Federal employees on frontlines of coronavirus response could get premium pay bumps

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(Post headline updated to differentiate premium pay from hazard pay)

  • Federal employees working on the frontlines of the government’s coronavirus response may get some extra cash. The Office of Personnel Management says agencies can lift the usual limits on premium pay and set higher annual premium pay caps for specific employees. Only premium payments funded through or reimbursed by FEMA are eligible for these special rates. Congress gave agency heads this authority in the third coronavirus rescue package. (Office of Personnel Management)
  • The Office of Personnel Management is reminding employees that local and state shelter-in-place orders don’t apply to federal travel and essential business. OPM says it’s fielded many questions about state shelter-in-place orders. OPM suggests federal employees carry their agency identification cards at all times and report problems with local police to their supervisors. The Justice Department has already said no state orders restrict federal employees from conducting essential business or travel. (Office of Personnel Management)
  • It may be time to get the Government Accountability Office involved in the ongoing slew of vacancies across the federal government. 18 good government and transparency groups are calling on lawmakers to put more pressure on the White House to fill vacancies. In a letter to legislators, the groups say the vacancies are harming agencies’ ability to respond to the current pandemic. They also suggest GAO should identify and investigate violations of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. The Senior Executives Association and the Professional Managers Association are among the groups who appealed to senators.
  • Agency inspectors general got a vote of confidence from Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) tell President Trump that IGs will play an essential role overseeing more than $2 trillion in pandemic spending. The senators urge the president to submit nominations for IG positions that remain vacant, and urged him to take steps to ensure that IGs remain independent. This comes after Trump fired intelligence community IG Michael Atkinson and removed the Defense Department’s former acting IG Glenn Fine as the head of the pandemic recovery board.
  • House Democrats are asking the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office how it’s faring under the pandemic. The House Judiciary Committee commends USPTO for having a robust telework culture in place for its employees. But members say USPTO is more vulnerable to the pandemic’s impact because it’s a fee-funded agency. The committee asked whether the agency has the technological resources it needs keep most of its employees teleworking. It also asked if a decline in trademark filings would require the agency to seek financial support from Congress. (House Judiciary Committee)
  • Defense Secretary Mark Esper says the Defense Department will extend its stop move order. The policy, originally put in place in mid-March and put in place in response to the coronavirus, was supposed to end on May 11. Esper says he has not decided how long the order will be extended yet. The Pentagon plans to announce that in the coming days. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein says the stop move order could reach into August. (Federal News Network)
  • The Navy is dealing with another shipboard coronavirus outbreak – this time, on one of its hospital ships. The Navy says seven crew members on the USNS Mercy have tested positive for coronavirus. In response, it’s removed 116 of the crew. Navy officials say they’ve been taken to a base near where the ship’s docked in Los Angeles, where they’ll be quarantined. The Navy says the Mercy’s ability to treat patients hasn’t been affected, but the source of the infections is still unclear. The more than 1,000 personnel were screened for symptoms when the shop left San Diego on March 23, and none of them have left the Mercy since then. (Federal News Network)
  • Out of the 585 confirmed COVID-19 cases on the USS Theodore Roosevelt only 213 showed symptoms of the disease. Defense Secretary Esper says that is concerning considering many people in the military could be carriers of the disease and not know it. Currently there are over 2,600 service members diagnosed with coronavirus. DoD is constantly updating its policies to try to prevent the spread of the disease. The Pentagon released its eighth and most recent update on Monday. (Federal News Network)
  • The government is about to inflate the ventilator market. Health and Human Services has awarded contracts to seven ventilator manufacturers. They’ll supply more than 137,000 machines by the end of the year for a tab of one-point-five billion dollars. The contracts were made under the Defense Production Act the Trump administration invoked last month. That’s in addition to a billion dollars worth of contracts to General Motors and Philips to add another nearly 30,000 machines to the national stockpile by June 1. (Federal News Network)
  • Unions representing employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs are again raising alarm bells over a lack of protective equipment at VA facilities. They say hospitals are reporting low supplies of masks, gowns and hand sanitizer. They’re demanding VA provide adequate equipment to employees who are screening patients with potential or positive coronavirus cases. The unions also say VA must improve coronavirus testing for employees. The American Federation of Government Employees and National Federation of Federal Employees are among the unions who raised their concerns in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and acting health Undersecretary Richard Stone.
  • The VA’s fourth mission is expanding. It’s now treating non-veteran patients with coronavirus in parts of New York, New Jersey, Michigan and New Mexico. It will make an additional 1,500 beds available to FEMA for non-veteran patients at VA facilities across the country. Three VA doctors are on assignment in Connecticut to help treat the homeless population in the region. Other VA facilities are taking in patients from nursing homes in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. (Department of Veterans Affairs)
  • One key piece of Department of Housing and Urban Development’s financial management modernization effort goes back to the drawing board. HUD will have to wait a little bit longer to finally have a modernized financial management system. The five-year-old project received bad news yesterday when the Government Accountability Office sustained the protest by Deloitte over an award to Grant Thornton for services to support budget formulation requirements. GAO found the Bureau of Fiscal Service, which is providing shared services to HUD, unreasonably and unequally evaluated the vendors’ quotations. It also failed to explain why the Deloitte’s higher price was not worth a price premium.
  • Agencies and citizens have an extra 33 days to provide comments on how best to modernize the federal e-rulemaking process. The General Services Administration is extending the comment period to June 3 from April 30. GSA also has rescheduled the public meeting on e-rulemaking modernization to April 30 and made it a virtual discussion. Under the e-rulemaking modernization initiative, GSA is seeking input on technology and data, public access and accountability and how to increase efficiency across the government.