Nearly grounded a decade, NASA to resume manned spacecraft

In today's Federal Newscast, NASA announces it will be running a test flight of a crewed commercial space craft some time in July.

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  • NASA astronauts will be heading back to space on American-made spacecraft this summer. The agency announced an unmanned test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon on March 2. A second test run with a crew will launch sometime in July. It will be the first time a flight crew launches from American soil since the shuttle program was closed in 2011. (NASA)
  • Some federal employees may still be waiting for back pay after the recent government shutdown, but looking ahead, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) introduced legislation to give federal employees a 3.6 percent pay raise next year. This is the fifth time Connolly has introduced some version of the bill — the Federal Adjustment of Income Rates Act — which has never passed. But Connolly and Schatz said federal employees deserve a raise, especially after the recent 35-day government shutdown. (Federal News Network)
  • Four Senators want to create a federal cyber program modeled after the defense and intelligence communities’ joint duty rotational programs. The Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program Act would create a civilian personnel rotation program for cybersecurity professionals at agencies that face cybersecurity challenges. The program would let civilian cyber workers in one agency work in a rotational, temporary capacity at another agency to gain experience beyond their home agency. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will mark up the bill on Feb. 13. (Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee)
  • The Office of Personnel Management turned its CIO and deputy CIO positions to U.S. Digital Service executives. Acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert named Clare Martorana and David Nesting as the agency’s new CIO and deputy CIO, respectively. Martorana comes over from USDS where she has been working on digital modernization at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Nesting joined OPM after serving as the director of engineering for USDS. Matorana will replace David Garcia, who is leaving after 16 months. Nesting replaced Rob Leahy, who left to rejoin the IRS last October. (Federal News Network)
  • The new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is defending hiring former members of the Trump administration to work on his staff. This comes after President Donald Trump accused him of stealing workers to help the committee’s investigation into Russian collusion. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) cited a long tradition of hiring out of the intelligence community and National Security Council (NSC). The Hill reported that the committee has hired former staffer Abigail Grace who worked on the NSC from 2016 to 2018. (The Hill)
  • Trump named Anne Hazlett as senior adviser for rural affairs at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. She will focus on the growing problem of opioid addiction in non-urban areas. Hazlett had been an assistant to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue. In her place, Joel Baxley was named acting assistant to the agriculture secretary for rural development. The White House wanted to convert that position to a Senate-confirmed under secretary. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
  • Trump has also made plans to nominate Christopher Scolese, the current director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, to serve as the next director of the National Reconnaissance Office. He would replace Betty Sapp, who has held the intelligence agency’s top post since 2012. The NRO helps build, launch and maintain the intelligence community’s inventory of satellites. (White House)
  • At least 20 ambassadors violated State Department guidelines by posting to their personal social media accounts, according to the agency’s inspector general. One ambassador used their personal Twitter account to support sanctions against Iran, while another tweeted about corruption in the country they were stationed in. OIG recommended updates to the Foreign Affairs Manual to better clarify personal and official social media policies. (Department of State Office of Inspector General)
  • The Defense Department is figuring out the best way to make sure contractor business system reviews are finished in a timely fashion. The reviews provide critical data to help manage and negotiate contracts. The Government Accountability Office found the Defense Contract Audit Agency has conducted less than 20 reviews per year since 2013. By comparison, DoD wants to do more than 150 audits by the end of 2020. DoD made considerable changes to its processes around business reviews in 2011 to improve its contract data. (Government Accountability Office)
  • The Air Force is closing some of the gaps in its maintenance workforce, but it’s still struggling to hold on to its most experienced personnel. The Government Accountability Office said the Air Force’s overall shortage shrank from 4,000 in 2015 to just 700 in 2017. But most of that was because of the onboarding of new, inexperienced personnel. GAO found there’s a surplus of those newer airmen, and the service still has a gap of about 2,400 people in the more experienced ranks it needs to handle more complex tasks. GAO said the Air Force doesn’t have a strategy to improve retention or to measure progress. (Government Accountability Office)
  • There will be a new health and readiness optimization program for all Air Force squadrons in 2019. It uses data like information on sleep patterns to identify squadrons at risk for health issues. The Air Force said it will use the data to target at-risk squadrons and emphasize healthier habits, and prevent lost work days from preventable injuries. (Air Force)
  • The Veterans Benefits Administration is restructuring its regional offices, closing its north Atlantic district office in Philadelphia. VBA’s office in St. Louis will handle work coming from the Northeast. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said the restructuring will only impact the management and reporting structure, not daily operations for employees or veterans. The agency has three other districts in Nashville, Denver and Phoenix. (Department of Veterans Affairs)
  • VBA and the Board of Veterans Appeals are launching new customer service training for employees. Both organizations will add training on specific disabilities and conditions that often have to go to appeal. VA said it updated training modules after getting feedback from veterans service organizations. The additional and updated training mandates will support VA’s implementation of the Appeals Modernization Act. (Department of Veterans Affairs)

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