House members now pushing for way to let feds opt-out of payroll tax deferral

In today's Federal Newscast, Congress makes another push to allow federal employees and military members to opt-out of the president's payroll tax deferral.

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  • Congress makes another push to allow federal employees and military members to opt-out of the president’s payroll tax deferral. A bipartisan group of over 40 House members asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to set up an opt-out option. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) made a similar request to Mnuchin and Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought. Mnuchin told Van Hollen he’d look into whether an opt-out option might be feasible for federal employees and military members.
  • The Government Accountability Office will look into the prevalence of systematic racism at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had flagged their concerns with stories they heard from VA employees and asked for a GAO investigation. GAO will specifically review VA’s culture and policies to determine the extent to which employees and veterans experience racism at the department.
  • Meanwhile, the Office of Personnel Management is pausing diversity and training for the executive branch. OPM said all agencies must submit their diversity and inclusion training for review. OPM will review it and determine whether it complies with the president’s recent executive order on diversity and inclusion. The EO bans training the administration deems as divisive. Agencies must submit all the training at once to OPM. The mandatory reviews apply to past and present diversity and inclusion training. (Federal News Network)
  • It’s time for agencies to share details on how they’re using telework. The Office of Personnel Management collects data and feedback on agency telework programs every year, but 2020 is different. OPM added extra questions this time to gauge how agencies are expanding and using telework during the pandemic. The responses could inform new policy on telework and long-term emergencies. OPM will report the findings next year.
  • A watchdog report took a closer look at sexual harassment at the State Department. Sexual harassment complaints in the State Department increased by 63% between 2014 and 2017. But the agency’s inspector general found that figure is probably an undercount of what’s really going on. In a survey of 2,000 agency direct hires, the IG found nearly 8% said they’d experienced or observed sexual harassment in the workplace, but nearly half of those who experienced or observed sexual harassment didn’t report what they saw to the Office of Civil Rights or Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
  • The Census Bureau is telling employees that 2020 field operations will continue through the end of the month. A federal judge ordered the bureau to send that message after it announced it would wrap field operations by Oct. 5, which goes against the judge’s preliminary injunction. The judge has also ordered Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham to file a declaration with the court confirming that the bureau is following the injunction. (Federal News Network)
  • The first set of cybersecurity shared services should be ready by early 2021. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the General Services Administration awarded a five-year, $13 million contract to a women-owned small firm to build a vulnerability disclosure platform. Under the contract, Endyna will create a centralized database that agencies can use to report, discover and take actions against cyber threat information. CISA’s Quality Service Management Office (QSMO) will offer the platform as a shared service so agencies can meet the September Binding Operational Directive calling for the use of a VDP platform. CISA said the platform will promote good-faith security research, hopefully resulting in improved security and coordinated disclosure across federal civilian agencies.
  • The Future of Defense Task Force called for a Manhattan Project for artificial intelligence and cutting back legacy systems, among other recommendations. Defense analysts said the report’s suggestions are a good path forward, but actually implementing them will be hard. Experts said there is large disagreement about what legacy systems need to be cut. Another issue is that the recommendations will be expensive and it is looking unlikely that Congress will want to continue raising defense budgets in the near future. (Federal News Network)
  • A new report said the Army spent $8.5 million to buy just three homes for the top leaders of the new Army Futures Command in Austin, Texas. The disclosure of the pricey homes comes via the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. The most expensive was a $3.4 million house reserved for the commander of Army Futures Command. It includes a three-car garage, a private pool and a wine grotto. Army officials said they selected the homes based mostly on their proximity to the command’s headquarters in downtown Austin, where real estate prices are high. The funds came from the Army’s share of profits in its privatized housing partnership at Fort Hood.
  • Congress heard reports of mice, mold and lead paint in privatized military housing more than a year and a half ago. Now they want an update. A group of senators is calling on the Defense Department to share how it’s progress on Congressionally mandated improvements to housing. DoD implemented a tenant bill of rights, however, it left out four of the rights Congress required. Many think those items left out were the most important liberties Congress gave military families. The senators want updates on mold mitigation in housing, withholding incentive fees to corporate landlords for bad living conditions and payments of relocation costs to service members.
  • The departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs and the Environmental Protection Agency are among the big winners of the GEARs of Government awards for 2020. All four of these agencies earned the most recognition among all agencies for projects that support exceptional delivery around mission results, customer service and accountability. In all, the White House recognized 58 individuals and 167 teams for a total of 225 winners of this annual contest.

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