Defense Sec. bans photographs being used when considering promotions

In today's Federal Newscast, Defense Secretary Mark Esper bans photographs from being used in the process to promote officers and enlisted service members.

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  • Defense Secretary Mark Esper has banned photographs from being used in the process to promote officers and enlisted service members. The move is one of the mid-term actions to address diversity and inclusion within the military. Along with the photo ban, Esper required a review of hairstyle and grooming policies for racial bias and an update to the Defense Department’s equal opportunity and inclusion policies. DoD’s Diversity and Inclusion Board also met for the first time. Members of the board include Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, Brig. Gen. Troy Dunn and an Air Force master sergeant who survived hate-based violence. (Department of Defense)
  • House appropriators remain silent on a federal pay raise for next year. The full House Appropriations Committee passed the 2021 financial services and general government bill. The full committee version made no mention of a raise for civilian employees. Federal workers are on track for a 1% pay raise next year without congressional action. The 2021 bill does include over $600 million more for the IRS and $8.5 million in extra funding for the Office of Personnel Management.
  • Furloughs for over 13,000 employees at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are nearly two weeks away. Congress has until Aug. 3 to pass emergency funding for USCIS. But the American Federation of Government Employees said it’s reasonably optimistic Congress will come through. Employees are still worried. Some attorneys and employees with higher-level degrees are looking for new jobs. Others are planning to tap into their retirement savings to stay afloat if the furloughs happen. AFGE said there’s no guarantee of back pay for furloughed USCIS employees. The union said it’ll lobby Congress for back pay if necessary. (Federal News Network)
  • Federal employees are OK to reference or display Black Lives Matter slogans at the office. The Office of Special Counsel said showing support for Black Lives Matter isn’t a Hatch Act violation. OSC said it determined BLM and the Black Lives Matter Global Network aren’t inherently political entities, as BLM leaders haven’t endorsed a political party or candidate. OSC said advocating for social or policy issues is different than supporting a political campaign. The agency said employees can generally talk about Black Lives Matter at the office, as long as they’re not endorsing or advocating for a political candidate or campaign at the same time. (Federal News Network)
  • Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said she’ll no longer block the promotions of senior military officers. She had placed a partial hold on promotion nominations. She wanted DoD to reassure her office that the Pentagon hadn’t interfered with the promotion of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, and she said DoD has now done that.
  • The Defense Department wants more money from Congress to pay contractors during coronavirus. The Pentagon said it could use another $10 billion to help pay contractor costs and keep its industrial base afloat as the economy remains volatile during the pandemic. Congress already gave the Defense Department $10.5 billion for coronavirus response and to protect businesses in the first stimulus package. Lawmakers may not have the appetite to give the government’s largest agency more money though, as House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Calif.) said the military’s budget is big enough and it should be able to find the money it needs. (Federal News Network)
  • The Defense Department said it plans to open its worldwide network of elementary and high schools on time. They’ll offer in-person classes on a normal schedule if at all possible. A return to school plan the DoD Education Activity released Wednesday said schools on military bases will offer in-school classes to all of their students, as long as local health conditions allow for it. Parents will be allowed to opt-out and for those that do, DoDEA will offer a separate “virtual curriculum” for K-12 students. But for younger students, parents are being told they’ll need to sit with their children while they’re taking the online classes.
  • A bipartisan group of House members are calling out deficient sexual harassment policies at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Both the chairman and ranking member of the House VA Committee said they have concerns with how VA is handling sexual harassment complaints. The Government Accountability Office also pointed to several problems with current VA policies. The department doesn’t require managers who receive sexual harassment complaints to elevate them to VA’s central office, and some VA leaders end up overseeing their own internal investigations. House members said they want VA to fix these problems as soon as possible.
  • Oversight and Reform Committee Democrat lawmakers are asking the inspector general to investigate former Office of Personnel Management acting director Margaret Weichert and deputy chief of staff Steven Billy. Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said they may have misled Congress about whether the Justice Department wrote a legal opinion about the proposed OPM-GSA merger. This was the fourth letter from the committee in the last two weeks asking for documents and details about the administration’s unsuccessful attempt to bring the two agencies together.
  • The filing season deadline passed Wednesday, but work at the IRS continues. Agency employees are back to work at some Taxpayer Assistance Centers and taking in-person appointments after IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig told Congress all agency facilities would reopen by mid-July. But 50,000 IRS employees are still working from home, and the National Treasury Employees Unions urges the agency to continue its policy of maximum telework. The union said 40 employees in Austin, Texas, have tested positive for the coronavirus since June.
  • Members of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission urged the House to pass legislation that would bring back and strengthen the national cybersecurity coordinator position the White House scrapped two years ago. The National Cyber Director Act would restore the cyber coordinator position and require Senate confirmation for the job. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) co-chairman of the solarium commission, said the cyber coordinator office would need a staff of 75-100 employees and an annual budget of $10-15 million. (Federal News Network)
  • Here’s a must-read if you’re serious about your agency’s cybersecurity: The National Institute of Standards and Technology released a final draft of security requirements for controlled, unclassified information. The draft is called special publication 800-172. When first put out for comment a year ago, it was called 171-B. It includes protective measures tailored for both critical federal programs and for high value data in non-federal systems. Both of which face sustained threats from sophisticated adversaries like Russia and China. Final comments are due August 21.
  • The Department of Homeland Security laid out its plan to move to a hybrid cloud environment. DHS detailed 14 goals under its new hybrid cloud environment. The agency wants to obtain contractor support for the operation, maintenance, automation, optimization and modernization of the on-premise and cloud infrastructure. The HCE shall include unclassified and classified infrastructure, applications and data. DHS issued a draft statement of work and outlined its schedule to compete the requirement over the next five months. DHS expects to issue a solicitation in mid-September and make the award by late December. The first industry day is scheduled in late August.

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