5Increased retirement contributions. Congress passed and the president signed legislation requiring that those newly hired into the government in 2013 and after and those with less than five years of federal service pay an additional 2.3 percent of their paychecks toward their retirement benefit. The total contribution is now 3.1 percent.
The change, like the pay freeze, reflects a consensus that federal workers will need to do more to help finance deficit reduction. The Obama administration has twice proposed increasing the contribution for all employees.
4The Secret Service scandal. In April, the agents and military personnel who protect the president lured almost two dozen women working as prostitutes to a hotel in Cartagena, Colombia, during a night of carousing.
The incident, complete with explosive photos, overshadowed Obama’s trip and his efforts to strengthen economic ties in Latin America. The scandal prompted Senate hearings, and despite assurances from administration officials that it was an isolated mistake, many lawmakers questioned the agency’s culture.
3Protection for federal whistleblowers. Congress approved and the president signed a law that advocates had been pushing for more than a decade that protects employees who expose government wrongdoing from retaliation by their supervisors.
The law overturns court decisions that narrowed protections for whistleblowers, protects some employees who are not currently covered, including Transportation Security Administration officers, and restores the authority of the Office of Special Counsel to seek disciplinary actions against supervisors who retaliate. It does not do everything advocates wanted, but it comes close and counts as a major victory.
2U.S. Postal Service crisis. The agency continued to stagger toward financial collapse, although Congress and policymakers could not find consensus on a solution. The USPS, reeling from billions of dollars in losses from plummeting mail volume, defaulted on two payments to fund benefits for future retirees.
In an effort to downsize, mail-processing hubs began to close and hours were cut at thousands of post offices. Thousands of employees, from postmasters to mail clerks, took buyouts. The agency also may eliminate Saturday delivery, although Congress has not agreed to such a substantial change.
Legislation to stabilize postal finances were passed by the Senate in the spring but did not make it through the House, where a bill demanding more aggressive cost cutting could not get the support of rural lawmakers.
1And the biggest headline of 2012 goes to. . .
The General Services Administration
scandal, in which the agency that handles the government’s real estate was found to have sent 300 employees in its West Coast offices on a Las Vegas spending spree.
The GSA chief was forced to resign and more than a dozen managers and employees were fired or demoted after the agency’s inspector general reported that an $823,000 training conference in 2010 was little more than an entertainment junket, complete with a mind reader and parties in loft suites. The episode was an embarrassment for the Obama administration, which has led a campaign against government waste.
The scandal resulted in a criminal investigation of the conference organizers and a ban or severe cut to travel at most agencies. That has saved millions of dollars but denied valuable training and networking to many employees. The episode also revealed a free-spending culture at the GSA, whose new leadership has begun reforms to increase accountability and efficiency.