Thousands impacted as coronavirus takes toll on veterans, VA staff

In today's Federal Newscast, the Department of Veterans Affairs is dealing with the pandemic crisis among veterans and the workers treating them.

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  • The Department of Veterans Affairs is dealing with a cumulative total of over 19,000 coronavirus cases. The VA today is treating 2,285 veterans with active cases. 206 VA health professionals also have active cases today. Nearly 1,800 additional VA employees have recovered from the virus. A total of 27 VA employees have died due to complications from COVID-19. Multiple VA hospitals in Arizona, Florida and South Carolina have added new cases in recent weeks.
  • House lawmakers are investigating the largest defense contractor about a spare parts tracking problem that’s costing the Defense Department $55 million a year. House Oversight and Reform Committee members want answers and documents from James Taiclet, the president and CEO of Lockheed Martin, about what they and auditors say is the company’s failure to provide F-35 spare parts that meet contract requirements and to accurately and reliably maintain data. Lockheed has until June 30 to respond to the committee’s request.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs has finally given its CIO some much-needed authority. For almost five years after the passage of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act or FITARA, the Veterans Affairs CIO didn’t have full oversight and authority over more than $6 billion dollars in IT spending as required by the law. But in December, as FITARA turned five, VA changed its policy. This news that the VA CIO now is in charge of all agency IT spending just came to light earlier this month when the VA inspector general highlighted the policy change as part of its FITARA implementation report. This leaves just four agencies which haven’t empowered their CIO under FITARA. (Federal News Network)
  • Energy Department headquarters will enter the next phase of its reopening plan next Monday. Sec. Dan Brouillette says he’ll extend the excused absence policy for employees with child or dependent care responsibilities through September 11. The department is allowing employees without school, daycare or summer camp options to take up to 20 hours a pay period of excused absence. Meantime mandatory telework is still in place for much of the NASA workforce. All of NASA’s centers are in the first two stages of its reopening framework. NASA will encourage only mission critical employees to return to their work sites in the third stage. (Federal News Network)
  • USDA facilities in the Washington region entered phase two of the department’s reopening plan Monday. Roughly 700 employees in the national capital region are part of the Agriculture Department’s phase two reopening. USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “I look forward to seeing you. While many of you may have different feelings of either excitement or anxiety about coming back to work, we want all of you to feel comfortable there because we are a great team, and we are great team together when we’re here.” USDA entered phase one in the D.C. region back on June 1. 400 employees were part of the phase one reopening. (Federal News Network)
  • The new head of the National Science Foundation starts next Thursday. President Donald Trump signed the commission officially appointing Sethuraman Panchanathan to lead the NSF. Panchanathan previously served as the chief research and innovation officer at Arizona State University and will take over the job last held by NSF director France Córdova. White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Kelvin Droegemeier has served as acting NSF director and will swear in Panchanathan next week.
  • The Transportation Security Administration has updated its two-year-old strategy ahead of its 25th anniversary. The last major strategy was supposed to take the agency from 2018 to 2026. The new strategy, dubbed Administrator’s Intent 2.0, revises the original. Admin. David Pekoske says the new strategy aligns with eight other departmental and governmentwide policies. It emphasizes information technology modernization, better data management and nurturing the workforce. In the air transport domain, TSA wants a stronger canine force and greater ability to deal with drones near large airports.
  • The Army is 4,000 recruits behind its goal because of the coronavirus. Army Recruiting command leader Maj. Gen. Frank Muth says he still expects the Army to make its end strength goal of 485,000 by the end of September. Muth says he anticipates the Army to bring in 10,000 contracts during its three-day virtual hiring push starting on June 30. Recruits are currently forced to quarantine when they first move to basic training due to COVID-19 and practice social distancing measures.
  • The Air Force and Navy both face readiness problems in their aircraft fleets. But a new GAO study finds the Navy is having a much harder time keeping up with its maintenance schedules. GAO says the Air Force processed its aircraft through its government-owned depots on time or early in each of the past five years. But the opposite is true for the Navy, which has faced delays in each of the past six years. That service’s planes have faced a collective 62,000 days in maintenance delays since 2014. GAO says the Navy needs to make more use of historical data to forecast its depot turnaround times and improve its coordination with organizations that handle aircraft maintenance outside of those depots. (Federal News Network)
  • The Defense Department’s two top scientists are stepping down from their posts. Michael Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering and Lisa Porter, who is the deputy in the R&E role say they will leave the Pentagon on July 10. Griffin took up the job in 2018. He’s in charge of making the military more innovative and experimental. He oversees projects like directed energy and hypersonics. (Federal News Network)
  • The Census Bureau has created two new senior level jobs and named political appointees to fill them. Nathaniel Cogley will serve as the bureau’s Deputy Director for Policy. He recently served as the head of the government department at Tarleton State University. Former political consultant Adam Korzeniewski will serve as his senior adviser. But House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) says adding political leadership to the bureau’s top ranks is an attempt to politicize the agency.
  • The American Federation of Government Employees scored a procedural win over its ongoing court challenges against the Federal Service Impasses Panel. A federal district judge denied the impasse panel’s parent agency from dismissing the union’s lawsuit in the US district court for the District of Columbia. A judge will now be able to hear the merits of the case. An AFGE council representing employees at the Department of Housing and Urban Development challenged the constitutionality of the impasses panel. The union has other constitutional challenges against the panel and the Federal Labor Relations Authority pending in court.
  • The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee launched more tools to track coronavirus pandemic spending. The committee’s contract spending database allows users to view and download data on categories of spending, including: medical equipment, janitorial services for government buildings, and personal protective equipment for federal employees. The contract spending tool pulls information from the Federal Procurement Data System and will be updated weekly. The committee also created an interactive map for users to track the total amount of contract spending by state and county.

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