Dozens of VOA reporters calling for director to resign

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  • Twenty-six journalists at Voice of America have demanded that VOA’s Director Robert Reilly resign after a reporter was reassigned in what appears to be a retaliatory measure. Patsy Widakuswara attempted to question Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after a speech he gave at VOA’s headquarters. She was then notified that she was reassigned to VOA’s Indonesian service without informing her or her union. VOA maintains that it’s directors have the authority to reassign staff as they see fit.
  • President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration has asked DoD’s second-ranking official to stick around for at least a while longer. David Norquist, the current deputy Defense secretary has agreed to lead the department until a new secretary is confirmed. The president-elect intends to nominate Lloyd Austin as his Defense secretary, but that process might not be finished by the time Biden is sworn in, partly because Congress would have to waive a provision of federal law that requires a waiting period for recently-retired military officers. (Federal News Network)
  • The Coast Guard said it is hoping to recruit 4,000 new members to its ranks in 2021. However, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz said it is unlikely the service will bring in that many new members. He is tempering expectations, saying that in the COVID-19 environment, 2,500 new recruits would be a win for the service. He added that with that many new members the Coast Guard can gain momentum into bringing in more members in future years. (Federal News Network)
  • The Defense Department released a new list of Chinese companies that the U.S. government may not want to affiliate with. The Pentagon says nine Chinese companies operating in the United States are controlled or partly controlled by China’s People’s Liberation Army. The nine companies are just the newest set of businesses to be called out by the Defense Department. Other high profile companies include Huawei and ZTE. The new companies on the list include the Grand China Air Company, China National Aviation Holding and the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China. The list does not require any specific action by the United States, but may open the companies up for sanctions or other controls.
  • All federal employees at the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs and Transportation Security Administration are eligible for paid parental leave now. New guidance from the Office of Personnel Management explains the technical corrections Congress made recently to the paid parental leave program. The changes were part of the 2021 defense policy bill. Employees who weren’t previously covered and had a new child after Oct. 1, 2020 may be eligible to use paid leave now.
  • A bipartisan pair of House members are mounting another defense against Schedule F, and anything else like it. Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) introduced the Preventing a Patronage System Act. The bill would prohibit future administrations from reclassifying civil service positions into Schedule F or anything similar. It limits reclassification efforts to the five excepted service schedules that existed before the end of fiscal 2020. (Federal News Network)
  • The Office of Personnel Management is urging D.C. area federal employees to reconsider their commutes next week. Most federal employees in the D.C. region are still teleworking during the pandemic. But OPM says anyone who isn’t, should work from home for the next week. OPM is encouraging agencies to allow their employees to telework, use leave or other flexible work schedules in the days before and after the Inauguration. Those who must travel to work in the region should plan extra time for their commutes and expect closed roads and extra security. (Federal News Network)
  • The Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council finalized a new rule telling contracting officers when they can and can’t use the lowest-price technically acceptable approach in contracts. The final rule lays out six reasons why LPTA would be acceptable, such as when an agency believes the technical proposals will require no, or minimal, subjective judgment. It also details three specific areas where LPTA shouldn’t be used such as for personal protective equipment. In the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress called on the council to detail the criteria for and limitations on the use of LPTA source selection criteria in solicitations. The rule goes into effect Feb. 16.
  • Six federal health care program administered or paid for nearly 11 million COVID-19 tests between February and August last year. That covers nearly 13% of all COVID tests conducted in the United States, according to data analyzed by the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. The PRAC found only the Bureau of Prisons, Veterans Health Administration, and Defense Department medical treatment facilities, provided data on the turnaround time it took to provide test results. All three sources of data showed that test processing got faster over time.
  • President Donald Trump made a last-ditch effort to rescind $27-billion from the 2021 budget. He proposed gutting the budgets for the Corporation for National and Community Service, National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities. He also proposed cuts to several grant programs at the Agriculture Department, Education Department’s Financial Student Aid Office and others. His proposal is likely dead-on-arrival in the new Congress. (White House)
  • President Donald Trump is revisiting his 2019 “Buy American” executive order, and expanding it to include the Postal Service. USPS already has purchasing procedures that advantage American suppliers, but the executive order directs the Postmaster General to give even greater weight to US made products in its Supplying Principles and Practices. The executive order, if kept in place by the Biden administration, would impact the next-generation delivery vehicle contract USPS expects to award later this year. But the three teams of vendors still in the running have already pledged these trucks would be manufactured in the U.S. (White House)
  • President-elect Joe Biden is proposing a $9 billion boost to federal technology modernization efforts. As part of his COVID relief proposal to Congress, Biden says he wants to increase the Technology Modernization Fund by 3,600%. The money would be used to launch new IT and cybersecurity shared services and complete modernization projects at agencies. Biden also is calling on Congress to change the fund’s reimbursement structure in order to fund more innovative and impactful projects. Additionally, Biden wants to give CISA almost $700 million  for cybersecurity services and GSA $300 million to pay for more IT modernization efforts.

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