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A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate reintroduced legislation guaranteeing back pay for federal employees during the government shutdown. The Senate version clarifies employees would receive back pay as soon as the government reopens, not whenever the next pay period is. Both House and Senate versions clarify District of Columbia government employees are included too. Lawmakers needed to reintroduce these bills for the new Congress, since the previous versions expired with the end of 115th Congress. (Federal News Network)
An alliance of 30 federal employee organizations are urging the president to end the partial government shutdown. They also want him to help secure back pay for feds. The letter was signed by the Federal-Postal Coalition, which includes the American Federation of Government Employees, National Treasury Employees Union, Senior Executives Association, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association and 26 others. (National Treasury Employees Union)
Previously exempt Environmental Protection Agency employees are now feeling the financial toll of a partial government shutdown. The agency had exempted more than 98 percent of its total workforce at the beginning, but closed most operations on New Year’s Eve. EPA employees tell Federal News Network, the furlough has made it harder to make mortgage payments and pay for groceries. Gary Morton, the president of AFGE Council 238, which represents more than 9,000 EPA employees, said the shutdown could have long-term effects on retention. (Federal News Network)
The Department of Veterans Affairs finally has a permanent chief information officer. The Senate confirmed James Gfrerer to be VA’s CIO and confirmed Tamara Bonzanto to be director of VA’s relatively new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. That office hasn’t had a permanent director since it was created in 2017. VA hasn’t had a permanent chief information officer since Laverne Council left with the outgoing Obama administration in January 2017. (Senate.gov)
The Census Bureau will soon have its first permanent director in more than a year. The Senate approved Steven Dillingham to serve as the agency’s head in a unanimous voice vote. Dillingham previously served as the head of the Peace Corps’ Office of Strategic Information, Research, and Planning. He also led the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. (Congress.gov)
The Senate confirmed three more of the Trump administration’s nominees to lead the Defense Department. As one of its final acts in the 115th Congress, the Senate confirmed three DoD officials: Alan Shaffer as the deputy undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Alex Beehler as the assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment, and Casey Wardynski as assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs. The Senate did not act on two more of the president’s appointments, which means they’ll have to be re-nominated in the new Congress. Those are Thomas McCaffery, the prospective assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, and Veronica Daigle, the nominee for assistant secretary of Defense for Readiness. (Senate.gov)
One other important administration management positions have been filled. Senators confirmed Kelvin Droegemeier to run the Office of Science and Technology Policy. OSTP has lacked a leader for the past two years. Droegemeier had been Oklahoma’s secretary of Science and Technology and the University of Oklahoma’s vice president for research. He’s also former vice chair of the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation. He’s an expert in predicting extreme storms.
A bill passed the Senate to help the Energy Department explore new ways to defend the U.S. energy grid, by looking backwards. The Securing Energy Infrastructure Act creates a pilot program for Energy’s national laboratories to explore retro approaches to cybersecurity. The idea is to take many key devices offline and replace them with less-vulnerable analog and human operated systems. The bill was introduced by Sens. Angus King and Jim Risch nearly two years ago. (Congress.gov)
A new rules package passed by the 116th Congress requires the House to formalize a standing Office of Congressional Ethics and mandates annual ethics training for members. It also creates a new Office of the Whistleblower Ombudsman. This office will train members on whistleblower law and best practices for accepting claims. The rules package also creates a Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. This committee will offer suggestions for updating the schedule, rules and human capital policies of the House. (House.gov)
The Senate Armed Services Committee will have several new faces at its next meeting. According to a list released yesterday by the Senate Majority Leader, the Republican side of the aisle is adding several of its newly-elected or appointed members to the committee: Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.); Martha McSally (R-Ariz.); Rick Scott (R-Fla.); Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.); and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). Meanwhile, several GOP senators are leaving for other assignments. Those include Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.). (Senate Majority Leader)
Changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice go into effect. The changes are a result of the 2016 Military Justice Act and are the biggest updates to the system in thirty years. The act expands the opportunity for convicted service members to appeal convictions and requires most court-martial documents be made publicly accessible. (Air Force)