Senators question role the pandemic played in financial problems at USCIS

In today's Federal Newscast, two senators doubt the pandemic is the real reason behind the budget issues at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

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  • Maryland’s senators doubt the pandemic is the real reason behind the budget issues at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. USCIS has blamed the pandemic for a drastic reduction in revenue. It said a $1.2 billion budget shortfall is forcing USCIS to potentially furlough over 13,000 employees. But Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said it’s the Trump administration’s immigration policies that are to blame. The senators said USCIS raised issues with its fee structure well before the pandemic began. They want to know how the agency plans to use emergency appropriations, if they get it.
  • Maryland and Virginia senators said the Trump administration’s reopening plans are unsafe for federal employees. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) asked the administration to issue new reopening guidance. They said the current guidelines are encouraging agencies to prematurely end telework flexibilities and bring employees back to the office too soon. They’re also concerned with having too many federal employees taking Metro in the Washington, D.C., area. (Federal News Network)
  • The USS Theodore Roosevelt returned to its homeport to San Diego on Thursday. The ship was led by a new captain who came aboard after the previous one was fired over the handling of a massive coronavirus outbreak on board. This time, there were no hugs from waiting family members on the Navy pier. Sailors disembarked one by one and walked to waiting vehicles to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Federal News Network)
  • Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he launched a new investigation to crack down on unauthorized leaks from the Pentagon. Esper didn’t specify exactly what prompted the investigation, but testifying before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday, he characterized recent leaks as “terrible.” “Whether it’s predecisional unclassified items or even classified items, it hurts our national security, it jeopardizes our troops, and it’s just damaging to our relationships with our allies and partners.” Esper said the investigation will include an effort to identify DoD personnel who’ve had “unauthorized discussions” with the media, and will be accompanied by a campaign to remind people about their operational security responsibilities. (House Armed Services Committee)
  • In a letter, 116 members of Congress urged Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Attorney General William Barr to reverse restrictions on transgender people in the military. The lawmakers cited a recent Supreme Court case that protects LGBTQ people from workplace discrimination. President Donald Trump announced he wanted to ban transgender people from the military in 2017. The announcement caused transgender service members to fear for their jobs since they were allowed to serve openly at the end of the Obama administration.
  • The House is thinking about changing who will oversee the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. A provision in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act would move JAIC from the Defense Department chief information office to the deputy defense secretary’s jurisdiction. The provision comes from a recommendation by the National Security Commission on AI. The commission felt JAIC needed more attention from leadership to synchronize AI across the department. JAIC said it is having success integrating AI in many areas of the military. (Federal News Network)
  • A new acquisition rule that aims to protect the federal technology supply chain was due out today. The Federal Acquisition Regulations Council is expected to release the final rule to implement the prohibition against agencies contracting with companies that use products or services from Chinese telecommunications firms. This FAR Council rule would be the second one trying address supply chain risks from using Chinese-made telecommunications products and services. Should an agency need to buy from a company that uses ZTE, Huawei or other prohibited products, the secretary would have to issue a waiver. Commonly known as Section 889 of the 2019 NDAA, the provision gave agencies two deadlines with the first one coming last August. (Federal News Network)
  • Federal employees in Des Moines, Iowa, are a step closer to getting their own locality pay rate. The Office of Personnel Management has new draft regulations that will create a new area for Des Moines. OPM is also proposing an expansion of the Los Angeles locality pay area to include federal employees who are stuck in between two existing locality regions. January is the earliest employees in these two regions will see locality pay changes. OPM must finish the regulatory process. And the president must physically set new locality pay rates. (Federal News Network)
  • The Secret Service is creating a new Cyber Fraud Task Force by merging its Electronic Crimes and its Financial Crimes task forces. The service said this two-year planning effort, which included multiple pilot programs, aims to bring together the skills and capabilities of the two disciplines. The Cyber Fraud Task Force currently operates in 42 locations nationwide and two international. The Secret Service plans to expand its cyber fraud task force network to 160 countries in the coming years.
  • They’re not perfect, but most agencies do a decent job with the spending data they present to their inspectors general. Those data submissions are required under the Data Act. IGs at 37 out of 51 agencies reported receiving data of higher quality, meaning error rates of 20% or better. The Government Accountability Office, looking at Q1 2019 submissions, also found most of the agencies submitted their data on time. Still, the IGs had plenty of recommendations, including the need to establish data quality procedures and to tighten up the data submission process.

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