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Federal contractors and contracting officers apparently have some relief from the Section 889 rule that’s got the federal IT world in an uproar. Sources told Federal News Network the Office of Director of National Intelligence has issued a waiver to at least one agency, good until Sept. 30, of the requirement that no company using banned Chinese telecom gear can get a federal contract. The so-called 889 rule, named for the section of its enabling legislation, otherwise went into effect yesterday. Several other civilian agencies reportedly have also received notice of a waiver. Industry has complained that the rules for implementing the law are vague, and Congress has not agreed to extend the statutory deadline.
Top Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee introduced a bill that would roll back recent operational changes at the Postal Service. The Delivering for America Act prohibits USPS from impacting the speed of mail delivery through the end of this year. The bill from Sens. Gary Peters (D-Minn.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) would also prevent cuts to overtime pay or reducing hours of operation at post offices.
The Veterans Benefits Administration has found a way to process incoming mail more quickly. VBA said an artificial intelligence solution is cutting mail processing times down from 10 days to one. The software reads the mail contents and then automatically routes them to employees working on the next step of the claim. VA said the new process allows the department to process and respond to benefits claims more quickly. VBA receives over 550,000 pieces of mail a month.
After calling on Congress to extended certain deadlines, the Census Bureau is accelerating efforts to complete the 2020 effort on time. Now the Commerce Department’s inspector general is asking director Steven Dillingham for an explanation of how the bureau is making up for lost time. The IG asked why the bureau is no longer asking Congress to extend statutory deadlines for delivering apportionment and redistricting data, and how it’s able to complete field operations by the end of September.
A new IG report reveals previously unspoken concerns about loans for IT modernization initiatives. Some agency CIOs have been hesitant to apply for funding under the Technology Modernization Fund, or TMF, and for the first time we find out why. CIOs at component agencies of the Department of Homeland Security told the agency’s inspector general that they are concerned about the Modernizing Government Technology Act’s five-year payback period for the loan. In a new report issued yesterday, the IG said at least three component CIOs said the loan came with unreasonable payback terms. DHS also determined it didn’t have the authority to set up a working capital fund as authorized under the MGT Act, missing out on collecting savings from moving away from outdated systems.
Military contractors may finally get money to pay their employees for work that couldn’t be done due to the coronavirus pandemic. Defense Department acquisition head Ellen Lord said her office is finalizing guidance that will expedite payments of $2 million or less. That’s instead of figuring out costs on a contract-by-contract basis. DoD previously estimated that it would take more than $10 billion dollars to pay back contractors that could not work.
A new wrinkle to the new interim regulation that bans the use of certain Chinese telecommunications products and services by contractors applies to purchase card holders too. The Defense Department issued a new policy detailing just how far this provision flows down. The Pentagon said employees who use the government credit card below the micro-purchase threshold, for overseas contingency contracting buys at the simplified acquisition threshold and for seven other types of purchase card buys must ensure vendors meet the requirements under the interim rule. (Department of Defense)
About half of Defense Department-run schools in the United States will be going remote this semester. Twenty-five schools are asking students to attend online due to COVID-19 concerns. Those schools are mostly in the south where there has been a large resurgence of the disease. Schools in Puerto Rico will also be moving to online classes. Nineteen of the schools in Japan and two in Bahrain will also use an online model.
Service members may not be getting the mental health services they need from the military. More than half of active duty service members and their families identified as needing mental health care did not receive the help they needed. A new report from the Defense Department Inspector General outlines a lack of access to care for service members and military medical facilities that don’t have the proper means for providing care. The report found that in 13 military medical centers, troops were waiting a month or more to get the mental health help they needed. The DoD IG is calling on the Pentagon to update policies to fix the issue.
House Democrats say the National Labor Relations Board is making it more difficult for its own employees to pursue and resolve discrimination cases before the agency. Members say the NLRB removed nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ employees from its collective bargaining agreement with the agency’s professional association. Employees will no longer be allowed to challenge instances of equal employment opportunity discrimination under a grievance system. Lawmakers say that means NLRB employees will have to take their cases to the slow-moving Merit Systems Protection Board or EEOC instead. House Democrats said they condemn the move and want NLRB to reverse course. (House Oversight and Reform Committee)
The Environmental Protection Agency and its largest union are at odds again. EPA recently signed a new contract with the American Federation of Government Employees. The contract allows EPA employees to telework up to two days a week. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the agency offered more workplace flexibilities, including more telework. But the agency said AFGE traded a more generous telework policy for more union representation. AFGE said it’s not true, and the union made an unfair labor practice charge against EPA for its comments.