Interior Department facing shortage of firefighters

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  • The Interior Department is short-staffed for one of its most crucial functions. Facing yet another hot and dry wildfire season, Interior has nearly 250 fewer seasonal firefighters available than last season. That’s according to the Los Angeles Times, which obtained internal Interior memos. California alone has 19 million acres of federally-owned forest, managed by Interior and the U.S. Forest Service. An Interior spokeswoman told the Times the department fell short of its hiring goal of 1,600 seasonals, and now the hiring period is closed. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Government attorneys have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to immediately enforce the president’s collective bargaining executive orders. The appellate court had overturned the 2018 decision from a lower court to invalidate much of the EOs, but it did not lift the injunction on the executive orders. Government attorneys said it should be lifted. The National Treasury Employees Union said it plans to ask a full appellate court to review last week’s decision from a three-judge panel. (Federal News Network)
  • Every Democratic senator is urging Social Security Administrator Andrew Saul to reconsider its bargaining strategy with federal employee unions. In a letter to Saul, the lawmakers said they want SSA to return to the bargaining table to resolve its disputes with the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. SSA already filed for impasse on its contracts with the American Federation of Government Employees and National Treasury Employees Union. Senators said SSA’s bargaining proposals resemble provisions in the president’s collective bargaining executive orders. (Sen. Ben Cardin)
  • The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee advanced a new provision designed to help the Office of Personnel Management at last create new categories of leave. Congress passed the Administrative Leave Act back in 2016. It was supposed to create a new category of leave — separate from weather, safety or paid administrative leave — for employees who were under investigation for misconduct. But a technicality involving administrative leave for employees serving overseas prevented OPM from fully implementing the law. (Sen. Tom Carper)
  • Catherine Bird’s nomination to be general counsel at the Federal Labor Relations Authority has advanced. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee voted 8-5 to advance her nomination to the full Senate for a vote. The FLRA has been without a general counsel since January 2017. The authority hasn’t been able to issue official decisions on unions’ unfair labor practice charges since then. (Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee)
  • There are over 1,500 open recommendations from the Defense Department inspector general, according to a new report. Eighty of those recommendations have been open for at least five years. The report also said DoD could potentially save nearly $5 billion if it implemented the open recommendations with significant monetary benefits. DoD IG flagged a recommendation form improving screening and access controls for general public leasing on military installations and DoD’s compliance with the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, as some of the high priority recommendations the Pentagon needs to shore up. (Department of Defense Office of Inspector General)
  • Defense Secretary Mark Esper is standing up a new task force to deal with cancer-causing chemicals on military bases. At issue are a variety of chemicals used in firefighting, collectively known by the acronym “PFAS.” Esper said he wants the task force to tackle the issue holistically. He said the department’s response should range from examining the health effects of the foams to finding practical firefighting alternatives and cleaning up areas where groundwater contamination has already happened. The task force is set to assemble within the next month, with its first report to the new secretary due within 180 days.
  • Men are three times more likely than women to be nominated by lawmakers for admission into the military service academies. A report from the Connecticut Veterans Legal Council said the disparity deprives the military of a more balanced pool of candidates. The report found that since 1995, women have never exceeded 27% of the nominees recommended by Congress. The gap cuts across party lines as well. Women made up 22% of students nominated by Democrats and 20% of students nominated by Republicans. (Connecticut Veterans Legal Council)
  • No change to the military’s promotion system is needed, according to the military’s top non-commissioned service member. Army Command Sgt. Maj.  John Troxell, enlisted adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said non-commissioned leaders need the time in the service to be better role models to privates and corporals. He added that the military needs to continue providing benefits to service members that are offered by companies in the private sector.
  • A bill from Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C. ) aims to streamline the FedRAMP approval process for IT vendors looking to do business in the federal cloud market. The bill would require agencies to accept most provisional authorizations to operate issued by the Joint Authorization Board. The board consists of members from the General Services Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Defense Department. (Rep. Gerry Connolly)
  • GSA is challenging agencies and industry to improve the cloud security authorization process. GSA wants to hear ideas to improve the Federal Risk Authorization and Management Program or FedRAMP. It launched a new challenge asking for suggestions to improve four areas of the cloud security process. The goal is to come up with a more modern, efficient, and effective authorization process, while also reducing time and cost and without compromising cybersecurity rigor. GSA is not offering any prizes for the competition, rather its approach is to reach a broader community. Responses to the challenge are due by Aug. 22. (FedBizOpps)
  • The office responsible for protecting whistleblowers and investigating their claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledged, it still has more to do to reverse a longstanding culture of retaliation at the agency. The VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection said it’s developing new whistleblower policies and training. Other federal organizations that handle VA whistleblower claims said they’re understaffed, and often can’t investigate and complete as many investigations as they’d like. Both the VA inspector general and Office of Special Counsel said this contributes to perception whistleblowers have that their offices are turning a blind eye to their concerns.
  • The National Archives and Records Administration is gearing up to offer new training for agency records management officials. Starting in January 2020, agency records officials new to their jobs must obtain an Agency Records Officer Credential within a year of their start date. The new credential stems from a recent memo from the Office of Management and Budget and NARA. Current records management officials who have completed their training will not need to re-certify for the new credential. (National Archives and Records Administration)

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