Obama administration makes progress in hiring

By Al Kamen
Friday, July 2, 2010

The Obama administration, thanks to a burst of Senate confirmation activity in recent weeks, has managed to fill more than three-quarters (76.8 percent) of the 526 high-level federal jobs being tracked by The Washington Post's Head Count.

If the Senate, when it returns from its Fourth of July break, confirms the 30 or so pending nominees, that will move up to nearly 83 percent -- maybe not full employment, but certainly, after 18 months, getting there.

A preliminary look at the data indicates that the administration, oft criticized for an all-guy clubbiness, hasn't done much recently to improve that image. The percentage of women in top jobs increased from 32 percent at year's end to 32.6 percent in the most recent tally. (This compares with about 46 percent in the first year of Bill Clinton's administration and 26 percent at the same point for George W. Bush.)

As for racial and ethnic diversity, 69.5 percent of top appointees are white (up from 69 percent at the end of 2009) and 14.6 percent are African American (down from 16 percent at year-end). The percentages of Hispanics and Asian Americans are 10.5 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively.

Letter perfect

To paraphrase the Bard: What's in an acronym? Apparently a lot of oil.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week reorganized and renamed the old Minerals Management Service (MMS) to be the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement, which an announcement and its new chief called the Bureau of Energy, or BOE for short. Next thing you know, the newly named agency's acting associate director for administration and budget sent an e-mail to top officials insisting that "BOE should not be used" and that "until further notice, the abbreviation BOEMRE should be not be used."

But after we reported on that guidance Wednesday, we got a news release from the Interior Department using another acronym -- BOEM. This is a distinct improvement, since BOE, in the oil and gas world, is understood as an acronym that means "barrel of oil equivalent," which refers to an amount of energy equivalent to that contained in a barrel of crude.

Unfortunately, the new version could be pronounced "boom," reminding us of the horrific oil-rig explosion that killed 11 workers and started this god-awful mess.

Making a sharp point

Has the long wait for new leadership on the Broadcasting Board of Governors made working there more dangerous?

The Senate, after months of delay, confirmed a new board Wednesday night. In the meantime, it seems, more BBG staffers have taken to arming themselves. At least that's the conclusion you might draw from an e-mail notice Tuesday to the International Broadcasting Bureau staff -- which includes folks working for the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and radio and television transmissions to Cuba, the Middle East and so on.

The e-mail, with the subject line "ILLEGAL WEAPONS IN FEDERAL BUILDINGS," said: "Within the past 3 months, the [headquarters] building security officers have confiscated over 20 knives ranging in size from 3 to 12 inches in length." It noted that "federal law" -- at least before the most recent Supreme Court ruling -- "prohibits the possession of firearms or other dangerous weapons in federal facilities. This includes any knife with a blade longer than 2 1/2 inches."

We knew various expatriate factions who work in the building were often at each other's throats, but this sounds scary.

"If you have any questions or want additional information," the e-mail says, check with the security office.

Wild, wonderful . . .

Sen. Robert Byrd's death this week sparked an outpouring of touching and well-deserved accolades. Inevitably there were nods to his phenomenal diligence and skill in transferring large chunks of the federal government workforce out to West Virginia. Our favorite example, in August 2006, involved a suspicious-sounding announcement of the relocation of a new Coast Guard station to Martinsburg, W.Va., along U.S. Highway 81 in the foothills of the Appalachians.

"The Coast Guard National Maritime Center opened its first office in Martinsburg yesterday," a news release said, hailing the move as "a milestone in its mariner licensing and documentation program restructuring and centralization project.

"The NMC office in West Virginia will initially evaluate applications and issue credentials for mariners applying through New Orleans," the announcement explained. "The transfer of remaining divisions and functions from Arlington, Va. to the Martinsburg area will continue over the next year. When a permanent facility is completed during the summer of 2007, all evaluation and issuing functions will take place in Martinsburg as part of a project to improve customer service to mariners." That's Martinsburg, W.Va. -- apparently a hotbed of maritime activity.

"The mission of the Coast Guard's Regional Examination Centers will also change to focus on providing direct service to mariners, including fingerprinting, establishing identities, administering testing, and providing course oversight."

Oceanfront properties also available.

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