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Among the group of clemencies President Trump granted yesterday were a former federal procurement chief and a one-time owner of a federal contractor. Trump commuted the sentences of David Safavian, a one-time administrator in the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, and Ariel Friedler, the former owner of Symplicity Corporation. Safavian was convicted of making false statements to the FBI as part of the Jack Abramoff scandal. Friedler served time in jail for hacking into a competitor’s computer network. (White House)
Unions are dialing up the heat on a recent Federal Labor Relations Authority ruling which allows employees to stop paying union dues at any point in the year. FLRA overturned a 1981 ruling that gave federal employees a specific period each year to renew or rescind union dues from their biweekly paychecks. The FLRA reversed the 1981 decision at the request of the Office of Personnel Management. The National Treasury Employees Union says it will be challenging the decision.
New participants to the Thrift Savings Plan will be automatically enrolled at higher rates starting this fall. The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board says it plans to enroll new participants at 5% in the TSP instead of 3%. This means participants will receive the maximum matching contribution from their agencies. Participants are currently enrolled automatically at three percent. The TSP says the goal is to help its participants retire with more savings. Increasing the rate to five percent of participants’ pay means they’ll receive the maximum contribution from their agencies. Participants can later change how much they contribute.
It will cost about $70 million to merge the Office of Personnel Management with the General Services Administration according to the White House. The merger is technically on hold, at least until the National Academy of Public Administration reviews and recommends options for OPM and its future. But the president’s Fiscal 2021 budget request says OPM and GSA need significant time and resources to ensure a seamless transition of people, IT systems, and other resources. (Federal News Network)
A Veterans Affairs artificial intelligence project is showing some early and promising results. The VA’s National Artificial Intelligence Institute has only been operating for about three months. Director Gil Alterovitz says it has already helped existing medical initiatives at VA. One is work on predicting the likelihood of acute kidney injury during other medical treatments. Another is comparing the accuracy of image analyses done by AI algorithms, versus those done by doctor consensus. Alterovitz says talent acquisition is a challenge for the institute, but the VA’s mission draws people.
Federal health insurance carriers are doing better on OPM’s annual quality test. Average quality, customer service and resource measures improved for each plan type in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program in 2019. OPM will make improvements in diabetes care a higher priority in 2020. Carriers in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program get screened for clinical quality, customer service, and other performance metrics each year.
A court upheld the government’s ban of a Chinese-owned technology vendor. Huawei is still banned from federal contracting. A Texas district court judge rejected the Chinese telecommunications company’s lawsuit saying the ban doesn’t meet the standard of legislative punishment. Congress included a provision in the 2019 defense authorization bill prohibiting agencies from contracting with Huawei and ZTE over cybersecurity concerns. Huawei sued claiming the provision violated the constitution in three ways, including the Bill of Attainer and due process clauses. Russian company Kaspersky Lab tried a similar defense and also lost its lawsuit in 2018.
The Department of Homeland Security is doing all it can to get started on border wall construction. DHS Secretary Chad Wolf is waiving ten contracting regulations that call for open competition and bid protests, among others, to expedite 177 miles of border wall construction. This is the first time such waivers have been applied to procurement regulations. (Federal News Network)
Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he never felt any “pressure” from the White House to intervene in DoD’s JEDI Cloud contract. But the secretary isn’t saying whether Trump Administration officials contacted him about the issue. A federal judge temporarily blocked the contract from moving forward last week. The order sprang from an Amazon lawsuit. The company claims President Trump improperly interfered to stop Amazon from winning.
89 small businesses won licenses to hunt under GSA’s OASIS professional services multiple award contract. GSA picks a new batch of small firms in the management, scientific and technical services section of the vehicle. It could add another sixty-one over the next few months as part of its effort to refill the small business portion of the contract. In 2019, agencies spent more than $3.5 billion under the OASIS small business contract.
A veterans group says the Pentagon broke its promise to open up its records on veterans’ discharge appeals. The National Veterans Legal Services Program sued DoD in January, saying it was violating a federal law that requires review boards to post their decisions on a public website. DoD settled the case two weeks later and told a federal court it would publish the records by the end of the month. That hasn’t happened, according to new court filings. NVLSP is asking a judge to order DoD to follow through. The group says the past decisions are vital to helping veterans fight their own “bad paper” discharges. (Federal News Network)
The Army is hoping for more punch behind what it can buy with its budget. The service is asking for a 3% to 5% bump in purchasing power in future budgets. Lt. Gen. Thomas Horlander, military deputy to the Army comptroller, says as the Army’s nascent technology prioritizations – like precision fires and vertical lift – mature, they will require more funds. To get it, it will need to compete with a Navy that’s already clamoring for a bigger piece of future military budgets. The Army took a one percent hit in purchasing power in the 2021 budget request.
To help more airmen get started on a career in cybersecurity, the Air Force is creating a pathfinder program to give students another opportunity to pass their Security+ exam. Students can now retake the exam during the first six months at their duty station. The test in known for being complex and a main reason airman give up on the IT field.