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Yet another plea for mandatory telework during the coronavirus pandemic. Over 60 House members want the President to order mandatory telework for all eligible federal employees and contractors. Members say previous guidance from OMB urging agencies to expand telework isn’t enough as telework requests are still being denied. Federal employee constituents tell them supervisors are still denying telework requests. Congressmen Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and 62 others made their case in a new letter to the president.
The White House says agencies need another $49 billion this year to respond to the coronavirus. Several agencies need funding for more bandwidth, virtual private network licenses and other tools to support full-scale telework. Many agencies also need funding for temporary employees and overtime. The IRS needs $214 million dollars to send out coronavirus-related tax relief and other benefits. Many agencies need funding for temporary employees and overtime. And the Office of Personnel Management needs more funding for a short-term electronic solution to process federal retirement claims. The retirement process is still largely paper-based. (White House)
President Donald Trump invokes a 70-year-old law to deal with the coronavirus. At least five agencies are now operating under the Defense Production Act of 1950 that pushes the needs of agencies to the front of the line for certain products and services. President Donald Trump signed the order yesterday instituting the act’s requirements at the departments of Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, including FEMA, and Transportation. Under the DPA, agencies buying products or services as part of their response to the coronavirus get top priority from suppliers. Congress passed the DPA in 1950 as part of the effort to mobilize suppliers during the cold war. (Federal News Network)
The same night President Trump signed a $100 billion coronavirus aid package into law, four of the largest postal unions have called for a bailout of the Postal Service. The unions ask Congress to give USPS more than $7 billion each year over the next two years to withstand a loss in mail revenue amid a recession. They estimate a loss in mail volume from a recession could lead to $4 billion in annual losses, and would threaten the Postal Service’s solvency. USPS is currently self-funded and doesn’t receive any annual funding from Congress.
Federal contractors have taken a hit during the coronavirus pandemic. That’s the message Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) has sent to Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration. She’s asked the administration to put a moratorium on contract terminations to avoid further hits to the economy. Wexton has also asked the administration to set guidance that allows maximum telework flexibility for contract employees.
As the administration calls for emergency funds for agencies, one agency temporarily stops a source of revenue. The National Park Service suspends park entrance fees for the ones still open. That’s the majority of national parks. In calling for the fee waivers, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt cites states and cities that have suspended their park fees. He adds, the large spaces in national parks make it easy to enjoy the outdoors while also maintaining a safe distance from other people.
Regional offices for the Veterans Benefits Administration are being closed to the public. Buildings are still open. But VBA will no longer accept walk-ins and other claims assistance appointments. Veterans can still file claims online. VBA’s decision comes on the heels of an Office of Management and Budget memo ordering the closure of many in-person federal services.
Less than a week into the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau has hit the brakes on in-person fieldwork over the coronavirus. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham says that the bureau will suspend 2020 census field operations until April 1. Under the bureau’s normal timeline, enumerators across the country would conduct an in-person count of people experiencing homelessness at the end of March. More than 11 million households so far have responded to the census. The bureau plans to update self-response rates every day through June. (Federal News Network)
More military activites is postponed due to coronavirus. The Air Force is pushing back a critical test for its advanced battle management system. The program will connect 28 different systems to give troops real-time awareness of the battlefield. It works much like the internet of things. It was supposed to be conducted in April, it’s now delayed until June. The test was supposed to show off capabilities to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in April. The Air Force is now delaying the test until June. The last trial of the system was in December 2019. (Federal News Network)
The military’s commissary system is cracking down on unauthorized shoppers. Each of the grocery stores will now be checking for military ID cards at their entrances. It’s one of several steps the Defense Commissary Agency is taking to keep shelves stocked. Stores have already started putting purchase limits on some high-demand items. Starting today, commissaries will also move to later opening hours to give staff more time to stock shelves and sanitize the facilities.
The Army is adjusting its rotations to Combat Training Centers. The centers are venues for combined-arms collective training, based in the U.S. and Europe. This adjustment will specifically affect the eighty first Stryker Brigade Combat Team. They’re now available to the governor of Washington to respond to any issues involving the coronavirus. The Army says it will reevaluate the training as the conditions change.
The Defense Department’s cyber red teams are highly-skilled at finding security problems on DoD’s networks. But the military services and agencies don’t have a great track record of fixing the vulnerabilities they find. That’s according to a new, highly-redacted report from the Pentagon’s inspector general. The IG says DoD needs to put a single organization in charge of making sure the red teams’ findings are dealt with.
Should artificial intelligence products be eligible for patents? The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office finds no shortage of opinions. USPTO launches a web page devoted to that very question. It includes comments received from individuals and organizations, nearly two hundred of them. Companies making everything from network equipment to cars have commented. As have the patent offices of Japan and Korea, and IP attorneys from several countries. Director Andrei Iancu has tagged the intellectual property rights connected to AI as top priority.
Russ Vought has been the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget for just over a year and may soon lose the acting title. President Trump intends to nominate Vought to be the permanent leader at OMB. He would replace Mick Mulvaney, who served in that role until becoming the acting White House chief of staff in December 2018. Before becoming the acting OMB director, Vought was the deputy director of budget at OMB. He also worked on Capitol Hill and in public policy for 20 years. (White House)