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The National Park Service drew questions when it reopened an agency site within the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., during the partial government shutdown. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), ranking member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asked NPS why it reopened the Old Post Office Tower, using funds from the General Services Administration, after it had closed the tower at the beginning of the shutdown. Skeleton crews are operating most park sites during the shutdown. (Sen. Gary Peters)
Federal offices in the D.C. metro region closed Monday due to the snow storm. The Office of Personnel Management said only emergency employees were expected to report and those who could telework should plan to work from home. The closure only applied to agencies not affected by the partial government shutdown, as those non-exempt employees already are on non-work status. (Federal News Network)
The House joined the Senate in passing a bill giving back pay to the more than 800,000 federal employees who have gone unpaid since the start of the shutdown in late December. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who introduced his own retroactive pay legislation, called the bill’s passage a “critical step.” (Federal News Network)
New legislation would protect military pay if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) introduced the bill just two months before the Treasury Department bumped into its borrowing limits. It would give top priority to salaries and allowances of service members and federal law enforcement officers in the event the debt ceiling is reached or a lapse in funding occurs. (GovTrack)
The partial government shutdown is threatening to put agency whistleblowers in a bind. The so-far unfunded Office of Special Counsel cannot act on whistleblower retaliation cases. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Comittee, asked Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie to put the brakes on disciplinary action for employees claiming retaliation in the meantime. VA whistleblower complaints make up 40 percent of OSC’s total caseload. (Rep. Mark Takano)
The Federal Aviation Administration is bringing some of its safety inspectors back to work. All 3,000 of them were furloughed when the government shutdown began three weeks ago, but the FAA said it’s now designated about 500 of them as “excepted” employees. More are expected to return this week. (Federal News Network)
Add another lawsuit over the shutdown to the mix. The National Federation of Federal Employees and two other employee unions joined NTEU and AFGE in filing a lawsuit on behalf of employees. NFFE, the National Association of Government Employees, and the National Weather Service Employees Organization said because employees at the National Weather Service, the FAA and NOAA are exempt employees who are being forced to work during the shutdown, the government is violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. The unions are requesting compensation for time and overtime worked, and 100 percent matching liquidated damages for all non-exempt FLSA employees.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) joined federal employee groups and contractor associations in asking for the administration to ensure the partial government shutdown doesn’t impact security clearances. Warner wrote to the Office of Management and Budget and OPM seeking assurances any credit score downgrades because of missed paychecks don’t jeopardize employees’ ability to secure or maintain a clearance. Warner said this problem is particularly acute for younger workers who lack a long credit history. (Sen. Mark Warner)
A new bill introduced last week would create a new office to oversee interagency efforts to protect the IT supply chain. Sens. Warner and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) want to establish the Office of Critical Technologies and Security in the White House. The new office would coordinate and consult with federal and state technology and telecom regulators, private sector experts and other partners to figure out how best to safeguard the supply chain and protect emerging, foundational and dual-use technologies. The office would also create a national strategy to protect against nation-state sponsored threats to the technology supply chain. (Sen. Mark Warner)
The Air Force took a page from The Last Starfighter. It plans to release a video game app this summer aimed at young recruits. The app will produce data letting recruiters assess players’ skills and learning abilities to see if they are fit for service. The Air Force can then reach out directly to players with high potential.
Microsoft landed a nearly $1.8-billion Pentagon contract for software services. The Navy issued the contract on Friday. It will be the newest addition to Defense Department’s Enterprise Software Initiative, the Pentagon’s effort to consolidate software purchasing across the department. DoD said the five-year agreement provides for Microsoft to deliver engineering support to the military’s software developers, including customizing the company’s source code when needed. The sole-source contract will be available to all five military services and the intelligence community. (Department of Defense)
DoD’s gas station got a vote of confidence from a three-star leader. The Defense Logistics Agency’s Energy division saw a sharp jump in how employees feel about how well their bureau works, revealed in its annual Denison Culture Climate survey. That prompted a kudos from DLA’s director, Army Lt. Gen. Darrell Williams. He told DLA staff their work in supplying fuel and electricity throughout DoD has a profound impact, including an inventory audit of the department’s energy infrastructure. (Defense Logistics Agency)
An updated version of the IRS’ Free File software is now available, in the lead-up to this year’s tax season. The program is aimed at medium to lower-income tax payers. Government shutdown or not, tax-filing season begins on Jan. 28. More than 53 million taxpayers have used the software since it launched 17 years ago. (IRS)