Free Agency

From Understanding Government’s archives, what we expect (and what we get) from the White House and federal agencies.

Innovative bureaucrats? FDA workaround on livestock antibiotics shows it’s possible

The addition of antibiotics such as penicillin and tetracycline into animal feed has proven to be a clear threat to human health.  But getting rid of them isn’t easy in today’s regulatory arena.  Gardiner Harris’s article in the New York Times on the FDA’s new attempt to limit the use of antibiotics in livestock feed shows the limits  federal agencies face in making even the most clearly-needed changes. (more…)

Speaking the truth on Solyndra at the Department of Energy

Why can’t people at the Department of Energy admit that delays in funding new alternative energy projects after the Solyndra debacle are because of . . . the Solyndra debacle?

Bill Vlasic and Matthew Wald of the New York Times look at other alternative energy projects that have applied for DOE funds, including an electric delivery van that uses one-fifth the gas a standard van does.  It sure looks like companies seeking DOE funds are getting the runaround until they simply drop out of the running. (more…)

The price of future energy savings may be $50 (or even $10 million)

Hey, a new anti-government meme to throw around — Limbaugh must be happy for the first time in days!  The Energy Department’s $10 million innovation award to an LED lightbulb that may cost $50 in stores, reported by Peter Whoriskey in the Washington Post, is going to be fodder for critics of government for years to come.  However, the price of change isn’t cheap.  To actually reduce energy use, light bulb wattage has to go down, and light bulbs have to last longer.  It looks like DOE found the most economical and best-performing new bulb and gave it the award.  Was it practical or politically smart to pick a $50 bulb?  No.  But there must be a reason why Lighting Science Group is being courted to move its facilities to China and Mexico. (more…)

They’re showing us the money

Doug Palmer and Rachelle Younglai of Reuters report that the Treasury Department will be pulling in $6 billion in a sale of AIG stock the government owns as the result of saving AIG from collapse in 2008.  The American electorate’s ownership of this major global insurance company will still be a hefty 70% after the sale.   But we are getting paid.  In other words, the government is keeping its word, though some people swore the government “never really believed” it would get anything back for the taxpayers.

A job is much more than a job

There should be an explainer of the year award, and Adam Davidson should win it.  His recent piece about jobs in the Atlantic makes an excellent case for a concerted effort at the federal level to redefine what jobs are for and why government should be involved in shaping the future of work.  Davidson goes deep into the auto parts business in America, explaining precisely why we are so strong in precision machining.  The example he uses is the fuel injector, a complex part of the modern auto engine that requires extremely rigorous quality control from superb machines.  The machines must be run by educated and resourceful people, and for now, America has more of these people, and that, plus a  few other factors, is why we lead the world in certain kinds of manufacturing.   But for how long? (more…)

Back in the real world, saving one dam salmon at a time

King salmon

While Washington, D.C. was solving another self-created crisis, real American solutions were emerging in the other Washington.   As William Yardley writes in the New York Times, massive dams that have prevented salmon from migrating upstream on the Elwha River are to be physically removed, allowing salmon to move naturally to their spawning grounds.  Experts predict that “392,000 fish will fill 70 miles of habitat now blocked by the dams, matching the predam peak. Chinook here once grew as big as 100 pounds, and experts say they should reach that size again.”  (more…)

If only sitting senators talked like formers

It seems like former U.S. senators can tell it like it is, as opposed to sitting senators, who are pretty much limited to saying that the other side is “playing politics.”  But Newsweek and TIME have rolled out a couple of dueling senators telling truths we don’t want to hear.  First there’s John Sununu, former senator from New Hampshire. (more…)

The real deficit is one of confidence and readiness to change

Nicholas Kristof had a thought-provoking piece over the weekend in the New York Times pointing out how reckless politicians are hurting America from within:

The biggest threat to America’s national security this summer doesn’t come from China, Iran or any other foreign power. It comes from budget machinations, and budget maniacs, at home.

Motivated by ideology rather than practicality, some members of Congress are blind to the way their position will actually make America weaker, and how their “budget-cutting” stance will actually end up forcing the government to spend more (to finance debt payment at higher interest rates, for one). (more…)

Boring headline hides real crisis at Postal Service

Sean Collins Walsh probably wasn’t too pleased by the headline his editors chose for his thorough report on the crisis at the U.S. Postal Service.   “Many Seek to Revamp Post Office” is not likely to pull in a horde of readers.  But the Postal Service is in a serious mess, and since it’s the second largest government owner of real estate (after the DoD) and employs more than 600,000 Americans, problems at the Post Office matter.  Collins Walsh writes that prior to the debt ceiling crisis, “several members of Congress had another issue they wanted to focus on:  an overhaul of the Postal Service.”  The question is, will the service be cut, and employees cut, and a great American institution cut to the bone?  Or will creative approaches come to the fore?

Go to the WSJ for your 24-7 nuclear power coverage

Maybe the Wall Street Journal is trying to set some kind of record.  A couple of days ago it ran four stories about nuclear power, covering issues like earthquake safety at nuke plants, the potential for danger from powerful floods at a Nebraska facility, a push by Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Gregory Jaczko to move quickly to institute new safety standards, and debates and discussions within the Nuclear Regulatory Council about reforms in U.S. nuclear safety practice following the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan. (more…)