Senate passes NDAA, includes pay raise for troops

In today's Federal Newscast, the Senate passes its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a 3.1% pay raise for active duty military.

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  • The Senate passed the 2020 defense authorization bill by a vote of 86 to 8. The bill authorizes $750 billion for the defense budget next year. It also authorizes a 3.1% pay raise for active duty military, creates a U.S. Space Force and adds extra protections for service members living in privatized military housing. (Senate Armed Services Committee)
  • Congress is trying to help the Defense Department fight back against housing companies delivering substandard living conditions to service members. Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) added an amendment to the 2020 defense authorization bill that allows the Defense Department to punish privatized housing landlords for retaliating against service members who report substandard living conditions. The provision allows DoD to investigate cases of reprisal and, if substantiated, considers the housing company in material breach of contract. That gives DoD some breathing room in the long-term contracts it has with some housing corporations. DoD is scrambling to fix privatized housing issues after a flood of reports about lead paint, mice, mold and other substandard living conditions in privatized military housing. (Federal News Network)
  • A House panel authorized $12.9 billion for the Coast Guard in 2020. That’s about $1.6 billion more than the president’s budget request. The House Coast Guard Authorization bill also gives service officers more career flexibility. It adds a career intermission program and lets officers opt out of promotion boards. (Federal News Network)
  • Whistleblowers at the Department of Veterans Affairs say they’re still experiencing retaliation. It’s been two years since Congress passed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. The law established a new office within the department designed to help protect whistleblowers and their rights. But three of them told the House VA Committee, the new office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection isn’t sympathetic to their complaints and concerns. They say VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection is dragging its feet on investigations. (Federal News Network)
  • Agencies and employee unions may have a new chance to resolve appeals over what they can and can’t negotiate, before getting the Federal Labor Relations Authority involved. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service signed a new agreement with FLRA, to create a pilot program to resolve these appeals. A group of FMCS mediators will get specialized training from the FLRA on collective bargaining negotiations. The new agreement allows the FLRA to refer appeals to the special team of FMCS negotiators. (Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services)
  • A former assistant inspector general at Housing and Urban Development is facing charges of procurement fraud and lying to investigators. The Justice Department alleges Eddie Saffarinia concealed information, disclosed confidential internal government information to a friend and undertook efforts to steer government contracts and provide competitive advantages and preferential treatment to his friend’s company. (Department of Justice)
  • The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a rule allowing its political appointees to review Freedom of Information Act requests. The rule goes into effect July 25, but it did not go through the standard public comment period. The rule comes after the Interior Department approved a similar policy last year. (Federal Register)
  • The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will reorganize supervision and resolution of the largest banks it regulates. A new unit called the Division of Complex Institution Supervision and Resolution will pull together activities now divided among three bureaus. Chairman Jelena McWilliams says the new division will give FDIC a more holistic approach to regulating institutions with more than $100 billion in assets. (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation)
  • The National Mall got a new superintendent, just days before the giant annual Fourth-of-July crowds arrive. The National Park Service named Jeffrey Reinbold to the post overseeing both the Mall and the local memorial parks. Each year it takes $35 million, 300 employees and 6,000 volunteers to keep it all spiffy. Reinbold, a 28-year employee of the Park Service, started out as a ranger at the Johnstown Flood National Memorial in Pennsylvania. He was the Park Service’s assistant director for partnerships and civic engagement. (National Park Service)
  • The Trump administration says it’s still developing a legal analysis to merge the Office of Personnel Management with the General Services Administration. OPM could not give a timeline for when it would be done. But the administration wants Congress to commit to the OPM-GSA merger by the end of the month. Members of a House Oversight and Reform subcommittee expressed bipartisan concern and frustration about the proposal. They say the administration’s plan still lacks detail and justification. (Federal News Network)
  • OPM will allow agencies to hire new talent who have the experience and expertise of a data scientist, without actually creating a brand new position on the General Schedule. OPM released new guidance to help agency human resource directors classify data science positions, something agencies have been struggling with. OPM is working with the Chief Information Officers Council and Office of Management and Budget to explore data scientist work. Agencies say it’s been difficult to hire data scientists, because they don’t have the official classification to do it. (Chief Human Capital Officers Council)
  • Big changes may be coming to the role of the Defense Department’s CIO. Senate lawmakers want to put the DoD chief information officer back in charge of the Pentagon’s business systems. In the Senate passed fiscal 2020 Defense authorization bill, lawmakers included a provision changing the 2018 authorization bill that gave the DoD chief management officer those responsibilities. Additionally, the authorization bill would require the Defense chief data officer to report directly to the CIO. A third provision would put the CIO in charge of modernizing DoD’s cybersecurity architecture. The bill now goes to conference to work out the differences with the House’s version.
  • A bill has been introduced in the House to create standards for covert testing the Transportation Security Administration conducts at airport security checkpoints. The bill was brought forth by Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). It would also require TSA to track and report its progress in resolving vulnerabilities. Thompson says for too long, TSA has not been properly introducing fixes for clear security gaps that could potentially save lives. The recommendations stem from a recent report from the Government Accountability Office. (House Oversight and Reform Committee)

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