An Eye on the Budget Talks – Plus the DorobekINSIDER’s 7 Stories

On GovLoop Insights’ DorobekINSIDER:

  • For the past few years federal budgeting has been all over the place. The roving numbers make it almost impossible to accurately forecast what the market will look like in the next year, let alone five years down the road. But the folks over at Tech America are experts in forecasting and for the past nearly 50 years they have come out forecast every October. We take a close look at their predictions.

But up front:

  • Health official apologizes for Obamacare website flaws: Though Tavenner made clear during the hearing that she’s the top official overseeing the health care law’s rollout — “I’m in charge of the program,” she said — the former hospital official was spared some of the harshest criticism for the website mess.

  • David Eaves on GovLoop on the need for procurement reform in government - fascinating ideas.

  • And Capitol Hill staffers seem to be dodging Obamacare, Politico says: Hill aides can quietly stay off health exchanges. "Under rules created in the wake of Obamacare's implementation, House and Senate personnel office staffers -- dubbed "official office" aides by the House administrative office -- are supposed to get their health insurance through D.C.'s health insurance exchange. Committee and leadership staffers -- labeled "official staff" -- are allowed to keep their current health insurance plan, which is administered by the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program...In what members of both parties said was a surprise, guidance on Tuesday from the chief administrative officer of the House said lawmakers could privately designate personal office aides as not "official," meaning they do not have to go on the exchange and could keep their current plan. Similarly, House lawmakers can decide that their committee and leadership staffers need to go on D.C.'s exchanges."

And eye on the budget talks:

  • Christian Science Monitor: It's budget crunch time. If lawmakers say no 'grand bargain,' then what?: A 'grand bargain' that cuts entitlement programs and raises revenues, thus whittling the deficit in a big way, is not a likely outcome of House-Senate budget negotiations that begin Wednesday. The best hope is for a modest deal that averts another government shutdown. Is that doable?

  • DC Examiner: As budget talks begin, hopes for grand bargain fade

One other item: Executive Leadership Conference: ELC attendees split on FITARA

The SEVEN stories that impact your life

  1. The House unanimously passed this week a bill reducing the VA’s annual budget for bonus awards over the next five years. The agency’s budget for employee bonuses has been reduced by 14 percent with an effective annual cap of $345 million. Over the next five years this initiative will save $275 million. Even so, the Government Executive notes that representatives enacted this measure less for its financial savings, and more to curb the VA’s disbursement of bonuses to employees with low performance records. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that a House panel is planning on examining VA spending on extravagant conferences.

  2. The DHS undersecretary for management, Rafael Borras, stated that the 50 percent increase in bid protests over the past four years is no cause for alarm. The Federal Times reports that in 2012, there were 2,475 bid protests throughout the government, but Borras argues that such protests are a normal aspect of the procurement process and affect only a fraction of total government procurement projects.   

  3. The new round of budget talks has commenced this week between democrats and republicans in Congress. Federal News Radio reports, however, that federal workers should not hope for a “grand bargain” that will repeal or replace impending sequestration-related cuts. Instead, the best offer that federal employees can expect is that their agencies will receive increased flexibility in determining which programs and personnel will be cut.  

  4. President Obama met today with a number of CEOs from the information technology, financial services, and energy sectors to evaluate how to enhance the cybersecurity of the nation’s critical infrastructure. Whitehouse.gov states that the group’s discussion focused on the NIST’s newly released Cybersecurity Framework and strategies for encouraging its adoption both in the private and public sectors.   

  5. The Social Security Administration announced this week that the COLA will rise by 1.5 percent in 2014. In recent years, the COLA has been increasing at a miniscule rate, with 2014’s rate representing the smallest increase since the adoption of automatic adjustments in 1975. Federal News Radio notes that the low increase in the COLA is prompting federal retiree groups to protest the use of the chained CPI formula for calculating the COLA, arguing that this formula does not effectively take into account the cost of living realities for most retirees.  

  6. Congressmen Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Tom Rooney (R-FL) have introduced a bill that would create a permanent appropriation of funds for the payment of military death benefits to family members of deceased service members during any government shutdown or period of lapsed appropriations. A press release by Congressman Rooney explains that the motivation for the bill was the denial of military death benefits to family members during the recent government shutdown. The Connolly-Rooney bill is an attempt to ensure that such an event does not occur in the future and that the financial needs of family members suffering from the loss of a fallen service member are always met.   

  7. Five Veterans Affairs officials have resigned or retired since a VA inspector general discovered that they had mismanaged and lied about their roles regarding the planning, managing, and overseeing of training events at two conferences held in 2011. The highest ranking of these five officials, John Sepulveda, resigned in 2012, one day before the inspector general released his report on their actions. The other four officials left their positions this year. The inspector general has recommended administrative action against three of the officials and referred another case over to the Justice Department. Sepulveda is currently facing a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as reported by the Federal Times.    

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