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Federal employees are getting an inflation increase when it comes to accepting non-sponsored gifts at widely-attended events and those under the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act. The Office of Government Ethics raised the thresholds to $415 from $390 over a three-year period. The final rule raises the dollar thresholds for the first time since May 2017.
The Office of Special Counsel reached settlements with two federal employees who admit to violating the Hatch Act. A Postal Services sales associate in California admitted to violating the Hatch Act making political statements to post office customers and agreed to a 10-day suspension without pay. Meanwhile a Federal Aviation Administration employee admitted to posting on Facebook and endorsing political candidates while at work. That employee agreed to a 30-day suspension without pay.
The National Commission on Military, National and Public Service is urging Congress to take swift action on hiring, veterans preference, and other recruitment challenges in the federal workforce. The commission made 164 recommendations on a wide spectrum of topics. But it made the most recommendations on ways to improve federal hiring. The commission wants government to extend noncompetitive eligibility to students who have successfully completed federal internships. Some senators fear the recommendation would hurt the federal government’s merit-based hiring processes. But the commission says short-term fixes were necessary to address possible brain drain. 18% percent of the federal workforce is eligible to retire today. Just 6% of employees are under the age of 30. (Federal News Network)
Congress has been largely impressed with the strides the Department of Veterans Affairs made to boost telehealth during the pandemic. VA telehealth appointments are up 1,000% during the health crisis. Bandwidth to support concurrent video telehealth sessions went up nearly five-fold. The department had been conducting around 2,500 video appointments daily before the pandemic. Telehealth visits are up to 25,000 a day now. VA is buying tens of thousands of I-Pads for veterans and providers, as well as webcams and other equipment to support the sudden telehealth expansion. VA also expanded its telehealth help desk after initial capacity issues. (Federal News Network)
Now that the State Department has re-staffed its passport offices, the Government Publishing Office is following suit. GPO plans on restarting the printing and assembly of passports starting July 6. It is part of director Hugh Halpern’s plan for re-populating the GPO’s plants and offices. The agency will continue a pattern of having two production teams working alternating weeks. Other manufacturing operations, such as books, will also re-start. But employees who can telework will continue to do so Halpern said, for the foreseeable future. He called the pandemic the agency’s biggest disruption since the Civil War. (Federal News Network)
Households that haven’t filled out the 2020 Census yet will get one last notice in the mail before an enumerator knocks on their door later this summer. The Census Bureau says households should expect to receive a postcard in the mail reminding them to fill out the census between July 22 and July 28. Enumerators will start following up with households in mid-August. More than 61% of households have responded to the census so far.
The 8(a) STARS II governmentwide acquisition contract is back and open for new business. The General Services Administration is raising the ceiling of the popular IT services contract by $7 billion dollars. GSA had to severely limit new work under 8(a) STARS 2 in April after the agency decided the GWAC would hit its $15 billion dollar contract limit in fiscal 2020. By raising the ceiling to 22 billion dollars, GSA is opening the door for 787 small businesses and agency customers to take full advantage of the contract. Agencies have issued more than 5,400 task orders and obligated more than $10 billion dollars between 2011 and 2019. (Federal News Network)
Almost two decades after the start of the war in Afghanistan, DoD still faces major challenges in contingency contracting there. In a new audit, the Pentagon’s inspector general looked at a sample of 15 Army contracts and found that all of them violated federal regulations or Army Contracting Command procedures designed to fight fraud and minimize improper payments. The IG says that’s partly because overseas contracting officials dealt with persistent IT problems. Auditors also blame staffing problems that arose out of what they called an “improvised” hiring and training process for contracting officers in Afghanistan.
The Army’s garrison commander for Fort Bragg in North Carolina has been relieved of his duties. Col. Phillip Sounia was taken off the job late last week by Lt. Gen. Douglas Gabram, the leader of Army Installation Management Command. Sounia was removed from his position due to a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to command. Justin Mitchell, who is the civilian deputy garrison commander at Fort Bragg, will act as the acting replacement.
The Air Force is looking further into racial issues in its ranks. The Air Force Inspector General will look into racial disparities within the Air Force and Space Force. The review will be conducted in two phases. The first will look into racial disparity in the uniformed military discipline process. The second phase will look at racial disparity in the leader development system. Part of the investigation will involve an anonymous email survey, which will be sent out to all airmen. Recent studies have found Black and Latino airmen are more likely to be investigated for crimes than their White counterparts.