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The Pentagon’s inspector general is taking the lead in trying to head off waste, fraud and abuse in the newly-passed coronavirus spending package. Glenn Fine, who’s performing the duties of the Defense Department IG, will be the chairman of the newly-formed Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. By law, the oversight board is made up of inspectors general from nine federal agencies. They’ll monitor the more than $2 trillion in spending for signs of improprieties. The panel is similar to the board that oversaw the 2009 Recovery Act. Fine served on that board as well. (Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency)
The Small Business Administration’s inspector general warned of new scams after the president signed a $2 trillion coronavirus spending bill last week. The IG said fraudsters have begun posing as SBA to get cash and personally identifiable information out of small businesses. The agency said it doesn’t initiate contact about disaster loans or grants, and doesn’t ask for payment to provide these services. SBA also warns agencies to remain wary of potential phishing emails. (Small Business Administration)
Two telecommunications companies have received injunctions from the Justice Department to stop facilitating scams where callers say they were from the Social Security Administration, the IRS and private sector companies. DoJ alleges that the companies operated as intermediate voice over IP carriers where they transmitted usually foreign-based scammer calls to individuals. Justice also claims the defendants sold U.S. phone numbers to foreign entities, which were used as victim call-back numbers as part of massive robocalling fraud schemes. Two individuals representing five companies are permanently banned from operating as intermediate VoIP carriers conveying fraudulent robocalls into the U.S. telephone system. (Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General)
Starting Tuesday, March 31, GSA will begin limiting the use of old telecommunications contracts for certain agencies. The General Services Administration is trying not to make the same mistake twice. It will start forcing agencies, specifically those that have not responded to outreach, to use the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract for all telecommunications or network upgrades. As of Oct. 1, GSA will also freeze modifications for new requirements on the old Networx, WITS 3 and LSA contracts, which will be off limits to all agencies except for specific instances. Not freezing old contracts was a mistake GSA made during the last transition to Networx from FTS 2001 and it was part of the reason for a nearly a three-year delay. (Federal News Network)
The Department of Veterans Affairs is starting to take on new responsibilities as the nation’s backup medical system during the coronavirus pandemic. VA opened 50 beds at one of its New York City facilities to non-veteran and non-coronavirus patients. It’s also deploying its mobile vet centers to hotspots like the New York City region, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New Orleans. These mobile vet centers serve as extensions of VA brick-and-mortar facilities during hurricanes, wildfires, mass shootings and other major disasters. States must go through FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center to ask for VA backup help. (Federal News Network)
The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act is hitting a hurdle due to the coronavirus. The House Armed Services Committee is delaying the markup of the 2021 defense authorization bill. Committee members originally planned to go over the amendment and voting process on April 30. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said due to the 30-day extension of social distancing guidelines the markup will be moved to a future date that has not yet been set. Smith said the extension of social distancing guidelines is a prudent and necessary step.
The U.S. military has lost its first service member to coronavirus. The Pentagon said a New Jersey Army National Guardsman died on Saturday. The unidentified soldier had been hospitalized with the virus for the past week. Across the broader Defense community, nearly 1,100 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 as of the latest statistics on Monday. Those figures include nearly 600 uniformed service members. One contractor and one military dependent have also died. (Department of Defense)
The outbreak is compounding the military’s challenges with childcare. With military schools closed, some essential employees and mission-critical personnel are having trouble finding childcare for their kids. The commanders of installations dictate child development center operations. Some centers are closed, running on limited hours or at limited capacity. A recent survey from Blue Star Families also find that 11% of military families are paying for childcare they can’t use during the coronavirus crisis. (Federal News Network)
The State Department has so far brought home some 25,000 people from 50 countries. Ian Brownlee, the principle deputy assistant secretary for Consular Affairs, said another 100 flights are planned for this week for another 9,000 people. The first flight from Bangladesh took place yesterday. He said State is trying to convince the Peruvian government to let out Americans trapped by quarantine in a hostel. So far, though, 2,800 U.S. citizens have left Peru.
Most business is still up and running at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the pandemic. EEOC offices are closed and employees are teleworking. But the agency said federal employees can still file hearing requests and appeals through the EEOC public portal. Agencies can send their own files and documents to EEOC electronically. Federal employees can also check the status of their hearings and appeals online.
The largest federal employee union is suing the government over its coronavirus response. The American Federation of Government Employees is suing the government for not giving hazardous duty pay to employees working through the coronavirus. AFGE said employees are working in hazardous conditions. And some have been exposed to the virus through their work. The union filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of five employees at the Agriculture Department, VA and Bureau of Prisons. Other employees can join the class action lawsuit, too. (Federal News Network)
A pair of senators want more protections for postal workers during the coronavirus pandemic. More than 2,000 Postal Service workers are in quarantine because of the coronavirus. That’s led New Jersey Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez to join eight House Democrats in asking USPS what steps its taking to social distance employees in processing centers. They also ask USPS to deep clean facilities and vehicles at sites where postal workers have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Census Bureau may need to dip into its $2 billion contingency fund during the coronavirus pandemic. That’s led Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) to ask the Senate Appropriations Committee for more money for the bureau in fiscal 2021. The Trump administration asked for $1.6 billion for the bureau in its budget request, but the senators say that should be a minimum. The bureau also expects to rollover nearly $400 million in 2021 to reorganize three of its program offices. (The Census Project)