Pentagon looks to help keep small federal contractors afloat

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  • Small business government contractors are already are feeling the impact of the government slowdown because of the coronavirus. A new survey by the National Defense Industrial Association, or NDIA, found 62% of all small businesses say they are losing money, mainly because of the reduction of billable hours. Additionally, 54% of the small businesses say they are experiencing a disruption of their contract because of the shelter-in-place order. More than 450 large and small contractors say accelerated payments and short term loans would be most helpful to keep their businesses going.
  • The Pentagon says it’s adjusting some 1,500 contracts to help boost cash flow for contractors who are seeing financial strain from coronavirus. The Defense Contract Management Agency is conducting a mass modification to increase the amount of money it can pay vendors who haven’t yet finished their work. The “progress payments” will be increased to 95% for small companies, and 90% for large ones. (Department of Defense)
  • There’s some help out there for federal employees who run out of sick or paid leave due to the coronavirus. The Federal Employee Education and Assistance fund is offering hardship loans to employees who have COVID-19 or are caring for someone with the virus. Initial loans are worth up to $500. Eligible employees can apply online. The National Treasury Employees Union is also partnering with FEEA to expand its own disaster fund. NTEU says employees at one of its 33 member agencies who have exhausted their sick leave can apply for a $500 grant. NTEU members are also donating to the fund. The union is matching donations.
  • Federal employees will soon have even more opportunities to help with government coronavirus response. The Office of Personnel Management created a COVID-19 Surge Response Program. The program serves as a place where agencies can post temporary details, micro-details and other short-term assignments for employees to help with coronavirus response. The details are posted on Open Opportunities, a micro-site within USAJOBS.gov. OPM is urging agencies to work together to identify with temporary assignments related to COVID-19 response. Employees must apply for these details online. OPM says supervisors should approve them. (Office of Personnel Management)
  • Veterans Affairs is looking at a grim picture of the coronavirus and its impact on its workforce. The Veterans Health Administration estimated 40% of the VA workforce could be out of work at one time because they have the virus, are caring for a family member with the virus, or they’re afraid to come to work. The estimate is considered a worse case scenario for the virus at its peak. VA detailed these scenarios in its coronavirus response plan.
  • A handful of unions representing VA employees say the agency isn’t involving them in coronavirus response planning. The American Federation of Government Employees, National Federation of Federal Employees and other unions say they’re hearing concerning reports from their members. Members say leave policies and protective equipment stocks are inconsistent across the workforce. Unions are appealing to House and Senate VA committee leadership for help. They say VA should set weekly check-in meetings with union leadership and involve them in COVID-19 response planning.
  • The Pentagon says it’s making it easier for federal funding to flow to National Guard units helping to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Def. Sec. Mark Esper is implementing a “streamlined” process to put troops in what’s known as Title 32 status. Under that legal regime, soldiers and airmen are still under state control, but units receive federal funding, and troops are eligible for military health coverage. Governors’ requests to activate troops under Title 32 will need to be submitted through FEMA, but DoD says it will immediately sign off on any requests that FEMA approves. (Department of Defense)
  • The Space Force says it is still moving along on setting up the service despite some hardships from COVID-19. Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond says the service canceled its Space Flag 20-2 exercise, which was scheduled for late April though. The Space Force is helping provide bandwidth for the hospital ship USNS Mercy as it takes on patients to help with the coronavirus response on the west coast. Raymond says three Space Force members have been infected with coronavirus. (Federal News Network)
  • Some big guns will soon come to bear on the search for answers about coronavirus. It’s the federal fleet of supercomputers. They’re mainly operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Energy Department and NASA. An interagency review committee is also enlisting Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft clouds in the effort. Piyush Mehrotra, division chief of NASA Advanced Supercomputing, says the panel is evaluating virus-related research proposals from government, academic and industry scientists. It’ll soon match the proposals with the most suitable supercomputer.
  • Flexible work schedules are an option for federal employees teleworking with children at home. The Office of Personnel Management has even more guidance for agencies during the pandemic. OPM says agencies should allow telework-eligible employees to set core hours where they’re working without much interruption… and flexible hours… where they’re balancing work with caregiving duties. Employees could choose to work more days in a biweekly pay period but with shorter hours. OPM says agencies shouldn’t use excused absences for employees who balance telework and their children at home.
  • An evacuation order from the IRS requires nearly all employees to telework during the coronavirus pandemic, with no end date given. The agency will restrict building access today for employees picking up work assignments, mail and supplies to work from home. Several employees will continue to work on-site for essential tasks they can’t complete remotely. Managers can assign employees tasks that are beyond their usual workday. But staff are eligible for weather and safety leave, if their managers can’t find telework-eligible tasks for them. (Federal News Network)
  • In-person field operations for the 2020 Census count have been pushed back another two weeks because of the pandemic. The bureau first put that work on hold until April 1, but now it’s postponed until April 15. This will impact when enumerators can finish leaving paper questionnaires for households in Puerto Rico, as well as tribal and rural areas. (Federal News Network)
  • The Postal Service is looking to hire temporary employees to deal with higher absentee rates during the coronavirus pandemic. Under an agreement with the American Postal Workers Union, the agency can hire temporary mail processing assistants and clerk assistants at sites with workforce shortages. It can also bring back retired employees as extra clerk assistants. The agreement would require career employees and postal support employees to max out their hours before management hires temporary work. It would also allow USPS to bring back retired employees as extra clerk assistants. (Federal News Network)
  • Jordan Gillis got Senate approval to become the next assistant secretary of defense for sustainment and Charles Williams as assistant Navy secretary for installations, energy and the environment. Gillis previously served in the Army’s top installations spot. Williams spent 32 years in the Navy and served as president of a property management and development company called Commercial Realty. Both positions will have to deal with the issues of mold, mice and lead paint that are plaguing military privatized housing.
  • Six industry associations representing some of the biggest names in the technology sector are pressing the Defense Department on its new cybersecurity standards. Technology companies ranging from Google to Oracle to Cisco are warning Defense officials that the without more clarity, the cybersecurity maturity model certification initiative could falter. A letter to DoD leadership from six associations representing these and dozens of other technology companies outlines a series of recommendations that the vendors believe could improve the cyber standard. One of the major changes the associations are seeking is for the Pentagon to recognize similar cyber certifications that could reduce the burden of CMMC. The associations say without these changes, CMMC may result in unnecessarily generate confusion, delay and associated costs. (Federal News Network)

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