DHS gets kudos for management reforms

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  • It may be on Congress’s high risk list, but the Department of Homeland Security has reason for optimism. Auditors at the Government Accountability Office said DHS has made considerable progress towards fixing management weaknesses. The improvements included the integration of its acquisition, information technology, and financial and human capital functions. Auditors praised the agency leadership’s commitment to reform. But they said the department needs more of what they call demonstrated progress. GAO cited financial management and the systems that support it as ongoing concerns. (Government Accountability Office)
  • Despite Senate disapproval, the Environmental Protection Agency asked for a smaller budget for fiscal 2020. The agency asked for a 31.2 percent funding cut, and 1,800 fewer staff. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, criticized EPA leadership for what he called a lack of a commitment to the environment and public health. (Federal News Network)
  • Senators were also unhappy with potential cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services. President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget request of $87.1 billion would cut research and development efforts at the National Institutes of Health by 12 percent and also reduce the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s budget by 10 percent. HHS Secretary Alex Azar told the committee he understands the agency is underfunded and could use more help. (Senate Appropriations Committee)
  • Funding for emergency preparedness and disaster relief makes up more than 30 percent of the Homeland Security Department’s 2020 budget request. FEMA Acting Administrator Peter Gaynor tells Senate appropriators the agency will use the $19.4 billion request for other things like reducing the agency’s complexity by modernizing its legacy systems and consolidating grants and programs. Gaynor says FEMA is in good shape to embrace the next disaster season. (Senate Appropriations Committee)
  • Jurisdiction is at the center of the government’s appeal of the August ruling which invalidated much of the White House’s workforce executive orders. In oral arguments to the U.S. Court of Appeals, the Justice Department said the Federal Labor Relations Authority has the power to decide if Trump’s EOs are valid. Government attorneys argued that unions should therefore take issues with specific agency implementation of the orders to the FLRA. Unions disputed those arguments. They also said the executive orders themselves contradict Congress’ intent in passing federal labor relations statute. (Federal News Network)
  • Nearly every member on the House Oversight and Reform Committee has asked for more answers from the Trump administration on its proposed reorganization of the Office of Personnel Management. Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) wrote to House appropriators. He said OPM has only given the committee vague details about its plans. Connolly said lawmakers should prohibit funding for the reorganization, until the administration hands over a long list of documents. He said he wants acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert to testify at a hearing on the reorg next month. (Federal News Network)
  • A Trump administration lighthouse technology initiative continues to expand. The Agriculture Department’s Farmers.gov portal launched two new features to make it easier for citizens to manage farm loans and apply for H2A visas. USDA won $10 million from the Technology Modernization Fund Board to further modernize the website last June and this is among the first deliverables using that extra money. USDA said the visa update is the first of two efforts to give farmers an interactive checklist of all the requirements, fees and timelines to apply for H2As. The loans update will let farmers view their information, history and payments as well as get alerts. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
  • Could artificial intelligence be used to predict when employees feel like quitting? Ranjeev Mittu, head of the information management and decision architectures branch at the Naval Research Laboratory’s IT division, said researchers are using AI tools to comb data from exit surveys, and flag common workplace issues. The lab has already used robotic process automation to reduce time spent on routine tasks, like copying data from one spreadsheet to another. (Federal News Network)
  • The Air Force Reserve Command is expanding its direct hiring authority to recruit more airmen to maintain weapons systems. The reserve currently has a need for about 1,600 maintainers. It takes between 160 and 200 days to fill a single position. The branch said this new authority will shorten that to between 60 and 80 days. (Air Force Reserve Command)
  • Extra staff is being assigned to military housing authorities. The services are building a common tenant lease and working on other ways to rectify issues with privatized military housing after reports of mold, mice and lead paint. Military leaders told Congress long, mid and short-term solutions to the housing issues are in the works. However, some service members are still dealing with faulty housing. The Air Force estimated it will take another 30 to 45 days before all unsafe houses can be fixed. (Federal News Network)
  • The Pentagon’s inspector general said contracting officers may have improperly overruled DoD’s own auditors when they questioned compensation packages for defense contractors. The IG looked at a sample of 35 contracts where the Defense Contract Audit Agency raised flags about executive compensation. It found that in more than half of those cases, contracting officers disregarded DCAA’s recommendations without adequately explaining why. Out of those 18 contracts, DoD wound up reimbursing contractors for $22.5 million in executive pay that auditors found unreasonable. Among other recommendations, the IG said the Defense Contract Management Agency needs to train its contracting officers with more consistent guidelines on how to handle executive compensation. (Department of Defense Office of Inspector General)
  • A contracting officer at the State Department was indicted on 17 counts of conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud and making false statements. The Justice Department said Zaldy Sabino engaged in a 5-year bribery scheme with a Turkish construction company, in which he received more than $700,000 in kickbacks. The indictment also said Sabino lied about his relationship with the firm during his background investigation. (Department of Justice)
  • A new virtual tick clinic from the Department of Veterans Affairs has used telehealth services to screen patients for Lyme Disease. Dr. Neil Evans, the chief officer of the Veterans Health Administration’s office of connected care, said the VA launched the virtual clinic, in response to an increase in Lyme disease-related visits to its facilities. It’s also increased it’s use of telehealth as VA conducted more than a million patient visits through video in 2018. (Federal News Network)
  • More than 3,500 tax returns have been tagged as fraudulent this year as of the end of February. The IRS said it’s avoided paying out more than $12 million in fraudulent tax returns. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration says there were also close to 4,000 returns involving identity theft. (Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration)

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