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The Transportation Security Administration will soon offer early retirements to employees across the agency. TSA says it’ll share the details and terms with employees eligible for a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority some time next month. TSA tells Federal News Network that VERA offers won’t come with incentive payments. The agency had received early retirement authority through April 2021 from the Office of Personnel Management. Federal employees who have 25 years of service at any age or have 20 years of service and are at least 50 years old are usually eligible for a VERA. (Federal News Network)
The majority of the workforce at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is facing the prospect of unpaid furloughs in the next few weeks. The agency gets most of its funding from visa and citizenship application fees – those funding streams have almost evaporated in recent months. According to USCIS’s largest employee union, the agency has warned it will need to furlough about 11,000 of its 18,700 employees starting in July. To avoid furloughs, the agency would need Congress to appropriate $1.2 billion in funding, including $571 million that would be needed to keep paying employee salaries and maintain operations for the rest of fiscal 2020. (American Federation of Government Employees)
National Guard members working in response to coronavirus will be able to take home federal benefits. President Donald Trump announced he is extending title 32 authorities until mid-August. Previously those authorities were going to end a day short of the 90-day period needed to garner perks like post-9/11 GI bill benefits. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) introduced legislation earlier this month to extend title 32 in case the president did not.
Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) isn’t thrilled with the way recent changes to the Thrift Savings Plan and the international fund were handled. The TSP board reversed course on its plans to move the I fund to an emerging markets benchmark that tracked Chinese securities. The decision came after the Labor Department expressed concerns and the president nominated new board members. But Connolly says the White House and Labor Department overstepped its authority. And he says the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board has become politicized as a result. (House Oversight and Reform Committee)
Households getting their pandemic stimulus payments as pre-paid debit cards worry it’s a scam. Members of the House Ways and Means Committee tell the Treasury Department the debit cards arrive in plain white envelopes sent from Money Network Cardholder Services, and give no indication the payment comes from Treasury. Taxpayers are also concerned they have to give out part of their Social Security number over the phone to activate the card. Lawmakers ask Treasury how many cards it sent, versus how many have been activated.
Moving to maximum telework across federal agencies hasn’t been painless, and Congress wants to know just how it’s going. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act requires the Government Accountability Office to oversee and audit how agencies are operating in this new telework environment. Nick Marinos, director of Information Technology and Cybersecurity at GAO, says this will build upon current evaluations of cyber risk management. (Federal News Network)
Agency Freedom of Information Act offices hit with delays have been told to finish what they can while teleworking during the pandemic. Guidance from the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy urges FOIA offices to use videoconference platforms to hold meetings and training for employees. It also tells agencies to keep requestors in the loop about expected delays with mailed or faxed requests, or with types of records they can’t search working from home. The guidance includes best practices on FOIA processing during the pandemic, based on a recent meeting of the Chief FOIA Officers Council’s technology committee. (Federal News Network)
A newly proposed bill would give a facelift to the National Science Foundation. NSF would get a new name and $100 billion over five years should the Endless Frontier Act becomes law. It would create a Directorate for Technology and rename the NSF as the National Science and Technology Foundation. The technology directorate would be modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It would fund research across 10 areas including everything from artificial intelligence and machine learning to biotechnology, genomic, and synthetic biology.
DHS is bringing on a well-known executive to be its new CIO. Karen Evans has found a new home. The former federal chief information officer and assistant secretary at the Energy Department will be named the new CIO at the Homeland Security Department. Multiple sources confirmed she will be appointed by President Donald Trump in the coming days. The DHS CIO is presidentially-appointed, but not Senate confirmed. A DHS spokeswoman in the management directorate told Federal News Network that they didn’t have any personnel announcements at this time. But Hill and industry sources say Evans will replace John Zangardi, who left in November. Beth Cappello, the DHS deputy CIO, has been acting since Zangardi left. (Federal News Network)
A big-department chief information officer finds vendors willing to go easy when software license requirements shoot sky high. Veterans Affairs CIO James Gfrerer says the pandemic meant VA needed 100,000 more mobile devices and 250 thousand more other network end points. He told an AFCEA Bethesda webinar, vendors refrained from a no-discount-in-a-crisis approach. Instead they negotiated the extra licenses at what Gfrerer called reasonable price points. And when VA acquired more licenses than it needed at a given moment, it only pays for those in use.
Veterans Affairs is launching a four year study on the coronavirus and its effects on veterans. VA will study throat swabs and blood tests to learn how the virus that causes COVID-19 has impacted veterans. The study involves veterans who are diagnosed and recovered from the virus and those who may be at risk. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie says the study will complement a similar one at the Defense Department with active-duty service members. VA’s Cooperative Studies Program and its Epidemiologic Research and Information Center in Seattle are leading and coordinating the study.
VA is also collecting $1.4 million in annual payments from local unions that began renting VA office space in March. VA gave unions a deadline late last year to either move out or pay rent on department space. 77 union locals agreed to stay and rent. Another 244 locals moved out of VA facilities. The department says the moves will free up 150,000 square feet of office and clinical space. It’s all part of VA’s efforts to enforce the president’s 2018 executive orders on official time and collective bargaining.
Service members at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada will be able to use 5G connectivity by next year. The Defense Department is working with the Air Force to construct a 5G network on the base and will test it there for three years. Only users taking part in the testing will have access to the private network. It will also feature relocatable cell towers that can be set up and taken down in less than an hour.