Source of financial help proposed for feds for potential shutdown

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  • Federal employees may have an additional avenue for financial relief, if and when the government shuts down next week. The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board issued an interim rule, allowing participants in the Thrift Savings Plan to take a loan while in non-pay status. They’ll still have to repay the loan, but can take advantage of the change immediately. The TSP said the previous government shutdown damaged the overall long-term financial well-being of its participants. (Federal Register)
  • The new deadline for federal employees to donate to the Combined Federal Campaign is Feb. 22. CFC donations were supposed to end Jan. 11, but Margaret Weichert, Office of Personnel Management acting director, approved an extension during the shutdown. The D.C. metro area’s CFC campaign has a goal of raising more than $38 million. (Office of Personnel Management)
  • The National Park Service is refilling coffers it tapped for maintenance and sanitation issues during the shutdown, according to a letter from Deputy Director Dan Smith obtained by The Hill. The three week spending bill which ended the shutdown retroactively applies appropriations for the period of the shutdown. OMB confirmed that this means the obligations NPS incurred will shift from the fee revenue accounts to the appropriated money. (The Hill)
  • Some House Democrats want the Government Accountability Office to review the Interior Department’s decisions during the government shutdown. House Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) wanted to know if the Interior Department violated appropriations rules in the Antideficiency Act by using visitor fees to fund daily operations for some national parks. GAO said agencies in most cases are supposed to inform Congress if they’re moving appropriations for any reason. (Federal News Network)
  • The National Weather Service inaugurated a new personnel system for meteorologists. Weather watchers starting at the GS-5 level all the way to experienced GS-12 will be affected. An National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokesman said the change will make clearer career paths for weather professionals, and let lower level people have more responsibility when warranted. 
  • House Democrats want to give the independent Office of Government Ethics more teeth, as part of their first major legislative package this Congress. The For the People Act, which includes several smaller bills, would give the OGE directors subpoena power and make it harder for the president to fire them. Former OGE director Walter Shaub said the agency currently “lacks real enforcement authority” beyond its power to make recommendations. (Federal News Network)
  • The Justice Department won its second largest False Claims Act settlement from an electronic health records provider under the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program. Justice said Greenway Health will have to pay $57.25 million to settle claims that it falsely obtained EHR certification and violated the Anti-Kickback statute. Congress established the incentive program in 2009 under the Recovery Act to incentivize the adoption of EHRs. DOJ said it has now recovered more than $212 million from EHR vendors who allegedly violated the act. (Department of Justice)
  • President Donald Trump’s three nominees to fill the Merit Systems Protections Board will get another chance at confirmation. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will consider the three nominees next week. It tried to clear the nominees last year but couldn’t agree to move one of them. The Senate has until the end of the month to confirm at least one board member. The term for the current, lone MSPB chairman expires Feb. 28. (Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee)
  • Another important oversight board is closer to getting two new members. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board could soon have a full committee of members. The final two nominees sailed through their confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week. Aditya Bamzai, a former Justice Department attorney and Travis Le Blanc are expected to be approved in the coming weeks, and would join the three other members on the board. Le Blanc said he believes the board’s role as an independent adviser and observer is key to balancing the need to protect the country from terrorism and ensure the civil liberties and privacy of citizens. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Board has been without all five members since 2016. (Senate Judiciary Committee)
  • For the second year in a row, time away from family is the biggest concern for both service members and their spouses. The Blue Star Family Lifestyle Survey said a majority of people in the military are worried about the lack of time they have to spend with loved ones. Other top issues included the quality of family life and the impact of deployment on service members’ children. (Blue Star Family Life Style Survey)
  • A shortage of cyber experts is creating challenges for the Army’s concept of a “multi-domain task force.” The Army stood up the first task force last year as a pilot program to see how well it could integrate a traditional artillery brigade with intelligence, cyber, electronic warfare and space operations. But the Army told GAO the task force is still only about 50 percent staffed. Most of the shortages involve cyber and senior leader positions. The Army wants to create more cyber units to support brigade combat teams, but officials said filling those positions will probably be a struggle as well. (Government Accountability Office)

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