State Dept coronavirus response gets kudos from Senate

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  • The Senate applauded the State Department for bringing more than 100,000 Americans home during the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate last Friday passed the resolution drafted by the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The State Department’s Repatriation Task Force has brought Americans back to the United States from 128 countries since the beginning of the pandemic. The agency has also moved beyond just emergency response. Under its Phase One reopening plan that began Monday, up to 40% of its workforce will return to the office.
  • The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office expanded its programs to keep things moving during the pandemic. PTO says it will accept requests to speed up initial examinations for marks applicants want to apply to federally-approved medical products and services. And it will waive the fee for these petitions. The move covers proposed trademarks for anti-COVID-19 products, and service marks for medical and medical research services. But applicants must first have FDA approval for the products and services they want to trade- or service-mark.
  • The military’s stop movement order has created a huge backlog in the number of military personnel waiting to move to their new duty stations. In the Navy’s case, officials think the backlog will reach 42,000 sailors by the end of July. Even if all travel restrictions are lifted by then, there aren’t enough movers to handle that backlog all at once. Navy officials think it could take until the end of 2020 to move all the sailors whose permanent change of station was delayed by coronavirus.
  • One of the Navy’s suppliers spent almost 30 years delivering steel that didn’t meet the service’s standards, because of falsified lab tests. New court filings allege the top metallurgist at Bradken, Inc. had been falsifying tests since 1990. The company supplies castings the Navy’s shipbuilders use to make submarine hulls. The foundry’s former employee, Elaine Thomas, has been charged with major fraud. The company has been cooperating with federal investigators. It’s agreed to pay an $11-million settlement, and the government will dismiss fraud charges against the firm itself after three years — if it complies with all of the terms of the agreement, including increased oversight over its lab. (Federal News Network)
  • One advocacy group says the Senate’s version of the 2021 defense authorization bill is too large. The National Taxpayers Union says the bill authorizes military spending at an unsustainable level. The NDAA supports funding the defense budget at $740.5 billion. NTU says the number is the wrong fit at the time when Congress is already appropriating trillions of dollars to coronavirus relief. The organization also says the bill adds layers of bureaucracy to the Space Force.
  • A leader on a key House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee wants inspectors general to review their agencies’ reopening plans. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) says inspectors general should have a plan to evaluate their agency’s own reopening guides. He wrote to the IGs at 24 large federal agencies. He’s looking for metrics that explain how agencies are making reopening decisions, details on their stock of personal protective equipment and other cleaning supplies and their plans for employees who test positive for coronavirus. Connolly urged the IGs to make sure agencies aren’t undercutting safety protections for the workforce. (Federal News Network)
  • A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a new bill to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics activities in the junior reserve officers’ training corps. The bill, which has been introduced in both the House and Senate, would allow the Defense Department to carry out a grant program focused on STEM activities for JROTC. Lawmakers say the reliance on cyber and science skills in warfare and the recent coronavirus pandemic highlight the need for more STEM-based education. (Rep. Anthony Brown)
  • HUD finally entered phase 2 of the Centers of Excellence IT modernization program. The Department of Housing and Urban Development made two awards as part of its first steps away from the discovery phase and into the implementation phase of the Centers of Excellence IT modernization initiative. HUD and GSA announced contracts to Booz Allen Hamilton to provide customer experience support and modernization and to Systems Engineering Solutions Corporation for cloud adoption. HUD had been in phase 1 of the CoE effort since September 2018 and issued six RFQs for phase 2 in September 2019.
  • A technology think tank is calling for large and small reforms to the cloud security program known as FedRAMP. In a new paper, the IT and Innovation Foundation says Congress should pass reform legislation that includes a $20 million funding boost. ITIF says agencies should conduct pilots to test approaches to speeding up and reducing the cost of getting cloud security authorizations. ITIF says despite the fact Fedramp has evolved, the process still takes too long and is too expensive.
  • Recently hired federal employees with disabilities aren’t staying long on the job. The Government Accountability Office says 39% of employees hired between 2011 and 2017 leave their federal jobs after one year. 60% leave after two years. But retention isn’t much better among federal employees without disabilities. GAO says 43% stayed at their agencies less than a year. 60% left after two years. GAO says the Office of Personnel Management should specifically track retention among employees with disabilities, and then make the data available to agencies.
  • The National Treasury Employees Union is withdrawing its appeal of a March federal district court decision that dismissed the union’s legal challenge of the last government shutdown. NTEU had said it was unconstitutional to recall tens of thousands of IRS workers during the last government. The court dismissed the case for jurisdiction reasons. NTEU didn’t explain exactly why it withdrew its appeal. The union still has another shutdown lawsuit pending in court. That lawsuit charges the government with violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying its employees a minimum wage and overtime during the shutdown.
  • The Postal Service’s new chief executive outlined his priorities for postal reform. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told staff in an all-hands video message he’ll work with Congress to restructure what he calls the agency’s expensive and inflexible business model. He says long-term postal reform should also look at creative ways to make the agency more efficient, while keeping it the most trusted agency in the federal government. DeJoy also awarded his predecessor Megan Brennan the Benjamin Franklin Award, the Postal Service’s top honor, after she retired last Friday. (Federal News Network)

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