The Federal Diary gets lots of reader reaction via e-mail, snail mail and online posts, which unfortunately, and curiously, people generally sign with nicknames. Some of the comments are fit to print. Occasionally, we give readers a chance to speak out by publishing their remarks, edited for clarity and length.

Many readers commented on an article about the American Federation of Government Employees’ criticism of a Pentagon budget plan. The union said the Defense Department plan favors contractors over federal employees.

Long term, the contractor generally costs less because the government incurs no insurance or retirement costs associated with the contractor employees (unless written into the contract for extraordinarily risky operations). And, contractors can be released without further penalty at the end of the contract term; employees have to be “taken care of” with new positions or other administrative measures because of their “permanent” status.


This contractor says contractors are not cheaper.

I’ve been a contract employee and know firsthand how full of [it] you are. My retirement benefits increased via tax-sheltered payments when I left government service. P.S. — my gross pay more than doubled.

My experience was not unusual.

As for job security, the vast majority of contracts are long-term. If a contractor is replaced, the first move the new contractor typically makes is to hire the experienced employees from the old contractor. In fact, many federal contracts mandate that such hiring be attempted.


Dealing with CBP smugglers

A column about corruption among Customs and Border Protection employees reported on cases of marijuana smuggling and how the agency deals with dirty officers. The article drew this response:

Examples include the CBP officer who was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being arrested at her El Paso duty station in 2007 and charged with conspiracy to import marijuana and a former Comstock, Tex., Border Patrol agent who was convicted in 2009 and given 15 years for conspiracy to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana.

The solution is to legalize marijuana and TAX IT.


Federal airline screeners

Organized labor received a boost when the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors in California reversed an earlier decision and decided to stick with federally employed airport screeners rather than private contractors.

As a retired Customs officer who worked for fifteen years at JFK airport in New York, I say great! Private screeners, known as “square badges,” were usually high-school dropouts, incompetent, and usually overly proud of their minor authority. TSA [Transportation Security Administration] screeners are federal officers, attend an academy of more than 40 hours, and can be commended or disciplined more easily. They work under difficult conditions, and the infrequent errors have been found to be the results of poor management decisions. They deserve our thanks and praise.


As a Million Mile Flyer, I’ve had lots of opportunity to experience airline security before and after 9/11 — in the United States, in Europe and in Asia.

TSA started out as a BIG improvement over the casual and sloppy attitude of private screeners they replaced. But as time has gone by, it’s hard to distinguish between public and private — both are generally bored and inattentive except when they are being self-important, arrogant and inconsistent plus arbitrary.

British security is the best — government-controlled, professional and courteous — which results in much greater efficiency for all passengers.


Whistleblower enforcement needed

President Obama unpleasantly surprised whistleblower advocates when he said whistleblower protections in a Pentagon authorizing law could “interfere with my authority to manage and direct executive branch officials.”

The recently passed Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act is good . . . and long overdue! But nothing will change until the administration enforces it. Instead of following the guidelines of the Office of Personnel Management regarding the No-Fear Act and the Whistleblower Protection Act, most agencies put the burden of enforcement on the victims of retaliation. Instead of investigating cases of retaliation internally, most federal agencies simply pass the cases onto the Office of Special Counsel . . . that now is so overburdened and backlogged that it can take years for a case to be investigated.

To be sure, who would report obvious examples of “waste, fraud, and abuse” if they knew they could suffer retaliation, and if they knew supervisors can retaliate with a sense of immunity, simply because everyone knows the Whistleblower Protection Act is not being enforced?


Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at