Pair of bills would ensure federal workers don’t lose insurance during future shutdowns

In today's Federal Newscast, a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers introduced two new bills to ensure federal employees don't lose insurance benefits durin...

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  • A bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers introduced two new bills to ensure federal employees don’t lose insurance benefits during future government shutdowns. One bill would allow federal employees who have a qualifying life event to immediately enroll their dependents into the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program during a shutdown. The other bill would ensure federal employees’ dental and vision insurance continues, even if a shutdown lasts longer than two or three pay periods. (House Oversight Committee)
  • Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson submitted his resignation. He will remain on the job until May 31. Principal Deputy Inspector General Joanne Chiedi will serve as acting IG starting June 1. HHS Secretary Alex Azar commended Levinson for his role in responding to emerging challenges, such as the ongoing opioid crisis. (Department of Health and Human Services)
  • The Government Accountability Office said the Department of Veterans Affairs will fail in its efforts to stand up a new electronic health record, unless it sets up a joint governance structure with the Defense Department. GAO said both departments need a plan for how to resolve disagreements between the two during EHR modernization. GAO and Congress have been pushing VA and the Pentagon to determine a path forward for the inter-agency program office. Out of Congress, DoD and VA, none have said the interagency program office is working the way it’s supposed to. (Federal News Network)
  • House lawmakers suggested VA postpone the implementation of the MISSION Act. But the agency said it doesn’t need more time to consolidate its community care programs, or develop a new tool to support VA providers with the new process. Officials are confident they’ll meet the June 6 deadline. That’s in stark contrast to the assessment from the U.S. Digital Service. USDS said VA should stop development of a decision support tool and reassess its approach. (Federal News Network)
  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ absence at a fiscal 2020 budget hearing struck a nerve with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). As ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice, science and related agencies, Shaheen said she was “extremely disappointed” Ross declined to appear before lawmakers, even after they reached out to his office to coordinate with his schedule. Shaheen said the administration’s budget request falls $2 billion short of what Ross previously told lawmakers the decennial count would need for 2020. (Federal News Network)
  • The Office of Personnel Management gave agencies the go-ahead to make it easier to hire technology experts. Agency chief information officers will now be able to use direct hire authority to bring on technology expertise. A new final rule from OPM authorized this new policy as required under the CIO authorities executive order from October. OPM said it made no changes to the proposed rule that lets agencies hire people in the 2210 series for up to four years without traditional competition. A few commenters were concerned about the potential abuse of the direct hire authority, so OPM said it will establish a unique authority code to assist them in monitoring each agency’s use of this new tool. (Federal Register)
  • Defense agencies will no longer have to notify Congress or create a written determination if they plan to issue a sole source task order worth more than $112 million due to exceptional circumstances. DoD’s final rule said these requirements in the Federal Acquisition Regulations do not apply to the military. Congress made minor changes to the provision in the 2019 Defense Authorization bill, which opened up the opportunity for DoD to review whether it had to abide by the FAR policy. (Federal Register)
  • Monday’s slew of proposed FAR rules also included giving an advantage to defense contractors who employ disabled workers. The original project was established in 2004, but Defense agencies have yet to take advantage of it. Comments on the rule are due by May 31. (Federal News Network)
  • Agencies gained a new way to protect their most valuable data assets. The General Services Administration updated a product available under its information technology Schedule 70 contracts. Highly Adaptive Cybersecurity Services (HACS) now include several services that weren’t there under the previous version. Acting Assistant Commissioner Bill Zielinski said HACS, available as a special item number, give agencies easier access to cybersecurity services necessary to large or complex systems with critical economic or national security data. (General Services Administration)
  • The Senate Commerce Committee has officially launched an investigation into the Boeing 737 Max approval process. Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said whistleblowers have told the committee there was insufficient training and improper certification of Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors. He wants to know if these allegations are in any way connected to the issues with the aircraft, which led to the two crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. He asked for answers to the committee’s inquiries by April 16. (Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee)
  • The Air Force is redesigning some of its flight gear to better serve women pilots. The majority of gear used by pilots today is built off data from men in the 1960s. The Air Force will work with Air Combat Command and its innovation hub AFWERX to come up with solutions. Pilot suits are made to fill with air during high levels of acceleration to prevent fainting. That feature may not work if the suit doesn’t fit. (Air Force)
  • Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson officially has a new job. The University of Texas system’s Board of Regents voted unanimously to appoint Wilson as the next president of the University of Texas at El Paso. She’s expected to take the job in August. Wilson had previously announced her plans to leave the Pentagon in March, when she told President Donald Trump in letter that she’d been chosen as the sole finalist for the position. Wilson said she expects to depart the Air Force at the end of May. The White House has not yet chosen a new secretary. (Federal News Network)
  • After reports of mice, mold and lead paint in on-base privatized housing, the Navy will conduct a month-long survey to gauge the satisfaction of residents. Congressional hearings on privatized housing found residents had few ways to directly communicate their concerns about dangerous housing conditions to military leadership.
  • Jason Posey, a former congressional staffer, received 18 months in prison, and will have to pay more than $700,000 for using charitable funds to pay for personal expenses, and finance campaigns for his boss, former Rep. Steve Stockman. Stockman himself was sentenced back in November to 10 years in prison, and had to pay more than $1 million. (Department of Justice)

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