Veterans groups ‘surprised’ by Biden’s VA pick

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  • Veterans service organizations and others have mixed reactions to President-elect Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. Denis McDonough is a former chief of staff for President Obama. He would be only the second non-veteran to lead VA if confirmed. AMVETS said it’s surprised by the pick and was expecting a woman or a post-9/11 veteran. The Disabled American Veterans organization said it’s interested in hearing more about McDonough’s vision for the department. The Biden transition team says McDonough is a crisis-tested leader.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs is out with a preliminary COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. It lists the 37 VA medical centers that are equipped today to administer the Pfizer vaccine once it’s approved. VA said its frontline healthcare workers are first in line for the initial doses of the vaccine. Veterans in VA’s long-term care facilities are first in line too. The department said it will publicly report how many people are vaccinated at each site, similar to the way VA is reporting active COVID-19 cases.
  • An inspector general said the Veterans Affairs secretary tried to discredit a congressional aide who reported sexual assault at the D.C. medical center. The IG didn’t make any formal recommendations and couldn’t prove VA Secretary Robert Wilkie investigated the congressional aide. But Wilkie and members of his senior leadership team did try to spread negative information about her. Wilkie didn’t fully cooperate with the IG investigation and said the allegations are false. The top Democrat on the House VA Committee is calling on Wilkie to resign. (Federal News Network)
  • The Postal Service isn’t getting all the data it needs to target opioids in the mail. USPS told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee it only has advanced electronic data for two-thirds of international packages, and won’t get to 100% by its January 1 deadline. This data is required under the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention, or STOP Act, and is meant to prevent the shipment of illegal opioids in the mail. The law allows Customs and Border Protection to seize or destroy packages without this data. CBP was supposed to issue a regulation clarifying how it would deal with these packages, but the agency missed deadlines and the regulation is still pending. (Federal News Network)
  • The incoming Biden administration needs a chief customer experience officer to improve agency services to the public. That’s according to a new report from the market research company Forrester. Its annual customer experience indexes show higher satisfaction with federal services in recent years, but they still rank behind most of private-sector industries. The report said a chief customer experience officer should bring in staff with expertise in metrics, design, and other skills key to customer experience.
  • New decisions by the FCC intend to further secure the supply chain from the Chinese. Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei lost its bid for reconsideration yesterday after the government labeled it a national security threat. The Federal Communications Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau formally designated Huawei as a risk in June. The commission also adopted rules to implement the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019. Under the law, the FCC will publish a list of communications equipment and services determined to be a risk to national security. Finally, the FCC decided to determine whether to end China Telecom Corporation’s authority to provide domestic interstate and international telecommunications services within the United States.
  • A faster path is on the way to get federally-funded breakthrough technologies to support homeland security missions into the commercial sector. The Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate in January will launch a start-up studio to accelerate this move. Initially, S&T will focus on technologies it funded but plans to expand to include technologies from other agencies and laboratories. The start-up studio will form teams of entrepreneurs and match them with innovative and ground-breaking technologies to assess their commercialization potential.
  • It’s ten months late, but the Navy now has a detailed plan for how it plans to grow its force over the next 30 years. The shipbuilding plan was delayed mostly by what Defense officials say was a need for more study. It has the backing of the Pentagon, which has set aside $45 billion over the next five years to kickstart new ship construction. By the early 2030s, the plan would deliver a fleet of 355 ships — up from the battle force of 296 the Navy has now. The fleet would eventually grow to 546 ships in the 2040s, but only about 400 of those would have crews on board. The rest would be remotely-piloted or completely autonomous.
  • It may be late in the game, but the Trump administration issued a new policy for U.S. activities in space. The wide-ranging policy promotes private industry as the source of new space goods and services. It calls for rehearsal of space continuity of operations practices while charging the Defense Department with protecting U.S. space interests. And it reiterates the goals of establishing a permanent station on the moon and getting people to Mars. The policy also calls on federal agencies to help strengthen the space workforce with educational and career path opportunities.

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