Former top EPA official turned whistleblower is suing the agency for retaliation

In today's Federal Newscast, a former top political aide to ex-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt claims EPA violated his free speech and due process rights by remo...

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  • A former high ranking EPA employee turned whistleblower is now suing the agency for alleged retaliation. E&E News reported Kevin Chmielewski, formerly a top political aide to ex-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt claimed EPA violated his free speech and due process rights by removing him after he raised concerns about Pruitt’s excessive spending and mismanagement. The revelations eventually led to Pruitt resigning after pressure from Congress. Chmielewski is also suing the Energy Department for its refusal to hire him.
  • The Trump administration is out with a new executive order that will move a portion of the career federal workforce out of the competitive service. The EO creates a new hiring schedule, known as Schedule F. It instructs agencies to review any career positions that hold some kind of policy-making or confidential role and move them to the new schedule. The moves would essentially make them at-will employees. The Trump administration said it’ll give agencies more flexibility to fire poor-performing employees. The EO gives agencies three months, or the day before Inauguration Day, to make a preliminary list of positions that should move to Schedule F.
  • Federal employees from dozens of regions across the country are making the case for their own distinct locality pay areas. But the Federal Salary Council isn’t recommending any new areas for 2022. Some council members say the locality pay program is broken. Most members said it’s underfunded. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t have the funding it needs to accurately measure pay gaps between the public and private sectors. BLS said federal employees are underpaid by 22% compared to their private sector counterparts. (Federal News Network)
  • A federal advisory committee recommended Congress phase-out the 80-year AbilityOne program that gave people with disabilities federal contracting jobs. Members of the National Council on Disability said the program had a long history of paying disabled employees less than minimum wage. The council recommends Congress update the Rehabilitation Act to require federal contractors and subcontractors to hire a certain percentage of workers who are blind or have another significant disability. The council recommends this requirement apply to businesses with at least $200,000 in government contracts and at least 50 employees.
  • The Census Bureau will not meet a year-end deadline if its data needs more time. Census officials have compressed the 2020 timeline as much as possible to deliver apportionment data by Dec. 31. But associate director for decennial programs Al Fontenot told reporters he, along with career employees who lead an executive guidance group, will decide whether the bureau can meet the deadline without sacrificing data quality. “It is our plan right now that if we need more time to fix a problem that comes up, that would impact the quality of the census, we’re taking it,” Fontenot said. The bureau wrapped up field operations on Oct. 15. (Federal News Network)
  • President Donald Trump signed the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act into law. The bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Reps. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) and Elaine Luria (D-Va.) ensures that veterans will receive the same cost-of-living adjustment level as Social Security recipients next year. The bill increases the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities. The law will take effect on Dec. 1.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs may be planning to close its compensation and pension examination program and outsource the exams to contractors. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) said VA recently informed her staff of these plans. VA currently has a backlog of 350,000 compensation and pension exams due to the pandemic. Luria said she’s concerned about VA’s ability to adequately manage and oversee the compensation and pension program and the contractors who are running it.
  • Lawmakers are concerned over the state of the community care program at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans often wait over 20 days to get an appointment with VA’s community care program. Senate VA Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said, “Then veterans wait an average of 20 days for their appointments after they’ve been scheduled. That doesn’t work, man. That dog doesn’t hunt. If the VA was here I would tell them to find a way to reduce the red tape.” Committee members from both parties say they’re frustrated community care providers often operate under different standards depending on the region. VA declined to participate in a recent hearing on community care.
  • The Pentagon’s black budget rose by $1.6 billion in 2020. DoD was appropriated $23.1 billion for secret operations, programs and intelligence accounts. Last year, the budget dropped for the first time in three years to $21.5 billion. The money spent in the black budget is not released to the public for national security reasons. Some of the funds also go to U.S. Special Operations Command.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting women in the military particularly hard. One in every five essential service member was unable to find childcare over the past six months, leaving doctors, nurses and other workers in tough positions. Female service member took up most of that burden, according to a new survey by Blue Star Families. More than 70% of female service members reported having to change their childcare plans during the pandemic. Blue Star Families president Kathy-Roth-Douquet said the issue is a big retention problem for the Pentagon. “We’re at a risk of losing a leadership class of women in uniform because they’ve been so hard hit,” Roth-Douquet said. (Federal News Network)
  • The Pentagon came out on the losing end of two separate legal challenges to a multibillion dollar contract to overhaul the military moving system. The Government Accountability Office found several problems with U.S. Transportation Command’s $7.2 billion award for the new Global Household Goods contract. GAO sided almost entirely with the protestors, and said TRANSCOM needs to reopen the procurement to revised bids. (Federal News Network)
  • You might not think of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler as pals. But think again. Just days after receiving an award from one group opposed to animal medical testing, Wheeler got another award from PETA. The animal rights group has created a scholarship in the name of Wheeler’s mother, a long-time animal welfare advocate. The Pat C. Wheeler Scholar grant, $5,000 will go to a U.K. testing lab and EPA contractor that operates animal-free. Wheeler last year implemented a policy to phase out all animal testing by the EPA.

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