Sexual harassment claims at federal workplaces on the rise

In today's Federal Newscast, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is out with a new report detailing sexual harassment in the federal workplace.

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  • Sexual harassment claims among federal employees are up 36% in recent years. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is out with a new report detailing sexual harassment in the federal workplace. The commission says claims went up between 2015 and 2018. But these numbers don’t properly represent the reality as many incidents go unreported. Many federal employees aren’t reporting sexual harassment within their agencies because they’re afraid of retaliation. The commission says federal employees have fewer protections than their counterparts in the private sector because civil service laws haven’t evolved with the times.
  • There’s now an online collection of everything the government has put out related to the coronavirus. The Defense Acquisition University compiles all of the government COVID-19 related memos and guidances into one online repository. The move was directed by Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment to help contractors stay up to date on all coronavirus information. The page can be found at DAU is operating at restricted status. Classes are either cancelled or moved online to promote social distancing.
  • Veterans Affairs has 4,000 more ICU, medical and surgical beds now in preparation for COVID-19. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie says the department is working around the clock to treat an influx of veterans with the coronavirus. VA also added a second mission as the nation’s backup medical system. The department is helping New York and New Jersey with their coronavirus responses. States can request VA assistance through FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center. (Department of Veterans Affairs)
  • The Navy says it’s making progress on its plan to remove sailors from the U.S.S. Teddy Roosevelt after a rapid spread of coronavirus onboard. Officials say about a thousand servicemembers have moved from the aircraft carrier to temporary quarters in Guam. The Navy is working with local officials to find more alternative housing, and plans to move another 1,700 crewmembers off the ship by Friday. Infections have spread rapidly in the ship’s tight spaces since the Navy isolated the crew onboard a week ago. There were eight cases at that time. 93 crewmembers have tested positive since then. (Federal News Network)
  • The Postal Service has confirmed several postal worker deaths from the coronavirus. In total about 230 employees have tested positive for the coronavirus. But the Postal Service doesn’t have an exact number of deaths. Postmaster General Megan Brennan says the agency doesn’t expect significant disruptions in delivery service. But she adds there may be temporary disruptions to service in areas where more postal employees are out on sick leave. In those cases, she says USPS will quickly recover to resume normal operations. (Federal News Network)
  • A panel of inspectors general who will oversee how agencies disburse $2 trillion of coronavirus spending is taking shape. NASA’s IG Paul Martin will serve as the vice chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. DoD’s Glenn Fine, who’s performing the duties of the Defense Department’s IG, was named chairman of the committee on Monday. The spending bill explicitly named nine agency IGs to serve on the board, but another dozen IGs will also join the committee to oversee spending.
  • An agency head is pushing back, hard at its inspector general following a negative report. EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler calls for EPA IG Sean O’Donnell to rescind a management alert calling for fast action. The IG said EPA staff failed to alert people who live near factories emitting ethylene oxide, to the health risks. Wheeler says the IG staff sucker-punched EPA staff with surprise recommendations, following a meeting that didn’t bring them up. Wheeler says EPA has been working vigorously with the affected communities. (Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General)
  • The federal government spent about $175 billion last year on improper payments. But agencies aren’t taking all the steps the Government Accountability Office recommends to track down the root causes of those payments. In a review of six agencies, only the Veterans Affairs Department met all the steps in the Improper Payments Information Act and guidance from the Office of Management and Budget. The departments of Agriculture and Treasury didn’t come up with corrective action plans to flag improper payments stemming from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • The Defense Department is getting almost universal pushback on its idea to classify its future spending plans. A legislative proposal from DoD for the 2021 defense authorization bill would hide the future years defense plan, an outlay of the next five years of Pentagon spending. DoD says the information gives industry and adversaries a leg up. Leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee say it’s a knock on oversight though and industry groups agree. Oversight and industry groups agree that the provision will do more harm than good. (Federal News Network)
  • Veterans Affairs continues to struggle with securing its networks and systems. For the Veterans Affairs Department, cybersecurity has been a material weakness for the past 19 years. And a solid two decades is in the cards if the Office of Information and Technology doesn’t make some real progress over the next year. This was the warning from VA’s inspector general in its latest Federal Information Security Modernization Act or FISMA report. The IG said VA made some progress by closing three recommendations from last year. But auditors still made 25 recommendations, including the need to fix its overall governance around the risk and authorization processes and security control assessments.
  • Many agencies say the General Schedule is their single biggest obstacle to recruit and retain top talent. The Office of Personnel Management spent the past year collecting feedback from agencies on their biggest human capital challenges. Many say the current federal pay system doesn’t give them the flexibility they need to compete with the private sector, especially for in-demand jobs. Agencies are also slowly closing or addressing some skills gaps. But OPM says the progress has been slow. (Chief Human Capital Officers Council)
  • More leadership changes at the Office of Personnel Management. The president’s pick to lead the Merit Systems Protection Board is taking over a key workforce policy office at the Office of Personnel Management. OPM tapped Dennis Kirk to be the new associate director for employees services. He’ll oversee pay, leave, workforce planning and diversity and inclusion policy for much of the federal government. Meantime, Kirk’s nomination before the MSPB is stalled for nearly two years. OPM also tapped Sara Ratcliff to lead HR Solutions. Ratcliff was the former executive director of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council. (Federal News Network)
  • The head of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy will run a second agency for a limited period. OSTP Director Kelvin Droegemeier will serve as the acting chief of the National Science Foundation. President Donald Trump nominated Sethuraman Panchanathan in December to serve as the next permanent NSF head. But the Senate has yet to confirm him.
  • The Government Accountability Office has denied a bid protest to a $6.5 billion DoD telecommunications contract. General Dynamics Information Technology had challenged the award, which the Defense Information Systems Agency made to Leidos in December. The GSM-O II contract covers a wide variety of IT and cybersecurity services for DoD’s networks, and runs for the next ten years.
  • The General Services Administration is delaying the award to run a three-year pilot of a commercial platform to make it easier for agencies to buy products and services through an online marketplace. The agency because it has been focusing its personnel on helping agencies respond to the pandemic, the commercial platform award will take several months longer. GSA had expected to make an award to test out the online platform concept sometime this spring.

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