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The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee has questions about his fellow Democrat’s choice to lead the Pentagon. President-elect Joe Biden has picked retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as his Defense secretary. Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Austin is qualified, but he’s concerned about the implications for civilian control of the military. His confirmation would require a waiver from Congress to get around a law that requires military officers to be retired for seven years before they can be secretary. Austin’s confirmation would be the second waiver in just four years. Lawmakers did the same for President Donald Trump’s first Defense secretary, Jim Mattis.
Fifty former career officials and political appointees at the Office of Management and Budget are raising great concern with the president’s Schedule F executive order. They say there are real risks to reclassifying a large portion of the OMB workforce as quasi-political appointees. They worry the order, if implemented, could fundamentally damage a key government institution. OMB recently submitted a list of positions to reclassify to the new Schedule F. The list covered the vast majority of the OMB workforce. It’s up to the Office of Personnel Management to review and approve those positions for reclassification.
Agencies are on deadline to determine how many Senior Executive Service positions they’ll need in 2022 and 2023. The Office of Personnel Management says it’ll give priority to agencies who need more SES to respond to legislation or other critical needs. Agencies that have SES vacancy rates that exceed eight-percent should be ready to explain themselves. They have until the end of the year to decide whether they’ll need more, fewer or the same number of senior executives.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has more details on how it’ll distribute a COVID-19 vaccine to its employees and veterans. VA said it’ll first distribute a vaccine to its health care employees who are at highest risk from COVID-19. For veterans, it’ll take age and race and ethnicity into account when deciding who should receive a vaccine first. VA pointed to data that shows Black, Hispanic and Native American communities are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Veterans with existing health problems will also be among the first who receive the vaccine.
COVID-19 reshaped how federal employees work, but will it last? A study from The Partnership for Public Service and Microsoft highlights how agencies have made the most of mandatory telework. The Energy Department, for example, has stood up a National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory, which connects the agency’s 17 national labs and gives researchers remote access to those labs. The agency is looking at how remote science could play a bigger role in its mission, and whether conducting experiments this way is feasible long-term. (Federal News Network)
Military spouses have some new opportunities for employment thanks to a partnership with the Pentagon and the private sector. Eighty-six new companies are joining the Defense Department’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership today. The induction brings the number of companies and organizations committed to offering career opportunities to military spouses up to 500. Partnership employers are responsible for hiring more than 175,000 military spouses since 2011. Some of the new inductees include Allstate and Aveanna Healthcare. Last year, military spousal unemployment was at 22%. Many spouses have trouble finding work because they are constantly moving with their service member or must reapply for employment certificates and licenses in new states.
The Space Force is setting up its own innovation cell in hopes of partnering with the private sector and prototyping weapons systems faster. SpaceWERX is modeled off the Air Force’s AFWERX office. It will closely align its efforts with space operators and acquisition professionals within the Space Force, and Space and Missile Systems Center, and work with groups that contribute to the national security space architecture. The office will be headquartered at Los Angeles Air Force Base. (Federal News Network)
A new effort to get rid of outdated IT systems in the Navy and Marine Corps is called “Operation Cattle Drive.” In a new memo, the acting Navy undersecretary tells officials that siloed, duplicative data systems are wasting billions of dollars, creating unnecessary cyber risks and hindering financial audits. The Navy Department’s chief information officer, comptroller and chief management officer will work together on Cattle Drive. Among their main tools to get rid of outdated systems: starve them of funding and remove the cyber certifications that let them connect to Navy networks.
The FBI joined a growing list of federal law enforcement agencies moving all of its wireless services to FirstNet. The agency signed a $92 million contract with AT&T to meet its day-to-day and emergency wireless communications needs through the nationwide broadband network. The FBI joins the Army and several Justice Department bureaus, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in using FirstNet. As of Sept. 30, more than 14,000 public safety agencies and organizations across the country subscribed to FirstNet.
The Postal Service plans to solidify its ability to match people and addresses. Through a new address verification platform, the Postal Service sees itself as the source of truth when it comes to people and addresses. Greg Crabb, the USPS chief information security officer, says the agency will use advanced analytics to harness name and address data to improve how it serves its customers. He says the platform will be pulling raw data from multiple systems and using artificial intelligence and machine learning software to strengthen and add more surety to the name and address connection. USPS expects other agencies and possibly mailers to benefit from this big data tool.
The Houses passed a bill that would make federal court records free to the public. The 2020 Open Courts Act would requires the Administrative Office of the United States Courts to work with the General Services Administration to develop a new system to manage electronic court filings. This system would replace the online database called PACER, which charges fees for users to search and download documents. House Judiciary Committee members Hank Johnson (D) and Doug Collins (R) of Georgia introduced the bill in September.
The State Department quietly terminated certain exchange programs connected to the People’s Republic of China. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo termed the programs “disguised” as cultural exchanges. They operated under the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act which allows U.S. federal government employees to travel abroad, with foreign governments paying the way. The five programs canceled were entirely paid for by China, for what Pompeo termed soft power propaganda, consisting of meetings with “carefully curated Chinese Communist Party Officials” but not with ordinary Chinese citizens.