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Jena McGregor

Jena McGregor

Staff writer Jena McGregor teases out the leadership issues in the day’s news.

Tom Fox

Tom Fox

Guest contributor Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, writes weekly about issues in the federal workplace.

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership and writes features for the section.

Posted at 05:11 PM ET, 07/21/2011

The nonprofit sector’s haircut

The same political and economic volatility that’s shaking this country is also rattling its 1.6 million nonprofit leaders—and they may be feeling the tremors even more deeply.

The stock market and debt crisis have blown holes in the endowments of the nation's biggest philanthropies, and the sector's leaders have been hollowing out their organizations for three years now as volunteering and individual giving remain flat. Meanwhile, efforts to raise revenues through commercial enterprises are being challenged in court. Having been pushed to behave more like businesses for years, many nonprofits are now being treated as such by federal courts.

In a case decided just last month, Federal Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner declared that the “Girl Scouts are not readily distinguishable from Dunkin' Donuts.” In explaining his decision to allow states to regulate the Girl Scout cookie business the way they would a commercial business, Posner opened the floodgates for challenges to camps, daycares, fitness centers, and the rising number of other profit-making activities that many nonprofits have started as a way of reducing dependency on unreliable government contracts, individual contributions and philanthropic grants. 

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Posted at 02:49 PM ET, 07/07/2011

With debt package, it’s now or never for good-government groups to take a stand

Now that there's a real chance to put government reorganization into the debt package, good-government groups have only days to bring their considerable energy to the debate. And yet so far, most are nowhere to be found in the conversation. Many are distracted by their own (albeit perfectly legitimate) concerns, including campaign finance reform, greater transparency, whistleblower protection and personnel reform. 

Part of the problem is that the community is still divided by old ideologies. Some of the likely suspects such as the Heritage Foundation and CATO are on the right, others such as the Center for American Progress are on the left, and at least some of my old employers such as the Brookings Institution and National Academy of Public Administration have been mostly silent. Yet acting as part of a "strange bedfellows" coalition, they could make a very big difference in the current debate. Somebody just has to take the lead. 

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Posted at 04:01 PM ET, 06/29/2011

Why Mark Warner needs Paul Volcker, and why both of them need the good-government community

Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, is poised to take a lead role in pushing for massive government reform. (Bloomberg - BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES)
No one knows just how far Vice President Biden got in his not-so-secret talks about cutting the federal debt. Some reports suggest that he had booked about $1 trillion in savings before House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and his fellow Republicans stomped out because Democrats were talking about tax increases and new stimulus funding. 

Cantor walked out on the talks only days after former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul A. Volcker and Sen. Mark Warner endorsed action to bring comprehensive government reorganization reform to the negotiating table. Both believe that Congress and the president must act now to address the opportunity for more effective government. And both believe that there are real dollars to save. Indeed, by my own back-of-the-envelope estimates, negotiators could reap $1 trillion or more over the next 10 years by finally taking on the sluggish bureaucracy that hinders high performance.  

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Posted at 05:17 PM ET, 06/17/2011

Is painless debt relief possible?

With the economy tanking and international tensions still high, Congress and the president are reassessing proposals for reducing the national debt. The U.S. credit ranking is in jeopardy, even as joblessness remains intractable.

It is no surprise that Congress and the president might ask whether this is the time to take the pedal off the metal on the indirect stimulus embedded in federal fiscal policy. Is this really a good time for tax increases, further benefit cuts and greater pressure on cash-strapped state and local governments to make up the differences?

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Posted at 06:17 PM ET, 06/13/2011

Darrell Issa’s dangerous job cut proposal

Darrell Issa has jumped into the deficit debate, proposing a 10-percent cut, through attrition, in the number of federal employees. (Tim Sloan)
Darrell Issa, the House Government Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman, finally introduced his own contribution to the deficit debate last week. His proposal, Reducing the Size of the Federal Government Through Attrition Act of 2011, would reduce the number of federal employees by at least 10 percent – or roughly 200,000 total positions.

The bill uses a classic blunt ax to achieve a disingenuous "reshaping" of the federal workforce, and would be better titled the Eviscerating the Faithful Execution of the Laws Act. Having set its target for an overall cut, the bill would order federal agencies to hire just one new employee for every three that leave through retirement or separation. 

The bill is flawed in at least three respects.

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