its CIO-SP4 contract. Amendment seven, according to the business, alters the method NITAAC’s 14-day response is used to determine whether or not offerors can revise their recommended teams. Two additional companies have filed protests with the GAO over the same issue.

“It’s driving small businesses to ‘no-bid’ since they can’t reorganize into joint ventures with giant corporations.” NITAAC’s haphazard, last-minute adjustment is costing businesses millions of dollars at a time when everyone is strapped for cash. Former General Services Administration acting administrator and IRS executive believes the agency should be debating reforms.

The Professional Services Council is calling on NITAAC to go back to the drawing board on CIO-SP4 procurement. “The latest amendment has frustrated many companies of all sizes,” said Stephanie Kostro, PSC’s executive vice president for policy. Pat McCall, managing partner of Koprince Law, said he has rarely, possibly never, seen a procurement run so poorly. He said when an agency runs a procurement this significant, the most important facet is transparency and consistency.

Author: Mariatu Alale

Edited By: Nakira Whitehead

63% of Workers Who File an EEOC Discrimination Complaint Lose Their Jobs

Workers who submitted complaints risked retaliation, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rarely ruled in their favor.

People who are subjected to sex discrimination, race discrimination, and other forms of workplace discrimination are not receiving much help from the laws intended to protect them. This conclusion was drawn after studying the outcomes of the most recent data of 683,419 cases submitted with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, from 2012 to 2016 Employer retaliation was the most common form of sex discrimination retaliation, accounting for 46% of all occurrences. These trends could explain why only a small percentage of persons who believe they have been discriminated against at work actually register a complaint.

The burden of proof for proving discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or in court is largely on the employee. Poor rates of discrimination claim filing could also indicate that people consider the legal option to be risky and with a low possibility of success. It’s a big difference between enduring workplace discrimination and proving it in court or to the government. For years, legislators have debated legislation to strengthen worker rights, such as the Paycheck Fairness Act, which prohibits wage discrimination by compensating individuals doing the same job differently depending on their gender, ethnicity, or national origin.

While we feel that enacting this law would be a positive step toward encouraging more workers to report discrimination, our study indicates that expanded safeguards should be applied to all forms of discrimination. The anti-discrimination protection would provide the deserving employees with increased enforcement and allow for harsher consequences for employers who breach the law.

Author: Emely Rivas

Edited by: Nakira Whitehead


Is competition in federal contracting dead?

Executive Order 14036, Promoting Competition in the American Economy, was signed by President Joe Biden. Under Executive Order 14036, the Secretary of Defense is responsible for increasing competition in the defense industrial base in federal procurements. President Barack Obama has called for a study of how competition is used in the United States, as well as a push to foster competition throughout the economy. For numerous years, the number of businesses conducting business with the federal government has decreased. According to a new Chamber of Commerce survey, small firms suffer from a lack of competition.

The federal procurement procedure follows a Ronco-like “set it and forget it” mantra, which has resulted in a decrease in the number of enterprises contracting with the government. The federal government issues a request, waits for responses from companies that have figured out how to handle the multiple barriers to doing business with the government, and then awards contracts based on the offers submitted. Even when it is aware of alternative capable companies,

the government does not usually contact them or take them into account when making an award choice.

Better electronic tools and training for federal government contracting officers are needed to search the marketplace for companies that can meet government needs. The contracting officer’s market research, the firms considered for award, the company’s prices, and other special terms and conditions should all be tracked and recorded in the tools. According to Ed Rollins, President Obama will not be successful in improving competitiveness with American companies unless he changes the way government contracts are handled. He proposes new technologies to make government contracting more transparent and accessible to the public. According to him, the move will also boost government outreach during the contracting process.

With President Obama’s emphasis on boosting contracting with diverse companies and purchasing more American-made goods, now is the moment to bring about significant reform and promote competition in federal contracts. Senator John Thune believes that the government’s definition of competition and the mechanisms by which it acquires competition need to be updated.

By: Mariatu Alale

Edited by: Nakira Whitehead