Senate Democrats want hearing on how agencies have responded to the coronavirus pandemic

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  • Senate Democrats want an oversight hearing on how federal agencies are responding to the pandemic. Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee worry the panel is failing to hold federal agencies accountable for their response to the coronavirus. Senators asked Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) to call an oversight hearing. They say the public wants to hear from FEMA and others. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) says “They demand to know if the Postal Service will be able to avoid bankruptcy and continue to deliver medicine to seniors through the duration of this pandemic…. they demand to know how the Office of Personnel Management is protecting frontline workers.” (Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee)
  • The Agriculture Department has a new reopening playbook for its employees. Each USDA agency and mission area will reopen in three phases, depending on local conditions in their geographic areas. Telework will mostly remain in place for phase one. Agencies may bring back up to 100% of their employees during phase three. USDA says agencies should expect to provide masks and face coverings to their employees from phases one through three. Only mission-essential travel will be allowed and common rooms and open-air cafeterias will close. Visitors are strongly discouraged for the first two phases. (Federal News Network)
  • Military treatment facilities might be getting a little closer to returning to normal. The Defense Department gave guidelines to military hospitals on when it is appropriate to start performing elective surgeries again. The Pentagon postponed those procedures so hospitals could focus on the coronavirus response. DoD is telling military treatment facility leaders to take into account staffing, healthcare capacity and COVID-19 testing availability before allowing elective surgeries to continue. Earlier this week DoD send out guidance on easing health restrictions on bases. (Federal News Network)
  • Faced with a previously unheard of surge in loan applications, the Small Business Administration is turning to industry for help. SBA is bringing on about 500 loan processing employees under a $125 million contract with Brillent Corporation. Since April 3, SBA has processed more than 4 million loan applications under the Paycheck Protection Program. The agency received more than $600 billion in funding for disaster assistance loans to help small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • DoD to test out a commercial cloud security software. The Defense Innovation Unit will pilot a new approach to securing services across multiple clouds. DIU announced it hired Google to build a security tool on the cloud giant’s application modernization platform called Anthos. Under the other transaction agreement, DIU will run its web services and applications across Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft Azure while being centrally managed from the security application. The cyber tool will provide real-time network monitoring, access control, and full audit trails. DIU says the approach will let it maintain its cloud security rigor without compromising speed and reliability.
  • A group of lawmakers introduced a bill that would extend federal orders for National Guard members deployed to fight coronavirus so they can earn retirement compensation and post-9/11 GI bill benefits. The bill allows governors to extend federal deployments of Guardsmen through the duration of the COVID-19 health emergency. The current federal orders for National Guard members ends on June 24, one day short of the 90 days needed to garner those benefits. (Rep. Ann McLane Kuster)
  • The intelligence community appears open to more flexible work options for its classified workforce. Counterintelligence official Bill Evanina says the IC needs more teleworking solutions. He says he’ll look to the private sector for ideas. IC agencies used a variety of models to keep their employees and contractors working during the pandemic. Some agencies brought half their workers in for an early shift, cleaned for an hour, and then brought another group in to the office for a late shift. Others asked employees to perform unclassified work for a few days at home, and classified work for a few days at the office. (Federal News Network)
  • The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has a new permanent leader. The Senate confirmed John Ratcliffe as the next DNI with a 49 to 44 vote. It’s the first time a director of national intelligence is installed along complete party lines. Ratcliffe replaces acting director Richard Grenell. The position has been under acting leadership since DNI Dan Coats resigned last summer. (Federal News Network)
  • The Navy has a Senate-confirmed secretary for the first time in almost six months. The Senate confirmed Kenneth Braithwaite as the new Secretary of the Navy yesterday. He’d previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Norway. He’s also a retired Navy rear admiral and former business executive. In his confirmation hearing, Braithwaite told Senators the Navy was in “rough waters” because of recent leadership failures, and pledged to correct them.
  • A former big-department chief information officer is taking on a key association job. Former Agriculture Department deputy CIO and acting CIO Joyce Hunter joins the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology as its executive director. The ICIT describes itself as a cybersecurity think tank. It conducts non-partisan research and educational activities for commercial and governmental entities. A long time information technology practitioner, Hunter got her start in sales at the former Digital Equipment Corporation. More recently she was CEO of consultancy Vulcan Enterprises.
  • The General Services Administration is overhauling regulations.gov with a streamlined public comment process. The agency has begun redirecting traffic to a beta version with new search capabilities and layout. The redirects will happen one day a week this month, two days a week in June and July, and three days a week in August. GSA expects to decommission the old site in September. The overhaul comes after GSA held two public meetings on e-rulemaking earlier this year.
  • The Energy Department sees progress digitizing forms. The agency digitized two forms in the first phase of its pilot under the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act. DOE now moves on to digitizing 200 forms in the second phase. DOE is carrying out this pilot through its Innovation Community Center, a digital sandbox where the chief information officer, the agency’s national labs and the chief human capital officer can rapidly prototype solutions. (Federal News Network)