Senate has busy day with Veterans Affairs reforms

In today's Federal Newscast, the Senate passed a group of bills which will have an effect on the Veterans Affairs Department and veterans' benefits.

  • An extension to the Veterans Choice Program passed in the Senate, about two weeks before the fund is set to run dry. The VA Choice and Quality Improvement Act pumps $2 billion into the Choice program. It buys lawmakers about six more months to redesign it. The legislation also authorizes 28 new major medical leases and includes more direct hire authorities and other flexibilities. The bill now goes to the president’s desk. (Senate Veterans Affairs Committee)
  • The Senate also passed other bills affecting the Veterans Affairs Department. Long-awaited legislation to simplify and modernize the appeals process for veterans got through. It creates three separate tracks for veterans to use when looking for a decision on a benefits claim. The Senate also updated the GI Bill, eliminating the 15-year time limit for vets to use their benefits.
  • Small businesses received support in the Senate. The Senate Small Business Committee approved a bill increasing the amount of time an area can claim HUB-Zone status and help foster small businesses in locations with low household incomes. Another bill approved calls for a study on the success of minority-owned small businesses contracting with the government. (Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee)
  • With Gen. John Kelly becoming President Trump’s Chief of Staff, it means he’ll be needing a new secretary of Homeland Security, and reports indicate he could look to his own cabinet again to fill the position. Bloomberg reports Energy Secretary Rick Perry is under consideration for the role. White House officials confirmed the former Texas governor’s familiarity with border issues is his main qualification. Either way, there’s a good chance a Texan will take the job as Trump is also reportedly considering Rep.  Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee. (Bloomberg News)
  • A major reorganization is coming to the Pentagon. The Defense Department is planning to shake-up its Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Office. The Pentagon sent details of their plan to Congress, highlighting two main goals: accelerating the development and acquisition of cutting edge technology, and changing the mindset of those buying, developing and managing technology to end the culture of fear of failure. DoD is creating two new offices from AT&L. One will focus on research and engineering, and the second will address acquisition and sustainment priorities. DoD also is evolving the role of its chief management officer. (Federal News Radio)
  • Agencies are eager to use the new telecommunications contract awarded to 10 companies by the General Services Administration. GSA said agencies submitted their transition plans earlier this year and have developed an inventory of what’s needed to move to the new Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract. It could take six months before agencies can begin awarding task orders under EIS . (Federal News Radio)
  • GSA doubled down on its promise to find the FBI a new home. Acting Commissioner for GSA’s Public Buildings Service Michael Gelber promised members of a Senate public works committee he would have a “workable solution” to address the future of the bureau’s headquarters in D.C. by December. GSA canceled a consolidation project for the FBI in mid-July. (Federal News Radio)
  • An Ohio man was sentenced to 20 years in prison for posting the names and addresses of military members and urging their assassination. The sentence, handed down by a federal judge Wednesday, follows a plea agreement in which Terrence McNeil agreed to serve between 15 and 20 years, avoiding a possible life sentence. The FBI said McNeil posted the names and addresses of 100 purported service members on his Tumblr page in 2015 as a show of support for ISIS, and urged fellow supporters to find and behead the military members. His attorney had argued for a lower sentence, saying he had no prior criminal record and that McNeil was “in over his head.” (Federal News Radio)
  • An employee with the Department of the Navy pleaded guilty to making a ton of cash on booze. The Justice Department said Eric Jex, a supervisory sales associate with the Navy Exchange Service Command at Mitchell Field in New York, admitted to accepting over $250,000 in bribes from three people making unauthorized liquor purchases through the exchange. (Department of Justice)

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