Pressure mounting for White House to address contractor concerns during coronavirus pandemic

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  • Federal contractor associations wrote separate letters to the White House and lawmakers asking for more guidance for how industry should expect to work during the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) piled on with a letter to the Office of Management and budget seeking a moratorium on all terminations of contracts during the coronavirus pandemic. The Professional Services Council is asking for overarching guidance to contracting officers to let contractor employees telework. Meanwhile, 10 associations wrote to lawmakers asking for language in the pending bills to encourage the use of flexible work solutions, including telework and virtual work environments, for contractors.
  • The Trump administration expanded the administrative relief it’s giving agencies and grantees during the pandemic. The Office of Management and Budget released its second memo in 10 days with additional changes, which also will apply to more people. Among the major areas of relief in the new memo is the extension of closeout reports for a year and recipients who incur costs related to the cancellation of events, travel, or other activities for the performance of the award, or the pausing and restarting of grant funded activities can charge these costs to their award.
  • More than 170 public interest, labor and grassroots organizations have called on the Trump administration to extend the comment period for agencies’ proposed rules during the coronavirus pandemic. The groups, led by the Center for Progressive Reform have asked the Office of Management and Budget to extend comment deadlines by at least 30 days to allow stakeholders time to resume normal operations. The proposed extension would apply to executive and independent agencies.
  • Eight Senate Democrats said agency pandemic and telework plans should be posted online for the public to see. The senators wrote to both acting leaders at the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget. They’re asking the administration to require the publication of their pandemic plans, similar to agency contingency plans during a government shutdown. Virginia Senator Mark Warner said publicly posting the plans would give the public some reassurance about what agency services will continue and which ones won’t. (Sen. Mark Warner)
  • The IRS gave taxpayers and businesses an extra 90 days to pay their 2019 tax bills. But House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said the agency should take the extra step of pushing the April 15 filing season deadline to July. With many taxpayer assistance centers closed, Neal said that puts some low income and elderly taxpayers at a disadvantage. More than 170 Taxpayer Assistance Centers and other free tax help services have closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. (House Ways and Means Committee)
  • Another battleground in the tug-of-war between the Trump administration and federal employee unions. The Federal Labor Relations Authority, at the moment dominated by Trump appointees, proposes an addition to its regulations designed to, in the Authority’s words, “provide employees the fullest freedom,” to revoke union dues payments. The American Federation of Government Employees wasted no time in calling the proposed rule a union-busting measure. The union calls it contrary to settled law and Congressional intent. Comments are open until April 9.
  • The workforce at Transportation Department headquarters is home after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus. The department ordered employees to stay home until further notice and that eligible employees should telework. The order only applies to Transportation’s Navy Yard facility in Washington, D.C. The department is notifying employees who the diagnosed person worked closely with. Transportation said this is the first confirmed employee with the coronavirus.
  • The Department of Homeland Security laid out emergency procedures for identifying and defining who are essential employees in the critical infrastructure sectors. DHS released guidance providing recommendations for how all 16 critical infrastructure sectors can ensure workers are safe and can continue to provide key services to their communities. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency developed a list of suggestions to assist providers in prioritizing activities related to continuity of operations and incident response.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs is preparing its hospitals for the possibility that as many as a million veterans might need treatment for coronavirus. As part of a $17 billion emergency funding request, VA told Congress its worst-case planning scenario involved one out of every five veterans needing emergency care. On top of that, VA facilities could be called on to relieve the strain on the private-sector health care system. To help prepare, the department has cut back on routine appointments and cancelled elective surgeries. Eighty-three veterans have tested positive for the virus so far. More than 800 have been tested. (Federal News Network)
  • The National Guard is expecting a lot more members to help with coronavirus. National Guard Bureau Chief General Joseph Lengyel said he expects tens of thousands of guardsmen to be called up by state governors in respond to the coronavirus. The Guard currently has 2,050 service members on-duty in 27 states. Lengyel said he expects that number to double by the weekend. National Guard members are helping to support testing facilities, cleaning public buildings, providing transportation for health care professionals and delivering meals. (Federal News Network)
  • Moving companies are asking Congress for a nearly $200 million bailout after the Defense Department froze permanent changes of station as a precaution against coronavirus. The International Association of Movers and American Moving & Storage Association said DoD’s actions will cause severe layoffs and companies to go out of business. The military will reassess its moving freeze at the beginning of the summer during the peak moving season.
  • Ten small companies have been picked by the Army to move onto the final round of its xTechSearch competition. Each of the finalists get $120,000 in prize money, and another $250,000 if they win the final challenge in October. The program aims to recruit startups with innovative solutions to military problems and help connect them with venture capital. (Army Research Laboratory)