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October 31, 2011

DOJ IG revises Conference "muffin" report

As a result of the responses and clarifications to the September IG report suggesting that DOJ approved and paid for $16.80 muffins at a 2009 conferences, the DOJ IG revised and reissued the report, superceding its prior report.  While the clarifications corrected the factual misstatements that the muffins at the given conference were $16.80 each, it still concludes that attention must be given to reducing excessing conference costs.  See DOJ revised report: http://www.justice.gov/oig/reports/plus/a1143.pdf; and GovExec article: http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=49168&dcn=e_gvet.

Posted by Account Deleted in Fiscal Law, Issues: Misuse of Govt. Resources, News | Permalink

October 30, 2011

NSF Conflict of Interest Issues

POGO reports:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) was recently slammed by an Office of Inspector General report for failing to perform sufficient oversight of financial conflicts of interests. Now, the agency is looking to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a model for strengthening its regulations.

A copy of the NSF OIG report referenced is available.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Conflicts of Interest | Permalink

October 29, 2011

IEC Member Fights Link Rot on OGE Website

"Link rot" refers to the process whereby hypertext links to a website go bad, through redesign or other reasons. While the Office of Government Ethics website upgrade provided many improvements, it had the unfortunate effect of breaking many links that other websites had built to OGE.

IEC member Wayne Johnson has taken the initiative to compile a list of bad OGE links, and has generously shared it with us. Rather than try to squeeze his memo into this narrow space, we are making it available in two files for downloading, in your choice of formats:

Download OGE_Link_Corrections Hypertext version

Download OGE_Link_Corrections MS Word version

Posted by IEC Team Leader in OGE, Web Resources | Permalink

Abramoff Scandal Convictions Summarized

The Washington Post has an AP summary of convictions related to the corruption probe of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Posted by IEC Team Leader | Permalink

October 28, 2011

Article on Relationship Between IG and Ethics Officials

The most recent issue of The Journal of Public Inquiry contains the article Growing Old Together: Inspector General and Ethics Counsel - Changing Environments and Challenges. The authors are Nancy Eyl, Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, Maryann Lawrence Grodin, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Office of Inspector General and Alexandra Keith, of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

This excellent article is well worth the time of any ethics official or IG lawyer.

Download 2011 Article_Eyl_Grodin_Keith

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Inspectors General | Permalink

October 27, 2011

ABA Advisory Opinions on Email Privacy

While our primary focus is federal ethics issues, we occasionally discuss legal ethics issues that we think may be of interest to our readers. Therefore, we note two American Bar Association legal ethics advisory opinions on privacy in electronic communications, including email. The second is particularly relevant to IG lawyers who represent management in personnel litigation, where management is monitoring the employee’s electronic communications, and the employee is using email to communicate with his lawyer. Some courts had ruled the employer’s lawyer had a duty to advise the employee that e-mail on the government computer was being monitored. Here is our understanding of the key elements in each opinion:

1.     Does lawyer have duty to warn client who is using insecure method of e-mail to communicate? Yes.

2.     Does lawyer have duty to advise opposing side that they are using an insecure method of e-mail and/or that he has obtained access to their communications? Not necessarily. The opinion advises:

“Under circumstances where there is no clear legal precedent in the jurisdiction that would require the lawyer to notify the court or the opposing party that he has received the employee emails, the lawyer may not do so unless the client consents.”

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Legal Ethics | Permalink

October 26, 2011

New Feature: Help Available -- Edited 2/22/12

Our "Job Announcements" feature has long been one of our most popular features. We are adding a new feature to reflect changes in the labor market. We are setting up a "Help Available" category. People seeking government ethics jobs or work as personal service contractors can announce their availability in the Comments section below.

To make it clear that the new feature is the inverse of our previous feature, we have also renamed the "Job Announcements" category as "Help Wanted."

We've had some trouble with the comment posting feature, so we'll be posting manually until it's resolved:

Updated February 22, 2010

Ethos LLC, a Woman Owned Small Business, provides skilled professionals who can be contracted on an annual, monthly or ad hoc basis. Our team includes ethics subject matter experts to provide you with knowledgeable support in:

  • Providing in-depth analysis, coordination, and compliance with government-wide and agency-specific Public and Confidential Financial Disclosure reporting requirements
  • Employee and contractor training on all aspects of the federal ethics program
  • Reviewing and making realistic recommendations in preparation for, or follow-up after, ethics program reviews
  • Establishing “Best Practices” for your ethics program

Ethos LLC is pleased to announce that John Szabo and Arnie Haiman have joined the company as Senior Ethics Advisors.  Ethos provides a full range of ethics services to the Federal sector including training and forms preparation and review.  Mr. Szabo was the former Special Counsel for Ethics and Administration of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Co-chairman of the IEC.  Mr. Haiman was the former Deputy General Counsel and Designated Agency Ethics Official to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

For more information, please visit our website at www.EthicsMadeEasy.com or call us at 703-538-4477.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About, Help Available, Help Wanted | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 25, 2011

IG Achievements Celebrated

Government watchdogs identified potential savings of $87.2 billion in 2010 in investigations ranging from defective drugs to disaster loan fraud, according to the annual report by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.

via www.iwatchnews.org

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Inspectors General | Permalink

November 3rd Meeting

At our November 3rd meeting we are pleased to host a panel presentation by USAID and State Department ethics officials on public/private partnerships -- focusing on some case studies and methods of achieving success.  This will be a good opportunity to learn about an increasingly important subject area, so please plan to attend.

We will meet at the U. S. Access Board, at 1331 F Street, N.W. (on the north side of F Street, between 13th and 14th Streets, near Metro Center Station) from 12:15 - 1:30.  As always, individuals who are on the IEC roster need not pre-rgister for this meeting.  Ethics officials who are not on the roster but who wish to attend can pre-register by contacting [email protected] not later than Monday, October 31st. 

Posted by PJC in IEC Meetings | Permalink

October 24, 2011

Export-Import Bank Assistant General Counsel for Administration vacancy (GS-15)

 The Export-Import Bank is looking for an Assistant General Counsel for Administration who will be responsible for, among other areas of law, the Government ethics program.  See vacancy announcement: Download Untitled.  USAJobs link http://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/301245700. Closes: Nov. 14, 2011.

Posted by Account Deleted in Help Wanted | Permalink

Time Article Discusses Military Whistleblowers' Fear of Reprisal

A recent Time article addresses the fact that hundreds of whistleblower reprisal complaints filed by  military members each year go unsubstantiated and highlights a particular case where the military member feels he was denied re-enlistment because he reported unsafe aircraft maintenance concerns and participated in an investigation of senior command corruption. 

Posted by IEC Team 3 in Whistleblowers | Permalink

October 23, 2011

IT Contractor's Security Lapse on Disclosure Forms Creates Big Headaches for SEC

This morning's New York Times reports:

Two years ago, the S.E.C. began monitoring its employees’ investments more closely to allay public concern about possible conflicts of interest. Until then, its ethics office had encouraged employees to police themselves by checking a limited database of prohibited transactions.

The new system required employees to use a more comprehensive database, the Ethics Program System, to clear their securities transactions in advance and to record details about their financial holdings. To manage E.P.S., the agency hired Financial Tracking Technologies of Riverside, Conn., which provides similar services for money managers and large public companies.

At the time, the S.E.C. assured its employees that their brokerage account numbers and other financial data would be safe. The S.E.C.’s security personnel, the agency said, would test and audit the system. Besides, only “a small number of employees at the contractor” would have access to E.P.S., and those employees would undergo rigorous background checks, according to an e-mail sent to S.E.C. employees in the fall of 2009.

As it turns out, the IT contractor did not fulfill its security representations. The Times article describes the SEC's efforts to contain the problem and prevent similar issues. A National Treasury Employees Union representative noted:

This is particularly disturbing since the S.E.C. apparently had no mechanism to ensure that the outside contractor was maintaining the appropriate level of privacy and security in handling this private data.

By this time our more thoughtful ethics official readers will be asking themselves:

    How does my agency's security for financial disclosure information in electronic format stack up?

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Electronic Filing, Issues: Financial Disclosure | Permalink

October 22, 2011

OSC Turnaound is Praised

The Washington Post's Federal Diary columnist observes that Scott Bloch left the Office of Special Counsel in bad shape, and praises the current incumbent for substantial improvements:

Carolyn Lerner gets the credit [for Office of Special Counsel reforms]. She was sworn in as special counsel in June.

Her “tenure is very young, but she hit the ground running and appears to be fearless,” said Thomas Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower advocacy group.

She showed her determination “to rebuild the trust of all federal whistleblowers in OSC and our whistleblower protection program” with the announcement this month that her office asked the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) to stay, or temporarily block, “serious adverse personnel actions” against two federal employees.

Stays were granted in those cases, plus another one in July. That’s just three, but they mark a significant increase for OSC. It won no stays from MSPB in 2008, 2009 or 2010. Under Lerner, the office has taken “a great step forward,” said Stephen Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblowers Center. “The office had been stagnant for 10 years.”

Posted by IEC Team Leader in OSC | Permalink

October 21, 2011

OGE Conference Archives

Need to access the archives of the 2011 OGE Conference? The OGE website contains links to the archives of conferences back to 2005, but there is currently no link for the 2011 conference. The archives are available here (http://ethicsconf18.crowdcompass.com/activities).

Posted by IEC Team Leader in OGE, Web Resources | Permalink

Ethics related news

Posted by Account Deleted in News | Permalink

October 20, 2011

GAO Criticizes Federal Reserve Conflicts of Interest

A new GAO report exposes financial links between directors of Federal Reserve banks and financial institutitons that the Federal Reserve supervisess. POGO and the Washington Post have commentary on this significant report.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in GAO, Issues: Conflicts of Interest | Permalink

October 19, 2011

ABA Article: Using RSS Feeds with Internet Explorer

RSS feeds are the best way to keep up with IEC Journal and other websites using sophisticated technology. An ABA Legal Technology Center article explains how to use RSS feeds with the Microsoft web browser, Internet Explorer (IE). Here is a key paragraph:

Finding RSS feeds

In the IE feed reader’s properties, you can set the browser to play a sound when a feed is found for a Web site. Additionally the orange icon in the toolbar will glow. So, as you surf the Web keep an eye, or ear, out for these indicators.  Finding feeds is simple with sites like Technorati, a popular blog search engine.  Some legal RSS feeds to get you started include ABA Site-tationLaw Practice Today  and the ABA Journal . Additionally, Justia offers RSS feeds for federal district court dockets. Simply run a search by party, district, and/or lawsuit type. When the results page loads, click on the RSS icon in the browser toolbar to add the feed to your reader.  Once you begin using feed readers you will see that this is just the tip of the iceberg for this great technology.

via www.americanbar.org

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About, Technology and Ethics | Permalink

October 18, 2011

New OSC Advisories

The Office of Special Counsel has new advisories on briefings and mixed travel:

  • 10/6/11 Advisory on Briefings
  • 10/6/11 Advisory on Mixed Travel

Posted by IEC Team Leader in OSC | Permalink

October 17, 2011

Advisory Committee Reform Bill Advances

The Project on Government Oversight praises the "Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 2011" (H.R. 3124), which would "close these loopholes and ensure that committees are operating under a 21st-century disclosure regime." POGO suggests further improvements, including distribution of audio/videotapes of advisory committee meetings.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Advisory Committees | Permalink

DHS proposes additional restrictions on their employees

DHS' proposed supplemental ethics rules for its employees.  They include restrictions on the
purchase of certain Government-owned property, requiring employees to report allegations of waste, fraud, and abuse, requiring employees to seek prior approval for certain outside employment and activities, prohibiting employees in some DHS components from engaging in certain types of outside employment and activities, requiring designated components to develop instructions regarding the procedures for obtaining prior approval for outside employment and activities, and designating components within DHS as a separate agency for purposes of determining whether the donor of a gift is a "prohibited source" and of identifying an employee's agency for the regulations governing teaching, speaking, and writing.

See Fed. Reg. at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-10-12/html/2011-26160.htm

See articles discussion same: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/?nid=85&sid=2591216 and http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=49068&dcn=e_gvet

Posted by Account Deleted in Issues: Conflicts of Interest, Issues: Outside Activities, News | Permalink

October 16, 2011

Using Inmates to Take Cornerstone?

An IEC member drew our attention to a story about a sheriff who used jail inmates for a dubious acquistion of the keystone of a local high school. A city council member commented:

To use inmates to basically take public property is probably what got a few of them in jail to start with so maybe not the best idea he's ever had.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in News | Permalink

October 15, 2011

Sig Block with Better Formatting

Our attempt to fit the model signature block into our regular posting space produced terrible results yesterday, as the standard text block size used at this website was too small, resulting in very poor formatting.

To better do justice to Mr. Fisher's conception, we have reproduced the signature block in a separate document.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Technology and Ethics | Permalink

October 14, 2011

The Art of the Signature Block

Edited October 14 to incorporate various improvements, including breaking the model signature block out into a separate document, for improved formatting:

A good email signature block can add surprising value to an agency ethics program. Savvy lawyers in private practice may devote considerable attention to ensuring that their signature block sends exactly the right message. Not all government ethics officials take the same level of care. For better or worse, marketing the ethics program is a part of the ethics function.

Jack Fisher, an ethics specialist with the Forest Service, understands this far better than most. His signature block is one of the best we've seen, advancing his agency's program in multiple ways. A careful study of his signature block may suggest numerous options to upgrade your own. A copy is available at this site in MS Word format. Thanks to Mr. Fisher for agreeing to allow us to distribute his work in this way.

Do you have a good signature block that others might find useful? Please follow Mr. Fisher's example and share with your colleagues.

Notes: We edited Mr. Fisher's signature block to reduce exposure to spam, etc. We have reproduced the signature block using a fixed pitch font, to reduce the chance that the spacing will be thrown off in translating it to Web format, but depending on your choice of computer fonts, you may experience some irregularity. We assure you, Mr. Fisher's original is perfect in every detail.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Technology and Ethics | Permalink

Ex-Fed pleads guilty to misuse of Govt Travel funds

A former civilian employee of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), a component of the Department of Defense, pleaded guilty today in Washington, D.C., to making more than $485,000 in false travel claims.  See full DOJ press release at http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2011/October/11-crm-1358.html.

Posted by Account Deleted in Issues: Travel, News | Permalink

October 13, 2011

OSC Seeks Quick Relief for Two Whistleblowers

An Office of Special Counsel press release reports on OSC's efforts to seek stays of adverse actions proposed against whistleblowers. The press release notes:

Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner stated that “these cases concern serious threats to public health and safety, and raise important issues of law.  OSC’s actions make clear that this agency will vigorously protect federal employees against retaliation when they blow the whistle.” Ms. Lerner recently completed her first 100 days at the helm of the Office of Special Counsel. 

POGO has additional comments.

 

Posted by IEC Team Leader in OSC, Whistleblowers | Permalink

Former DODEA Chief Fired

Stars and Stripes reports on the firing of a senior DoD official who is reported to have "used her power to secure jobs for friends and relatives, received pay to which she was not entitled and engaged in 'unprofessional conduct and speech.' ”

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Misuse of Position | Permalink

Interior, Office of Solicitor, Ethics Attorney vancacy (GS-15)

The Department of the Interior has an opening for a permanent, full-time GS-15 Attorney-Advisor in the Departmental Ethics Office (located in Washington, DC), within the Office of the Solicitor.  Open period is from October 13 through October 19, 2011.  The USAJOBS vacancy announcement may be found at http://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/300150900#TopofPage

Posted by Account Deleted in Help Wanted | Permalink

October 12, 2011

ECOA Hosts Asia Symposium

We are not familiar enough with the Ethics and Compliance Officer Association to recommend their programs, but we note their 2012 Asia Conference Jan. 17 & 18 in Shanghai for the benefit of anyone who might be interested.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Training (to Attend) | Permalink

Alleged Supreme Court Conflicts of Interest

The focus of this site is Executive Branch issues, but for awareness purposes, we pass along a link from an IEC member concerning allegations of conflicts of interest against a Supreme Court justice.  

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Miscellaneous | Permalink

October 11, 2011

New Rule Limits Lobbyist Appointments

The Federal Register notice linked below implements the President's June 18, 2010 memorandum ‘‘Lobbyists on Agency Boards and Commissions.’’ That memo directed agencies and departments in the Executive  Branch not to appoint or re-appoint federally registered lobbyists to advisory committees and other boards and commissions.

 Download Lobbyists-OMB-Guidance-100511

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Advisory Committees | Permalink

October 10, 2011

OSC Proposes Hatch Act Changes

The Office of Special Counsel has proposed legislative changes to the Hatch Act, including adding graduated penalty options to the only choices are not firing or 30 day suspension.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Hatch Act, OSC | Permalink

October 07, 2011

One Good E-Filing System for Government Offices? (Open Thread)

One of the comments on our OGE conference posting raised an issue worth further discussion:

IEC or OGE needs to come up with one good e-filing system for small and large govt offices, than allowing each agency to upload specific agency documents in the system. Do you think this can happen?

The E-Filing Roadmap & Planning Workbook posted here recently may provide some assistance. However, we don't know enough about the subject to comment intelligently, so we will open up the comment section below for this post. Please share any insights you may have on this query.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Electronic Filing | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 06, 2011

Debate Over New OGE Conflict of Interest Proposal

Recent dueling editorials in the New York Times (Pro) and the Washington Post (Con) took opposing positions on the proposed amendment to the OGE gifts rules (extending lobbyist gift ban).

 

The IEC member who drew these items to our attention noted:

 

The one point the authors of the Post piece did not mention is that the OGE gift rules apply to gifts to individual employees -- not gifts to the agency.  If an agency has gift acceptance authority, then the agency could accept free attendance at a conference for its employees.  I don't think that works for receptions and social events, but it makes sense for conferences, I think.  

 

We have not yet studied the OGE proposal enough to have an opinion, but we note that an incident we reported on in January involving FCC consideration of a multi-billion dollar cell phone company merger illustrates drawbacks of the current de minimus standards.

 

No one would suggest that a gift of a few dozen cupcakes, even Georgetown Cupcake products, would be enough to bribe a federal employee. The objective of the lobbyist is more subtle: To create an atmosphere more conducive to deciding in the lobbyist's favor. Aside from the appearance issues, it is natural to ask how are the lobbyists for the other entities involved, including public interest groups, supposed to react? Will there be an even more unseemly bidding war of gifts? There is something to be said for cutting off even de minimus gifts from lobbyists.

Posted by IEC Team Leader | Permalink

October 05, 2011

Two Army Corps Officials Charged in Procurement Fraud Scheme

Foxnews.com reports that two Army Corps of Engineers employees have been charged in what prosecutors are calling one of the largest procurement fraud schemes in the nation's history.  The two were arrested Tuesday in a $20 million bribery and kickback case that prosecutors say helped them purchase over a dozen properties, Rolex and Cartier watches, sports cars and other personal luxuries.  The kickbacks were in exchange for directing government contracts to a subcontractor specializing in software encryption and information technology.  Before they were caught, the officials ran the scheme for four years. 

Posted by IEC Team 3 | Permalink

October 04, 2011

SEC Defenders Mostly Revolving Door Veterans

POGO notes that most of the 52 lawyers who signed a public letter defending an ex-SEC General Counsel are former SEC senior officers or staff and observes:  

The Hill reports that some Congressional staffers were less than impressed with the letter:

However, some on Capitol Hill are unimpressed and offended, both by the lawyers’ defense and the fact they are mounting it in the first place.

“This effort only raises more questions about Becker having too cozy a relationship with those the SEC is supposed to regulate,” said a GOP congressional source. “It’s appalling they’re dismissing concerns about a conflict of interest and defending money he received out of the Madoff scandal on the grounds that he could have made much more in the private sector.”

Edited Oct. 5 to remove redundant material.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Revolving Door | Permalink

October 03, 2011

Allegation: SEC Paid Improper Commuting Expenses

Reuters reports:

In an unusual move, first reported by Reuters in May, the SEC decided to offer [Henry Hu, a law professor at the University of Texas in Austin] a compensation package that designated his hometown of Austin, Texas as his "duty station."

In doing so, it made him eligible to receive thousands of dollars a month in per diem payments toward his meals and long-term stays in a Marriott-owned apartment in Chevy Chase, Maryland, as well as flights back to Austin. 

The package drew criticism from many staffers within the SEC, in part because many other employees who live in other cities often pay their own way. 

Kotz's report found that the SEC spent about $120,000 to cover Hu's housing, meals and airfare through his tenure, in addition to $314,198.26 for his salary. 

Hu was hired on a temporary basis through a special arrangement with the University of Texas known as an Intergovernmental Personnel Act assignment, or IPA. 

IPAs are often used by the government, particularly in recruiting academics. Generally, the employee will work for the government for a limited time. In exchange, the government will often pay for a portion of the person's salary and benefits. 

The Office of Personnel Management's guidelines do allow federal agencies to give employees a per diem allowance, but those allowances should only be for short-term assignments.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Fiscal Law | Permalink

October 02, 2011

Washington Post Ombudsman's Take on Bogus $16 Muffin Story

Belatedly, this morning the Washington Post 's ombudsman looks into the Post's poor reporting on the Department of Justice conference spending story. He notes that DOJ spent $14.74 per person per day on all refreshments, a whole two cents above the limit of $14.76 per day. Since no one except green eyeshade types is going to get too excited about a two cents overage, rather than report the facts, the Post apparently decided to sex it up by going with a transparently inaccurate story about $16 muffins.

He includes this quote:

“Yes, we should have called Hilton,” said Barbara Vobejda, Markon’s editor. “While it does not excuse our failure to call, I can say that we did not realize until late that night on deadline which hotel hosted which conference; we did not necessarily feel the hotels had done anything wrong; and none of several editors who were involved in the story thought to suggest that we get comment from each of the hotels mentioned. That, in hindsight, was a mistake.”

Calling the Hilton would have been sound journalism, but it should not have been necessary. The numbers the Post went with were dubious on their face to anyone with even minimal experience dealing with hotels. It's well known that hotels don't necessarily break out cost categories precisely. Did none of the "several editors" who worked on the Post story have common sense or good judgment?

The ombudsman hinted at the real cause of this fiasco by noting early in his story that: "[A]s a journalist, my instinct tells me that the muffin story was just a bit too good to be true." He further notes, " All of us scribes love nothing more than to do a front-page story with national impact."

What the ombudsman is saying is that people at the Post wanted to write a story bashing government employees, and they did not let the facts get in the way. It's exactly what happened in the Post's coverage of the OGE conference. Reliable sources advise me the Post was given detailed information about actual OGE conference costs, but instead chose to go with snarky insinuations.

We strongly agree with the ombudsman's stated ideal, "But our first duty is to get as close to the truth as possible, even if that’s a bit less sensational."

Let's hope the Post tries to live up to this more often. A correction of their probably even worse reporting on the OGE conference would be a good place to start.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Fiscal Law, News | Permalink

POGO: Contractors Much More Expensive Than Civil Servants

Irrational bashing of civil servants has become so popular, it's a pleasant surprise to see an objective analysis. A Project on Government Oversight report demonstrates that civil servants are much more cost effective than contractors:

On average, Uncle Sam spends nearly twice as much when the government outsources a job as it would if it just hired another "expensive" federal worker, says a new report by the Project On Government Oversight, "Bad Business: Billions of Taxpayer Dollars Wasted on Hiring Contractors."

In researching this report, the POGO assessed contracts in 35 different job categories, comparing the total compensation for a federal employee with contractor annual billing rates to provide the same services. Astonishingly, in 33 of the categories, the federal employee cost the Treasury significantly less than the contractor.

Consider this example. For a "general attorney" on the public payroll, the government spends about $175,000 a year on salary and full benefits. If, however, the government hires a contractor to provide the same legal services, POGO found that we taxpayers would dole out almost $555,000 a year. Comparable findings surfaced in lots of other cases. Accountants on the public payroll cost us about $124,000 a year. If we engage them through a contractor, we spend about $283,000. Federal food inspectors carry a $58,000 yearly price tag as government employees, but cost about $75,000 if they're hired through a contractor.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Contractors in the Workplace, News | Permalink

October 01, 2011

DOJ IG Admits Muffin Error, But Who Deserves More Blame?

The originator of the bogus $16 muffin claims, the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General, has now admitted that the facts do not support the sensational claims of waste of government funds previously made. While DOJ has probably somewhat overpaid for conference expenses on some occasions, what large organization has never done so?'

Is this the end of the matter? I hope not. While the DOJ OIG was not completely blameless, the worst culprits here were the allegedly responsible journalistic organizations like the Washington Post who took a few dubious isolated sentences out of the IG report and distorted them into something totally misleading.

The urge to create a sensational headline--regardless of the facts--is reminiscent of the Post's attacks on this year's OGE conference. In both cases, the Post's coverage was more hit job than legitimate journalism.

We encourage the Post and other traditional media, whose recent financial struggles have been well documented, to strive as best they can to maintain journalistic accuracy and integrity as the inevitable downsizing continues. We hope these recent occurrences are aberrations, not early signs of deteriorating into yellow journalism at its worst.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in News | Permalink

Training Tip 16: Boosting Confidence

Audiences are more likely to trust and like a confident presenter. Unfortunately, nervousness  impedes most trainers, at least to some degree. Fortunately there are techniques for boosting confidence. 

Practice is a proven way of reducing nervousness. Do enough trial runs so that you know the material backwards and forwards. As Garr Reynolds explains in his book The Naked Presenter:

The more you are on top of your material the less nervous you will be. If you have taken the time to build the logical flow of your presentation, designed supporting materials that are professional and appropriate, there is much less to be nervous about. And, if you have then rehearsed with an actual computer and projector (assuming you are using slideware) several times, your nervousness should all but melt away. We fear what we do not know. If we know our material well and have rehearsed the flow, know what slide is next in the deck, and have anticipated questions, then we have eliminated much (but not all) of the unknown. When you remove the unknown and reduce anxiety and nervousness, then confidence is something that will naturally take the place of your anxiety.

Andrew Dlugan's Practicing Your Presentation has other practical preparation pointers.

Taking along an associate is another confidence builder. It worked wonders for reducing my nervousness as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney trying cases before a jury. My results improved significantly after I began taking a paralegal or law clerk to court with me. This reduced the number of administrative details I had to track and let me concentrate on the substance of my presentation.

If your associate is capable of helping you substantively by answering audience questions, etc., so much the better, but even help with administrative tasks like handling attendance records, distributing handouts, wrestling with balky projectors, troubleshooting your laptop and so on, they can still be a giant help. Not every organization can afford this luxury, but you are lucky enough to have someone to help you, take advantage of it.

Watching yourself on video can boost confidence. You may not like the way you look, but most people will find the exercise not merely helps them improve, but reassures them that they don't look as badly as they had imagined. Video is a fantastic tool for trainers, and thanks to the digital revolution video cameras have never been as affordable or convenient.

I have found having high quality handouts and/or slide show to be a giant confidence booster. When I have good supporting materials, I tell myself that even if I have a lousy oral presentation, the event won't be a total disaster: The audience will still get the key points from the handouts and slides.

"Automatic winner" is the name I give to a particularly powerful type of supporting material. This is what I call a slide that has two characteristics: It advances an important teaching point, AND it's something I think will engage and entertain the audience. 

I tried to create such a slide for the most recent OGE conference. The goal was to help the audience understand the importance of appropriate demeanor for trainers. Trainers need to be lively, but not so lively that they come across as phony. I prepared a chart illustrating two types of undesirable demeanor, and one listing the desired demeanors. I supplemented the chart with an MS PowerPoint slide with custom animation using pictures of movie characters to illustrate the "demeanor continuum": 

  • The Ben Stein character from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (a boring economics teacher) was the example of "Not "Enough." His zombie-like demeanor would put any audience to sleep.
  • Kurt Russell's car salesman character from "Used Cars" was the example of "Too Much." His hyper demeanor radiated insincerity.
  • Paul Newman's character from the 1982 courtroom drama "The Verdict" illustrated the desired demeanor. By every word and gesture, he conveyed sincerity.

Of course, few trainers will be able to convey an attitude like Paul Newman. The point is to give the audience concrete points of reference in a way that will instruct and amuse them.

Was this slide an "automatic winner?" I don't know, but I do know that having it in my pocket increased my confidence. This benefit will help nearly any presenter.
 
Provide your suggestions and examples in the Comments section below. Biographical information about our Training Tips columnist is available.

Posted by J. Lawson in Training Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)