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We now have a clearer picture of how the Department of Veterans Affairs plans to expand access to private care. VA proposed much-anticipated access standards under the new VA MISSION Act. They describe the criteria for veterans to get care in their communities, over the VA. Veterans who must drive 30 minutes or longer, or have been waiting 20 days or more to get primary or mental health care, can see a private provider instead. Veterans will also have access to urgent walk-in care centers in their communities. (Department of Veterans Affairs)
Now let the debate begin about VA’s new access standards. Feedback from veterans service organizations on the proposed standards so far has been a mixed bag. Veterans of Foreign Wars said VA is repeating the same mistakes it committed in previous years, while AMVETS called the decisions a step in the right directions. Many VSOs said they wish VA had included them more in the drafting process for the new standards.
The House passed a 2.6 percent pay raise for civilian employees for the rest of the year. The Federal Civilian Workforce Pay Fairness Act got through with a 259 to 161 vote, but not without some theatrics. Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) wanted to recommit the bill, and include a provision that would have prevented any federal employee who had been disciplined for sexual misconduct from getting a raise. The pay raise bill now heads to the Senate. (Federal News Network)
In the latest attempt to stop shutdowns for good. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) introduced a bill to block pay for lawmakers if they fail to pass comprehensive spending bills before the end of the fiscal year. He introduced similar legislation last year but the bill never made it out of committee. Wittman said the bill will discourage members of Congress from triggering another government shutdown, or passing another continuing resolution. (Rep. Rob Wittman)
Another potential problem with agency funding is on the horizon. The nation is about to reach its debt ceiling which distinguishes how much the government is legally allowed to borrow. Some lawmakers though are looking at mechanisms to help put more planning in the appropriations process. One is bipartisan legislation from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). It would require the president to submit a two-year budget at the beginning of the first session of a new Congress, who would then need to adopt a two-year budget resolution and two-year funding bills during that first session. (Sen. Jeanne Shaheen)
Six House lawmakers take the lead in Homeland Security subcommittees. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) will chair the cybersecurity, infrastructure protection and innovation subcommittee, while Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) took over the oversight, management and accountability subcommittee. Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) held the oversight committee’s first meeting yesterday. (House Homeland Security Committee)
Leaders of the House Armed Services Committee said the Pentagon ignored the law when it sent its latest report on climate change to Capitol Hill. Committee chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and two other members are issuing a formal request for DoD to revise the report. They said the department skirted the plain language of the law that demanded the report in the first place. Among the deficiencies: Lawmakers said the Pentagon failed to include specific lists of the military bases that are most vulnerable to climate change and what’s being done to mitigate the effects, and how much it would cost to make sure those bases are viable for the next 20 years and beyond.
VA fell short of its data center consolidation goals and left tens of millions of dollars on the table. The inspector general at the Veterans Affairs Department found the agency missed many of its goals under the administration’s data center consolidation and optimization initiative. Auditors said this resulted in VA missing out on saving more than $85 million. The IG said VA fell short of its goals because it didn’t have an accurate inventory of its data centers or a credible plan to increase operational efficiency. VA received an “F” grade under the data center initiative on the December Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act or FITARA scorecard. (Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General)
The Air Force Academy is deliberately hiring enlisted airmen to teach and serve on the faculty for the first time in the school’s history. The move is part of a joint effort by the Air University and the academy to advance enlisted education across the service. The academy is currently in the process of hiring those candidates. The initiative also aims to invest in the enlisted force by giving them opportunities to share their experiences. (Air Force)
Cyber and medical experts are wanted. The Army Reserve will expand its recruitment for those fields by stationing soldiers in Massachusetts and California to give the Reserve more exposure to businesses and organizations in those regions. Chief of the Army Reserve Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey said the goal is to take advantage of mid- and late-career technology and medical experts who want to serve their country. (Federal News Network)
It’s wise to nurture those scientists working in federal agencies, as often their work matches the best in academia. The latest group of 18 honored by the National Academy of Sciences includes three from the federal government. Michelle Thomsen is a planetary scientists at Los Alamos National Lab. Anna Behrensmeyer is a paleo-biologist at the Smithsonian, and Elizabeth Ainsworth is a molecular biologist at the Agricultural Research Service. They won prizes ranging from $20,000 to $100,000 each. (National Academy of Sciences)
Census Bureau deputy director Ron Jarmin said the agency is looking to build a set of digital tools to help the public make better use of its treasure trove of data. The Census Business Builder for example, will help small businesses and entrepreneurs better understand their customers through American Community Survey and the Economic Census data. Jarmin said most of the agency’s public data comes from sources other than the decennial count. (Federal News Network)