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The Office of Government Ethics has more instructions on how agencies should implement President’s Biden’s new ethics pledge. A recent executive order allowed agencies to waive political appointees from portions of Biden’s ethics pledge. OGE says designated agency ethics officials are in charge of approving any waivers to the president’s EO. They’re also supposed to make those waivers public on an agency’s website within 10 days of approval. Agency ethics officials will then share signed waivers with the Office of Government Ethics.
Employees at Veterans Affairs, the FAA, and the Agriculture Department have been hit by the Office of Special Council for doing partisan political work while on the job. Punishments ranged from 30 days unpaid suspension to a $1,000 fine. One VA employee used his title to endorse a candidate for state office in Hawaii. An FAA employee sought donations to a union’s political action committee. At USDA, an employee kept putting political messages on Facebook while on duty.
The Office of Personnel Management is reminding agencies of the role it plays in approving political conversions to career positions. Agencies must submit proposed political conversions for OPM to review. Those reviews happen any time. But they have special importance in the year leading up to changes in administration. The agency says these reviews are designed to make sure conversions are free from political influence. OPM doesn’t have oversight over political conversions that agencies in the intelligence community want to make. (Federal News Network)
The Chief FOIA Officers Council is exploring how emerging tech can help agencies keep up demands for records. Its Technology Committee has stood up working groups focused on using artificial intelligence to handle records requests, and another group focused on reviewing and redacting video records. The committee also has working groups for perennial challenges like improving search capabilities for FOIA records, and handling classified information in FOIA requests. The Technology Committee has 40 members across 25 agencies.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has a new strategy for using and protecting veterans’ data. VA’s strategy includes nine ethical principles. Acting health undersecretary Richard Stone says the principles will guide data interoperability and modernization initiatives and VA’s response to COVID-19. VA’s data ethics working group and its National Center for Ethics in Health Care developed the new standards. They also got input from veterans. The strategy says veterans should have access to their own information and have in say in how data is shared.
The Department of Homeland Security is sending in reinforcements to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency just as their fight against cyber attacks is ramping up. CISA announced Nitin Natarajan has joined as its deputy director, Eric Goldstein as its executive assistant director for Cybersecurity, and Dr. David Mussington as its executive assistant director for infrastructure security. CISA added these leaders as Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas described how the agency will lead efforts to mitigate cyber risks and expand its investment in the infrastructure and people required to defend against malicious cyber attacks as part of a whole-of-government effort.
A long-time Army technology executive is calling it a career. Greg Garcia, the Army’s deputy chief information officer, is retiring after 38 years in government. Garcia announced in an email to staff that his last day is February 27. Garcia has been the Army’s deputy CIO since October 2018 and briefly served as acting CIO until November when the Army named Raj Iyer as its new top civilian technology executive. Garcia began his career as a GS-5 trainee for the Air Force and served in an assortment of positions over the last three decades including as the CIO for the Army Corps of Engineers and the special advisor for cyber operations for the Air Force/A6. Garcia says he plans to continue to work in the federal sector after retirement. (Federal News Network)
Producing and distributing enough vaccines to reach herd immunity is still a big public health challenge. But when it comes to putting lots of shots in a lot of arms all at once, the Navy has the process figured out pretty well. In a mass vaccination drive last week, medical staff aboard the U.S.S. Carl Vinson gave 2,900 shots in a single day. The Navy turned the carrier’s hangar bay into a temporary vaccination facility. Most of the servicemembers who received shots are getting ready to deploy overseas. Because of that, they’re at the top of DoD’s vaccination priority list.
Agencies are tweaking their COVID-19 safety plans following new mandates from the Biden administration. The Agriculture and Justice Departments, Environmental Protection Agency and Office of Personnel Management are among the agencies that have new plans. They all emphasize most employees should continue to telework. Building occupancy in most cases is limited at 25% capacity. Justice reminded employees that’s a floor, not a ceiling. And OPM and USDA say they’ll give employees 30 days advanced notice before having them return to the office. (Federal News Network)
The Defense Department launched two new centers of excellence at Tuskegee University and Howard University. At Tuskegee, the DoD Aerospace Education Research and Innovation Center is devoted to expanding the future aerospace workforce, especially in underrepresented populations. Howard will host the Center for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning center, which concentrates on accelerating the development of AI, and diversifying the workforce in that field.
The Air Force is taking a more futuristic approach in trying to prevent suicides. Last week, airmen strapped on headsets and entered a completely virtual world. In that realm was an emotionally distressed person, who responders need to convince to get help. The Air Force says the virtual reality training makes learning more hands-on and realistic, which will help airmen who actually run into a suicidal person. The training is currently in the pilot stage and is being tested at Travis Air Force Base in California and Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.
The IRS is giving victims of the Texas winter storms additional time to file their tax returns this year. The agency will give Texas residents, and other individuals living in FEMA-declared disaster zones, until June 15 to file their tax returns. That’s just a start for Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee. In a letter to IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig, they ask the IRS to extend the filing season deadline for all taxpayers, citing challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.