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Soundinvestments Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.
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Homeland Security Brings Explosive Detection Training to D.C.-Area Police Dogs

When it comes to detecting explosives, the Homeland Security Department considers dogs — and their noses — to be man's best friend.

Canine explosive detection units from seven D.C.-area state and local law enforcement agencies gathered at the Capital One Arena Wednesday to train, collect data and share information. The two-day session is part of the DHS Regional Explosives Detection Dog Initiative, which began earlier this year to assist local police departments and the approximately 4,000 canine units used to sniff out deadly explosive materials.

The event consisted of "odor recognition trials" for the explosives-sniffing dogs set up in and around the D.C. arena, including the facility's garage, kitchens, hallways and suites. According to DHS, REDDI uses a variety of scents that mimic explosive materials, including a set of proprietary non-hazardous peroxide training aids developed by the department's Science and Technology Directorate.

Wednesday's portion of the session included dogs searching an arena suite for potential threats. A sample smell was placed under a stool in the arena and canine units searched for a scent. DHS Science and Technology staff logged the results of the tests for further data collection at the department. Different dogs...

Public Service Reformers to Unions: Get On Board

Government employee unions do plenty of good for their members, but too often they act as impediments to creating an effective 21st century civil service.

So said an array of good-government activists who gathered for a symposium Thursday to celebrate the 90th birthday of longtime government reformer and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

Unions too often are “fighting the last war,” said Don Kettl, professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, during a panel on how government should respond to technological disruptions and citizen mistrust. In Wisconsin, for example, unions “are perceived as helping Democrats” so that Republicans, led by Gov. Scott Walker, “feed on that sense of partisanship” as they seek to curb union power.

For government to be more nimble and catch up with the private sector in providing reliable customer service, it will need to bring new workers into the workforce, Kettl said at the event at the U.S. Institute of Peace, sponsored by the nonprofit Volcker Alliance. “We need to get unions to fight the next war.”

There is something to be said for the private sector’s “at will” employment that makes firings easier, said author and Stanford University scholar Francis...

Trump Continues to Insist He’ll Never Fill Some Top Government Jobs

President Trump took up the issue of the slow pace of political appointments in his administration Thursday, again indicating some of the top slots will never be filled.

In a Fox News interview, Laura Ingraham asked Trump whether the lack of appointees at the State Department was hindering his ability to implement his policy agenda. Here’s how the president responded:

So we don’t need all the people they want. You know, don’t forget, I’m a business person and I tell my people, “Where you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill ‘em.” But we have some people that I’m not happy with their thinking process. But let me tell you, the one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be. You’ve seen that. You’ve seen it strongly.

We're filling up roles. And don't forget, [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer and the Democrats are just obstructing. You can't get anything through. We have almost about half the number of people coming through as Obama had. But in addition to that, we...

Trump to Cabinet: I’m Cutting Your Budgets, But Expect ‘Lots of Heart’

President Trump held a Cabinet meeting Wednesday to discuss a range of domestic policy issues. He opened the session by telling the assembled department leaders they needed to fight to reduce their own budgets.

But lest the president be perceived as a cold, calculating cost-cutter, he said he still expected federal agencies to operate with “lots of heart.”

From Trump’s remarks:

So we want to also reduce excessive government spending, and that's what we're working on at our Cabinet meeting today. As we head into next year's budget season, I've asked [Office of Management and Budget] Director [Mick] Mulvaney to come up and find various savings in all of the departments that are gathered around the table, which is everybody. I need my Cabinet to work with Director Mulvaney to fight these spending cuts—fight for them—and make sure that they happen. And we want to make the departments as lean and efficient as possible, but at the same time, we're going to need departments with lots of heart, lots of heart.

In March, Trump issued an executive order ordering agencies to develop reorganization plans to eliminate redundancies in federal operations and reduce...

Report: Feds Are Getting Older and the Government Can't Hire Young People

Look around your office, feds. Do your coworkers seem more likely to be fans of CSI: Miami than of any YouTube star? Chances are, they do.

According to a report published by Politico Wednesday, the federal workforce is older than the American workforce overall. More than a quarter of federal employees are older than 55 and only 17 percent are under 35, as compared to 40 percent of private sector employees. The age gap is huge in some agencies, with 80 percent of Government Publishing Office workers over the age of 45 and 69 percent of NASA employees over 45.

Politico reporter Danny Vinik cites many reasons for the shifting age of the feds. The current economy is less stable and "it’s not exactly a surprise that many government employees have decided to continue working late into their careers," he writes. Additionally, the baby boomer generation was the largest generation in American history until it was overtaken by Millennials last year.

Mostly, Vinik spoke to experts in federal personnel management and found that the government has done a poor job of recruiting and retaining younger workers. Congress has not always allowed agencies to hire more nimbly to bring in...