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With commercial space travel gaining momentum, NASA and the FAA are detailing how they will support this future. The two agencies signed an agreement laying out how they both work with the commercial sector to transport government and non-government passengers, cargo and payloads for both orbital and suborbital missions. The memorandum of understanding (MOU) explains how NASA and the FAA will develop a framework for human spaceflight that avoids conflicts and adheres to standards that promote growth and innovation. The agreement also covers four other areas including safety, medical and suborbital spaceflight.
Some employees at the Environmental Protection Agency will have a new telework policy whenever EPA resumes more normal work schedules. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler eliminated the requirement for employees to work in the office at least three days a week. Employees on a compressed or flexible work schedule can telework up to two days a week. But the new policy only applies to non-bargaining unit employees. An EPA spokesman says the goal is to offer the new policy to everyone. But the American Federation of Government Employees filed an unfair labor practice charge with the agency over recent telework discussions.
It took longer than normal, but the Office of Personnel Management announced the start of a customary transition activity. OPM is temporarily pausing the hiring of new members to the Senior Executive Service. The hiring freeze went into effect Friday, 12 days before the Inauguration. It’s supposed to give incoming agency heads the time and space to make decisions about their executive resources during the transition. Similar hiring freezes have gone into effect earlier during past presidential transitions. (Federal News Network)
The Small Business Administration is gearing up for the second round of its Paycheck Protection Program. SBA will approve up to $284 billion in forgivable business loans in this round, meant to cover payroll costs, as well as rent and mortgage payments for businesses. SBA says this second round of PPP loans are available to new borrowers and certain businesses that received a loan in the first round. SBA has already issued more than 5 million loans worth $525 billion.
The top National Guard official has reached out to all 50 states, asking how their forces might be able to help with security on Inauguration Day. The National Guard Bureau says 6,200 members of the guard from five states have already been activated in the aftermath of last week’s Capitol riot. DoD currently plans to station 850 guardsmen on Capitol Hill. 90 more will be posted at various checkpoints, and 150 are expected to serve as a quick-reaction force for the U.S. Park Police. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy says DoD is also debating whether to allow National Guard members to carry weapons during their activation in the nation’s capital. (Federal News Network)
The Naval Community College began teaching to its first class of students. The college was the brainchild of former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and was built to help sailors get official credit for some of the education they were undertaking during service. The first class is made up of 600 sailors, Marines and Coastguardsmen and is built on the accreditation of multiple universities and community colleges.
The Defense Department is letting a few of its secrets spill, but only to a select few. The Pentagon is creating a new program that will let some trusted corporations in on highly sensitive information. DoD hopes by sharing the secrets the companies can make better products tailored to the military’s needs. DoD says only companies working on 15 or more special access projects will be eligible to participate in the program. DoD started piloting the idea back in 2016. The Pentagon hopes businesses will use the information for their own research in the future to make more advanced weapons. (Federal News Network)
An independent agency outlined the challenges and opportunities of agencies working with artificial intelligence. The Administrative Conference of the United States finds AI, if well implemented, could handle routine government tasks more cheaply and efficiently. But it recommends that agencies take steps to mitigate harmful biases in AI and ensure the algorithms are transparent. ACUS also recommends that agencies make security and oversight top priorities, and consider the short and long-term costs of maintaining AI algorithms before implementing them.
One long running program at the State Department is going strong into 2021. State’s Overseas Building Office says construction is about to begin on a new embassy in a major city that’s diplomatically crucial, New Dehli, India. To be erected on an existing site in the city’s diplomatic enclave, the project is projected to cost around $200 million. It’ll involve new construction and landscaping, and renovation of an existing building. Since launch of the program in 1999, the State Department has finished 164 new embassies, with 50 more to go.
Two federal technology executives have taken new jobs at the Department of Homeland Security and in the federal judiciary. Ken Bible moved to DHS from the Marines Corps. Roy Varghese leaves NOAA after 11 years. These are among the latest changes in the federal technology community. Bible joins DHS as its chief information security officer, replacing Paul Beckman, who left in January. He comes to DHS from the Marines Corps where he was deputy CIO since 2015. Meanwhile Varghese joined the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts as the chief of the case management system office He has been the NOAA Fisheries CIO since 2017.