Happy New Year! Want to know what The Federal Eye will be watching for in 2011? Here are 10 issues across the government worth tracking as the new year — and the new Congress — begins:
1.) Will President Obama order 5 percent spending cuts?
The president ordered agencies and departments to develop plans to make cuts, but hasn’t made them official. Such cuts could severely impact non-defense agencies and programs. Also important: Will Obama propose allowing agencies to keep some of the savings for other priorities?
2.) Do Republicans propose even deeper spending cuts?
In the new Congress, Republicans promise to fight for spending cuts, a repeal of the new health care law and job creation. How much priority will they give to cutting and will they want to go further than Obama? Will they seriously push for the elimination of certain agencies and departments? (The Education or Commerce departments, are perennial favorite targets.) Also: Will Congress actually pass a budget this year?
3.) What, if anything, do Republican oversight efforts unearth?
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) appeared on three Sunday talk shows and called Obama’s administration “one of the most corrupt.” GOP investigations in the next two years could save taxpayers about $200 billion, he predicted. Several economic stimulus projects and senior administration could face serious Congressional investigations. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is “a particularly juicy target,” The New York Times recently suggested, because of his involvement with terrorism cases, civil rights enforcement and immigration reform.
4.) Will Congress order changes at the U.S. Postal Service?
Postal reform could be the sleeper issue of the year — and a politically tricky one. (Which lawmaker wants to become the champion of closing post offices?) But make no mistake: This is the year the Postal Service will really run out of money — unless Congress seriously addresses postal reform. Pensions are ballooning, mail volume and revenues are plummeting and — most perilous of all — a $15 billion line of credit with the U.S. Treasury dries up this year. Two substantive legislative proposals are on the table and after years of avoiding the issue, it appears Congress will have to deliver a serious solution in 2011.
5.) How long will it take to officially end “don’t ask, don’t tell”?
Ask anyone at the Pentagon and they really, truly don’t know. It took about eight years to fully integrate African Americans into the armed forces, but Obama, gay rights activists and lawmakers would not tolerate a similar timetable to officially permit gays and lesbians in uniform. Military leaders are expected to draft a training and implementation program, and then introduce it to the rank and file. Best guess: More than two months, less than a year.
6.) Will teleworking work?
Federal agencies and departments must expand the use of teleworking this year in an effort to cut operational costs, worker commutes and the government’s environmental footprint. Though many are eligible, many federal managers are resistant to the work-from-home option. So will workers actually telework? And will their bosses let them?
7.) How does the federal worker pay freeze impact the rank and file?
Will a two-year freeze on federal pay lead to mass retirements or low morale? And how will the pay freeze impact Obama’s campaign pledge to make the government “cool again“?
8.) What happens to federal hiring reform?
Will the pay freeze (see above) make moot the administration’s efforts to reform how the government recruit and retains workers? And if older federal employees start to retire en masse, will the government be ready to replace them? (Lawmakers have warned that many agencies aren’t ready for the impending brain drain.)
9.) Which government official, agency or department will cause embarrassment this year?
Last year Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack nearly derailed his tenure by quickly firing Shirley Sherrod and then having her rebuff repeated requests to rejoin USDA. The Securities and Exchange Commission faced days of negative headlines about porn-surfing employees and the Transportation Security Administration poorly countered the concerns of passengers upset by enhanced pat-downs while enduring several embarrassing incidents involving airport security officers. So who will screw up this year? Time will tell, but wasteful stimulus spending could yield some embarrassments. (See #3.)
10.) How fast will Washington’s revolving door swing?
Several top White House aides soon will decamp to Chicago to begin Obama’s reelection campaign and David Plouffe is moving into the West Wing. Tim Kaine appears to be staying put at the DNC and not moving to the Cabinet. Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) is looking for a job, as are several former Democratic lawmakers — will any of them get hired by Obama? And when will Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates retire? Bottom line: There’s plenty to keep the Washington parlor games going.
Agree or disagree? What will you be watching for in 2011? your thoughts in the comments section below
• Cabinet and Staff News: Obama’s news-free vacation yielded recess appointments for six picks. Details of his politically touchy search for a new top economic adviser. Is Amb. Jon Huntsman (former Republican governor of Utah) thinking of running against Obama? Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano visits Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton chats amicably with Hugo Chavez in Brazil. Vice President Biden is a linchpin for Obama’s presidency. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts decries brawling over judicial nominees. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is tackling an ambitious export goal. In a Washington Post op-ed, Education Secretary Arne Duncan outlines a bipartisan blueprint for school reform.
• With Air Force’s new drone, ‘we can see everything’: This winter, the Air Force is set to deploy to Afghanistan what it says is a revolutionary airborne surveillance system called Gorgon Stare.
• Several warnings, then a soldier’s lonely death: Too many unanswered questions remain about Sergeant David Senft‘s lonely death in a parked sport utility vehicle on an American air base in Afghanistan, and about whether the Army could have done more to prevent it.
• Navy to probe lewd videos shown to carrier crew: A top officer aboard an aircraft carrier broadcast to his crew a series of profanity-laced comedy sketches in which he uses gay slurs and opens the shower curtain on women pretending to bathe together.
• Coal’s burnout: Have investors moved on to cleaner energy sources?: The battle over coal plants could sharpen in 2011, as the agency deploys regulations to improve the efficiency of big power plants.
• Texas launches another legal challenge to greenhouse-gas rules: The state filed its lawsuit just one day after a federal appeals court in New Orleans denied its request to suspend the administration’s efforts to issue greenhouse-gas permits on the state’s behalf.
• As control of the House turns over, young aides perform a familiar shuffle: Job insecurity is a fact of life for the 10,000 or so at-will Hill workers who form the backbone of Congress.
• Public workers facing outrage as budget crises grow: Across the nation, a rising irritation with public employee unions is palpable.
• For Capitol’s nursing mothers, an escape from politics: Some of the most inconspicuous rooms on Capitol Hill have the most colorful nicknames — Lactation Lobby, Lactation Station, Milk Factory and Boob Cube.
• NTSB bars airline from accident probe: The agency says American Airlines improperly downloaded information for its own use from the flight-data recorder of a Boeing 757 that rolled off the end of a runway at Jackson Hole on Dec. 29.
• Diplomats help push jet sales on global market: United States diplomats, acting like marketing agents, offered deals to heads of state and airline executives whose decisions could be influenced by price, performance and perks.
• An unlikely duo’s auto safety quest: A college professor and a former federal transportation official team up to seek standard installation of black boxes in cars.