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The National Federation of the Blind and four individual plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Social Security Administration for its refusal to accept digital signatures. The lawsuit asks the court to order SSA to accept electronic signatures instead of only those done in pen. The plaintiffs say the requirement has always been discriminatory, but during the COVID-19 pandemic it also endangers the health of applicants.
20 Veterans Affairs facilities are reintroducing some health care services as states begin to reopen from coronavirus shutdowns. VA says these hospitals will serve as test sites for the rest of the VA health network. Their lessons will inform how other VA facilities begin their own phased reopenings. VA says employee and veteran screenings and mask protocols will remain in place. Virtual and telehealth appointments will also continue. VA facilities are monitoring some 2,100 active coronavirus cases among veterans and employees.
The American Federation of Government Employees is seeking immediate injunctive relief from the Federal Service Impasses Panel for its National Veterans Affairs Council in federal district court. AFGE had sued the impasses panel earlier this year. The union says the panel can’t enforce collective bargaining agreements because its members haven’t been Senate confirmed. AFGE and V-A have been locked in contentious bargaining negotiations for almost a year. AFGE’s National Veterans Affairs Council says it now needs immediate relief from the impasses panel. Or else the panel will likely enforce a new contract the union hasn’t agreed to. AFGE and VA have been locked in contentious bargaining negotiations for almost a year.
Amid reports of fraud and pandemic payments going to the deceased, two senators see a chance to pilot platforms that’ll reduce improper payments. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) asked the Office of Management and Budget to test new ways to monitor agency compliance with steps meant to prevent improper payments. OMB is required to start these pilot programs under the Payment Integrity Information Act, which went into effect in March. The law also requires OMB to update plans to improve the Social Security Administration’s death data, and sharing that with other agencies.
Taxpayers are getting a new wave of pandemic stimulus payments. The Treasury Department and the IRS begin sending out pandemic stimulus payments on pre-paid debit cards. These cards will go out to nearly 4 million people eligible for payments under the CARES Act, but don’t have bank information on-file with the IRS. The deadline for taxpayers to give the IRS their direct-deposit information, and receive their stimulus payments more quickly, passed last week.
The IRS has brought 3,500 call center employees back to work to answer questions about pandemic stimulus payments. The agency warns phone help will remain limited during the pandemic, and urges taxpayers to check IRS.gov for answers before calling for help. The IRS expects to bring back more employees as states begin rolling back stay-at-home orders. The agency last month asked more than 11,000 employees to volunteer to return to the office to help with a backlog of work from the extended tax filing season.
Federal human resources hasn’t quite recovered from downsizing initiatives from nearly 30 years ago. The federal HR workforce is smaller today than it was almost 30 years ago. The Merit Systems Protection Board says HR specialists are servicing more of their agency’s employees today than in 1993. The Clinton administration’s National Performance Review was responsible for the downsizing. But MSPB says the effort created a void in federal HR that agencies haven’t been able to fill. Automation and other technology was supposed to bridge the staffing gaps. But HR specialists tell MSPB, they’re still handling much of the transactional work, leaving them little time to advise and consult their agencies on recruiting, staffing and management issues. (Federal News Network)
Top Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are pressing the State Department for details on plans to improve the diversity of its workforce. They ask the agency for its current Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan, and a briefing on a draft version that’ll run through 2024. They’ve also asked for a copy of an unconscious bias training video shown to senior staff and management. The agency told the committee earlier this month those are internal records that it can’t release, but lawmakers have pushed back on those claims and renewed their request.
Military recruiting has taken a hit because of coronavirus, but retention figures are way up. With four and a half months to go in the fiscal year, the Army says it’s already achieved its retention goal for 2020. The service had been targeting 50,000 reenlistments this year. 52,000 soldiers have already re-upped. It’s a similar story in the Marine Corps. The Marines have a goal of 12,600 reenlistments for fiscal 2020. As of now, it’s only about 100 shy of that figure. Part of the increase is because of policy changes that let some servicemembers extend their military service for just a few months to get through the pandemic. (Federal News Network)
Selection, advancement and continuation boards in the Navy will restart in July. The service originally postponed the boards in mid-March to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The Navy says it is restarting the promotion process across the fleet in an effort to ensure there are no delays to sailors’ careers. The Navy plans to approve and announce the results of its boards for enlisted members of the Navy 30 days after finishing. Officer promotion boards will take 100 days.
The Navy issued its first waiver to allow a transgender person to stay in uniform since President Donald Trump’s restrictions went into effect. The restrictions, announced nearly three years ago, put limits on troops serving and joining the military who are transgender and those who are transitioning. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Calif.) praised the Navy for the decision to grant the waiver and said it is time to end the restrictions.
DoD has a new contract to get new technology capabilities to warfighters. The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center or JAIC will receive AI enabled products to support warfighting operations under a new 800 million dollar contract. The General Services Administration awarded Booz Allen Hamilton a five-year deal under the Alliant 2 governmentwide acquisition contract on behalf of JAIC. Booz Allen will provide products and services to help embed AI decision-making and analysis into all tiers of DoD operations. Under the contract, the JAIC will received an assortment of services including data labeling, data management, data conditioning, AI product development, and the transition of AI products into new and existing fielded programs and systems.
The Federal Communications Commission will try to finish something first proposed 17 years ago. It’s the repurposing of certain spectra for broadband, known as the 70-80-90 gigahertz bands. At its June meeting, commissioners plans to discuss rule changes so that commercial entities can use the millimeter wave frequencies for a service known 5G backhaul and for broadband to ships and airplanes. The frequencies are already used by several federal agencies. Chairman Ajit Pai says the FCC will coordinate with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.