Virginia lawmaker asks presidential candidates for plans to reinvigorate federal service

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  • A Virginia Congresswoman wants to know how Democratic nominees for president plan to rebuild the federal workforce. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) released an open letter yesterday to the nominees, citing actions taken by the Trump administration that she says are “purposely hollowing out federal agencies.” She specifically mentions the Education and Agriculture departments, and a drop in job satisfaction by federal workers.
  • Hiring and overtime opportunities will slow down this spring for transportation security officers. The American Federation of Government Employees said a temporary hiring freeze and a new overtime cap will cripple the Transportation Security Administration workforce. Many security officers rely on the overtime hours to compensate for low pay. AFGE said turnover among TSOs is already high and morale already low.
  • Department of Veterans Affairs leaders will face some tough questions next week over their decision to delay the initial electronic health record rollout. House Veterans Affairs Committee staffers told Federal News Network they’ve fielded concerns about the development of the EHR and its requirements. But they’ve also heard employee training and management challenges are the reason for the delay. VA was supposed to roll out an initial set of capabilities at one site in Spokane, Washington, late next month. (Federal News Network)
  • The Department of Health and Human Services launched a new human resources platform to make better sense of its workforce data. HHS Chief Human Capital Officer Blair Duncan said the agency launched the platform earlier this month, for employees to access their personnel information more easily. So far, about 10% of the nearly 85,000 employees have access to the HR platform.
  • The skies have cleared for the General Services Administration’s award for its pilot of a e-commerce platform. Overstock.com has withdrawn its protest of GSA’s e-commerce platform solicitation. The Government Accountability Office said Overstock’s lawyers offered no explanation as to why it had given up on the protest. Overstock filed its complaint in January soon after GSA updated its request for proposals. Some experts say it may be because after reading the documents GSA submitted to GAO, Overstock realized its chances of winning were small. No matter the reason, GSA is now expected to make an award for its pilot in the coming months.
  • A year after President Donald Trump signed his executive order to increase artificial intelligence research in government, the White House released a report has highlighted steps agencies have taken to meet the EO’s goals. The report points to the Defense Department adopting principles for ethical AI use and the Energy Department swearing in the first head of its new AI and Technology Office earlier this month. The report also mentions the president’s fiscal 2021 budget request to double federal AI research spending by 2022. (Federal News Network)
  • The White House said the president will nominate Matthew Donovan as the Pentagon’s top personnel official. Donovan has already earned the Senate’s approval for his former job – undersecretary of the Air Force – but the administration moved him to the undersecretary for personnel and readiness position last year. If he’s confirmed for the permanent role, he would be the first Senate-confirmed official to lead DoD’s P&R organization since Robert Wilkie left DoD in 2017. The office has suffered from chronic gaps in its top leadership for several years. As of now, four out of its five top positions are filled by acting officials. (White House)
  • An interagency working group is trying to stop the coronavirus in its tracks. HHS, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated lawmakers Wednesday morning on the steps the government is taking to limit the spread of the virus. Acting Secretary Chad Wolf told lawmakers at a hearing that DHS has screened more than 50,000 people at airports and has additional security measures in place at land and sea ports of entry. Wolf said the threat of coronavirus remains low, but the interagency group is meeting daily to make changes on the ground as necessary.
  • The first U.S. service member infected with coronavirus was confirmed by the Defense Department as a soldier stationed at Camp Humphreys in South Korea. DoD said he is currently in self quarantine in his off-base home. The man visited two other bases right before the infection was detected. DoD said health professionals are actively conducting contact tracing to determine if any others were exposed. U.S. Forces Korea set the risk level for coronavirus as high peninsula-wide.
  • Military families are feeling most stressed about their finances. A new survey from Blue Star Families finds 44% of service members and 49% of military spouses were concerned about money. It’s the second year in a row the issue has topped the list. Finance concerns stem from out-of-pocket housing costs, out-of-pocket relocation costs, as well as military spouse unemployment. Other top stressors for military families included relocation and isolation. Service members reported not knowing any civilians in their local communities and not feeling like they had anyone they could ask for a favor. (Federal News Network)
  • Military tenants will soon have a bill of rights to ensure they are treated properly by landlords. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, along with the service secretaries, signed the document, which will go into effect May first. It gives military families explicit rights to comprehensible leases, electronic work order submissions and advance notice of a landlord visit. There are 15 rights in total. Three proposed rights did not make it in this version of the document. Those are the right to access the maintenance history of a house, a process for dispute resolution and the withholding of rent until disputes are resolved. DoD said it is working on adding those provisions once it gets the legalities straightened out. (Federal News Network)
  • In the meantime, many lawmakers say the bill of rights misses the mark. The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee say DoD didn’t follow the directions Congress gave it in drafting the bill of rights. They mention the lack of the provision which would have let them withhold rent when landlords keep them in squalid living conditions. DoD says it will need to renegotiate its contracts with private housing providers before it can add those kinds of requirements.
  • A coalition of whistleblower advocates said it’s time to at last fill the Merit Systems Protection Board. They said the Senate should try moving two out of three nominees to restore a quorum to the board. The MSPB has been without a quorum for over three years. Whistleblower groups say the situation has created dysfunction at the board. All three of the president’s MSPB nominees have cleared committee and are awaiting a confirmation vote in the Senate. (Federal News Network)
  • The top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee seeks an update from the Census Bureau on efforts to stop disinformation online. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) has asked the bureau what steps its new Trust and Safety team has taken with artners Facebook, Google and Twitter, to prevent unfounded rumors from spreading on the internet. This letter comes just weeks before most households will get their first notice about responding to the 2020 census in mid-March.
  • The Justice Department formed a unit dedicated to taking away people’s naturalization status. The Denaturalization Section will operate within the Civil Division Office of Immigration Litigation. Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt cites the growing number of referrals from law enforcement of criminals of all sorts, terrorists, sex offenders, war criminals, and thieves, who had obtained naturalization. Such people are considered to have obtained citizenship under false pretenses. In one instance a recruiter for Al Queda was denaturalized in Egypt and stripped of his passport. (Department of Justice)
  • Mark Johnson, the long-time Oracle federal executive, passed away suddenly on Tuesday night. Johnson, the senior vice president for public sector, spent 30 years at Oracle where he held a number of different positions including vice president of civilian federal sales and senior vice president of federal sales. Oracle released a statement calling Johnson an inspiring leader who made a significant and lasting contribution to Oracle’s customers and the industry.