Senate panel OKs bills on bonuses, charge cards and more

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has approved measures that could change how federal employees are hired and managed. If the bills become law, feds can expect tighter controls over agency charge cards, employee bonuses and program management.

The committee put off a vote on legislation that would authorize a more aggressive cybersecurity program for agency computer networks. Called EINSTEIN 3, the program has raised some privacy concerns. Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he had pledged to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson that he would take the next month to work with IT experts, the department and the committee to come up with a long-term solution.

Carol Ochoa got the committee’s nod to be the next inspector general of the General Services Administration. The panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), said Ochoa’s nomination was proof that the Obama administration was listening to complaints that it was taking too long to fill vacancies in IG offices. Filling posts at the departments of Interior and Veterans Affairs should be next, Carper said.

President Barack Obama has nominated Mary Kendall, now the deputy IG at Interior, for the top position. If confirmed, she would be the department’s first permanent IG  in five years. VA has been without a confirmed IG for more than a year.

None of the measures approved by the committee stirred controversy. Here’s a list of highlights:

S. 742 Stop Wasteful Federal Bonuses Act of 2015

The bill would stop federal agencies from awarding bonuses to employees who have violated agency policies or the law. The ban would be in effect for five years following the agency’s determination. In addition, employees found guilty of such violations would have to repay their bonuses for that year.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), the bill’s sponsor, said only employees who had committed serious offenses should worry about the bill. Those include crimes that carry sentences of a year or longer in prison, or agency violations for which they could be fired or suspended for at least 14 days.

Ayotte said her bill would address concerns she heard after news broke about long wait times and patient mistreatment at VA health facilities. Some VA executives implicated in the scandals had received bonuses nonetheless.

“This is an issue where people just think, ‘How can that happen?'” she said. “This bill will help address that in an appropriate and fair fashion.”

 S. 1616 Saving Federal Dollars Through Better Use of Government Purchase and Travel Cards Act of 2015

The bill would create a governmentwide office to monitor how federal employees use their government charge cards. Located in the General Services Administration, the office would help agencies share fraud tips.

The bipartisan group of sponsors was motivated by a recent report by the Defense Department inspector general. It showed military and civilian employees had paid for more than $1 million at casinos and strip clubs between July 2013 and June 2014.

S. 1550 Program Management Improvement Accountability Act

The bill attempts to standardize program management across the government. It enshrines in law several of the Obama administration’s efforts to monitor progress of key programs and activities. Under the bill, agencies would appoint senior executives to serve as program-management improvement officers. They would sit on a governmentwide council tasked with reviewing high-risk programs and refining agency practices.

“So many of our government agencies have literally thrown away millions and millions of dollars with ineffective programs because they weren’t being watched closely,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa.), one of the bill’s sponsors.

“It’s not millions. It’s billions of dollars that are spent ineffectively and inefficiently. We can’t afford that,” Johnson said, adding federal IT programs would benefit the most from better program management.

S. 1580 Competitive Service Act of 2015

This bill could speed up the federal hiring process. Candidates found eligible, but not selected, for jobs at one agency could be put on a governmentwide list. Other agencies in need of their skills would be able to consider them. Under current law, agencies cannot share information about job candidates.

S. 1620  DHS IT Duplication Reduction Act of 2015 and S. 1638 Department of Homeland Security Headquarters Consolidation Accountability Act of 2015

Similar bills passed the House Tuesday. The first takes aim at duplicative IT programs within the Homeland Security Department. The second would require the department to submit a report on the headquarters consolidation project at St. Elizabeths in Southeast Washington. DHS would have to give an updated estimate of the cost and schedule for construction.

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