Monday, April 30, 2007
To make a long story short, I don't think J...S... hit all the bases on her way out. Anyway, if you go to the USDA's website to find her, you can, because she's still in the employee telephone directory.
How does that link to fraud? Last week when I was out of action, there was some publicity given to the federal employees who were getting Metro farecards from the government (to divert them from the roads to public transit) and selling them. In at least one case, a former employee kept receiving the cards for 5-6 years after leaving--i.e., the database wasn't updated.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Monday, April 23, 2007
Now, I guess, rather than seeing "barriers" we see statistical distributions. Such thinking doesn't allow for or create individual heroes to the extent that Bannister and O'Brien were. I'm sure it's more realistic, but I'll be an old fogey and mourn the loss of heroism for a minute.
(There, now I'm over it.)
Sunday, April 22, 2007
This time, he can't count:
"Like most processed foods, the Twinkie is basically a clever arrangement of carbohydrates and fats teased out of corn, soybeans and wheat — three of the five commodity crops that the farm bill supports, to the tune of some $25 billion a year. (Rice and cotton are the others.)"Pollan has, I'm sure, mentally conflated "corn" and "feed grains" and "upland cotton" and "extra long staple cotton" to get his "five crops". Actually, the farm bill affects barley, grain sorghum, and oats as well as the two cottons.
Oh, one other thing. I'm talking about the "farm bill" of 1981, not the 2002 version. Currently direct and counter-cyclical payments are also made for canola, crambe, flax, mustard, rapeseed, safflower, sesame and sunflower, including oil and non-oil varieties and peanuts. See this fact sheet.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
"Investigations by the National Audit Office and the House of Commons rural affairs committee found that implementation was rushed, partly for political reasons, and reforms were introduced at the same time as a £130m "change programme" involving cutting the Rural Payment Agency's staff numbers by half.
The agency's confidence was based on its appointment of a high-profile director of information systems on a salary of £225,000, and the contracting of a leading IT services firm, Accenture, to supply the claim processing system.
Accenture executives told subsequent investigations that the IT worked as specified. But the system could not cope with the volume of inquiries from farmers - at least 10 times greater than expected. One reason was that, unlike in countries such as Germany, there was no minimum payout. The agency had to handle 14,000 claims for less than €100 each.
However the biggest reason for the overwhelming traffic was to do with mapping. The system set the minimum size of a parcel of land as 0.1 hectare, three times smaller than that permitted by the European Union. In all, there were 1.7m parcels of land on more than 75,000 farms. Calculating payments on these parcels required a sophisticated mapping system, involving digitised satellite images and aerial photography aligned up with conventional mapping data. The geographical data came from private sources, including the specialist firm Infoterra, as well as the state-owned Ordnance Survey."
Whatever--it's another argument for doing away with SSN's.
Friday, April 20, 2007
"For a week or two after a visit, I notice that the folks who saw me with them talk to me differently. It's like they suddenly stop seeing The Dean and start seeing an actual person. It fades quickly, and I go back to faceless-bureaucrat status, but for a brief window there's almost something like rapport."For something which seems related to me, see John Tierney on prejudice in dating situations.
It's still a better place to work than USDA Administration, which is less than 50. It looks as if those components with broad and vague missions, like administration, tend to score lower than those with more defined missions. However, Immigration and FEMA are both low.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
But both Johanns and Lasseter said they are convinced those closures would ultimately result in better service for farmers and ranchers. Johanns suggested today's tech-savvy farmers are nearly as used to doing business via phone, fax and Internet as they are face-to-face.They're right--if offices are to be closed, they need to get it done in 2007. But I wonder whether they've talked to the administrative people. Once you have a plan to close offices, and approval to do so, it still will take some time. I haven't seen any reference to closing National Resource Conservation service offices or Rural Development. I think FSA has had more offices than NRSC, so probably many of the closures are at sites where FSA is the only one there. But if that's not always the case, trying to get two or three agencies to agree on a move and coordinating the logistics is a hassle.
"For them, doing stuff on the computer is as natural as the work that they would do during the day on their crops," Johanns asserted. "I just think we have to move this whole system forward, and it really is time."
Perhaps in some of the moves, the receiving site already has office space vacant, so people can move in. Or, perhaps, there won't be any people and equipment to move--the people will have retired or resigned instead of moving.
Monday, April 16, 2007
"An unprecedented raise in corn prices last fall brought with it gross revenue increases for Iowa farmers that in many cases were double from the year before. For landowners who cash rent their land, revenues were unchanged.The article goes on to point out that Farm Service Agency has concerns whenever a lease is changed, because it can impact eligibility for payments. A larger point is that any dramatic change in economic conditions causes people to try to adjust, which can then undermine the assumptions upon which a given piece of legislation was written.
‘‘We have had a lot of calls from landowners and farmers, especially when they see prices this high for corn,’’ said William Edwards, Iowa State University Extension economist. ‘‘They want to know how they can make the cash rent scenario more equitable on both sides.’’"
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
The Farm Service Agency and its predecessor have long had a system for measuring the work done in each office (mostly in terms of numbers of forms pushed) in order to allocate dollars and staff among the States and counties. (My impression, for what's it's worth, is that the system worked relatively well. This may be a slur on the old Soil Conservation service but I believe they used to lack such a system, perhaps partially because some of their funds come from local soil and water conservation districts and part from the Feds.) But it's never had a true system for measuring work at the national level. So there's always a tension: an operative in the local county office sees the instructions and systems coming into the office that were created by some faceless bureaucrats in DC. If they're defective the operative is caught between an upset farmer and obedience to instructions. Comes a proposed reduction in staffing and offices and there's the entirely reasonable suspicion that the field comes out on the short end of the stick.
It all goes back to the Bible: it's so much easier to measure the beam in the other's eye than the mote in yours (or is it vice versa).
Someday I may write about the Government Performance Results Act of 1993 but today I close down blogging for the rest of the week. I'll be back Sunday or Monday.
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Margaret Soltan at University Diaries reports the possible death of the Powerpoint presentation. But even better is a link in the comments, showing Abraham Lincoln in modern dress.
Saturday, April 07, 2007
One piece of wisdom:
"You understand very quickly there were lots of voices never heard or long since forgotten. England wasn't a single monolithic point of view any more than the Presbyterians were."
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Background: Ken Cook links to a report about a change in standards for organic coffee. The blog he cites includes a post asking where the old policy is. Coffee is always interesting to me, almost as much as bureaucracy, so I go off to try to find the change. From the Salon article I go to the AMS publication (required under FOIA) of the appeal decisions under the national organic program during the most recent period. It contains a (poor) Code of Federal regulations cite (poor in that it omits the "7 CFR " portion) of §205 .403(a)(1). There's no indication of a change.
Now, in researching further, I come across the "E-Regulation" site, http://www.regulations.gov,
which was developed as part of Bush's e-government initiative. But this is the point where bureaucracy comes in: the regulations site is only for the documents published in the Federal Register; the site for the Code of Federal Regulations is the Government Printing Office's CFR access site. I pity the poor civilian who has to follow this.
It's worthy of note that the GPO is not an executive branch agency under the President. They've had initiatives to make government documents available to the public (like depositing copies in "federal depositary libraries") for a long time. Their Access program was around in the 1990's. (What follows is speculation.) Naturally they were in no mode to cooperate with Bush's people, who were johnny-come-latelies. That's if the Bush people even thought of asking GPO to cooperate--they may not have had the knowledge. The Bush people were focused on improving the process of developing regulations and managing the floods of public comments that they very occasionally attract. They were looking at regulations as writers, not as readers.
The result is that there's two overlapping databases--the Federal Register portion of GPO and the regulations.gov site, and no integration between code and changes.
(What about AMS's change--I can't tell, it looks as if their regulations have always required 100 percent inspection, so the "change" may have been a change in implementation, not policy.
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
It's funny, I started writing this post saying I disagreed with the ending, but now I've almost changed my mind. It's terrible to get old and not be consistent.
Colonel Sutherland, 45, broke down after the 20th brigade soldier was killed earlier this year. “I went into a deep sorrow,” he said. “I was wallowing about in self-pity, worrying about the dead, worrying about those who have no worries. I was overwhelmed. At no point did I doubt our mission, but I couldn’t sleep that night.”My early attraction to history was military--Bruce Catton's books on the Civil War were favorites. I compare this colonel to the reactions of military leaders of the past, like Grant in the absolutely brutal slogging in Northern Virginia. His colonels could lose 20 men in one day, one hour of fighting. It would be easy to mock Sutherland and the modern military, but, as an illustrious President used to say, it would be wrong. War has changed, just as people have changed.
I was waiting in the bank today to talk to an account manager, reading a magazine on Virginia business. One article was on investments in condos near college campuses, bought by parents so they can visit students and by alumni so they can really enjoy the football games. One set of parents had visited their freshman child eight times, by January! Life today seems so much more valuable, we've got so much more invested in each life, and it makes sense that the colonels reflect this as well.
But what my mind says doesn't keep me from thinking: "in my day, people weren't wimps and we walked to school uphill both ways".