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The IRS discontinued incentive payments for employees who volunteered to return to the office amid the pandemic. The National Treasury Employees Union says the IRS ended the payments June 6. The agency gave certain employees a 10-25% pay increase for completing tax filing season tasks that aren’t possible through telework. From now on the agency will give employees a special act award for volunteering to come back to work at campuses that otherwise remain closed.
Regional administrators at the Environmental Protection Agency have a new dashboard to help them make reopening decisions. The tool ingests information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other state and local data sources. All employees have access to the EPA facility status dashboard. EPA says it’s closing facilities for seven days to clean and disinfect the space before making a final decision about when to reopen them. Facilities in at least six regions have started this process. The American Federation of Government Employees says employees in Chicago, Ohio and other parts of the Midwest may begin to return to their offices June 22. (Federal News Network)
The State Department reopened nearly a dozen passport service offices across the country as part of its Phase One reopening plan. Those reopenings have brought back nearly half the passport services workforce to confront a backlog of 1.7 million passport applications that have accumulated since March. The State Department sent 150 employees from other parts of the agency to help address the backlog. The agency estimates new passport applications will take a minimum of eight weeks to process. (Federal News Network)
One Senator wants to expand the governmentwide review of telework during the coronavirus pandemic. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) offered four questions for the Government Accountability Office to add to its review of agency telework during the coronavirus emergency. The ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management wrote to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro on Friday. Among the questions she wants added are how many employees were eligible to telework but weren’t allowed to, and what barriers did agencies find and how did they eliminate them.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is eyeing a new potential date to begin employee furloughs. USCIS says administrative furloughs may begin August 3. The agency previously projected July 20 as a potential furlough date. But USCIS tells Federal News Network, it got additional revenue and found extra cost savings to push the date back. The agency says it’ll need to furlough 13,400 employees unless Congress provides emergency supplemental funding before August. USCIS says the pandemic produced a drastic decrease in revenue. The agency opened up some asylum and field offices to the public earlier this month. (Federal News Network)
Telehealth appointments using the Department of Veterans Affairs‘ VA Video Connect platform are up 1000% in recent months. VA conducted 120,000 video appointments a week in May. That’s up from 10,000 weekly appointments in February. The department’s telehealth video platform can support up to 25,000 appointments a day. VA has said telehealth use will likely plateau as agency hospitals begin to reschedule in-person services again.
The Pentagon says it’s almost ready to send Congress a new plan for how to restructure its military medical force. The military had planned to cut 18,000 uniformed positions from medical fields and reallocate them toward warfighting functions, but Congress told the department to pause that effort until it delivered more details. DoD says the report will head to Capitol Hill this week, and will account for the military response to COVID-19.
U.S. Transportation Command is pulling back a $7 billion contract to restructure the military’s moving system. TRANSCOM says it’s agreed to take corrective action after two companies challenged its $7.2 billion Global Household Goods contract. The command says it expects to finish the process and determine a new way forward in the coming weeks. TRANSCOM awarded the contract to American Roll On Roll Off Carrier Group in February to restructure DoD’s household goods moves as a central managed service. That’s a contrast to how moves are handled now, where regional offices hire moving companies one-by one. (Federal News Network)
The Forest Service has a new plan to streamline regulations, improve customer service and increase access to public lands. Agriculture Sec. Sonny Perdue says he issued a new blueprint to Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. The plan describes how the Forest Service will streamline the permit process for certain recreational activities and simplify the land exchange process. Perdue also wants the Forest Service to set time and page limits for submitting certain environmental documents.
Several agencies could get windfall under a months-old bill that’s starting to gain traction in Congress. The Senate appears ready to advance the Great American Outdoors Act. Backed by Senators from both parties, it would divert nearly $2 billion a year for four years from energy development fees on federal lands. The money would fund deferred maintenance in areas run by the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education.
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, introduced one of the first bills that would put recommendations from the Cyber Solarium Commission into law. Peters’ Continuity of Economy Act of 2020 would direct the President to develop a plan to ensure essential functions of the economy continue to operate in the event of a cyber-attack He also introduced a second cyber bill that would call for a pilot plan so the National Guard could promote remote cybersecurity support to states responding to an attack.