Pentagon IG reveals how COVID-19 ran wild on two Navy ships in 2020

In today's Federal Newscast, A new Pentagon inspector general’s report helps explain how two Navy vessels suffered major coronavirus outbreaks last year.

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  • A new Pentagon inspector general’s report helps explain how two Navy vessels suffered major coronavirus outbreaks last year. The IG said the Navy did in fact have plans and procedures to deal with pandemic disease aboard ships, but only one of the Navy’s five major geographic commands had conducted exercises on how to implement those plans in the past two years.
  • Small businesses get ready; the Homeland Security Department is close to issuing its mega technology hardware and services solicitation. DHS said it will release the final version of its draft request for proposals for its First Source 3 vehicle toward the end of February. After receiving comments, DHS said it will release the final RFP later this year. First Source 3 has a ceiling of $10 billion over 10 years.
  • The Department of Homeland Security is looking to validate the security of contact-tracing apps. DHS’ Science and Technology Directorate is awarding nearly $200,000 to the start-up company AppCensus to vet smartphone apps used to prevent the spread of COVID-19. DHS S&T is asking the vendor to determine whether these apps can get the job done, while also protecting privacy and civil liberties. This is the first of six start-up awards DHS S&T is making through its Silicon Valley Innovation Program, geared toward fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Things look bleak for agencies getting extra IT modernization funding. The Biden administration’s $9 billion request for the Technology Modernization Fund as part of the next pandemic relief bill seems to be on the ropes. House and Senate sources confirmed that the current thinking for the American Rescue Plan doesn’t include additional money for IT modernization. But House and Senate sources also said that while it’s not in the budget resolutions now, it may be added later. At the same time, the sources said lawmakers are looking at ways to move IT modernization funding forward in another vehicle like an infrastructure package.
  • The General Services Administration is upgrading federal buildings in its portfolio through seven contract awards. GSA is spending nearly $10 million to improve the IRS’ campus in Ogden, Utah, and $5 million on repairs for the FBI’s headquarters in downtown D.C.. The agency will also spend more than $44 million on a new land port of entry along the border of the US and Canada. The agency signed six of the seven contracts with small businesses.
  • Agencies use direct-hire authorities to fill nearly one in three positions in the competitive service. The Merit Systems Protection Board said direct-hire authorities are more popular today. The last time agencies used direct-hire with such frequency was in the early nineties. Agencies use these authorities to fill IT, medical and acquisition positions most often. But the MSPB said agencies and the Office of Personnel Management seem to have different views on how agencies should use these authorities and what role they play in the government’s overall hiring strategy.
  • Two USDA research bureaus are still struggling to rebuild after the Agriculture Department moved them to Kansas City. The Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture are missing nearly a third of their workforces. The agencies each have over 100 vacant positions. This is after USDA asked about 550 employees to move from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City, Missouri back in fall 2019. The department has been hiring new people to fill some positions over the last year and a half. But employees said their agencies are missing institutional knowledge. (Federal News Network)
  • The Senate votes by a wide margin to confirm President Biden’s pick to lead the VA. Denis McDonough won approval by a vote of 87-7. He won senators over despite being something of an outsider to the military and veterans community. McDonough previously served as White House chief of staff during the Obama administration. Although he never served in uniform, he told senators during his confirmation hearing that experience prepared him to tackle complicated problems in government. McDonough is the seventh Biden cabinet appointee to win Senate confirmation. As of now, there are Senate-confirmed leaders at the departments of Treasury, State, Defense, Transportation, DHS, VA, and at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. (Federal News Network)
  • Kathleen Hicks has become the first woman ever to earn Senate confirmation as deputy secretary of Defense. Senators approved her nomination by voice vote last night. Hicks takes the number-two Pentagon position after having previously served as undersecretary of Defense for policy during the Obama administration. Before that, she served as a DoD civil servant for 13 years, starting as a Presidential Management Intern.
  • One of the most consequential nominations for the federal workforce begins the Senate vetting process today. Neera Tanden, President Biden’s pick to run the Office of Management and Budget, appeared before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this morning. Few areas of concern to career feds, from procurement policies to budgets, fall outside OMB’s purview. Tanden’s last government post was as senior advisor to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during the Obama administration. She ran a left-leaning think tank she dubbed a hub of resistance to President Trump.
  • The Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps is taking a new approach to finding solutions to sexual assault. The corps, which has 92,000 soldiers across 14 bases, is crowdsourcing ideas to address assault and harassment in the Army. Soldiers are encouraged to submit their ideas online. Submissions will be open until February 16th. A panel from the corps will select at least two of the ideas for possible implementation.
  • The Pentagon is giving more details on what the military will need to do during its 60-day review to address extremism. The Defense Department is asking commanders and supervisors to take one day over the next two months to stand down and discuss violent extremism with their personnel. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said commanders have the discretion to tailor their discussions as appropriate to cater to location, personnel makeup and other operations. The review must require a reminder of the oath of office, a description of impermissible behaviors and procedures for reporting suspected or actual extremist behaviors in the military.

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