Agencies get more hiring flexibilities to help with coronavirus response

In today's Federal Newscast, the Office of Personnel Management granting agencies new authorities to help in their response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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  • Agencies have received new authorities and tools to hire extra staff for coronavirus response. The Office of Personnel Management says agencies can make excepted service appointments for about a year. New hires must contribute to the coronavirus pandemic, not any other agency work. Agencies can also apply for dual compensation waivers to rehire retired federal employees for full time work. OPM says reemployed annuitants will get a salary and a full pension to help with the federal coronavirus response. (Chief Human Capital Officers Council)
  • Veterans Affairs is rehiring retired employees to help with its coronavirus response. VA got a waiver from the Office of Personnel Management to reemploy annuitants for full time work. These retirees will receive a salary and their full annuity. VA says it needs additional help at its medical centers, community outpatient clinics, benefits offices and other agency offices during the coronavirus pandemic. VA can use the dual compensation waiver authority for at least a year. (Federal News Network)
  • More agency in-person services have been closing due to the coronavirus. The Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers stopped all in-person training Friday. FLET-C is working with its partner organizations to move all students off site as soon as possible. The National Institutes of Health are pausing non-mission critical laboratory operations. A limited number of NIH staff will maintain at non-critical labs. Non-essential NIH staff are teleworking. And the Department of Veterans Affairs will discontinue committal services and military funeral honors. VA cemeteries are still open. But family members must ask to witness formal burials.
  • The Census Bureau has suspended all decennial hiring and onboarding until at least April 1. In cases where the bureau has already made job offer, it’s put a hold on follow-up steps, such as background checks and fingerprinting. Bureau officials expect a higher than average attrition rate from its pool of 2.6 million applicants, and will hire more enumerators than it previously projected. The bureau will also continue to accept new job applications on its online portal. (Federal News Network)
  • Most Social Security Administration employees are finally teleworking full time. The American Federation of Government Employees says most employees at SSA’s teleservice and payment service centers are working from home starting today. Most field office employees are also teleworking. The union says SSA still needs to find enough soft phones for employees to remotely connect into the agency’s phone network. Most field office employees are also teleworking. Some may have to come in to the office occasionally to handle activities they can’t get done from home.
  • All in-person Army recruiting stations are closed due to the coronavirus. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville says the service will now only recruit virtually through its website and social media. In February, the Army said it was more than 2,000 enlistment contracts ahead of the beginning of 2019. The Army hit its goal of recruiting 68,000 troops in 2019. The service is expanding its general recruitment methods to encompass esports and cities like Boston and Seattle that do not traditionally bring in a high number of recruits.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has made it easier to obtain Medicare and Children’s Health Insurance Programs at the state level. CMS officials say state governments now have four ways to, in CMS language, strip away regulatory red tape in light of the national health emergency. It issues what it calls four checklists by which state health agencies can get people quickly into Medicare or CHIP coverage. They include a speedier way for states to make temporary changes in their Medicaid Disaster plans.
  • A plan to include the Postal Service in coronavirus stimulus funding gained support from a leading Democrat on the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Government operations subcommittee chair Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) backs a plan to give USPS $10 billion in emergency appropriations between this year and next year. The congressman also calls on the Treasury Department to forgive the Postal Service’s $11 billion debt and extend its $15 billion line of credit. The proposal would also extend paid parental leave to the postal workforce. (Federal News Network)
  • Three agencies, including five national laboratories in the Department of Energy, five leading technology companies and two universities, are bringing the power of supercomputers to help solve the coronavirus pandemic. The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy yesterday announced the creation of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium. NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Energy Department are teaming with the likes of IBM, Google and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to bring 16 systems that together offer over 330 petaflops of supercomputing capacity. These supercomputers will process massive numbers of calculations related to bioinformatics, epidemiology, molecular modeling, and healthcare system response, helping scientists develop answers to complex scientific questions about COVID-19 in hours or days versus weeks or months. (White House)
  • New technology challenges have emerged in the wake of the coronavirus emergency. The coronavirus may be the reason why more and more agencies finally adopt digital signatures to sign documents. More than 15 years after the launch of the e-authentication project, only a handful of agencies consistently use a secure electronic hash to approve documents. But with more employees teleworking, digital signatures may be the only way executives can sign off on contracts, memos and the like, In fact, OMB is drinking its own champagne. The most recent memo trying to answer technology questions from the Office of Management and Budget is digitally signed by Margaret Weichert, the deputy director for management. (White House)
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee voted to approve Matthew Donovan as the next defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness. The position has not had a confirmed official since July 2018. Donovan formerly served as acting secretary of the Air Force and as undersecretary of the Air Force. His nomination still needs confirmation from the full Senate. Donovan was previously a command pilot and retired from the service as a colonel in 2008. His nomination still needs confirmation from the whole Senate.

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