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The Trump administration is considering ways to make it easier for federal employees to stop paying union dues. The Federal Labor Relations Authority and Office of Personnel Management are looking for feedback on existing law that governs federal employees’ payments to their union. The agencies said a 2018 Supreme Court decision opens up existing law to a new interpretation. Federal employees currently can change their union payments about once a year. They are not required to be active dues-paying members. (Federal Register)
The House passed its version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 220-197. The vote was split largely on party lines, with Republicans voting against the bill. They took issue with it only authorizing $733 billion for defense spending. The Senate version authorizes $750 billion for defense. The topline authorization funding will need to be settled in conference. (House Armed Services Committee)
A paid family leave program for federal employees was included in the House’s defense bill. Federal employees would receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for a sick family member. The bill would also block the proposed merger of the General Services Administration and Office of Personnel Management. The legislation was part of the 2020 NDAA. The House version also included another legislative attempt to block the Trump administration’s proposed merger of OPM with GSA. The Senate-passed version of the defense policy bill doesn’t include these provisions. (Federal News Network)
The House NDAA also reverses White House restrictions on transgender people in the military. An amendment introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) permits all those who can meet gender-neutral occupational standards to join the military.
A federal court sides with the Pentagon in the long running legal fight over its $10 billion cloud computing contract. The Court of Federal Claims hasn’t explained its rationale yet — that’s still to come in a forthcoming written opinion. But the court found the government was within its rights to impose criteria that excluded all but two vendors from the competition. It also rejected Oracle’s claim that the procurement was tainted by conflicts of interest involving Amazon Web Services. No word yet from Oracle on whether it’ll appeal the ruling. The Pentagon plans to award the contract to either AWS or Microsoft by the end of next month. (Federal News Network)
Despite recent reports on their shortcomings, 200 additional private debt collectors will be hired by the IRS by 2020. The program brought in more than $82 million in 2018. IRS officials told Congress it’s on track to collect $114 million by the end of this year. This comes after National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found private debt collectors barely brought in enough revenue to cover their costs in recent years. (Senate Finance Committee)
The Justice Department will get direct-hire authority to bring on specialized staff needed to respond to the opioid crisis. The Office of Personnel Management said the authority will help Justice streamline the hiring process at the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the Criminal Division and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency and announced a multi-agency effort to address it back in 2017. OPM previously issued direct hire authorities to the Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and State to respond to the emergency. (Office of Personnel Management)
There will be several new workforce engagement pilots at the State Department, following a 16-month hiring freeze early in the Trump administration. Carol Perez, director of Human Resources, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee the agency has launched a study looking at barriers to diversity in its senior career ranks. The agency is also moving its Foreign Service exit surveys online, and is looking at ways to improve employee retention. (Federal News Network)
The Secret Service is working on a facial recognition pilot just outside the White House. The pilot looks to match images of Secret Service employees, who have volunteered for the pilot, as they move around the grounds of the White House. Joseph DiPietro, the Secret Service’s Chief Technology Officer, said the systems won’t store data on random passersby who don’t match the volunteers faces. The agency launched the pilot last December, and will conclude the project in August. The agency retains 30 days’ worth of images at a time, and will delete all its images at the end of the pilot. (Federal News Network)
The Department of Veterans Affairs appointed its first-ever artificial intelligence director. Gil Alterovitz will lead a variety of AI projects at the VA. He’s currently leading a sprint within the department to develop new digital tools and apps that leverage federal databases at VA and other agencies. Alterovitz was a Presidential Innovation Fellow with the Department of Health and Human Services and helped draft the White House’s national AI strategic plan. (Department of Veterans Affairs)
Another agency and its workforce joined the battle over telework. The Environmental Protection Agency is a week into a sharp new limit on telework, and local 238 of the American Federation of Government Employees isn’t happy about it. Union leaders told E&E News the change was not part of bargaining in a new contract it said EPA management imposed. They said many of the union’s 8,000 EPA employees must scramble to make new schedules, and new child care arrangements. The new rule limits telework to one day per week. (E&E News)
The National Treasury Employees Union is urging senators to oppose the president’s general counsel nominee for the Federal Labor Relations Authority. Catherine Bird will begin her confirmation process next week. NTEU said Bird sat on the team of negotiators from the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS took its conflicts with NTEU to the Federal Service Impasses Panel after months of failed contract negotiations. NTEU said Bird doesn’t give it confidence she’ll make impartial or legally sound decisions if confirmed to the FLRA. (National Treasury Employees Union)