New VA committee chair looking into ‘Mar-a-Lago crowd’ influence at agency

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  • The House Veterans Affairs Committee is launching an official investigation into the influence of three members of President Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago golf club on recent personnel and policy decisions at the Department of Veterans Affairs. House VA Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) wrote to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. He asked for an extensive list of communication, travel and other documents to get a better sense of the “Mar-A-Lago crowd’s” influence on current, former and acting VA officials. Takano said it’s in the public’s interest to understand how these three men with no military or government experience are influencing major decisions at the agency. (House Veterans Affairs Committee)
  • Congressional negotiators reached an agreement Monday on a deal to prevent another government shutdown. The deal called for $1.4 billion for new barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. It also included increases for new technologies and advanced screening measures at border entry points. More details on the deal will become available today. (Federal News Network)
  • Still, the Office of Management and Budget told agencies to prepare for the possibility of another government shutdown at the end of the week when appropriation funds run out. The American Federation of Government Employees also told its members to prepare. Trump will still need to approve of the deal to avoid another shutdown. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she doesn’t support another shutdown and will start pushing her colleagues not to let one happen on Friday. (Federal News Network)
  • The Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund said it helped more than 3,000 federal families during the recent government shutdown. FEEA is still tallying exactly how many small grants it handed out, but said it got over 100,000 hits to its website in January, up from an average 15,000 in a typical month. FEEA said it will reopen its micro-grant program if the government shuts down again and federal employees miss another paycheck. (Federal News Network)
  • Trump signed an executive order, expanding his administration’s efforts to foster artificial intelligence research and development in government. The EO does not offer more funding, but directs relevant agencies to set aside R&D funding in their fiscal 2020 budget requests. OMB must also ask the public to provide comment on ways to improve quality and access to agency data. (Federal News Network)
  • OMB made a third award through the Technology Management Fund for IT modernization. The General Services Administration earned a loan to accelerate the payroll services modernization effort. The Technology Modernization Fund Board announced it selected GSA’s New Pay proposal to receive $21.7 million dollars to help agencies adopt commercial technologies. This is the board’s first award for a shared service initiative. GSA awarded a blanket purchase agreement in September to two teams of contractors to help move agencies to a software-as-a-service approach for payroll. The TMF Board made earlier loans to five agencies, and still has $10.8 million remaining out of the initial $100 million Congress allocated in fiscal 2018. (Technology Modernization Fund)
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT proposed a new rule requiring hospitals and other healthcare facilities to use open application programming interfaces to make it easier to share electronic health records. CMS said it will promote interoperability through models tested by the CMS Innovation Center. The proposed rule also includes two requests for information. One is around interoperability and health IT adoption. The other is related to the role of patient matching in interoperability and improved patient care. (Department of Health and Human Services)
  • Two agencies took a hard line with makers of food supplements sold online. The Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission sent tough warning letters to a dozen online vendors of products that claim to fix everything from Alzheimer’s disease to premature ejaculation. It tells the companies their claims establish the supplements as drugs, and violate the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Sellers have until Feb. 20 to reply, or face injunctions and product seizures. (Food and Drug Administration)
  • Lt. Gen. VeraLinn Jamieson was appointed as the deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and cyber effects operations for the Air Force. The position is the part of the new branch of the Air Force headquarters, which combines ISR and cyber, to help the Air Force better posture itself for information dominance, especially as the Defense Department turns its sights towards threats such as China and Russia. (Department of Defense)
  • The Army is getting rid of all of its inadequate housing by 2026. More than one third of Army-owned housing is considered inadequate by the service. Army Secretary Mark Esper said he plans to put extra funds in the Army’s installations budget to pay for demolitions. The Army is going through tough times with its housing. Last year, Reuters reported that some private housing on Army bases had dangerously high levels of lead-based paint. The Army is currently conducting a review of 40,000 on-base housing units built before 1978 to mitigate the issue. (Federal News Network)

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