VA sees slight drop in facilities with staffing shortages

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  • Medical centers at the Department of Veterans Affairs saw a slight improvement in staffing shortages over the last year. In 2020, 132 VA facilities reported severe staffing shortages compared to 135 last year, and 140 in 2018. The number of severe occupational staffing shortages is down 9% since last year. VA medical center directors say they’re most often in need of nurses and medical officers. The Veterans Health Administration said it will request direct-hire authority for more health occupations. It already has direct-hire authority for 34 positions.
  • The Senate easily cleared a procedural vote to begin debate over the 10-week continuing resolution. But senators won’t vote on final passage until next Wednesday, the day of the government shutdown deadline. The House already passed the CR. It would keep agencies running under existing funding levels through Dec. 11. It also extends a provision designed to pay federal contractors when they can’t go into government offices during the pandemic.
  • The House Modernization Committee passed its final round of recommendations before its term ends in January. Recommendations include standing up a Congressional Data Task Force, and identifying continuity of operations best practices the House made during the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmakers also recommend creating a Congressional Digital Services Task Force that would overhaul the House’s internal and public-facing operations. The committee has introduced 97 recommendations over the past 20 months, and expects to issue a final report in October.
  • Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee lay into the head of the agency that operates Voice of America. Members excoriate Michael Pack, the recently-appointed CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media. At a hearing, Chairman Eliot Engel called Pack’s tenure rocky and controversial for removing both Voice of America leadership and the presidents and boards of the agency’s Europe, Asia and Middle East broadcasters. Republican Michael McCaul said Pack has undermined U.S. foreign policy. Pack himself didn’t attend the hearing in spite of a bipartisan subpoena.
  • Another federal employee group is again pushing the administration to set up an emergency leave transfer program during the pandemic. The National Treasury Employees Union says the program would help parents juggling childcare responsibilities and work. NTEU first asked OPM about a leave transfer program back in July. But it never heard back. The union is again asking OPM to consider establishing a program. A coalition of federal managers and senior executives made a similar request earlier this month.
  • The Postal Service’s legal battles are leading to changes. The Postal Service is complying with a federal court’s order blocking a reduction in late and extra trips between mail processing facilities and post offices. Attorneys said the agency drafted guidance for its employees over the weekend, but is now asking the judge to clarify the order to prevent further delays in on-time mail delivery. The agency said it has also approved all headquarters requests to reconnect mail-sorting machines that had been recently removed from mail-processing plants. (Federal News Network)
  • The Veterans Health Administration will kick off its fifth innovation challenge next month looking for ideas to improve how relief workers can deal with disasters during the pandemic. The COVID-19 Maker Challenge starts with frontline workers submitting safety issues they face. These recommendations are then reviewed by an advisory panel. Then volunteer experts take on the development during a 72-hour design and prototype effort. The challenge kicks off Oct. 9 with the two-day maker event happening a week later.
  • The military plans new steps to remove gender and racial bias from its promotion processes. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said each of the military services have now agreed to remove photographs from the records that go before their promotion boards. “And not only just photos, but all other indicators of personal identity and characteristics. We are the world’s biggest meritocracy … we recognize that knowledge, skills, attributes and the content of your character are what should advance you through the system.” Milley said the “sterilization” of those board files has been endorsed by each of the military services, and they’re being implemented right now. (Department of Defense)
  • The Army is asking its leaders and managers to rethink race to better the way the service runs in the future. The Army is embarking on a five-year plan to better diversity, equality and inclusion in its ranks. The service says doing so will make the Army more dynamic and advance the most talented employees to the top. The policy calls on the service to look at current governance structures and check policies for bias. The Army will also consider how it markets itself to potential soldiers. The military’s senior officer corps currently has 11 times more white people than people of color. The Army says the changes will better the future leadership of the service. (Federal News Network)
  • Three Marine Corps families are filing a lawsuit against Camp Lejeune for poor housing conditions. The families are seeking damages and non-monetary reforms to leasing practices. The families allege incidences of water dripping out of electrical sockets, cockroaches and failing air conditioning. The lawsuit follows in the footsteps of other military families across the nation who say they are not receiving adequate housing. Last year, Congress investigated wide-spread reports of mice and mold in privatized military housing. (Association of Defense Communities)
  • A federal agency was hacked and CISA is telling its tale. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is providing its most in-depth detailed after-action report of an agency hack as a warning to others. CISA said this unnamed agency suffered a breach after a bad actor took advantage of unpatched systems and stolen credentials to steal data and network hop. The case study also highlights the ongoing challenges agencies have with securing virtual private networks. Industry experts said the attack may have come from a nation state and was a result of poor cyber hygiene. CISA made several recommendations including strengthening firewalls and ensuring two-factor authentication for privileged users.

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