VA says it’s now closer to offer more coronavirus testing to its employees

In today's Federal Newscast, Veterans Affairs officials tell Congress they're in the process of securing enough materials to test agency employees.

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  • The Department of Veterans Affairs said it’s closer now to offering more frequent coronavirus testing for employees. The Veterans Health Administration said it’s secured 2 million swabs this week to collect samples from its employees. Another 5 million swabs will come in at the end of the month. VHA head Richard Stone said the department is only utilizing half of its testing capacity due to a lack of swabs and other supplies. VA is also beginning to roll out antibody testing options for employees. (House Veterans Affairs Committee)
  • Federal employees at a few more agencies will begin returning to the office next week. The Office of Personnel Management began phase one of its reopening plan in the Washington metropolitan area Monday. OPM facilities in other regions will begin a phase one reopening June 16. June 15 is the earliest FEMA will begin to bring employees back to the office. The agency said most employees will continue to telework through July 15. That’s the earliest possible date where a FEMA facility begin phase two of its reopening plan. (Federal News Network)
  • The union representing employees at the Environmental Protection Agency said EPA should abandon the rush to reopen. The American Federation of Government Employees wants EPA to put a moratorium on its reopening plans until coronavirus impacts are more predictable. EPA regional administrators in Boston and Dallas abandoned their plans to have employees return in early June. Coronavirus cases are on the rise in those regions. AFGE Council President Gary Morton said EPA employees in Atlanta, Dallas and Seattle may return in mid-July.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency reached into the supply chain to stop the sale of hazardous products. EPA ordered Amazon and eBay to quit selling unregistered, misbranded and restricted pesticides and gadgets that deliver them. The order includes products the agency said are marketed with false or misleading claims, such as effective against coronavirus. EPA officials said discussions with Amazon and eBay haven’t halted sales of the products. eBay carried 55 gallon drums of methylene chloride, a paint stripper said to be useful as germ disinfectant.
  • The National Federation of Federal Employees said the State Department has designated passport service as essential work. The union said Undersecretary for Management Brian Bulatao directed passport services employees nationwide to return to the office June 11. That’s a few days before the agency expected to begin Phase 1 reopening in select locations. The decision comes a week after Republican Senators pressed the agency on a backlog of 1.6 million passport applications dating back to March.
  • The corridors of the Pentagon will be a little less lonely starting Monday. DoD is moving into the first phase of its reopening plan for facilities in the National Capital Region. That includes the Pentagon itself, plus the nearby Mark Center and leased offices in the area. In Phase One, officials expect about 40% of the workforce to return to their offices. That’s up from the 20% of employees who kept working at the Pentagon during the height of the pandemic. Employees will still be required to wear masks when they can’t stay at least six feet apart, and gatherings of more than 10 people are still banned. (Department of Defense)
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee has finished its work on the National Defense Authorization Act and sent it to the Senate floor. The committee holds its markup sessions behind closed doors, so the full list of provisions Senators agreed on is still unknown. According to a summary the committee released yesterday, the bill would authorize $740.5 billion in Defense spending next year, including a 3% pay raise for military members.
  • The Army is making a major change to the IT leadership structure at its headquarters. Starting in August, the office known as the CIO/G-6 will be no more. The Army’s splitting it in two. A new civilian chief information officer will report directly to the Secretary of the Army. The G-6 will continue to be a 3-star military officer, but that official will have a more dedicated focus on how the network impacts warfighting capabilities.
  • The Federal Mobility Group will give agencies advice on how to move to 5G. Over the last year, an interagency group of mobile computing experts visited 15 labs to better understand what the future of 5G will look like. The research became one of several white papers the Federal Mobility Working Group completed for the CIO Council. The visits to the labs helped the working group understand current capabilities, roadmaps, grade of equipment and other factors in how the organizations are implementing 5G technologies. The working group also analyzed federal policies and executive orders and made recommendations to ease the roll out of 5G infrastructure and services in the federal government.
  • A former public affairs official at the Drug Enforcement Administration pled guilty to fraud that cost over a dozen companies more than $4.4 million. The Justice Department said Garrison Courtney posed as a covert officer of the CIA to fool companies into paying him as part of a “commercial cover.” He also fraudulently gained a position working as a contractor for the National Institutes of Health Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center to gain access to procurement sensitive information.
  • A contractor hired to modernize the State Department’s headquarters building will pay the General Services Administration more than $1 million to settle a federal investigation into alleged kickbacks and fraud. The Justice Department said a project manager with Alutiiq International Solutions received kickbacks from a subcontractor in exchange for steering work to their company. The project manager also billed GSA for more than half a million dollars for work done by a supervisor who wasn’t on the project site.
  • The Postal Service saw a decline in the number of its employees attacked by dogs. The agency reported 5,800 employees sustained injuries from dogs while on their routes in 2019. That’s 200 fewer cases that what the agency saw in 2018, and 400 fewer incidents than in 2017. Letter carriers in Houston, Los Angeles, and Chicago reported the most dog attacks. USPS tells letter carriers threatened by an unleashed dog they don’t have to deliver to those households. Residents in that case must pick up their mail at a nearby post office until they can restrain their pets.

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