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Agencies have spent almost $18 billion on goods and services in response to the coronavirus pandemic from March to June, and 47% of that was not competed among vendors. A new report from the Government Accountability Office found agencies, when using new contracts, failed to get multiple bids while they saw more competition when they used pre-existing procurement vehicles. HHS, DoD, DHS and VA also took advantage of emergency procurement authorities spending more than $667 million on new awards for commercial items under the increased simplified acquisition threshold.
10 of 12 appropriations bills are through the House now. The House passed a minibus with six appropriations bills. The measure funds a number of agencies for 2021. The minibus is also silent on a pay raise for civilian federal employees next year. The House passed a separate four-bill minibus last week. That measure funds military construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Agriculture, Interior and State Departments. The Senate has yet to release or take action on any appropriations bills for 2021.
The Postal Service secured a financial lifeline from the Treasury Department. Four months after Congress passed the CARES Act, the Postal Service and Treasury have struck a deal on a $10 billion loan. USPS agrees to give Treasury access to its biggest negotiated service agreements with industry partners. It will also to give Treasury monthly reports on its cash flow and year-over-year changes in volume for its major lines of business, as well as changes in revenue and expenses. (Federal News Network)
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says its financial situation is better but it still needs $1.2 billion in emergency funding. Both the agency and the union representing USCIS employees urged Congress to prevent furloughs at the end of August. Michael Knowles is the president of an American Federation of Government Employees local. He says: “Keep us at work. Don’t send us home. I’m a little concerned in that some of the dialogue today seems to not recognize the urgency of the situation.” USCIS recently pushed back the potential furlough date to August 30 for over 13,000 employees. (House Judiciary Committee)
Agencies would save billions of dollars of year in real estate and electricity if long-term telework became the federal workforce’s new normal. The head of Global Workplace Analytics told members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that if the 42% of telework-eligible feds worked from home for half the year, they’d save the government $11 billion annually. That shift in work would also allow agencies to shrink their real estate footprint by 25%. (Federal News Network)
The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee is seeking a chief data officer to help oversee trillions of dollars in coronavirus spending. Qualified applicants should have a strong understanding of USAspending.gov and the financial data reporting requirements for agencies under the DATA Act. The CDO will report directly to the committee’s associate director for transparency, and would help IGs determine which data is needed for the committee to accomplish its mission. The committee will accept applications through August 7.
Senate Democrats are making a push for more IT modernization funding. For the first time, the pressure to add more money to the Technology Modernization Fund is coming from the Upper Chamber. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and five other Democrats wrote to Appropriations Committee leaders asking them to match the House request of $1 billion dollars for the governmentwide account. The lawmakers say the significant bump in TMF funding would help agencies address many of IT challenges highlighted in the June 2020 report from the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. The letter also comes as the Senate begins consideration of the fourth pandemic relief bill. The initial version didn’t include any extra funding for the TMF. (Federal News Network)
185 House members are again urging the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to reconsider plans to eliminate official time for union representatives. EEOC wants to prohibit union officials from using official time to prepare employee discrimination complaints. The agency allowed the public to comment on its proposed regulations back in February. It received over 1,800 responses and opened a second comment period in June. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) are leading Congress’ latest bid to the EEOC.
Sexual harassment and assault continue to rise in the military. The Army thinks it’s a leadership problem. It’s been less a month since Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen’s body was found outside Fort Hood Texas. She was a victim of sexual harassment before she was killed, and lawmakers say it’s a warning sign of issues in the ranks. After doing a review at the base, the Army Forces Command inspector general says soldiers don’t believe their junior leaders have the life or military experience to deal with sexual assault and harassment issues. The Pentagon says it’s now looking into bettering training for those ranks. (Federal News Network)
The Defense Department is planning on moving nearly 12,000 troops from Germany. More than half of those troops will move back to the United States. The others will transition into other positions within Europe like Belgium, Poland and the Black Sea region. Defense Sec. Mark Esper says the change is in line with the National Defense Strategy. 24,000 military personnel will still reside in Germany. (Department of Defense)
The Space Force is continuing to fill out its ranks. Four Air Force Generals have been nominated to serve in high-ranking positions within the military branch. That includes Maj. Gen. Nina Armagno to serve as director of staff, and Maj. Gen. William Liquori as deputy chief of space operations for strategy, plans, program, requirements and analysis. Maj. Gen. Bradley Saltzman is appointed as deputy chief of space operations for operations, cyber and nuclear, and Maj. Gen. Stephen Whiting is appointed as commander of Space Operations Command. (Department of Defense)
Three departments are launching a new inter-agency partnership to share health data and other expertise on the coronavirus pandemic. The Departments of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs are partnering with the Energy Department. The new COVID-19 Insights Partnership creates a framework for HHS and VA to use Energy’s high-performance computer and artificial intelligence resources. Those tools will help the departments analyze large amounts of health data. They’ll also inform the Trump administration’s vaccine research.
The Veterans Benefits Administration awarded a big contract to modernize its home loans guarantee program. VA awarded a four-year contract worth up to $328 million to Accenture Federal Services. Accenture will both support operations of the Loan Guaranty Service and modernize it. The goal of the effort is to consolidate the many subsystems that make up the program so VBA can have better visibility into it and make better decisions based on more complete data. The deal has a one year base with three option years.