Lawmakers hope to secure more funding for NIH’s coronavirus efforts

In today's Federal Newscast, a bipartisan group of senators is pushing for more funding for the National Institutes of Health.

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  • Congress and the Trump administration are still at odds over a coronavirus spending deal, but a bipartisan group of senators is pushing for more funding for the National Institutes of Health. Democratic Whip Dick Durban (D-Ill.) and Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), are seeking $15.5 billion for NIH. More than $5 billion would go toward researching coronavirus cures, treatments and vaccines. The rest would go toward other medical research that’s been put on hold during the pandemic.
  • Essential federal employees working during the pandemic are allowed to hold on to the annual leave they’d otherwise have to forfeit at the end of the year. The Office of Personnel Management declared the ongoing pandemic as one of the few exceptions where certain employees can restore annual leave. The agency created a simplified process for employees to hold on to restored annual leave in a separate account. OPM said this simplified process will stand for future national emergencies too. It’s up to each agency head to determine whose services are essential during each emergency. (Federal News Network)
  • The Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general said the agency could lose millions if it turns building management over to the General Services Administration. The OPM IG said turning the maintenance and operation of its Washington headquarters over to GSA could cost an extra $4 million a year in rent, plus an additional $10 million in contract termination fees. GSA had revoked OPM’s delegation of authority over its own building last summer. It was planning to turn building management over to GSA this coming October, but OPM said the plan changed. The agency will continue to manage its own building through fiscal 2021. (Federal News Network)
  • Time to start thinking about an update to the Plum book. The Office of Personnel Management is gathering data and information about some 9,000 positions in the executive and legislative branches that are subject to noncompetitive appointments. OPM publishes the information once every four years in the Policy and Supporting Positions, otherwise known as the Plum book. Agencies have until Aug. 31 to make sure their data is complete and accurate.
  • When it comes to transitioning to the next generation telecommunications contract, GSA is drinking it’s own champagne. Agencies have awarded only about 25% of the 203 task orders expected under the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions or EIS program as of June 30. And the agency running EIS, the General Services Administration, is showing how to get the transition from Networx done. GSA awarded two task orders to Mettel for network and voice services worth a combined $230 million. Awards under EIS are expected to pick up steam this fall as there are 117 solicitations on the street and another 138 coming soon.
  • Time is running short to meet the deadlines under the Foundations for Evidence Based Policymaking Act. In the next seven weeks, agencies must submit an interim learning agenda along with their fiscal 2022 budget request, the draft of their 2022 annual evaluation plan and an interim capacity assessment of quality, methods, effectiveness and independence of their statistics, evaluation, research and analysis efforts. The Office of Management and Budget highlighted these and other evidence-based policymaking requirements in the updated version of Circular A-11 released late last month.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs has a new game plan for deploying its electronic health record. VA will launch a new patient scheduling system at its medical center in Columbus, Ohio, in August. It’s planning to achieve initial operating capability on the Cerner EHR in Spokane, Washington, some time in October. A few other small sites in the Midwest have moved up in VA’s deployment timeline. The ongoing pandemic forced VA to delay EHR deployment a second time this spring.
  • There’s now a management hiring freeze in place at the Postal Service. USPS will also be accepting early retirements from non-union postal employees. That’s just part of an agency reorganization announced by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. He’s also shuffled around some senior executives, and focused the agency on three lines of effort, retail and delivery, logistics and processing, and commerce and business. DeJoy has also named a new acting chief technology officer, chief information officer, and chief customer and marketing officer. (Federal News Network)
  • The Army is delaying a change in leadership at Fort Hood as officials continue to investigate possible command climate issues there. Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt was set to leave the base and take command of the 1st Armored Division. Instead, he’ll stay as the Fort Hood commander for the time being. After the murder of Specialist Vanessa Guillen, Army leaders are asking whether there were systemic problems at the base, and who should be held accountable. (Federal News Network)
  • The Space Force has picked the two vendors who will lead the way in rebuilding domestic satellite launch capabilities. United Launch Alliance and SpaceX earned spots on phase two of the National Security Space Launch program. They also won task orders worth more than $300 million each for the first launches in 2022. It’s a significant milestone: Under the new ID/IQ contract, for the first time in years, the military will be launching satellites without having to rely on Russian-made engines. Officials aren’t saying what the payloads will be for the first set of launches — all of their missions are classified.
  • As Congress wraps itself around the axle on the next round of coronavirus relief, it might be overlooking money it already appropriated. Hundreds of millions of dollars from the CARES Act passed in March, and intended to aid non-profits, is still unspent. That’s according to Rice University public finance fellow Joyce Beebe. She counts $850 million for the Commodity Assistance Program to help food banks. That money is funneled through the Agriculture Department. But Beebe said USDA has only distributed about $300 million. (Baker Institute)

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