Government looking to rein in agencies’ drone purchasing

In today's Federal Newscast, GSA is removing all drones from Multiple Award Schedule Contracts that do not have the approval of the Defense Department.

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  • The government is looking to get more control over whom agencies can buy drones from. The General Services Administration is removing all drones from Multiple Award Schedule Contracts that do not have the approval of the Defense Department. Companies will need to be approved through DoD’s Blue sUAS program in order to sell drones through MAS contracts.
  • The Office of Personnel Management has some new guidance on how agencies can temporarily staff their political ranks after Inauguration Day. Agencies can use a special authority to install temporary Schedule C political appointees, as long as the number of positions doesn’t exceed a certain threshold. Agencies can also onboard individuals to a few non-career Senior Executive Service positions. Cabinet agencies can install no more than five non-career SES members. Non-cabinet agencies are capped at three. OPM said these special authorities will help agencies support the presidential transition.
  • Federal employees used to checking their inboxes for word on an early dismissal or snow day will have to go elsewhere. The Office of Personnel Management says it will no longer send out operating status updates through its email list-serv. Federal employees should check the OPM website or agency’s Facebook and Twitter accounts for updates instead. They can also download the OPM operating status app to their phones.
  • Another year, another milestone for the Merit Systems Protection Board. The MSPB marked its fourth year this month without a quorum. It hasn’t been able to grant final decisions for employees and agencies who appeal disciplinary actions for the entirety of the Trump administration. And it hasn’t had any members at all in nearly two years. The MSPB has a backlog now of over 3,000 pending cases. Federal employment attorneys say they’re hopeful the incoming Biden administration will quickly name new members who can get to work on the backlog. (Federal News Network)
  • The General Services Administration must now make federal building prospectuses it shares with Congress available to the public. President Donald Trump signed the Transparency in Federal Buildings Projects Act, requiring GSA to make up to 10 years of these documents available on its website. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has already made some of this information from GSA available online. Committee member Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) introduced the bill.
  • The longest serving GSA administrator in the last 25 years is leaving today. Emily Murphy served as the GSA administrator for more than 1,100 days and today is her last day on the job. Murphy told GSA earlier this week that she would be leaving the administration ahead of the Jan.  20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. In her goodbye email, which Federal News Network obtained, Murphy highlighted GSA’s successes over the last three years, including saving more than $21 billion, shrinking the amount of leased office space and growing the revenue of the Federal Acquisition Service by 36%. Murphy didn’t mention some of her controversial decisions around ascertainment, the FBI building or the Trump hotel. Murphy called being the GSA administrator “an opportunity of a lifetime.”
  • The Pentagon said it has a new way to ensure its supply chain isn’t infiltrated by foreign adversaries. DoD said too many small and medium-sized companies rely on investors that are, in reality, shell companies owned by foreign governments trying to grab their intellectual property. In response, the department has set up an online marketplace to match “trusted” investors with 27 types of innovators the Pentagon wants to do business with. Officials say new vetting process takes about a week. It’s mainly used to make sure investors aren’t owned or controlled by China or other nations. (Federal News Network)
  • The military’s newest command will finally have a place to hang its hat. United States Space Command will be headquartered in Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, according to the Air Force. The command was temporarily housed in Colorado Springs, Colorado, until the service could find a home for the new command. SPACECOM was created in 2019 with the mission of conducting operations in space and deterring conflict. The Air Force said Alabama was the best option due to mission-related factors, infrastructure capacity and community support. The Air Force will complete its decision after finishing up an environmental impact study in the spring of 2023.
  • Six defense contractors are now pausing political donations in the wake of the violent attacks on the Capitol. Lockheed Martin and Boeing are joining Northrop Grumman, Leidos, BAE and Raytheon in halting their political action committee activities. Other defense contractors have condemned the attacks, but have yet to announce anything about funding candidates. Shipbuilder Hunting Ingalls Industries is currently reviewing its donations. Other companies withholding funding include Marriott, Dow Chemical and Amazon.
  • A new angle on why everyone needs to keep an eye on China, from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. USPTO has seen a rising number of Chinese trademark and patent applications, almost half of the world’s total in 2019. It wanted to find out why. After a detailed look, PTO has concluded many of them are driven by what the agency calls non-market factors. Including government subsidies and mandates, bad-faith, and defensive countermeasures. A growing number of the bad patents and trademarks end up valid in the U.S. and other countries, thanks to Chinese filings under international agreements.
  • The IRS is calling on Congress for more funding to overhaul its taxpayer services. The IRS estimates it will need $4 billion to meets its obligations under the Taxpayer First Act between now and 2025. But National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins said the agency is already struggling with the budget it has. IRS personnel answered only 24% of taxpayer calls during fiscal 2020, and callers waited on-hold for an average of 18 minutes. In-person staffing at Taxpayer Assistance Centers has also been on the decline for the past three years.
  • One of winning ideas under the GEAR Center challenge is about to become a pilot. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency will be the first of possibly two agencies to lead a six-month pilot to hire and train people with autism. Since there is a disproportionate amount of unemployment in the autism community and a high demand for qualified technology talent, the pilot aims to train these candidates for in-demand IT positions that will lead to a career in the federal government. Through the pilot, MITRE, which is leading the project, will develop a federally-focused autism at work playbook.

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