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Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) says not so fast with the reopening plans for federal employees. He’s cautioning the Office of Personnel Management against reopening federal offices too quickly. Connolly is the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Government Operations. His Republican counterpart, Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), urged OPM earlier this week to prepare federal employees to return as soon as possible. Connolly wants OPM to ensure agencies have safety plans ready before bringing employees back into their offices.
Senate Democrats are questioning VA’s denial rate for the family caregivers program. Senate VA Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) says the department denied over two-thirds of the completed applications it received since last October. Tester and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) say they worry VA’s acceptance guidelines are too strict. Congress required VA to expand the caregivers program to veterans of all eras by 2019. The department is instead implementing it in phases. VA will finish implementation by 2022.
The Pentagon still isn’t ready to make coronavirus vaccines mandatory. But officials do want local commanders to redouble their efforts to remind people how safe the immunizations are, and why troops should take them. Among other steps, DoD wants commanders to build “vaccination days” into their operational schedules and give troops time to recover from vaccine side effects. As of now, fewer than half of military members are fully vaccinated.
The Defense Department is not doing a proper job of preventing and responding to domestic abuse. Military domestic abuse survivors reported that commanders justified abusers actions and told them that the chain of command is on the abusers side. That’s according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. The watchdog organization concluded that military bases are not conducting proper training on domestic abuse, and that the Pentagon isn’t collecting comprehensive data that could give the Defense Department better visibility into commanders’ actions. GAO gave DoD a list of 32 recommendations to remediate some of the issues.
The Defense Department says it will be focusing on bettering the sustainment of its weapons systems from the beginning of the buying and development process in order to cut costs and better products. Sustainment currently accounts for about 70% of the weapons system lifecycle cost. The Pentagon is expected to come out with new guidance soon on how program managers can take sustainment into account. DoD also wants to start thinking about how climate change and extreme weather will affect the life of products. (Federal News Network)
The National Archives and Records Administration made a plea to the Pentagon for help with its backlog. NARA’s National Personnel Records Center has 500,000 outstanding requests for military and medical records. Now it’s asking the Defense Department to send personnel to help sort, refile and process pending records requests. Veterans need access to those documents to apply for federal health and burial benefits. The backlog has been building since NARA sent most employees home to telework during the pandemic. A bipartisan group of House members is urging DoD to help. (Federal News Network)
NASA’s inspector general found the agency experienced more than 6,000 cyber-attacks over the past four years. These attacks include phishing scams and accidentally bringing malware onto agency systems. The IG says the agency’s ability to prevent, detect and mitigate cyberattacks is limited by a disorganized approach to its enterprise architecture, a blueprint for how the agency analyzes and operates its IT and cybersecurity. NASA spends more than $2 billion a year on IT, about 10% of its overall budget.
The Patent and Trademark Office won the appeal of a five-year-old lawsuit over whether it violated the Paper Reduction Act. Gilbert Hyatt sued PTO in 2016 after it declined to review his patents for many years. Hyatt claims PTO violated the PRA by not receiving OMB approval to collect patent applications and other communications. Hyatt, who lost his previous lawsuits, appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court. The three-judge panel in Nevada ruled that PTO’s policies were not the type of information that the PRA is intended to cover and therefore not subject to approval and other requirements.
GSA is moving into phase two of its federal marketplace strategy. With the first set of initiatives mostly completed, the General Services Administration laid out four new priorities to continue to improve contracts and acquisition services. Sonny Hashmi, the Federal Acquisition Service’s commissioner, says the next set of efforts focus on products, services, data and catalog management. “We are about to embark on this pretty massive foundational transformation journey for FAS, and along the way we will clean up messes that we can clean up as we encounter them,” he said. Hashmi says the broad goal is to improve industry and agency customer experience.
President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy is one step closer to taking office. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved Eric Lander, the principal leader of the Human Genome Project, to serve as OSTP director. The Biden administration is elevating the OSTP director job to a Cabinet-level position.
Agencies have more marching orders to mitigate climate change. A new executive order out of the White House tasks the Treasury Department with identifying financial stability risks brought on by climate change. The National Climate Advisor and National Economic Council are to develop a governmentwide climate risk strategy. The Labor Department will consider removing or revising rules that prohibit investment firms from considering environmental factors. While the Office of Management and Budget is directed with oversight of how agencies execute the goals in the president’s budget.
How can machine learning help Homeland Security confront both climate change and biological threats? That’s what DHS ‘s Center of Excellence wants to figure out. DHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pritesh Gandhi says he is not worried about their sheer ability to stop bio threats from bad actors. The question is how can DHS operationalize the capacity of its resources. DHS science and technology leadership uses tools like geospatial mapping and unmanned air systems across national security missions.