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Federal Times wins six Azbee awards

Jul. 17, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By MICHAEL HARDY   |   Comments
Steve Watkins, Managing Editor of Federal Times.
Steve Watkins, editor of Federal Times. (Alan Lessig / Federal Times)

Federal Times has won five Gold Azbee awards and one Silver Azbee award for journalism excellence from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE).

Federal Times won the awards in the categories of newspaper redesign, government coverage, investigative/impact coverage, blog analysis and commentary, and news analysis. The awards are highly competitive national and regional peer-reviewed awards and considered top journalism honors among business publications.

The awards come a month after Federal Times won two Society of Professional Journalists Dateline Awards, which are competitive, peer-reviewed awards for the Washington regional media market. Those awards were in the categories of investigative journalism and general news.

“The Azbee and Dateline awards are truly among the top honors available to a media outlet in our space, so this is a real thrill for the entire Federal Times team,” said Federal Times Editor Steve Watkins.

“I am delighted and proud for the federal team on this recognition of our outstanding coverage in the federal market,” said David Smith, vice president and general manager of Gannett Government Media Corp., which publishes Federal Times. “Federal Times has the strongest reputation in this market sector. The redesign has been very succesful and it’s great to see recognition from our peers of that.”

The redesign, which was introduced to readers in December, provided readers a robust increase in federal information technology and procurement coverage, expanded coverage of the federal vendor community, and thought leadership on the power of technology to transform government, all packaged within a highly visual and contemporary design.

Among the stories earning honors were:

■“Whistle-blower on leave; culprits off ‘scot-free,’” by Sean Reilly, published in June 2013. The article detailed widespread mismanagement and improper spending at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a small federal agency charged with resolving labor disputes. Reilly conducted lengthy interviews with whistleblower Berkina Porter, the former top administrative official at the agency, and reviewed hundreds of pages of internal agency documents to compile the story. Porter’s charges that the agency improperly used purchase cards to routinely skirt procurement rules were confirmed by an inspector general; and her charges that the agency’s leadership improperly retaliated against her after she blew the whistle also were validated by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. Five months after the story ran, Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, launched an investigation into the allegations detailed in our story. On Nov. 13, Issa officially launched an investigation into the allegations, citing the article. Two weeks later, FMCS Director George Cohen unexpectedly announced he was stepping down, but denied his decision was connected to the congressional investigation.

■“Backlog of bogus background checks grows,” by Jim McElhatton, published in July 2013. The article probed widespread integrity problems plaguing the background investigation process used to confer security clearances upon federal and contractor employees. McElhatton reported that at least 19 background investigators and researchers pleaded or were found guilty for falsifying hundreds of background checks since 2008 and that the government spent more than $1.5 million reopening those affected background investigations. The article foreshadowed news three months later that federal contractor USIS had become the target of a lawsuit by the Justice Department for allegedly submitting hundreds of thousands of background investigations that were incomplete, falsified or not properly vetted.

■“VA mistakenly deletes 464,000 loan and grant files,” by Nicole Johnson and Andy Medici, published in June 2013. The article was the first to confirm and report that the Veterans Affairs Department accidentally deleted nearly half a million electronic loan and grant records from a computer system, delaying disability loan claims for thousands of veterans and throwing the system temporarily into chaos. The day the story published, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman sent a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, pressing him for more information about the incident and urged him to quickly resolve the problem. The story prompted other members of Congress to look into the matter. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, asked Shinseki to hold agency leaders accountable for allowing unreasonable risks in data and cyber security, citing this incident.

■“Most overstretched: The worst 25 agencies, according to feds,” by Andy Medici, published in March 2013. Analyzing survey data from 688,000 federal employees, Medici reported that employees at a few particular departments – namely the Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security and Education departments – were particularly concerned about being overstretched and lacking sufficient resources to do their jobs.

■“DoD’s screw-up means hundreds of feds owe thousands,” by Sean Reilly and Steve Watkins, published in August 2013. The story detailed how a years-old bureaucratic error by the Pentagon resulted in hundreds of overseas civilian employees owing the government hundreds of thousands of dollars and being forced to relocate back to the United States. In May, DoD leaders determined that 659 employees were erroneously given a living quarters allowance (LQA), a subsidy that enabled many Defense Department civilian employees to afford otherwise prohibitively costly overseas housing. The LQA benefit typically amounts to thousands of dollars per month and had been paid out over many years – and most employees were told to pay back that money with interest. The snafu caused much alarm at overseas Defense Department posts where commanders unsuccessfully pleaded with Pentagon leaders to resolve the problem.

Federal Times has won 35 national and regional awards since 2008.

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