Senate Democrats ask OPM for more agency guidance

In today's Federal Newscast, Senators say the Office of Personnel Management has refused briefings on the topic of guiding the government through the pandemic.

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  • Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee want to know how the Office of Personnel Management is guiding and supporting the federal workforce during the pandemic. Senators say the Office of Personnel Management has refused briefings on the topic since March 17. They also say the voluntary guidance from OPM and the Office of Management and Budget on telework and leave procedures isn’t strong enough. The senators say agencies need clearer guidance and tangible requirements on how they should support and protect federal employees.
  • Members of Congress are offering even more federal workforce ideas for the next coronavirus relief package. The Republican Study Committee says Congress should expand hiring flexibilities given to some agencies during the pandemic to everyone. The committee is also pushing for legislative changes to help agencies prevent improper stimulus payments. A bicameral group of Democrats are advocating for their own proposals. They want the next coronavirus legislative package to include a bill of rights for essential workers, federal employees included. Their bill of rights proposal would include hazard pay for frontline health and safety workers. (Federal News Network)
  • Leaders of the House Armed Services Committee say the coronavirus pandemic will affect the 2021 defense authorization bill and its process. In a joint statement, chairman Adam Smith (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) say they are discussing with leadership how the committee can markup the bill and how it will be considered on the floor. The defense authorization act has made it into law for the last 59 years.
  • Sailors are starting to move back aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt after an extended stay on Guam. Navy officials told the Associated Press that several hundred sailors will move back to the TR this week after spending about a month in gyms, hotels and other facilities. The movements were scheduled to start last night. The Roosevelt has been operating with a minimal crew, many of whom have been working to clean the ship. Sailors are expected to move back to those cleaned spaces in “waves.” They’ll need to have at least two negative tests for coronavirus before they’re allowed back on board. (Federal News Network)
  • Military service members are seeing another uptick in financial and quality-of-life strain after the Defense Department implemented an extension to its stop move order. According to a weekly Blue Star Families survey, more than 30% of military families say they are or will pay housing fees in two places over the next 60 days. Nineteen percent of essential service members reported not being able to find childcare and 20% of essential civilians say they cannot find childcare.
  • The Labor Department is telling states that Peace Corps and AmeriCorps volunteers who lost their positions due to the coronavirus pandemic can receive unemployment benefits. The memo says these two groups are eligible for up to 39 weeks of unemployment payments. In the CARES Act, Congress covered Peace Corps and AmeriCorps volunteers under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Lawmakers say Labor’s guidance was critical in ensuring they received the benefits in a timely manner.
  • FEMA is delivering one million surgical and facial masks to the Department of Veterans Affairs later this week. The joint statement from VA and the Department of Homeland Security comes after continued concern over the personal protective equipment supply at VA facilities. The agencies say they’ve been working together to supply VA facilities with millions of masks, respirators and other equipment during the pandemic. But concerns have persisted. VA told the Washington Post, FEMA had diverted supplies it was counting on to replenish the national stockpile instead. VA is now helping 38 states respond to the coronavirus pandemic as part of its fourth mission.
  • The Thrift Savings Plan says the vast majority of participants are staying the course through recent stock market volatility. 7% of TSP participants made inter-fund transfers in March. That’s an all-time high for inter-fund transfers. But the remaining 93% stuck with their original investment plans. The TSP says it’s starting to see participants slowly move their investments back out of the G-fund. Hardship withdrawals and loan requests are also starting to go down. (Federal News Network)
  • Agency inspectors general gave a preview of their oversight of pandemic spending. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration tells the House Oversight and Reform Committee it’s working on two audits tied to disbursements under the $2 trillion cares act. Meanwhile the Treasury Department’s acting IG urged the Senate to confirm President Donald Trump’s nomination for the Special IG for Pandemic Recovery. Several IGs say they’ll also publish flash reports to ensure that stakeholders are frequently updated on how agencies are responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Housing and Urban Development’s top watchdog outlines its five priority areas for pandemic oversight. Those include assistance for vulnerable populations, mortgage forbearance, and more than $2 billion in rental assistance spending. The HUD inspector general also includes grant spending on resilient communities and the agency’s internal management in its COVID-19 oversight framework. The $2 trillion CARES Act puts HUD in charge of more than $12 billion in total emergency spending.
  • A new IG report is raising more questions than answers about GSA’s schedule contracts. Did GSA miss out on more than a billion dollars in potential savings? It depends who you ask. The agency’s inspector general says they did. The IG conducted pre-award audits and found contracting officers didn’t always negotiate for the lowest prices. But GSA and experts say the audits don’t tell the entire story. Experts say the reviews tend to look at list prices of contracts not the amount agencies paid at the task order level. GSA says a majority of the audits reviewed by the IG happened before it made major changes in 2018 and 2019. (Federal News Network)
  • The General Services Administration is sunsetting a Federal Acquisition Regulation deviation and wants to make sure people know about the new rule in its place. Under the new Order Level Materials procedures, a year in development, agency buyers can buy, and companies can sell, services or products integral and necessary to the main order, on the multiple awards schedules. Those secondary items become in effect schedules products. Program manager Steve Sizemore points out OLM products must meet Trade Agreement Act rules and that sellers have to pay GSA’s industrial funding fee.

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