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Federal Employees News Digest : Oct. 29, 2012
October 29, 2012 Vol. 62, No. 16 3 Visit us on the Internet at www.FederalDaily.com with a bunch of outputs," Kamensky told FEND. "You know, [lists of] actual things they had on hand or produced---like the number of beds they had, how much debris they could remove, how much housing and financial assistance procured." "But Davila responded that he didn't want to know about these things---they were all about quantity. He said, instead, 'I want to know more about quality. I want to look at real impacts on people.'" Davila's teams restarted their data analysis from scratch, and from a totally different perspective. They examined a wider range of data, focusing on the actual impact that FEMA's goods and services had on people served during crises. This led to new discoveries---and logistics improvements--- that have helped real people in real emergencies. "This probably would not have happened if Davila had been someone with an economics background, as opposed to an anthropology back- ground," Kamensky told FEND. Screening at TSA, accounting at IRS Former Marine Dan Lidell, likewise brought an outsider's credentials and approach to using data to solve another agency's tough problems: ineffi- ciencies and quality issues that potentially affected the entire commercial air transportation system. "In approaching these problems, Lidell brought not data analytics so much as the 'Marine approach to hogwash' here," Kamensky told FEND. "Basically, after he had his people try to smuggle a fake bomb through security, for example, he focused---through data---what are the immediate lessons learned here, and how can we as a team do better?" Lidell changed things up by using a data- driven approach that breaks down each screen- ing task into its components, improving each part---from the bottom up---to strengthen secu- rity. Performance among Lidell's teams, and others using his techniques, has improved "markedly," according to the report. At yet another agency, the IRS, Senior Technical Coordinator Shauna Henline developed a data- driven process that detects taxpayers who file law- breaking and "frivolous" tax returns. Armed with these data-driven findings, the IRS was able to catch and fine far more abusive filers. In another, spectacularly successful data-driven gain at IRS, improved batch-data analysis unearthed a pattern of errors made by certain filers, leading to $100 million-plus in savings. As Kamensky told FEND, helping employees to see the bigger picture of their work, using data analysis, "can lead to very big, very real savings." The essential ingredient in making such data- fueled gains is not so much training in the most specific technical skills, Kamensky said, but rather having people driven by "basic curiosity." "The thing that I see most clearly across agen- cies in success stories is a link between disparate disciplines," Kamensky told FEND. "So, this is the question: How do you create and strengthen this link, between what one of our subjects, Carlos Davila, jokingly calls the "Nerd Palace" [of data experts] and the people that actually use data?" There are many other examples of data-driven agency improvements in the report---including using data at the FAA to ease air traffic tie-ups, at the Bureau of Indian Affairs to ameliorate security problems and at the Food and Drug Administration to modify the medical device vetting process. For more go to: www.ourpublicservice.org. Federal pay sliding versus private sector Federal employees are earning far less than their private-sector counterparts, according to new statistics provided by a presidentially- appointed group of experts on pay and labor relations. The Federal Salary Council reported that the gap grew by 8.3 percent over the past year, reveal- ing that feds earn an average of 34.6 percent less than workers in the private sector, Jacqueline Simon, public policy director for the American Federation of Federal Employees and member of the FSC, told FEND. The FSC consists of three experts in labor rela- tions and pay policy as well as six other members who represent federal employee organizations. The organization disclosed the widening pay gap at its latest meeting, held Oct. 19. "Federal employees have sacrificed enough and paid their more than enough fair share in reduc- ing the federal deficit," said J. David Cox Sr., presi- dent of the American Federation of Government Employees, an FSC member. "The pay freeze imposed on federal employees must end imme- diately. Our public servants cannot afford another day of frozen wages." "This is just one more example of why the pay freeze needs to come to an end in 2013---and NTEU will continue to work to that end when Congress reconvenes," Colleen M. Kelley---presi- dent of the National Treasury Employees Union, another FSC member group---said in an email to FEND. "While federal pay was frozen, the Economic Cost Index found that comparable private sector jobs saw pay grow by 4.7 percent over the last three years." "The widening pay gap is not acceptable," Joseph A. Beaudoin, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said. "Our nation is fortunate to have talented and devoted employees protecting our families from natural disasters, infectious diseases and terrorist attacks." FSC acknowledged that changes made in the methodology behind calculating the pay gap pos- sibly account for some of the change. Specifically, a key survey focusing on federal pay that was used in past years is no longer available---the Bureau of Labor Statistics cancelled it due to budget cuts. Despite this anomaly, most of the pay gap is for real, and getting worse, according to employee organizations---caused by the continuing federal pay freeze and other fetters to federal compensa- tion. "We at NARFE feel the BLS method of compar- ing federal salaries to those in the private sector is accurate," Jessica Klement, NARFE's legislative director, told FEND, noting that the BLS numbers remain the source of the FSC's finding of the wors- ening pay gap for feds. "The BLS is trusted and respected to determine the unemployment rate each month; why are they not afforded the same respect when it comes to comparing salaries?" Klement echoed other federal employee orga- nizations, seeing much of the controversy over the federal pay gap as contrived by groups that, in her opinion, undervalue federal employees. "Outside groups examining federal pay---such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute---have a conclusion in mind and work to ensure their methodology gets them to that conclusion," Klement told FEND. "Their studies are rarely apples to apples." Study probes USPS pension surplus The $13 billion surplus the U.S. Postal Service has paid into the federal pension system stems mostly from the use of inappropriate salary assumptions to calculate the agency's pension needs, according to a USPS Inspector General report. A study of the reasons behind the surplus, commissioned by the USPS Inspector General and conducted by the Hay Group actuarial firm, found that the primary cause of the constantly increasing surplus paid by USPS into the Federal Employees Retirement System is that postal salary growth has been lower than the federal assump- tions---assumptions based on characteristics of the federal workforce---used to calculate contribu- tions and liabilities. According to the IG report, USPS had paid a pension surplus of $13.1 billion by Sept. 30, continued from page 1 continued on page 4 Don't miss our discussion of weekly news topics. Discuss these stories and more with your fellow federal workers at www.FederalSoup.com.
Oct. 22, 2012
Nov. 5, 2012