White House removes DoD comptroller nominee who raised Ukraine defense aid concerns

In today's Federal Newscast, Elaine McCusker is no longer the White House's choice for Defense Department Comptroller.

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  • Elaine McCusker is no longer the nominee for Defense Department comptroller. McCusker raised concerns about suspending defense funding to Ukraine in 2019, which eventually led to the impeachment of President Trump. McCusker served as acting comptroller after David Norquist took over the position of deputy defense secretary. The withdraw of McCusker’s nomination comes after the ouster of Defense Undersecretary for Policy John Rood. Rood’s firing was also partly influenced by his reluctance to halt funding to Ukraine.
  • About $175 billion was spent on improper payments last year. That’s up from $151 billion  in 2018. The Government Accountability Office says about 70% of those improper payments stem from Medicaid, Medicare and, the IRS’s Earned Income Tax Credit. Congress passed the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act in 2010, but as of 2018, GAO says only half of the 24 largest federal agencies have met all the requirements of that law. The legislation requires agencies to set annual targets for improper payment reduction.
  • President Donald Trump has signed a bill giving federal agencies more tools to fight improper payments. The Payment Integrity Information Act launches a working group for agencies to tackle improper payments alongside state governments and other non-federal partners. The Office of Management and Budget, and the federal inspectors general council must also release new guidance to agencies on meeting existing improper payment mandates. The new law also requires agencies to identify which programs are the most at-risk of improper payments, and figure out ways to flag improper payments before they happen.
  • A decision the Department of Health and Human Services made about a year ago continues to reverberate across the government and industry. Agencies and contractors alike remain in the dark as to why HHS is shutting down it’s assisted acquisition services. This decision is putting agency missions and companies at risk. It’s wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to exclusive interviews and research by Federal News Network. HHS is paying vendors thousands of dollars in penalties for processing bills late. It’s paying four executives who HHS placed on administrative leave to stay home now for almost a year. HHS says its reviewing its financial systems and processes to improve its operations and strengthen transparency. (Federal News Network)
  • Agencies now have the official go-ahead to reserve task orders for small businesses under multiple award contracts. The Federal Acquisition Regulations Council finalized the rule for how agencies can set-aside task orders for small, disadvantaged and women-owned businesses. This final rule has been in the works since 2016. The council made 18 changes to the proposed rule, including how an agency can award directly to a company in the 8(a) program.
  • A former small business specialist for the Department of Veterans Affairs is sentenced to a year and a half in prison for taking bribes to rig federal contracts. An investigation by the FBI and VA Inspector General revealed Dwane Nevins helped manipulated the bidding process while working at VA’s Network Contracting Office in Colorado. (Department of Justice)
  • Another attempt to correct deficiencies with the paid parental leave law. House Veterans Affairs Committee ranking member Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) has a new bill that should ensure all VA employees have access to 12 weeks of paid parental leave. Roe says VA doctors, nurses, dentists and other healthcare professionals at the VA are inadvertently left out of the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act. Roe says the VA Family Leave Act would correct the inconsistency and give all VA employees the same benefits.
  • Amtrak brings in a new CEO with multi-modal transportation experience. The government railroad hires William Flynn as its next CEO, to succeed Richard Anderson. Flynn will take over Amtrak April 15. He’ll arrive from Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, an operator of military and passenger charter flights and air freight. He also worked for CSX railroad and logistics companies. The leadership change occurs as Amtrak enjoys record ridership and improving financials. It’s also in the midst of a capital investment drive. Amtrak is at odds with Congress over its route strategy. (Amtrak)
  • General Charles Brown Jr. is nominated as the next chief of staff of the Air Force. Brown currently serves as the commander of Pacific Air Forces. If confirmed, Brown would be the first African-American military leader of the Air Force. Brown began his career in the service in 1984. He previously served as the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command and as a national defense fellow at the Institute for Defense Analyses. Brown would take over for current Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein when he leaves the position in June. (Department of Defense)
  • The Navy has a new strategy to put a premium on education throughout its workforce. The Education for Seapower Strategy aims to fill what the Navy sees as education gaps across its officer, enlisted, and civilian workforce. Among other things, it calls for legislation later this year to formally authorize a Naval Community College and build more formal education opportunities for mid-career officers. For civilians, the Navy plans to set up an executive fellows program by the end of this year, sending its most highly-qualified civilians to masters-level executive leadership programs at outside colleges and universities. (Federal News Network)
  • The military is changing the way it does business in response to the coronavirus. The Defense Department is increasing the precautions its taking against coronavirus as it continues to spread globally. The Pentagon says it’s assessing how the virus might affect exercises and training. The military postponed a recent exercise with South Korea because of the contagion. Access to some bases have been restricted in Korea and Italy. Additionally, the military put travel restrictions on troops in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says the top three priorities are the safety of troops and their families, ensuring there is no disruption to missions and supporting interagency response to the virus.
  • The Office of Personnel Management has a new partnership with NASA to hire the next generation of astronauts. OPM worked with NASA and current astronauts to craft a new application and assessment tool for the Artemis lunar exploration mission. OPM says the new tools will help NASA more quickly process and review applicants for this specific mission. The tools are part of OPM’s USA Staffing talent acquisition system. They’re designed to specifically assess candidates for the competencies needed to become an astronaut. (Office of Personnel Management)

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