Government Snow Day!

Growing up it was the school superintendent with the power to decide if you were going to spend the day learning the multiplication tables and eating mystery meat or racing down snow covered hills and drinking hot chocolate.

For federal government workers in the nation’s capital, that decision currently rests with John Berry. As director of the Office of Personnel Management, Berry made the call each day last week to grant most of the 270,000 federal workers in the Washington, D.C., area a snow day, The New York Times reported.

The D.C. area already broke snowfall records last week with more than 55 inches this winter. And a few more inches arrived yesterday.

The extended break for D.C. government workers started Friday, February 5 when Berry allowed employees to go home four hours early. Offices were closed nearly all of last week with workers having the option Friday (February 12) to either come in two hours late or take unscheduled leave. Add that to today’s President’s Day holiday, and it’s been one long vacation.

Still, not everyone stayed home to make snowmen. Many employees had to report to work because they perform essential functions. And some had to go because their boss said they were expected to show up, such as Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. Others worked from home.

While the final decision to close down is made by Berry, he first consults more than 100 area officials. If the weather is questionable, Berry participates in a nightly call set up by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments with representatives from highway patrols, police departments, utilities, schools and others.

Those in the D.C. area who weren’t sick of the snow this weekend took to Capitol Hill. For the first time since 9/11, the Hill’s lawn was open to sledding for the weekend.

Here’s a Hint, Do Not Print (and Other Fun Rhymes)

"PC Load Letter?!?!" 

Do you really need to print all those e-mails? A new report says probably not, and the federal government doesn’t need to either. Government Executive has the scoop:

The government can generate substantial savings by reining in superfluous printing, according to a study released on Tuesday.

The report, which is based on a survey of 380 federal employees, found that the government spends nearly $1.3 billion annually on printing. Of that, about $440 million — more than four times the amount President Obama recently asked agency managers collectively to eliminate from their administrative budgets — is spent on pages that don’t need to be printed, the survey found.

The study — conducted by Lexmark International Inc., a Lexington, Ky., printing supply company, and Alexandria, Va., marketing firm O’Keeffe & Co. — recommends that agencies set clear printing policies, establish strong enforcement procedures and begin switching from paper to digital records.

Just 10 percent of survey respondents said their agencies had a formal printing policy, and just 20 percent reported that their agencies had restrictions on color printing, which can be more expensive than typical black-and-white printing…

Some agencies already have started cutting back. The Homeland Security Department expects to save more than $40,000 in part by printing fewer copies of the fiscal 2010 budget and posting the material online. The Agriculture Department’s chief financial officer is developing a Web-based utility billing system that could save more than $670,000 annually, according to budget documents released last week…

On average, federal employees print 30 pages of paper every work day — or 7,200 pages annually, the survey found. Respondents estimated that they discarded 35 percent of the pages the day they printed them. Ninety-two percent of respondents acknowledged they did not need all the material that they printed, and more than two-thirds said they could print less if they tried.

And it would likely also benefit private companies to consider establishing a printing policy. You can save cash and reduce waste — "The More You Know" (bing bing bong bing).

Gingrich Shares Education Ideas: “Education System is Dead”

"Our education system is dead. It’s propped up by unions, bureaucracy and schools of education."

That’s the take of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who will be the keynote speaker at the Indiana Chamber’s 19th Annual Awards Dinner on November 6.

At a speech before local and state elected officials earlier this year, Gingrich also offered:

  • An automatic college scholarship for each year that a student graduates early from high school
  • Dual credit programs. In Selma, Alabama, 32 of 65 high school graduates also received associate degrees along with their high school diplomas. Gingrich: "That is the beginning of the future."
  • Abolish state curriculums and get rid of departments of education
  • All states should have an outside review panel look at the costs of higher education
  • The current system will "never fix the pile of federal bureaucracy on top of state bureaucracy on top of regional bureacracy on top of local bureaucracy."

Gingrich is coming to town. You don’t want to miss him.

Congress Calls for Agencies to Simplify Language

Can federal government agencies replace bureaucratic language with plain English?

They may be forced to try under legislation that is moving through Congress. The translation of documents into plain language could be a lengthy process and one that will not come easily.

In a 376-1 vote Monday, the House passed a measure (HR 3548) that would require the federal government to use plain English, understandable to ordinary Americans, in all communications that explain how to file taxes or obtain government benefits or services.

A report from Congressional Quarterly noted that the government has tried several steps over the past few decades to encourage agencies to issue documents in plain language. Former Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton all issued executive orders requiring various government documents to be written in plain English, and agencies have launched their own initiatives.

But readers trying to figure out what the bureaucrats are saying still complain about impenetrable wording. So freshman Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, is trying to goad government writers with a bill that would put the no-jargon requirement into law.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved its version of the measure (S 2291) on April 10. It was sponsored by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii.

“There’s no reason why the federal government can’t write forms, letters, and other public documents in a way we can all understand,” Braley said. “It’s a simple change that’ll make a big difference for anyone who’s ever filled out a tax return, applied for a passport, received a letter from the Veterans Administration, or read a government document.”