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The Trump administration used Defense Department funds to build parts of a border wall. Now Congress wants that money back where it originally put it. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Calif.) says he is working with appropriators and the Defense Department to figure out how Congress can restore military construction funding to the Pentagon. Former President Trump took about three point six billion dollars from the Defense Department to build parts of a border wall. A little less than a billion of that money has been actually spent. Smith told Federal News Network that lawmakers are now trying to figure out what red tape they and the Pentagon need to sift through to reverse the transfer of funds.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order to prevent political appointees from interfering with the work of career federal scientists. The executive order directs agencies to name a chief science officer. That person will serve as the primary science adviser to the head of the agency, and will ensure research programs adhere to agency’s scientific integrity policy. A task force led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy will also review these agency policies, and determine whether they do enough to bar political appointees from interfering with the work of career federal scientists. President Joe Biden says the executive order will give federal employees cover to give candid scientific assessments. “We will protect our world-class scientists from political interference and ensure they can think, research, and speak freely and directly to me, the vice president and the American people.” (Federal News Network)
The Trump administration left more open top political appointee positions near the end of its four years than the previous two terms. Federal News Network reviewed data from three previous Plum Books. The Trump administration ended its term with 1,583 appointee vacancies. The Obama administration left in 2016 with 1,260 vacancies. The tenure of acting leaders often outlasted permanent appointees at several key positions. Acting executives led the Office of Personnel Management for over one-thousand days. The Department of Homeland Security had an acting secretary for 763 days, compared to 698 days of permanent leadership. (Federal News Network)
Biden’s pick for Veterans Affairs Secretary got an easy nomination hearing. Denis McDonough acknowledges he’s not a veteran, but he says his experience as a White House chief of staff gives him insight into a bureaucracy like VA. “I know and understand the federal government, from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. I can unstick problems inside agencies and across agencies.” The Senate VA Committee plans to vote on McDonough’s nomination on Tuesday. Several Republicans say they plan to support his confirmation. (Federal News Network)
President Joe Biden is expected to ramp up the use of the Defense Production Act especially in his first year in office. The DPA allows the government to direct businesses to make products in the interest of national security. Defense analysts say Biden’s more federally-centric approach to COVID-19 is ripe for DPA use. The administration is expect to grant contracts for vaccine plungers and protective gear to battle the pandemic. (Federal News Network)
The Army says it’s secured more than $1 billion in new private sector funding to help improve housing conditions on its bases. The arrangement comes by way of the private firm Lendlease, which owns tens of thousands of on-bases homes as part of the Army’s privatized housing program. The company proposed a financing arrangement with new investors that will let it renovate 12,000 homes on five large bases, and build 1,200 more new ones. The locations include Fort Hood, Texas, Fort Campbell and Fort Knox in Kentucky, Fort Wainwright, Alaska, Fort Drum, New York, plus Army housing in Hawaii.
200 small businesses have been given the go-ahead to begin competing for work under the CIO-SP3 governmentwide acquisition contract. The National Institutes of Health IT Acquisition and Assessment Center won its protest on January 26 thus lifting the stop-work order. NI-TAAC made the awards in May, but protests delayed the small businesses from being able to compete for task orders. NITAAC also says the solicitation for the follow-on GWAC known as CIO-SP4 will be posted in early March.
Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) continues his push for more money for IT modernization. It hasn’t worked yet, but Congressman Gerry Connolly hopes a third time is a charm. He wrote to House leadership yesterday asking for them to include the Biden administration’s proposal of $9 billion for the Technology Modernization Fund in the next pandemic relief bill. Connolly says the funding will begin to address the need to improve IT or agencies will be unable to deliver critical services to the public. The chairman of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations wrote to House leaders over the summer as did his Senate counterparts, but failed to secure additional TMF funding.
The IRS named its first chief taxpayer experience officer to help lead the overhaul of its public-facing operations. IRS Wage and Investment commissioner Ken Corbin will serve in this new role, and will work closely with the National Taxpayer Advocate. This is the first senior leadership role the IRS created under the 2019 Taxpayer First Act. That legislation has triggered an agency reorganization, and the creation of strategies to improve taxpayer experience and employee training.