IG: Education had decent reopening plans for allowing employees back

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  • The Education Department’s inspector general said the agency developed a decent enough reopening plan for its employees during the pandemic. Education gave its acting assistant secretary for finance and operations the main authority to make regional reentry decisions. Plans prioritized telework in the first two phases and required face coverings for all employees in Education buildings. But the IG said the agency should have made it clearer it won’t retaliate against employees who raise concerns about health and safety in the workplace.
  • The IRS believes it can send a new round of stimulus checks to Americans more quickly and easily this time. Congress drew on the lessons it learned the last time it asked agencies to provide direct economic relief to the public earlier this year. It gave the Treasury Department access to the death master file in this latest COVID-19 relief package. That file should allow the IRS to more accurately disperse $600 stimulus checks to eligible living Americans in the coming weeks. The agency sent over a million stimulus checks to dead people earlier this year. (Federal News Network)
  • The Postal Service is receiving some relief from the conditions of the $10 billion loan it received under the CARES Act. In the latest version of the pandemic relief bill, Congress approved a provision to convert the terms of the loan into direct funding. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said this will let USPS put the funds toward its operations and recovery from pandemic-related losses.
  • IT modernization grades are out and several agencies will have to have tough conversations with their parents. Five agencies immediately felt the brunt of just how serious lawmakers want them to take the transition to the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract. On the latest FITARA scorecard, the lack of progress dropped the two agencies — the General Services Administration and the U.S. Agency for International Development — which previously received As down a whole letter grade. The House Oversight and Reform Committee released the 11th version of the scorecard that featured a total of 14 Bs and 10 Cs. The Commerce Department, Social Security Administration and the Small Business Administration also saw whole letter grade drops. (Federal News Network)
  • The Energy Department picked three more teams to help domestic private industry design more advanced nuclear reactors. Energy awards $20 million under the Advanced Reactor Concepts-20, or ARC-20 program, part of $56 million that the agency plans to invest over the next four years. The ARC-20 program aims to make the U.S. more competitive in the commercial reactor market, with projects like Fast Modular Reactor Conceptual Design, and a Horizontal Compact High Temperature Gas Reactor.
  • The Justice Department won a $11 million dollar settlement from Schneider Electric Buildings Americas to resolve criminal and civil investigations relating to kickbacks and overcharges on eight federally-funded energy savings performance contracts. Under the ESPCs, Schneider Electric was to install a variety of energy saving upgrades such as solar panels, LED lighting and insulation in federal buildings. DOJ said the company admitted to a series of violations including “burying” or “hiding” unallowable costs under these contracts with the Navy, GSA and USDA.
  • Federal agencies are facing an increase in scam attempts this holiday season. Fraudsters are impersonating Social Security Administration employees through phone calls and emails to obtain personal information or money from the public, often threatening victims with arrest if it is not provided. The FBI, Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are also dealing with an increase in COVID-19 vaccine related schemes. Scammers are using the peaked interest in vaccines to trick victims into providing personal information and money. The agencies are asking the public to be vigilant and report any fraudulent activity immediately.
  • The Navy wants to help families stay connected this holiday season. From Thursday until Saturday, Navy Exchange Service Command’s Telecommunications Program Office is paying for deployed military members’ phone calls, and again on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. To make a call, military members need an active Personal Identification Number from a prepaid phone card, or a Virtual Pin Number from AT&T. Calls are limited to 10 minutes each.
  • An Air Force equal opportunity office director has been pulled from her position for mishandling sexual discrimination and harassment complaints. According to the Office of Special Counsel, the EEO director at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, was removed after an investigation confirmed whistleblower allegations. The director was found to have discouraged EEO complaint filing, illegally rewrote complaints, and lied to employees about the EEO process. She also let a senior official accused of wrongdoing act as the sole settlement authority in his own case. The Air Force has pledged corrective actions.
  • FEMA and the Labor Department have created a new advanced emergency management training program for Job Corps students. The Job Corps Emergency Management Advance Training Program will consist of approximately 12 weeks of education for students to become mission-ready emergency management specialists. Students can finish their high school education while they train and will receive assistance obtaining employment when they complete. The program will ultimately provide FEMA or state and local governments with employees trained on in-demand skills.

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