FEMA prepared for upcoming hurricane season thanks to pandemic response

In today's Federal Newscast, a possible silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic, FEMA has a headstart as the 2020 hurricane season officially gets underway.

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  • FEMA has gotten a headstart as the 2020 hurricane season officially gets underway because of the pandemic. Administrator Peter Gaynor says responding to the coronavirus pandemic over the last 90 days has ensured warehouses are fully stocked with everything from water to baby formula and staff are ready for emergency response needs. He says FEMA’s disaster relief fund is double its normal amount at $80 billion. The agency also recently released its operational guidance for hurricane season that includes a section about dealing with the coronavirus.
  • Military bases in 39 states and five host countries are now eligible to lift travel and moving restrictions for service members. The Defense Department clamped down on military travel after coronavirus cases started spiking higher in mid-March. The 39 states have shown a two-week downward trajectory in coronavirus cases and symptoms. The decision to allow travel still lies with local commanders. DoD set those criteria as guidelines to consider resuming service member moves. (Federal News Network)
  • The State Department will soon be bringing some employees back to their offices. A State Department official told Federal News Network agency facilities in the D.C. metro area are expected to begin Phase One of its reopening plan next Monday, June 15. The plan is called Diplomacy Strong, and sets a three-phased approach for allowing more employees back into the office. The official said telework is no longer mandatory in Phase One, but said the agency will still strongly encourage maximum use of telework. (Federal News Network)
  • The Social Security Advisory Board wants more clarity on SSA’s decision-making process to close certain field offices. SSA is slowly turning to more online services as it closes some field offices. The board says it’s unclear how the agency is deciding which field offices to close and how it’s compensating the closures with additional phone or digital service. SSA had nearly 100 fewer field offices in 2018 compared to the year 2000. But wait times on SSA’s phone lines are longer today than they were nearly 20 years ago.
  • Most of us are used to contacting a central helpdesk for IT issues — now, the Air Force is creating one for financial management problems. The new Comptroller Services Portal is designed to let local commands get in touch with their nearest comptroller squadron things like about pay and travel questions. The cloud-based platform is expected to be rolled out across the entire Air Force by the end of September.
  • Air Force Academy cadets now have a new option in their schooling. The Air Force announced students can now major in data science. The major will be built of classes in management, math, computer science and philosophy. The Air Force says it needs more data savvy airmen to using information at a speed of relevance. The major also comes as the military services are building up their chief data officer positions into more prominence.
  • Agencies get a playbook for building data skills in the federal workforce. The team behind the Federal Data Strategy outlined a four-step plan for agencies to identify needs for data skills, skills gaps in the workforce, and efforts to recruit talent. The playbook includes action items for the Chief Data Officers Council, as well as statistical and human capital groups. The playbook checks a box off the list of 2020 action items for the Federal Data Strategy, but other deadlines have been pushed back because of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • After several recent firings of agency inspectors general, the head of the Government Accountability Office is urging Congress to take steps to protect IG independence. In a letter to lawmakers, Comptroller General Gene Dodaro says inspectors general serve a critical role in government transparency and accountability. He offers ten suggestions to protect them from political interference. For one, Congress could change the law so that IGs can only be fired for cause. Another idea: even if an IG is fired, require that he or she be replaced by the next highest ranking person in the same IG office. To do that, OIGs would also need to draft clear lines of succession so there are no disputes about would be in charge.
  • Trust in the entire Department of Veterans Affairs is up 19% in two years. 80% of veterans say they trust the VA as a whole. The most recent VA wide survey saw a three-percent increase in veterans’ ease of use with the department and a three-percent increase in VA’s ability to provide an empathetic experience. VA’s customer experience feedback program randomly surveys some 257,000 veterans a quarter on their experiences with the agency’s health care, memorial services, claims and appeals and other interactions.
  • More confusion has hit another federal agency over the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. Most employees at the Veterans Health Administration aren’t eligible to use new emergency sick leave benefits. VA told the American Federation of Government Employees, most aren’t eligible because they’re considered health care providers or emergency responders. The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act does give agencies some discretion in how to apply and implement the new benefit program for its employees. AFGE had originally filed a grievance with VA over its implementation of the EPSLA. The original focus was on VA’s payroll challenges in implementing the new law. But VA also explained its eligibility determination in denying the union’s grievance. (Federal News Network)
  • Three agencies are partnering on a pilot to stop the online sales of unapproved opioids. The FDA, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and HHS are working with three domain name registries to suspend websites found to be illegally selling opioids. During the 120-day pilot, the FDA will serve as a “trusted notifier” to alert the registries about illegal websites. The registry may then voluntarily lock the domain, delete the domain, or place the domain on hold. As the “trusted notifier” the FDA can expedite the process for suspending domain name registrations. (Food and Drug Administration)
  • A new investigation is calling for Team Telecom to have more authority over foreign carriers. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations finds federal oversight of Chinese telecommunications carriers has been lacking for almost two decades. The committee released a new report that says the departments of Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the FCC, didn’t have the statutory or regulatory authority or the resources to ensure Chinese companies were not hijacking data. The bi-partisan report says the dangers of the Chinese government stealing political and intellectual property requires Congress and the administration to bolster the interagency group called Team Telecom. (Federal News Network)

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