House VA Committee chair calls for agencywide stand-down to address veteran suicide

In today's Federal Newscast, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), the head of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, wants all hands on deck to address veteran suicide.

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  • The head of the House Veterans Affairs Committee wants all hands on deck to address veteran suicide. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) is calling for The Department of Veterans Affairs to hold a nationwide suicide stand-down within the next 15 days, so every leadership executive, administrator, nurse, doctor, and employee across the agency understands how to identify veterans in crisis and get them the help they need. There were three veteran suicides in five days on VA property back in April, and a recent VA inspector general report found there was a series of leadership failures at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center which lead to a patient committing suicide in a secure psychiatric ward back in March. (House Veterans Affairs Committee)
  • A group of Washington, D.C.-area Democrats are urging the Agriculture Department to reconsider its decision to offer $10,000 buyouts instead of the max $25,000, to USDA employees who opted out of the Kansas City relocation. The lawmakers said those employees were counting on the larger Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments, and that the switch is quote unacceptable. USDA said it’s offering $10,000 buyouts to accommodate everyone who is eligible. But lawmakers said the switch is “unacceptable.” Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) Don Beyer (D-Va.),  Anthony Brown (D-Md.) and David Trone (D-Md.) are among the members who wrote to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. (Rep. Jamie Raskin)
  • More than a dozen current and former employees of the Commerce Department’s inspector general office have raised concerns with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Mass staff departures, low morale and falling productivity are just some of them. Grassley, the chairman of the Finance Committee, wrote to Commerce IG Peggy Gustafson asking for 17 different data points about the number of people who have left, what GS or SES level they were and records of any exit interviews the office conducted. The Commerce IG’s office was ranked 410th out of 415 federal agency subcomponents in the 2018 Best Places to Work rankings. The 2018 score was eight points lower than in 2017 and 15 points less than in 2016. (Sen. Chuck Grassley)
  • Veterans Affairs has a backlog of paper medical records that measures over five miles high. The VA inspector general said medical facility staff have struggled to quickly and accurately scan and enter patient documents into electronic health records. The department hasn’t ensured the information in the documents is legible and accurate. The IG said VA should first address staffing shortages to help the department manage and improve its medical records backlog. (Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General)
  • A tsunami of electronic records is taking a toll on the government’s mostly pen-and-paper system for declassifying records. That’s the big takeaway of a report from the National Archives and Records Administration’s Information Security Oversight Office. ISOO Director Mark Bradley has urged agencies to begin investing in automation tools, to streamline the declassification process, amid an increase in workload over the past few years. (Federal News Network)
  • Amid the Trump administration’s push to cut the number of federal advisory committees, NARA has warned agencies to hang onto records from organizations which may be on the chopping block. Last month, NARA reminded agencies to follow the proper procedures for the transfer or disposal of committee records. NARA has urged agencies to consult with their general counsel’s office on how to handle committee records. (Federal News Network)
  • One of the first agencies to put its email in the cloud decided to end its use of Google Apps for Government. The Interior Department is switching email platforms to Microsoft Office 365 from Google. The agency awarded a 10-year, $94 million contract for a software-as-a-service capability that includes collaboration tools, document flow and mobile device support. Interior hired Planet Technologies to implement the new email and collaboration platform. In 2012, Interior made one of the first awards for email in the cloud to a company who implemented Google Apps for Government. It was one of the largest Google implementations in the federal sector. (Federal News Network)
  • The General Services Administration got deep into the job of fixing a troubled program. It’s the follow-on to its highly successful Alliant Small Business government-wide acquisition vehicle for IT services. Bloomberg Government reports, GSA is accepting revised bids for the 10-year, $15 billion deal. GSA had made 81 awards back in March, after more than a year of evaluation. But protests caused the Court of Federal Claims to bar the agency from proceeding. Now GSA said it will make 120 awards under revised evaluation criteria.
  • Newly sworn in Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday said he will prioritize readiness modernization and people during his tenure. Gilday also said he will continue to build bonds with the nation’s allies and to improve maritime security. Gilday formerly served as the director of the Joint Staff. He takes over command from Adm. John Richardson. (Navy)
  • After ransomware attacks hit local governments in both Texas and Louisiana over the past month, the National Guard is rethinking how it trains its cyber units. National Guard Chief General Joseph Lengyel said the Guard needs to further standardize training so all cyber troops have the same baseline education. Currently, some training differs by state and the equipment they learn on is not uniform. Lengyel also said the Guard needs to share expertise across the states from Guard members who work with computers in the private sector. (Federal News Network)
  • A Pentagon audit found critical DoD IT systems might not be adequately prepared to recover from a disaster. Federal guidance requires DoD to develop information system contingency plans for its national security systems so they can be quickly restored in the event of a system failure or other emergency. But when the inspector general audited a sample of 15 of those systems, it found DoD only had adequate plans in place for two of them. Four of the systems had no contingency plans at all. The DoD CIO’s office said it’s recently issued guidance reiterating that DoD components need recovery plans for their critical systems. (Department of Defense Office of Inspector General)
  • A federal judge ruled transgender men and women who were unable to join the military after President Donald Trump’s ban can proceed with a lawsuit that looks to overturn the Pentagon’s policy. Stars and Stripes reported that District Judge George Russell did dismiss most cases brought by current trans servicemembers, since the policy allows them to remain in the military.
  • This year’s open season will kick off Nov. 11, and run through Dec. 9. Participants in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program will have five weeks to make changes to their insurance plans. The Office of Personnel Management will announce premium rate changes later this fall. Typically just 6% of FEHBP participants change their plans during open season. OPM estimated 20%-30% more actually could. (Office of Personnel Management)

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