Congressional VA committee leaders want a better answer on secret wait-lists

In today's Federal Newscast, Senate and House Veterans Affairs committee leaders are demanding answers from the VA about claims involving secret wait lists for ...

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  • Senate and House Veterans Affairs committee leaders are demanding answers from the VA about claims involving secret wait-lists for veterans seeking care. House chair Mark Takano (D-Calif.), and Senate Committee ranking member Jon Tester (D-Mont.) sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, asking for an explanation of two sets of differing wait time numbers reported by a whistleblower to the Washington Post. VA previously said the differing reports of wait time numbers were due to the use of administration versus clinical numbers. Lawmakers called the response confusing. (House Veterans Affairs Committee)
  • Veterans Affairs finalized two major regulations as part of its implementation of the VA MISSION Act. The department announced its new urgent care benefit for eligible veterans, and published new eligibility criteria for vets to participate in a consolidated community care program. These services under the VA MISSION Act begin today. An interim rule describes how VA can use veterans care agreements to order services that aren’t immediately available under the department’s contracted network. (Department of Veterans Affairs)
  • James Byrne was cleared by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to be deputy VA secretary. His nomination now heads to the full Senate. Byren has also been serving as VA’s general counsel since last August when former VA Deputy Secretary Tom Bowman retired after less than a year on the job. (Senate Veterans Affairs Committee)
  • The House joined the Senate in pressing for reforms to military housing. A preliminary version of the House’s 2020 Defense authorization bill would require the military services to establish a “tenant’s bill of rights” for families living in privately-run on-base housing. Among other things, the language approved by the Readiness Subcommittee would require housing companies to handle maintenance requests in a timely fashion and give accurate information about existing hazards like mold. It would also ban them from requiring non-disclosure agreements with military tenants. (House Armed Services Committee)
  • A Government Accountability Office report found the Defense Department is falling behind on requirements to double check new acquisition authorities like middle-tier acquisition. GAO recommended DoD identify the type of information it will need to consistently check middle-tier acquisition programs. (Government Accountability Office)
  • A new promotion system is being tested by the Air Force. The branch’s leadership signed a memo saying they’re now sharing new promotion plans with commanders to discuss with officers before moving forward. The new plan creates career advancement tracks for six fields, including combat support, force modernization, space operations, and information warfare. (Air Force)
  • There is more congressional concern about the Agriculture Department’s plan to move two of its bureaus out of the Washington D.C. area. Three Senate Democrats are demanding more answers from USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and General Services Administrator Emily Murphy about the relocation plans. They want a cost-benefit analysis for the move and more information from GSA about its role in the relocation. Senate Environment and Public Works Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), Agriculture Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich), and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-Mich) say the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture have over 20% vacancy rates. (Sen. Tom Carper)
  • Talks ended with no deal in sight between the American Postal Workers Union and Postal Service management. They sought help from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, but mediators found both parties were still too far apart after five days of talks. They must now select a third party arbitrator to hear for a new contract. (American Postal Workers Union)
  • Federal employee unions have been battling on several fronts. A new one has opened at Veterans Affairs. Negotiations between the American Federation of Government Employees and VA only started at the end of May, but already AFGE officials say they’re launching a national campaign, complete with rallies, to reveal what the union calls a Trump administration plot to gut the old agreement. The VA proposal eliminates 42 articles in the expiring agreement, which AFGE says are there to ensure a fair workplace. The new agreement would cover some 260,000 employees. (American Federation of Government Employees)
  • Blockchain technology could be used to keep global food supplies safe. The Food and Drug Administration is looking to use it to pinpoint the source of food safety concerns in a matter of minutes, rather than days. FDA’s deputy commissioner for food policy and response Frank Yiannas says a romaine lettuce scare last year led FDA to look at new tech tools. (Federal News Network)
  • The FAR Council is asking agencies for help getting certain Chinese made telecommunications products off their networks. Congress set a deadline of August 13, 2020 for agencies to remove all ZTE and Huawei telecommunications products from their networks. Well ahead of that date, the Federal Acquisition Regulations Council will hold a townhall seeking insights from agencies and other experts for how best to remove those Chinese made products. The July 19th meeting in Washington DC will focus on six basic questions, including what additional information or guidance is needed to comply with the law and what, if any, is the impact on vendors providing telecommunications products to the government. (Federal Register)
  • Government contractor CACI is getting a new president and CEO. John Mengucci, the company’s COO, will replace Ken Asbury, who is retiring June 30. Mengucci joined CACI in 2012. He was previously president of the Lockheed Martin Corporation’s Information Systems and Global Solutions – Civil Product Line. CACI won more than $2.7 billion in federal contracts in 2018. (CACI)
  • The Senate confirmed Susan Combs to serve as the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for policy, management, and budget. President Donald Trump submitted her nomination to the Senate in January. Prior to federal service, Combs was agriculture commissioner and comptroller for the state of Texas. Combs will take over for Rhea Suh, who held the assistant secretary position until 2016.

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