Agencies get more time to use pandemic hiring authority

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  • Agencies have more time to use a special hiring flexibility to bring on talent during the pandemic. The Office of Personnel Management is extending the deadline for agencies to use a COVID-19 excepted service hiring authority. That means agencies can use the authority to bring on new talent until the end of 2021. Appointments will last no longer than a year. OPM first created this special authority last March to help agencies hire more people more quickly to respond to the pandemic.
  • Agencies did some hiring during the pandemic but not enough to make a big dent in the size of the federal workforce. Agencies added a total of 36,000 federal employees between March and December of last year. That’s according to a new analysis from the Partnership for Public Service. The workforces at 15 cabinet agencies grew during that period. The Education Department did the most hiring. The size of its workforce grew by nearly 3% each quarter. The Department of Health and Human Services is smaller. Its workforce shrunk by 1% each quarter.
  • A coalition of 25 federal employee organizations are urging the White House to prioritize restoring a quorum at the Merit Systems Protection Board. The Federal-Postal Coalition wrote to the director of the Presidential Personnel Office. They’re asking the White House to take urgent action to nominate MSPB members. The board has been without a quorum for over four years. The coalition says a non-functioning MSPB deprives federal employees of justice. The group includes the two largest federal employee unions, the Senior Executives Association and the Federal Managers Association.
  • Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is focusing in on the policy package he’ll pursue. At the top of his agenda are the supplemental nutritional assistance program, programs for children, and farm support. Speaking at the National Press Club, Vilsack, who was also USDA secretary for the entirety of the Obama administration, said he’s reviewing whether to make a permanent, 15% hike in the monthly food allowance. And getting more families into the Women, Infants and Children program. He said the agency is reviewing a disparity in government support for black and white farmers.
  • The CMMC Accreditation Body has picked a familiar face as its new CEO. Matt Travis, the former deputy director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS, is the new CEO of the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification Accreditation Body. Travis becomes the CMMC-AB’s first CEO and starts on April 1. As the CEO, Travis will oversee the day-to-day development and management of the CMMC-AB. The organization is leading the effort to develop a supply chain assurance process to ensure DoD contractors are protecting government data. Travis worked at CISA for two years, leaving in November. Before coming to CISA, he was vice president for homeland security at Cadmus.
  • Vendors whose registration in the System for Award Management, or SAM.gov, was set to expire between April 1 and September 30 are automatically extended an extra 180 days. The General Services Administration says this extension will happen automatically and the vendors do not have to take any action. GSA is extending the SAM dot gov registrations in order to relieve any potential burden during the implementation of the American Rescue Act. GSA says it will process the extensions in a deliberate, incremental manner over the course of several months to let federal systems that rely on this data consume it on their normal cadence.
  • House Democrats are asking the Postal Service to hold off on its next-generation delivery vehicle contract. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Ca.) leads 12 members in pausing the contract until the Senate confirms President Joe Biden’s three nominees to serve on the USPS Board of Governors. The members say the 10-year contract sets too low a bar for purchasing electric vehicles, and say the decision should be made by a full board. House members have introduced legislation that would give USPS $6 billion to make the majority of its new fleet electric vehicles.
  • The National Archives and Records Administration is sticking with its goal to no longer accept paper records by the end of 2022. NARA’s Chief Records Officer Laurence Brewer says the pandemic gave agencies an added challenge with meeting the deadline, but says it’s too early to say whether the Biden administration will give agencies more time to make the switch to electronic records. “We understand that there has to be some conversations about the 2022 targets, and I expect those conversations will happen.” The deadline, set in a 2019 joint memo with the Office of Management and Budget, looks to close the book on a decade-long process to move agencies to electronic records management. (Federal News Network)
  • The cyber espionage operation behind the SolarWinds hack managed to get access to the acting Homeland Security secretary’s email account. Sources tell the Associated Press that Chad Wolf’s emails were targeted and compromised. So were several top DHS cybersecurity officials. In the days after the department found its systems were compromised, senior officials’ phones were wiped clean, and they relied – at least temporarily – on commercial encrypted messaging apps like Signal to communicate. (Federal News Network)
  • After a blockbuster report on sex crimes in the Army, the service is changing the way it deals with harassment. Sexual harassment claims will no longer be investigated inside brigades where the issue took place. Instead, the Army will now choose an investigating officer from a different brigade to look into allegations of harassment. The hope is that the distance will add objectivity and keep personal relationships, favoritism and other problems outside of the investigation. The change comes after the Army released a set of recommendations to stop sexual assault and harassment in the force. The suggestions were in response to rising assault rates and a recent murder at Fort Hood in Texas. (Federal News Network)
  • The Marine Corps says it has fired one senior officer and disciplined nine others after an investigation into a deadly training accident last summer. Nine Marines were killed when their amphibious vehicle sunk off the southern California coast last July. An eight-month investigation completed last week found what the Marine Corps called a “confluence of human and mechanical failures,” including training deficiencies. The vehicle in question started to sink because of leaks and a transmission failure. Even after a distress signal, it took 20 minutes for another amphibious vehicle to arrive to help. When it did, the two vehicles collided – causing the first one to sink with 11 Marines still on board.
  • The Navy will need a bigger workforce if it ever wants to dig its way out of its submarine maintenance backlog. A Congressional Budget Office report says despite the Navy’s effort to contract out some of its work to private contractors, the demand for maintenance will still exceed the supply of labor. CBO projects a 5% decrease in shipyard productivity in 2021. The report states that the service needs nearly 300,000 more labor days than it can actually supply over the next 30 years.

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