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President Biden’s new voting executive order will keep several federal agencies busy. The executive order tasks the National Institute of Standards and Technology with ensuring the online Federal Voter Registration Form is accessible to people with disabilities. It also asks the Office of Personnel Management to explore the possibility of granting leave to federal employees to vote or volunteer as non-partisan poll workers. It tasks the General Services Administration with modernizing vote.gov and other federal sources of information on voting. The order also calls on the Defense Department to develop plans for giving military members voter registration opportunities.
Agencies should resume diversity and inclusion training now that a September 2020 executive order from former President Trump is repealed. The Office of Personnel Management is reminding agencies of their training obligations. Agencies no longer need to submit their training programs to OPM for review. President Biden repealed a Trump order that banned certain kinds of diversity and inclusion training for federal employees, contractors and grantees. OPM says it will play a key role in the Biden administration’s broader efforts to improve diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility within the federal government.
A leading diplomat named three workforce challenges that Secretary of State Antony Blinken must help improve. The president of the American Foreign Service Association says the State Department is understaffed, not diverse enough, and lacks a crucial, advisory connection between senior career staff and appointed officials. Eric Rubin, a career diplomat, says State was more diverse when he joined nearly 40 years ago. Under-hiring impedes State’s ability to help Americans in trouble overseas. And he says career people helping inform politicals all but stopped during the Trump Administration.
The Office of Personnel Management is giving agencies more time to make temporary, non-career senior executive appointments. OPM initially gave agencies until the end of January to appoint a handful of non-career executives to help with presidential transition activities. But OPM says it’s since heard agencies need these appointees for more time. Agencies now have until the end of April to appoint temporary non-career executives. These appointees will serve for no more than four months. Agencies that want to keep these appointees for longer must get approval from OPM.
The Agriculture Department will loosen its pre-pandemic telework policy. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says the new telework program will look more like the policy he implemented back in 2014. That allowed employees to telework four days a week. The department says this is a starting point. And it’s exploring other remote work options, virtual duty stations and flexible schedule programs. USDA says telework and remote work is one of its highest management priorities. USDA employees could telework up to one day a week before the pandemic. (Federal News Network)
The National Archives and Records Administration is sending some employees back to the office. Citing a drop in COVID infection rates, NARA is planning a phased reopening of the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis. The center has 600 employees, and holds more than 2 million cubic feet of military personnel and medical records that can’t be accessed remotely. Teleworking NARA employees have fulfilled nearly 300,000 records requests during the pandemic. Those include requests related to veteran burials and assistance to homeless veterans. But the agency still has a backlog of nearly half a million requests.
The federal improper payment rate was 5.6% in fiscal 2020, the highest ever in the last 16 years. This is one reason why the Office of Management and Budget is refocusing efforts to improve how agencies manage their payments. OMB released an updated version of Circular A-123, Appendix C with a goal of transforming payment integrity compliance and creating a more comprehensive set of requirements. OMB says this will let agencies to spend less time complying with low-value activities and more time researching the underlying causes of improper payments, balancing payment integrity risks and controls and building the capacity to help prevent future improper payments.
The Technology Modernization Fund celebrated its third anniversary by getting its biggest influx of money every. Three years ago this week, OMB stood up the Technology Modernization Fund board to begin evaluating projects and loaning out tens of millions of dollars. The TMF Board has 10 active projects across six agencies that are addressing systemic technology challenges one program at a time while improving the business of the federal government. Now the TMF Board is set to receive 10 times as much money as it has ever received before. The Senate approved 1 billion dollars for the fund in American Rescue Plan. The House is expected to approve the Senate’s version of the bill later this week. (Federal News Network)
The General Services Administration is selling off cryptocurrency to the highest bidder. GSA Auctions, its online clearinghouse for excess federal property, will start accepting bids March 15 on about three-quarters of one Bitcoin, currently valued at more than $38,000. GSA will accepts bids through March 17. This marks the agency’s first cryptocurrency auction.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Calif.) is appointing Lawrence Romo to the commission to rename military bases that commemorate Confederate officials. Romo is the national commander of the American G.I. forum, a civil rights organization service Hispanic Veterans. Smith’s previous appointee Lonnie Bunch had to withdraw from the commission due to personal reasons unaffiliated with the commission.
The Defense Department is working virtually to help some military spouses get jobs. The Pentagon is hosting its fourth job fair for partners of military service members tomorrow. Spouses will be able to live chat with hiring managers from all over the world. More than 100 companies will be available to interact with participants. The jobs are in the United States and near bases worldwide. The Defense Department is making spousal employment a priority after recent reports showed unemployment as high as 24%. Some spouses have trouble keeping jobs because they are constantly moving with their partners.