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DorobekInsider: State of the Union history

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President Obama gives his first State of the Union address tonight just days after his first year in office and days befire the administration issues its first full budget. And this White House is doing something like State of the Union 2.0 taking question on YouTube among other things.

There are some interesting highlights on the history of this speech, which is generally a big deal here in Washington.

The Congressional Research Service has actually published a FAQ on the State of the Union [PDF or Flash version] — which I have also posted below.

According to the Clerk of the House:

The formal basis for the State of the Union address is from the U.S. Constitution:

  • The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Article II, Section 3, Clause 1.

The constitutionally mandated presidential address has gone through a few name changes:

  • It was formally known as the Annual Message from 1790 to 1934.
  • It began to be informally called the State of the Union address from 1942 to 1946.
  • Since 1947 it has generally been known as the State of the Union address.

According to the State:

On January 27, 2010, President Barack Obama will fulfill his constitutional duty to “give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union” (Article II, Section3). Presidents George Washington and John Adams delivered their messages in person, but in 1801 Thomas Jefferson chose to send his in writing. That precedent held until Woodrow Wilson decided to deliver his message in person in 1913, a tradition that continues today. Franklin Roosevelt referred to it as the “State of the Union Address,” a title that became official during the Harry Truman administration. The first radio broadcast of the message occurred in 1923, and the 1947 address was the first televised. View a list of speakers before joint sessions of Congress. Read a report from the Congressional Research Service. See a list of opposition responses to the annual address. Each year, one member of the President’s cabinet is absent from the address, to maintain the line of succession in case of an emergency.

The BBC has a great primer on the State of the Union Address.

And you can read State of the Union addresses through history from the Government Printing Office.

We’ll see what the President has to say tonight.

View this document on Scribd

Written by cdorobek

January 27, 2010 at 3:27 PM

DorobekInsider: New GSA deputy administrator is finally official — Susan Brita to start Feb. 2

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It has been one of the worst kept secrets in town but it is now official in the halls of GSA — Susan Brita, who most recently served as the Staff Director for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, will join the General Services Administration as deputy administrator on Feb. 2.

Brita previously served at GSA from 1985 to 1988, where she was the chief of staff to then GSA Administrator Terence Golden.

Brita replaces Barnaby (Barney) L. Brasseux, who quietly stepped down earlier this month.

Meanwhile, there still is no word on a new GSA chief of staff after Danielle Germain stepped down earlier this month. And, of course, the nomination of Martha Johnson to be GSA administrator is still deeply in limbo.

Here is the note sent to staff from GSA Acting Administrator Steve Leeds sent to “GSAers” this afternoon:

Good Afternoon GSAers,

I want to share a very exciting announcement with you. On February 2, we will welcome Susan Brita back to GSA as our next Deputy Administrator. Susan’s 27 years of public service will be a strong addition to our GSA leadership team.

Most recently, Susan served as the Staff Director for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, a position she has held since 1992. During her tenure, Susan’s broad portfolio, which included GSA, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Architect of the Capitol, gave her the opportunity to focus on each phase of Federal real property management.

Susan is no stranger to the broad spectrum of services GSA provides; from 1985 to 1988 she served as Chief of Staff to then Administrator Terence Golden, where she worked closely on agencywide initiatives.

Susan received her Master’s Degree with honors in Public Administration from George Washington University in Washington D.C. and a B.A. from Cardinal Cushing College in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Please join me in welcoming Susan to our team!


Steve Leeds
Acting Administrator

Written by cdorobek

January 22, 2010 at 2:37 PM

DorobekInsider: BREAKING NEWS — Sens. Collins, McCaskill, Bennett introduce acquisition workforce bills

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UPDATED with the text of the bills…

Breaking news — Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Bob Bennett (R-UT) have just introduced two bills that seek to improve the federal acquisition workforce.

The Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act of 2009 would create a federal acquisition management fellows program to help mention a new generation of acquisition leaders with government-wide perspective, skills and experience. Read the text of the bill here.

The second bill is the Federal Acquisition Institute Improvement Act of 2009 and it would prompt a reorganization allowing the Federal Acquisition Institute to help fulfill its mission. Read the text of the bill here.

Here is the full release:

The bipartisan measures stress mentoring, career development, management

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Improving the federal acquisition workforce system through training and better management is the focus of two bills that were introduced Thursday by Senators Susan Collins, R-Me., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Bob Bennett, R-Ut.

The first bill, “The Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act of 2009,” would create a federal acquisition management fellows program to help mentor a new generation of acquisition leaders with government-wide perspective, skills, and experience. It would combine both a Master’s degree-level academic curriculum with on-the-job training in multiple federal agencies. By partnering with leading universities that have specialized government acquisition programs, the government can attract top-caliber students who are interested in pursuing both academic advancement and public service.

The second bill, “The Federal Acquisition Institute Improvement Act of 2009,” would prompt reorganization, allowing the Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI) to fulfill its mission of aiding career development and maximizing the potential of federal acquisition workforce.

“The federal acquisition system is under tremendous stress,” said Senator Collins. “Between fiscal years 2000 and 2008, acquisition spending by the federal government expanded by 163 percent, from $205 billion to $539 billion. The rising costs of military operations, natural disasters, homeland security precautions, and other vital programs will drive those expenditures to even higher levels in the years ahead.”

This requires professionally trained and invested acquisition personnel, who can manage these huge expenditures while also guarding against the possibility of waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars. “This prodigious level of purchasing creates abundant opportunities for fraud, waste, and abuse. We have seen far too many outrageous failures in government contracting, such as unusable trailers for hurricane victims, shoddy construction of schools and clinics in Afghanistan, or the installation of showers in Iraq for our troops that pose electric-shock hazards. These and other failures demand strong steps to protect taxpayer dollars and deliver better acquisition outcomes.”

Said Senator McCaskill: “With the increases we’ve seen in government contracting, it is unacceptable that our acquisition workforce is falling behind in terms of training and resources they need to effectively oversee spending. If we want to improve the way the government spends money, we need more well-trained people on the front lines so that they can better prevent waste, fraud, and abuse by writing and carrying out good contracts. This will ensure that the taxpayers are getting the best bang for their buck.”

Added Senator Bennett: “Responsible federal contracting relies on careful, informed analysis by all components of the acquisition workforce. Workforce development is a pillar for strengthened acquisition practices and improved performance. Without a well trained and capable acquisition workforce, our federal contracting efforts will not improve.”

Senator Collins, a long-time advocate for stronger competition, accountability, and transparency in government contracting, said she recognizes and appreciates “the steps the Administration has taken recently to improve federal contracting. Many of these initiatives originated from legislation I co-authored with Senator Lieberman, ID-Conn., during the last Congress. But no matter how many laws we pass or OMB guidance documents are issued, the effectiveness of our federal acquisition system depends on a vital human component – the acquisition workforce.”

While contract spending has risen dramatically, the number of acquisition professionals who help plan, award, and oversee these contracts has been stagnant. And with roughly half of the current acquisition workforce eligible to retire over the next decade, the difficulties of strengthening that workforce will become increasingly acute. A well-trained and well-resourced acquisition workforce is critical to keeping pace with increased federal spending and much more complex procurements of services and goods.

The Obama Administration has identified acquisition workforce development as a pillar for improving acquisition practices and contract performance.

To make that goal a reality, the three Senators authored the two bills in order to deliver specific and concrete action to solve the problem. The Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act and the Federal Acquisition Institute Improvement Act are critically needed and both enjoy bipartisan support. The Senators urged their colleagues to support the measures.

Written by cdorobek

December 17, 2009 at 3:38 PM

DorobekInsider: Rumoring around the halls of GSA — playing GSA musical chairs

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There is a lot of buzz surrounding the General Services Administration, so… I’m saying this up front — this is all unconfirmed, but… it is the buzz. (That caveat allows me to say ‘as theDorobekInsider reported’ if it is true… but gives me cover if it isn’t… and things are changing so quickly.)

* The Johnson nomination: We’re hearing that the nomination of Martha Johnson to be the administrator of the General Services Administration may just be brought to a cloture vote. (For those who don’t know — I had to look it up — is the process of breaking a filibuster.) And for those who haven’t been following it as closely, Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) has a hold on the Johnson nomination ostensibly about the development of a federal facility in Kansas City. But we hear that development is really just a side show for what has become a somewhat bitter political battle between Bond and friends and GSA and the administration. We hear that GSA has numbers that shows the Bond development proposal is a bad deal for the government. I haven’t been able to get my hands on that information. But I also hear that GSA has acted somewhat unartfully in its dealings with Bond. Regardless, unlike some senators who are very open and transparent when they put a hold on a nomination, Bond and his staff have not. It seems unfair and to disregard important work that GSA is trying to accomplish. Anyway, the talk on Capitol Hill is that Johnson’s name is among a list of people that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is looking to bring to a vote. There had been some talk of a recess nomination — or even another administration post for Johnson. UPDATE: We’re hearing that any action on Capitol Hill might not come until January.

* Who will be acting in the meantime?: There are rampant rumors that Paul Prouty, the current acting administrator who has made no secret of his desire to return to his home in Denver — he has teenage children, one of whom will be heading off to college very soon and DadProuty would like to spend time with his kids and family. But we also hear that there is a time period — 270 days — after which nominees have to start paying local taxes. I haven’t been able to find information on it, but… Prouty has to be approaching that timetable. Prouty tells me: “Everyone knows I’m eager to go home; however, nothing to report.”

* Acting Administrator Leeds?: Who might replace Prouty? Many pings that it might be Stephen Leeds, who in August took the post as Senior Counselor to the GSA Administrator. (The link to his bio page from GSA’s leadership Web site wasn’t working for me.) One person described Leeds as a “placeholder,” but it raises some concern given that Leeds has been with GSA for all of four months. While people are impressed by him personally, it is a difficult job to step into at best… and nobody knows how long they may just serve in that post. Just askProuty.

* Brasseux to retire — by the end of the year: That is what people are saying — GSA deputy administrator Barnaby (Barney) L. Brasseux, who has been serving in that post since September 2008. We hear that administration officials had offered him the opportunity to return to be deputy commissioner at GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, a post that will be vacated by Tyree Varnado starting in January, but Brasseux has decided to retire. (Hear our delightful exit interview with Varnado from Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris here.)

* So who becomes GSA’s deputy administrator? We’re hearing Susan Brita, who is a staff director on Capitol Hill — we’re hearing an announcement could come early next year. Apparently Brita has been strongly pushed by Rep. Elenore Holmes Norton (D-DC).

* GSA FAS deputy — no names floating: With Varnado retiring, there is no name yet for that key post. There is some concern amongst GSA watchers that there is a lot of procurement knowledge that is either retiring — or planning on retiring — leaving potential gaps in key positions.

Things are evolving very quickly, so… we’re trying to keep an eye on all of it.

As we say in radio… stay tuned.

Written by cdorobek

December 17, 2009 at 1:14 PM

DorobekInsider: GSA administrator nominee watch — developments on the Kansas City federal center

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Yes — more than 10 months into the Obama administration — and Martha Johnson, the nominee to be the administrator of the General Services Administration, is still awaiting Senate confirmation.

The issue: Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) has put a hold on Johnson’s nomination because of a Kansas City federal property, as we told you back in August — and Federal News Radio 1500 AM spoke with the Kansas City Star reporter Kevin Collison.

Collison has an update:

GSA puts twist in downtown project’s plan

The Kansas City Star

Downtown Kansas City can have a new federal office building and 1,200 employees, but under a different development plan than first envisioned.

A top General Services Administration official has given the Missouri congressional delegation the green light for the $175 million project — but only if the federal government owns it.

The plan that had been pitched locally since 2006 called for a building to be developed privately and leased to the GSA. The 430,000-square-foot project would be filled with federal workers moving from the Bannister Federal Complex in south Kansas City…

Peck’s letter is the latest twist in a political battle that has stalled President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the GSA. Bond has placed a hold on the appointment of Martha Johnson to apply pressure on behalf of the Kansas City project…

Bond’s office greeted Peck’s latest offer with caution, and the senator will continue to hold up the Johnson appointment until more information can be obtained.

Read the full story here.

Read GSA’s letter to the Missiour congressional delegation here:

View this document on Scribd

As the Kansas City Star reports, it remains unclear if this will resolve the stand-off… and how quickly that be resolved.

Written by cdorobek

October 14, 2009 at 1:01 PM

DorobekInsider: The GSA Johnson hold update — Bond and Johnson have met

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I mentioned over the weekend that the Kansas City Star had confirmed that Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) has the hold on Martha Johnson’s nomination to be the administrator of the General Services Administration.

Federal News Radio’s Jason Miller has learned that Bond and Johnson have actually met to try and resolve the issues.

Congressional staffers tell Federal News Radio that the two met in early August before the Senate went on recess.

“While the Senator sat down with the nominee for a face-to-face meeting, he is waiting on additional information on projects important to Kansas City,” senate staffers said.

Bond’s staff, however, would not detail what those projects are. The Kansas City Star’s Kevin Collinson’s story says it is mostly seeking to pressure the government to build a downtown federal office building.

The proposal to consolidate more than 1,200 area federal workers in either a new or existing building downtown was thought to have been cleared by Washington agencies last fall when the GSA and Office of Management and Budget finally forwarded the plan to Congress.

Most of the federal workers are now at the Bannister Federal Complex in south Kansas City, which is gradually being vacated by its government tenants.

But in June, the Senate Environmental and Public Works Commission asked Anthony Costa, GSA acting commissioner for public buildings, for more financial analysis. Bond suspected the move had been requested by GSA bureaucrats as part of an effort to scuttle the Kansas City plan.

We will continue to watch it.

Written by cdorobek

August 25, 2009 at 9:30 AM

Posted in Congress, GSA, Management

DorobekInsider: What’s the deal with GSA administrator nominee Johnson? The Kansas City Star finds out

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One of the key Obama administration posts still vacant is the role of GSA administrator. Of course, Martha Johnson was nominated in April, and she made it through the Senate committee in June, but her nomination has been… on hold… literally.

There have been several stories flying around — one was that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had actually pulled her name off the nomination list because, as the story goes, GSA had told agencies that the government could not travel to Las Vegas in Reid’s home state. In fact, the WSJ had this report on July 22:

Government Meeting? Stay Away From Fun City

What do Reno, Orlando and Las Vegas have in common? To some pockets of the federal government, they just seem like too much fun.

Instead, employees at some big agencies, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are being encouraged to host meetings in more buttoned-down places such as St. Louis, Milwaukee or Denver….

Earlier this month, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the chamber’s majority leader, expressed concern to the White House about a prohibition on government travel to resort destinations. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel wrote back saying that government travel “is not focused on specific destinations,” but on cost and efficiency.

The General Services Administration, which sets the amount government employees can spend per day at each destination, has no ban on locations.

But some agencies appear to be instituting their own guidelines that dictate where events should be held.

According to an Agriculture Department employee familiar with the guidelines, the agency issued internal travel guidelines in the spring that encourage employees to hold meetings in cities that display three key attributes: a travel hub; low in cost; and “a non-resort location.” The employee said cities on the list with those three attributes included Chicago; Denver; Portland, Ore.; St. Louis; Washington, D.C.; Milwaukee; Phoenix and Fort Collins, Colo.

Resort locations aren’t banned, “but you have to provide robust justification” to supervisors for approval to hold an event there, the employee said.

Read the full story here.

Apparently there never was a ban on travel to the hurting Las Vegas — although there is a lot of mis-information out there about travel.

But it appears that the hold on Johnson’s nomination is by Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO), as reported Friday by the Kansas City Star:

Bond blocks GSA nominee in action tied to downtown KC federal building

The Kansas City Star

Posted on Fri, Aug. 21, 2009

Sen. Kit Bond is blocking approval of the president’s choice to lead the General Services Administration, adding pressure on Washington to approve a proposed downtown federal office building.

Bond, who has been a leader in the effort to build the estimated $175 million project since it was first proposed in 2006, has placed a hold on the appointment of Martha Johnson.

Johnson, a former GSA chief of staff, was recommended for the post by President Barack Obama in April and was endorsed by the Senate Government Affairs Committee in June.

The GSA acts as the federal government’s landlord and also buys goods and services for federal agencies.

Bond could not be reached for comment Friday, but an aide confirmed his decision to block Johnson’s appointment.

Read the full story here.

Of course, it still is a bit remarkable that senators can put holds on nominations without having to be up front about it.

We’ll continue to track the story. One can assume that this will get resolved soon — one way or another.

Written by cdorobek

August 23, 2009 at 9:42 PM Rep. Honda’s tries crowdsourcing his Web redesign — a check-in

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Editor’s note: To those coming from the Future Fed series that I will be doing on WTOP and Federal News Radio 1500 AM — if this is your first time to the DorobekInsider — welcome. I hope you’ll visit regularly, but… each week, along with the Future Fed series, I will also have a related post each Monday morning with more on the topic. So, if nothing else, I hope you’ll join me here on Mondays.

20090603 hondaI mentioned earlier this month that Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) is redesigning his Web site using a very innovative method — crowdsourcing. That is essentially where a task that was traditionally done by an employee — or contractor — and it is done in a transparent, open way. Open source software is one version of crowdsourcing, but… it is developing in many different ways. It is one of the Web 2.0 ideas — my Web 2.0 definition being that information is power, but that the real power of information comes when it is shared.

Rep. Mike Honda is taking this very unique step — he is crowdsouring the redesign of his Web site. It is very innovative. And it could have broader applications. As the White House openness and transparency initiative continues, Vivek Kundra is Chief Information Officer, Katie Stanton is Director of Citizen Participation have a blog post about technologies they are looking at — and one of them is crowdsourcing. Specifically, they point to an initiative that the Transportation Department is funding to crowdsource the development of a bus stop design. The project is called Next Stop Design — cute — and you can read more here.

UPDATE: We spoke to Honda on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris. We will talk to Honda Monday afternoon on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris. (He tells us he got some push back from House administrators.)

We will talk to Honda Monday afternoon on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris. (He tells us he got some push back from House administrators. We also talk to him about the loss of control.)

Honda already has more than 80 different submissions. You can see them for yourself here — very transparent.

I have been culling through them — and there are some very good designs. I hope to have Rep. Honda back on the show to talk about the experience once they have made a final section — I’m hoping that they will unveil the new redesign on our show. But… here is one by “Apoloo” that I thought was handsome:

Written by cdorobek

June 15, 2009 at 5:45 AM

DorobekInsider: How do you build a better Web site? One member of Congress tries crowdsourcing

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Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) is looking to redesign his Web site. How does one go about doing that? Crowdsourcing.

Honda details the thinking behind it on his blog:

Recently, I announced the launch of a new pioneering project to improve civic engagement in Congress via crowdSPRING. I will be redesigning my website – using a technique called crowd-sourcing – to lead the way in making government sites more transparent and accessible to the public.

20090603 hondaThe project allows designers to mock up multiple layouts for consideration by you, my constituents. The final design will be chosen based on votes, design functionality, usability, and other criteria. I believe that this crowd-sourcing initiative will usher in a new era of government transparency. Many government websites have good content, but the content is often very hard to find. We are giving power to you, and democratizing the way we interact with the public.

My goal as your Member of Congress is to serve you first and foremost. This crowd-sourcing initiative ensures that I am meeting your needs on your terms by allowing an unprecedented level of access into the design process of a government website.

The purpose of the website redesign is to move America closer to Government 2.0, where the public’s ability to access and provide advice to Members of Congress is enhanced by new technology and new online participation. As many of you know, I am very active through Twitter, Facebook, and my blog. I intend to make my new site be an example for other member sites to follow. Congress must take advantage of Web 2.0 technologies, to transform the relationship between citizens and government. Instead of viewing the public as a customer for services, I believe that we should empower citizens to become our partners in shaping the future of our nation.

The project has gone live, you can view the entries by clicking here.

I would love to hear your comments about this initiative. You can leave them on my blog here.

I will be posting more information soon about the voting process once we begin recieving entries for consideration.

This has just launched, but… Find the specific details about this initiative here.

What a fascinating idea — and how fun will it be to watch this as it evolves.

Written by cdorobek

June 3, 2009 at 7:34 AM

Another big score for Deloitte — Tom Davis

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We told you earlier that OMB’s Tim Young would be joining Deloitte. Well, the consulting firm has another big score — Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA).

Congress Daily reports — and I have confirmed from Davis friends — that the ranking leader of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will work in the federal practice area as a non-lobbyest when he leaves congress on January 20.

Back when I was at FCW, we had an exit interview with Davis… The NYT Magazine also had an excellent piece with him.

Davis has been candid about his reasons for leaving — money — he notes he is getting paid less today then he was when he joined congress some 14 years ago — and it’s just not that fun to be in the minority.

Now, part of it is leaders who inspire people to go into government. The one thing you’ve got to like about [Sen.] Barack Obama [(D-Ill.)] is that he’s inspiring a lot of young people. Maybe you get them to come into government. But I tell you what: He can inspire them to come into government, but once they fill out the forms, they wait six months and find out that they didn’t hit the right category, it’s going to discourage people. You want to bring good people in, and then you want to pay them. You want to bonus them. You want to inspire them to stay in government. Work satisfaction is an important part of that. If people feel they’re being productive, they’re going to stay in government.

So much of government today is [about] good, talented people that we’re not retaining. They’re filling out forms that never needed to be printed. They’re working under regulations that shouldn’t be. They’re sitting there on idle where we could make them more productive if we could step back as managers and say how do we get the job done? But we’re so regulation-driven instead of mission-driven that it’s very discouraging for talented people, and they go somewhere else.

I’ll just add one other thing. We’re part of the problem in Washington. Politicians come in and when they’ve got to cut the budget, the first thing they do is chop off fingers and toes. They don’t look at their business processes in terms of how we can be more productive, how training people is a pretty good investment. And so, they cut out training. They take away their discretion to act by writing rules and regulations telling people what they have to do and how they have to do it. And who wants to work in a straitjacket? That just stops the innovative juices.

Unfortunately, Davis is one of the few people on the Hill who really cares about government management issues, particularly government procurement issues — there isn’t much of a back bench. We hope that others will step up — maybe Senator-elect Mark Warner (D-VA).

Written by cdorobek

November 14, 2008 at 6:42 PM