Veterans Choice program faces another fiscal cliff

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  • Funding for the Veterans Choice Program is close to running dry. Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie told the House and Senate VA Committees the Choice program will run out of funds within the first two weeks of June. He said the administration wants Congress to address the funding shortfall with long term legislation that pays for the program with discretionary resources. (Department of Veterans Affairs)
  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said his National Defense Strategy is unsustainable if sequestration returns in 2020 or 2021. Sequestration would cut $85 billion from the Defense Department’s planned budget in 2020. The National Defense Strategy puts a heavy emphasis on countering near-peer competitors like Russia and China.
  • A review by the Pentagon of its own acquisition rules may end up getting rid of about half of them. The deep dive into the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement – or DFARS – is part of the regulatory reform task forces the president ordered all agencies to stand up last February. Members of the subgroup working on the DFARS have combed their way through about half of its 350 provisions. So far, they are on track to recommend either modifying or eliminating roughly 50 percent of them. Many of the provisions have their roots in federal statutes though, so Congress would also need to sign off.
  • The military is doubling down on its efforts to prevent sexual assault. Defense Secretary Mattis directed leaders to use their authority to prevent sexual assault in the military. He said officers and commanders must act as parents to their young troops. The military saw a 10 percent rise in sexual assaults in 2017.
  • Soldiers undergo brain injury from firing the Army’s own weapons. That calls for more research testing. Blast overpressure seems to be causing traumatic brain injury even during training, according to the Center for a New American Security. Researchers there cited the Army’s own studies showing service members with cognitive defects after firing heavy weapons such as the Carl Gustav recoilless rifle — even within the Army’s usage limits. CNAS called for more research into training methodologies and improved helmet design. (CNAS)
  • More options will soon be available for participants in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. The Office of Personnel Management said updated regulations will allow FEHB carriers to offer the same number and type of insurance plans. OPM estimated the change will open up two more plan options to participants. The FEHBP currently contracts with 83 health insurance carriers. They offer more than 260 different plans. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General is investigating Administrator Scott Pruitt over several alleged ethical violations, including those allegations around travel expenses and the reassignment and demotion of staff. The OIG confirmed its investigations to Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) after the Democrats asked it to do so at the beginning of April. (Rep. Don Beyer)
  • The next head of cybersecurity at the Homeland Security Department sailed through his confirmation hearing. Chris Krebs receives broad praise from both sides of the aisle during his confirmation hearing to be the Under Secretary of Homeland Security, running the National Protection and Programs Directorate. Krebs, who has been in an acting role since August, said he supports a joint duty program for civilian agency cybersecurity employees. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) told Krebs she expects him to throw some sharp elbows in making sure NPPD provides the coordination and leadership necessary to address a broad range of cyber challenges.
  • SBA administrator Linda McMahon kicked off National Small Business Week on Monday by honoring the small business person of the year and other honorees from across the country. McMahon will also recognize several federal contractors, including the 8(a) company, the small business prime and subcontractors of the year and the large business which supports small business growth. President Donald Trump signed a proclamation Sunday, making it the 55th straight year the president celebrated the success and innovation of small businesses. (Small Business Administration)