IG: EPA pandemic guidance for employees differed by location

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  • Reentry plans for Environmental Protection Agency employees over the summer varied widely across the country. The EPA inspector general said the agency’s 13 different regions issued inconsistent protocols on mask wearing, cleaning and other safety guidelines during the pandemic. Eleven out of 13 regions required employees to wear a mask while working in an EPA building. But only one region had a plan for enforcing it. The IG says three regions addressed how often surfaces will be cleaned at EPA buildings. A handful of regions addressed the risks of taking public transportation to the office.
  • The Defense Department is extending its relaxed telework rules for at least another six months. In a memo, Matthew Donovan, the Pentagon’s personnel chief told commanders and supervisors they will continue to have “maximum telework flexibilities” for their employees until the end of June. Those flexibilities, which DoD initiated at the beginning of the pandemic were set to expire at the end of this year. Among other things, they waive the department’s usual prohibition against teleworking while kids are at home. Earlier this month, DoD raised its targets for the number of Pentagon employees teleworking from 20-60% in response to an increase in coronavirus cases in the National Capital Region.
  • After completely changing how it operates to account for coronavirus, the Defense Information Systems Agency is updating its strategy for the next two years. The plan provides a framework to explore technologies that will contribute to a more secure, seamless and cost-effective IT architecture for the Defense Department. It highlights three main areas, cyber defense, cloud and defense enterprise office solutions, for achieving that goal. DISA also wants to better its network optimization and business process modernization with the plan.
  • The processing of military records has been at a near standstill since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Now some lawmakers want that to change. A bipartisan group of 233 lawmakers are calling on the National Personnel Records Center to address its growing backlog of requests. The organization has been piling up unprocessed military records since March when it reduced operations. Those files are needed for veterans and civil service retirees to receive benefits from the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs. The legislators want NPRC to implement new policies that will resume processing personnel, health and medical records while ensuring the safety of employees.
  • The Navy has decided the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard can’t be saved — at least not at a reasonable price. That’s the amphibious assault ship that was severely damaged by fire while it was docked in San Diego this past summer. Officials said they determined it would take at least five years and three billion dollars to get the carrier back to sea. They said they’ll salvage as many systems and materials as they can for use on other vessels, before decommissioning the ship.
  • The Army has concluded a month-long test of robots working in conjunction with human soldiers, and calls it a game-changer. The goal was to see if robotic combat vehicles could provide real utility to rifle platoons. Infantry members at Fort Benning, Georgia conducted movements and attacks both with and without robot support. Soldiers gave the robots mixed reviews, depending on the terrain in which the vehicles were tested. Brigadier General Ross Coffman, director of the Next Generation Ground Vehicle program, says the experiments will shape and inform potential new force structures.
  • Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) is calling on the Federal Labor Relations Authority to overturn three recent decisions on collective bargaining. The decisions came at the request of the Agriculture and Education Departments and the Office of Personnel Management. They ultimately give agencies more authority at the bargaining table. But Connolly said FLRA shouldn’t have issued the decisions in the first place. He argued FLRA violated its own rules in issuing these decisions because they didn’t come from an actual dispute between an agency and a union.
  • House committee chairmen want to know how many current political appointees are trying to stick around for the next administration. House Democrats sent requests to 61 federal agencies about their plans to convert political appointees to career civil service positions. That process is known as “burrowing in.” Lawmakers are especially concerned about the prospects of burrowing in light of a new executive order from President Trump. House Democrats want to know whether agencies will use the recently-created Schedule F to reclassify current political appointees into positions that career civil servants previously held.
  • Ajit Pai is not hanging around for the next administration. Pai, the FCC chairman, announced he will be leaving in January after eight years at the commission. Pai became chairman in 2017 and joined the FCC in 2012. Under his leadership, the FCC has focused on closing the digital divide, promoting innovation and competition among 5G and broadband from space to the ground and improving public safety through the national communications infrastructure.
  • The Office of Management and Budget’s governmentwide contracting initiative may be too focused on the wrong metrics. Under the category management initiative, agencies are spending too much time choosing what contract to use instead of how best to define and describe what they are buying. A new report from the Government Accountability Office said OMB’s overarching guidance is pushing agencies in a direction that limits the success of the initiative. GAO made 10 recommendations including for OMB to develop tailored training focused on developing requirements, a data-centric strategic plan to collect prices paid and spending information and better ways to measure the impact of category management on small businesses.
  • Agencies are wrapping up year one of the Federal Data Strategy with plenty to show for their efforts. In the third quarter of 2020, 20 agencies conducted an initial assessment of their data maturity and 36 agencies documented the authorities of their data governance boards. The Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology also released a framework on data quality for resources posted on data.gov.
  • The Postal Service is getting more flexibility for how it sets mail rates. The Postal Regulatory Commission will let the Postal Service raise rates on market dominant products like first-class mail, based on changes in mail density and retirement costs. The PRC found these variables are out of the Postal Service’s control, and should be considered to help the agency cover its operating costs. This final rule from the PRC wraps up a 10-year review of the USPS rate-setting system under the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, the last major postal bill Congress approved.