Federal employees get much needed guidance for future shutdowns

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  • Agencies closed Wednesday in the Washington, D.C., area due to an approaching winter storm. As schools began to announce closures the Office of Personnel Management followed suit. The storm is expected to bring up to 4 inches of snow and then turn into a wintry mix. (Office of Personnel Management)
  • Federal employees received new guidance for government shutdowns after the Office of Government Ethics said a variety of ethics questions came up during the last event. OGE said federal employees can generally accept a free meal from local businesses who are offering help during a government shutdown, while crowdsourcing campaigns are trickier. OGE said employees should still avoid GoFundMe pages unless they can verify the source of every donation. (Office of Government Ethics)
  • If customer service is the barometer of IRS health, then it has a bad case of the flu. According to National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, telephone wait times stretched to 80 minutes and only 7 percent of callers got through at all during the shutdown. And that’s for people who were instructed by the IRS to call the agency to set up payment plans.
  • The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration recommended the IRS take steps to ensure “gig economy” workers pay their share in taxes. TIGTA reviewed the IRS’s Automated Underreporter program and found more than 260,000 cases where people potentially underreported the money they made through services such as Uber and Airbnb. The IRS has estimated the tax gap between what self-employed taxpayers owe and what the agency collects is about $69 billion. (Treasury Department)
  • FEMA received more than a dozen recommendations to improve the nationwide emergency alert system. A group of experts told the agency that the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, or IPAWS, needs to be modernized across five broad areas. The National Advisory Council’s IPAWS subcommittee sent its congressionally-mandated report to FEMA and lawmakers Tuesday detailing 14 recommendations ranging from improved guidance to establishing a 24/7 help desk, to creating a technology solutions lab to test out new approaches to issuing warnings. The emergency alert system hasn’t been updated since the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Communications Commission first tested it in 2011. (FEMA)
  • A new independent research and training center is trying to make government procurement a profession students want to pursue. George Mason University launched the Center for Government Contracting with the goal of providing training, research and collaboration for contractors and agencies. The center plans to provide longer-form research on topics such as small business and other transaction authorities. It also will consider offering a government contracting certificate program and more classes within the business school. (Federal News Network)
  • After the service missed its recruiting goals for 2018, the Army Science Board is looking into how it can improve its talent management systems to recruit, retain and advance its talent for the threats of the future. Army Secretary Mark Esper asked the board to look into a dynamic information system to align Army requirements with soldiers’ talents, interests and career desires. The report is projected to come out at the end of September. (Federal News Network)
  • A new appeals modernization program from the Department of Veterans Affairs is up and running. VA said it has the right people, technology and processes in place to start handling claims. It hired 605 new employees to work the program. The new goal is to process veterans’ appeals within an average of 125 days. The agency also retired its old appeals processing system and adopted a new CaseFlow program by the implementation date. VA’s rollout earned praise from the both leaders on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and ranking member of the House committee. (Federal News Network)
  • The Court of Federal Claims issued the stay yesterday, at the request of the Defense Department. The court said DoD made the request because it’s conducting a new investigation into whether planning for the $10 billion cloud contract was affected by potential conflicts of interest. Oracle, the plaintiff in the bid protest, claims the procurement was fatally flawed by the involvement of two DoD officials who’d previously worked for Amazon Web Services. (Federal News Network)
  • The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity is searching for companies to advance artificial intelligence. It plans to hold a proposers’ day next week to clarify and refine a broad agency announcement before it’s released for two AI projects. Registration for the proposers’ day closes today, Wednesday. The Trojans AI program will use AI to combat cyber attacks in the form of Trojan horses. (Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity)
  • Harassment claims against a former U.S. marshal and chief deputy were backed up by the Justice Department’s Inspector General. The OIG confirmed the two forced a subordinate to travel more than necessary and retaliated against a whistleblower as well. However, the OIG didn’t substantiate claims of racial discrimination as the root cause of the harassment. Both the U.S. marshal and chief deputy left the agency before the investigation began. (Justice Department)

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