Members of Congress demand more action to protect federal workers

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  • More calls to order mandatory telework for all eligible employees during the coronavirus. Over a quarter of the Senate is calling on President Trump to sign an executive order mandating telework for all eligible federal employees. 27 Senate Democrats say Trump needs to give clear direction, not general guidance. They say the recent guidance from the Office of Management and Budget to the national capital region isn’t enough. Agencies have been hesitant to take major actions and shift more employees to telework. Senators say state and local governments have been far more proactive in protecting their workforces.
  • Field offices at the Social Security Administration are closed to the public today due to the coronavirus pandemic. SSA says it’s canceling in-person services. Phone and online services are still available. It’s unclear what this decision means for the employees at these field offices. SSA unions have been practically begging agency leadership to allow field employees to telework. They’re the only employees at the agency who haven’t been allowed to telework at all. (Social Security Administration)
  • The Education Department is now directing its workforce to immediately begin teleworking to the fullest extent possible. The agency’s Office of Finance and Operations says all telework-eligible employees should continue to work from home until Friday, April 10. Supervisors have been told to find ways to shift non-telework eligible positions to telework-eligible. The memo also directs supervisors to find ways to shift the work assignments of staff in non-telework-eligible positions to telework-eligible status. The agency on Friday authorized unscheduled telework and unscheduled leave to employees identified as high-risk for the coronavirus by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Federal News Network)
  • The Postal Service updates its coronavirus guidance for supervisors and managers. The Postal Service is encouraging liberal sick leave for its employees amid the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile the American Postal Workers Union says it began talks about leave with USPS last Friday. Those talks centered on helping define hardship leave for employees dealing with the closure of child care and family care facilities. Postal employees in White Plains, New York and Seattle, Washington so far have tested positive for the coronavirus. (Federal News Network)
  • The Merit Systems Protection Board is ordering mandatory telework for employees at all locations. MSPB says employees will telework until March 27 at the earliest. MSPB leadership says employees should avoid the office until further notice. The new operating change will impact some MSPB hearing and mediation schedules. MSPB can still accept new appeals through its electronic filing system. But it can’t accept new mail-in or paper appeals.
  • The Pentagon is getting ready to support more teleworkers, but the people who’ve already started working from home are putting serious pressure on its IT networks. To deal with the bandwidth challenges, DoD is putting limits on data-intensive services like video streaming. For employees in the D.C. area, it’s blocking YouTube altogether. The helpdesk that handles support requests in the National Capital Region saw a 240% increase in calls over the last several days as more workers tried to do their jobs from home. That was before the Office of Management and Budget told federal agencies to maximize the number of employees teleworking. (Federal News Network)
  • More than 650 National Guard members are being deployed in 15 states to combat coronavirus. They’re are working on drive-through testing facilities, support to state emergency operations centers, support to healthcare professionals, cleaning public spaces and providing healthcare transportation. National Guard leader Joseph Lengyel says the Guard must remain flexible, innovative and ready to mitigate the impacts of the disease. (Federal News Network)
  • The Defense Department says its capabilities are limited for helping with the coronavirus. The Pentagon is trying to not overpromise on what it can do to help with the coronavirus response. The military’s top doctor says DoD has 36 health facilities that account for 2-3% of the nation’s hospital beds it can offer if needed. DoD does have the capability to set up medical tents and bring in hospital ships. However, those capabilities are made for trauma and therefore have tight living quarters than may spread the illness. (Federal News Network)
  • The Food and Drug Administration authorizes emergency use of two commercial tests for coronavirus. Saying his staff has worked nonstop to expedite reviews and authorizations, Commissioner Steve Hahn names two companies receiving go-aheads for testing products. He said more than 40 laboratories have told FDA they are, or will begin, testing under new expedited guidelines. FDA yesterday gave state health agencies responsibility for locally-developed virus tests, so that labs need not deal with FDA itself. And it withdraws most objections to rapid local deployment of newly developed tests.
  • Mark Green, one of the longest serving agency heads, is leaving federal service. The administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development will return to the private sector in April. Green began his tenure in August 2017. During his time, Green focused on increasing the the effectiveness of foreign assistance by implementing an internal reorganization, called USAID’s Transformation. He also strove to improve the technical expertise, operations, and staff across USAID. (Department of the State)
  • There’s finally a permanent leader at the Defense Department’s security clearance agency. DoD has named Bill Lietzau to be the new permanent director of the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency. Lietzau has been leading DoD’s Personnel Vetting Transformation Office. He’ll replace acting director Charlie Phalen. Phalen was DCSA’s acting director since July 2019, and the former director of the National Background Investigations Bureau at the Office of Personnel Management. (Federal News Network)
  • NIST offers the first update in seven years of its seminal cybersecurity guidance. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is expanding its cybersecurity special publication to address a host of emerging issues ranging from internet of things to supply chain risk management. NIST released the draft of revision 5 of Special Publication 800-53 yesterday. One major change in the draft guidance is the complete integration of privacy controls throughout the document. Previously privacy was an appendix. NIST also is dedicating an entire family of controls for supply chain risk management. Other versions of 800-53 just had one supply chain control. Comments on the draft of revision five are due by May 15.
  • A federal district court will dismiss the National Treasury Employee Union’s lawsuit over the 2019 government shutdown. NTEU says the IRS violated the Anti-Deficiency Act when it recalled tens of thousands of employees back to work. A judge for the D.C. Circuit says the IRS clearly made that decision to avoid potential political fallout. But the judge says he lacks jurisdiction to weigh in on the merits of NTEU’s real arguments. He says it’s inappropriate and unwise for him to speculate over whether the executive and legislative branches might shut down the government again.
  • Agencies celebrate transparency in government during this year’s Sunshine Week. But the Government Accountability Office has found a growing workload for agencies to manage. Agencies saw a 30% increase in the number of Freedom of Information Act requests between 2012 and 2018. About 15% of that volume took longer than 20 business days to complete, and added to the government’s backlog of cases. The Justice Department reports agencies received more than 850,000 FOIA requests in fiscal 2019.

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