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The Thrift Savings Plan ended 2020 with a record $710 billion in assets and 6.2 million participants. It’s the first time the TSP crossed the $700 billion threshold. The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board attributes the milestone to a growing number of uniformed services members who joined the plan for the first time. Hardship withdrawals and loans were down 18% in 2020 compared to the previous year. The TSP says many participants used flexibilities through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to take loans instead.
President Biden repealed his predecessor’s 2018 executive orders. But federal unions are in a holding pattern while they wait for agencies to revisit old contracts or return to the bargaining table. The American Federation of Government Employees said no agency has said it’s ready to begin that work just yet. The union is hopeful the Office of Personnel Management will issue guidance instructing agencies to resume bargaining negotiations with their unions. (Federal News Network)
Two House Democrats are urging the president’s attorney general pick to restore collective bargaining rights to Justice Department immigration judges. The Federal Labor Relations Authority agreed last fall to decertify the union representing DoJ immigration judges. The decision overturned 20 years of FLRA precedent. Now House Democrats are calling on Merrick Garland to revisit the issue when he’s confirmed as attorney general. The request comes from House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Government Operations Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).
Agencies suspended more contractors in fiscal 2019 than at any time over the previous four years. New data from the Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee shows officials took action against 722 contractors, up from 480 in 2018. The committee released its annual report to Congress last week with data from 2019. The committee said the number of contractors proposed for debarment or those debarred dropped over previous years. Additionally, agencies continue to use “pre-notice” letters, 139 in 2019, to alert vendors there are problems that need to be resolved before taking a suspension and debarment action.
A new review by the Government Accountability Office raises serious questions about the process the Pentagon uses to reimburse military members for their housing costs. Those housing allowances are supposed to be based on surveys of market rental rates. But GAO said the contractors DoD hires to do that research haven’t gathered enough data to set accurate rates. The review found almost half of the housing markets the contractors examined were based on samples that were too small to show an accurate picture of actual rental costs.
Makeup, nail polish and hair highlights are now part of the look for a modern soldier. The Army is drastically changing its grooming standards next month to ease burdens on soldiers. Required tight hair buns were causing hair loss, scarring and migraines for some women soldiers. In response, the Army will allow women to wear ponytails. Additionally, women will be able to wear nail polish as long as it is a professional color. Men may also wear clear nail polish to protect their nails from chemicals. Other changes include allowing breastfeeding women to wear undershirts and allowing women to wear earrings in noncombat situations. (Federal News Network)
Max Rose will be the COVID-19 czar for the Pentagon. He will hold the newly created position of special assistant secretary of defense, senior advisor for COVID. Rose is a former representative from New York and is also a veteran. He will be working closely with newly confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on COVID-19 response and coordination between federal agencies and the states.
The Defense Department’s Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification program places a temporary hold on new pilot projects. Ten defense components are piloting programs to test out how CMMC can work in conjunction with awarding contracts. The program requires contractors to have certain specified cybersecurity controls in place in order to be eligible for awards. CMMC program manager Katie Arrington said eight more pilots are ready to launch. “We felt out of respect for the new administration and the new undersecretary, that we would leave some for them to approve when they came in and assumed their positions here in the department.” Otherwise, Arrington said the program is full speed ahead.
Top Democrats on four House committees asked the Government Accountability Office for an update on the energy efficiency of federal buildings. The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act requires agencies to complete extensive water and energy evaluations … but data from the Energy Department shows only 21% have done so. The data also shows reductions in governmentwide building energy intensity have stagnated over the past four years. Lawmakers asked GAO to identify agency barriers to conduct these evaluations, and to identify resources agencies have committed to comply with the legislation.
The Senate confirms President Joe Biden’s pick to run the State Department. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sees an opportunity to revitalize the agency’s workforce. He previously served as the agency’s deputy secretary and as deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration. Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week he’d ramp up hiring to recover from the Trump administration hiring freeze. He said he’ll also make hiring a chief diversity officer a top priority. “I will view it as a significant measure of whether I succeeded or failed … whether or not we have finally put in place the real foundations to make sure that we have a workforce in the State Department that looks like the country it represents.”
Senate committee advanced the president’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee debated how to handle the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas. Republican Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said, “Since April of 2019, we haven’t had anybody confirmed there. And morale’s bad. And the leadership void is real. So I think it’s very important we have someone in place, who’s accountable.” The committee advanced Mayorkas’ nomination with a seven to four vote.
The Biden administration moved quickly but quietly to name a new federal chief information security officer. Chris DeRusha started as the Federal CISO on Monday with no press releases or other fanfare. He posted his new title on his LinkedIn page. Once the news leaked out, current and former federal cyber executives praised the administration’s decision. Former Federal CISO Grant Schneider said DeRusha is smart, capable and has the trust of the administration. Joe Stuntz, a former OMB cybersecurity leader, says he will face a host of challenges including supply chain risk and moving agencies from a network-based to a identity and data-focused security approach. (Federal News Network)