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The Treasury Department is standing up a central office to oversee COVID-19 economic relief spending. The Office of Recovery Programs is led by Counselor to the Treasury Secretary Jacob Leibenluft. He’ll take on the new title of chief recovery officer. The office will oversee pandemic spending authorized by Congress, including the CARES Act, the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act, and the American Rescue Plan Act. This office will also work closely with the White House American Rescue Plan Coordinator.
The American Federation of Government Employees is asking the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security to request a study of FEMA’s workforce. Steve Reaves, the president of AFGE Local 4060, which represents FEMA’s employees, said responding to the pandemic, floods, hurricanes and other disasters has taxed the agency’s 5,000 employees. He said the subcommittee should ask OPM for a comprehensive manpower management survey to ensure FEMA has enough employees to support such a large and continued disaster response effort.
A top lawmaker said the Biden administration is taking too long to release the details of the 2022 defense budget. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Calif.) is starting work on the 2022 Defense authorization bill, but he wants more information from the White House. The bill is one of the most important Congress passes every year and helps set funding for the Defense Department. Smith said the White House is dragging its feet on releasing defense budget details. The Biden Administration is planning on spending $753 billion in total on defense, $715 billion would go to the Pentagon directly. The topline is a 1.5% increase from 2021.
Bipartisan legislation in the Senate would make sure federal firefighters are covered for diseases they contract in the line of duty. Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) reintroduced legislation that would reclassify a range of firefighting-linked illnesses, like lung diseases and certain cancers, as “job-related.” It would make them automatically eligible for federal workers’ compensation and disability retirement benefits.
Leaders of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence are asking Congress to help keep immigrant scientists in the country. In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the commission stated that lawmakers should offer legislation to keep exempt science experts from green card limits. The commission says the United States needs to hold on to the best and brightest that the globe can offer and that many people are coming to the U.S. for education and then leaving for pursuits in other countries. (Federal News Network)
The U.S. Digital Service will be looking for a new leader at the end of April. Matt Cutts, the U.S. Digital Service’s administrator since 2018, is stepping down this month when his tour in government ends. Cutts, who announced his departure in a blog post, said he planned only to stay at USDS for only three-to-six months when he joined in 2016. But now four years later, Cutts said it’s time to move on. During his tenure as administrator, USDS, which includes 180 employees, helped agencies deploy digital tools to improve services to veterans, to improve the naturalization process and helped reimagine hiring across the government. USDS deputy administrator Eddie Hartwig will be the acting administrator until the Biden administration names a new permanent leader.
The Interior Department gets several new political appointments. The White House nominates Tommy Beaudreau as deputy secretary. He was Sally Jewell’s chief of staff, now with the law firm Latham and Watkins. Shannon Estenoz is tapped for assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife, and Parks. She has long experience in Florida everglades and water projects. Former Office of Management and Budget staff member Winnie Stachelberg is nominated to assistant secretary for policy management and budget. And attorney and former Senate staff member Tonya Trujillo is nominated as assistant secretary for water and science.
Two key Biden administration nominees are a step closer to confirmation. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee easily advanced nominations for Jason Miller and Deanne Criswell. Miller is the president’s nominee to be the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget. Criswell is nominated to be the FEMA administrator. Both nominations will go to the Senate floor for a final vote.
Challenges ahead for the Department of Veterans Affairs and its electronic health record. VA doctors reported 247 patient safety concerns due to problems with its electronic health record. But VA said it’s determined to get things right. IT fixes are just part of the problem. Carolyn Clancy is VA’s acting deputy secretary. “But it is frustrating business. Because in the end the EHR probably itself, the technological piece, is about one-third of the solution,” she said. “The rest is changing a whole lot of aspects of your everyday work.” (Federal News Network)
The Department of Veterans Affairs is launching a four-month review on diversity, equity, inclusion and access within the agency. A new task force will review all of VA’s policies, programs and training for both the VA workforce and veteran customers. It’ll look for ways to use data to inform diversity, equity, inclusion and access within the department. The task force will also create VA’s strategic mission and goals on these topics. And it will offer recommendations on eliminating access barriers for veterans. Recommendations are due to the VA secretary by July 31.
The Small Business Administration is thinking about the long-term role of telework. SBA’s cloud-based networks scaled quickly to support telework during the COVID-19 pandemic. Agency leaders said employee productivity is up, and see remote work playing a greater role even after the pandemic. SBA’s Chief Human Capital Officer Elias Hernandez said he sees the agency moving to a hybrid approach, but making sure communities have access to in-person services. (Federal News Network)
When it comes to the SolarWinds cyber vulnerability that exposed IT systems around the globe to Russian hackers, the Pentagon believes it dodged a bullet. DoD said the SolarWinds software at issue was running in 1,500 separate systems across military networks. And more than 500 of those included a backdoor that could have made them susceptible to hackers. Nonetheless, Defense officials testified yesterday that there’s no evidence that the vulnerabilities were ever exploited to steal information or engage in other bad acts on DoD networks. Investigations are still ongoing, but DoD thinks it also escaped harm from the vulnerabilities that affected Microsoft email servers around the world. (Federal News Network)