The Federal Diary
The Federal Diary
Joe Davidson

Governor says sorry, but not to feds

Robert F. Bukaty/AP - Gov. Paul LePage speaks at the Maine Republican Convention in Augusta, Maine. He has apologized for referring to the Internal Revenue Service as the “Gestapo.” But the apology apparently was directed to the Jewish community and not to IRS federal workers, as their union demanded.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, is trying to take his foot out of his mouth, but his big toe is still there.

He has apologized for referring to the Internal Revenue Service as the “Gestapo.” But the apology apparently was directed to the Jewish community and not to IRS federal workers, as their union demanded.

Joe Davidson

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.

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After meeting with representatives of Jewish organizations, LePage said in his Saturday radio address: “Millions of innocent people were murdered, and I apologize for my insensitivity to the word and the offense some took to my comparison of the IRS and the Gestapo. However, I want to make this very clear; it was never my intent to insult or to be hurtful to anyone, but rather express what can happen by overreaching government. I fear we have a federal government that is moving toward a socialistic state and we must not forget history, because if we do we are bound to repeat it.”

The address was called an “Apology to the Maine People” and LePage cited his meeting with Jewish representatives. Although he said he did not want “to be hurtful to anyone,” he did not mention IRS employees specifically and that upsets the president of their union.

“IRS employees are dedicated public servants who are carrying out the laws that Congress has established,” Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said Monday. “This inflammatory political rhetoric may garner headlines but it does nothing to advance thoughtful dialogue on issues facing our country.”

LePage made the Gestapo comment during a July 7 radio address critical of the Supreme Court decision that generally upheld the Affordable Care Act.

“This decision has made America less free,” he said. “We the people have been told there is no choice. You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo — the IRS.”

He compounded the situation on Thursday, when “Seven Days,” a news organization in Vermont, reported that he said the IRS is not as bad as the Gestapo “yet.” Then, he added: “They’re headed in that direction.”

In a letter to LePage last week, Kelley said she was “greatly offended by your scurrilous and absurd comparison of these loyal Americans to the murderous secret police behind one of the darkest events in human history.”

“The time has come to acknowledge the contributions of employees with the IRS and other federal agencies,” Kelley added. “Federal employees are members of every community in America, including those in Maine, and these hard-working professionals are your constituents. They deserve better from their governor—and they deserve a full apology.”

A LePage spokeswoman declined to comment beyond his radio address.

‘Experience gaps’ at State

Despite a 17 percent increase in State Department hiring in fiscal 2009 and 2010, the department “faces persistent experience gaps in overseas Foreign Service positions,” according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In a report released Monday, GAO said 28 percent of overseas slots were either vacant or filled by employees working above their grade level.

The experience gaps, which are a particular problem at midlevel positions, place the department’s “diplomatic readiness at risk,” the report says. Foreign Service officers hired in recent years will not be eligible for promotion to midlevel until at least fiscal 2014.

“The State Department continues to struggle with staffing, experience, and foreign language gaps, which undermine our diplomatic readiness,” said Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate’s federal workforce subcommittee. “State must continue to develop effective workforce strategies and address staffing gaps to effectively respond to quickly evolving diplomatic challenges.”

In response to GAO, State said it agreed that its workforce planning should be updated to include a strategy to address staffing gaps and a plan to evaluate the strategy.

The Stock Act is not among the strategies likely to help fill staffing gaps.

The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (Stock) Act, approved earlier this year, was designed to prohibit members and employees of Congress from using insider information for personal gain, such as information obtained by the government that could affect stock prices.

The provisions of the law also apply to other federal employees and affects those who file public financial disclosure forms.

But the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) said that disclosure could threaten personal and national security.

“Foreign Service personnel often serve in posts where kidnapping for ransom is a real and growing danger,” said AFSA’s statement. “Making personal financial information publicly available provides criminal organizations information that makes it easier to target members of the Foreign Service and their families.”

Two other federal employee organizations, the Assembly of Scientists and the Senior Executives Association, previously raised concerns about the impact of the law on their members.

AFSA President Susan Johnson said, “Decision-makers on Capitol Hill will hopefully recognize that this unintended exposure presents a genuine risk and will consequently seek a remedy which modifies the requirement for online posting.”

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

 
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