IG: OPM could’ve done better job informing its workers about possible COVID exposures

In today's Federal Newscast, the watchdog for the Office of Personnel Management says the agency didn't do enough to inform its employees of positive or suspect...

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  • Federal prosecutors have charged a Marine Corps officer with assaulting Capitol police during the January 6 riot. The Justice Department says Maj. Christopher Warnagiris is the first active duty military member implicated in the insurrection. He was taken into custody in Quantico, Virginia yesterday, and released after a short court appearance. Prosecutors say he forced his way into the Capitol and then helped other rioters get inside the building. (Federal News Network)
  • The military is continuing to see increases in sexual assault even in the midst of the pandemic. Despite troops being in lockdown for part of the year and partly isolated from other service members, the military saw a small uptick in sexual assaults from 2019 to 2020. The Defense Department’s annual report shows a 1% increase in assaults, totaling 7,816. The Army and Marine Corps saw slight increases in the number of reports, while the opposite was true for the Navy and Air Force. Congress is expected to pass legislation this year addressing how sexual assault prosecutions are handled in the military.
  • The Coast Guard Academy hires Amy Donahue as its first provost. Donahue will act as the chief academic officer and principal adviser to the superintendent in all matters relating to academic programs and faculty. Donahue served as an Army officer. In the past, she worked for NASA, and also served on numerous task forces like the Veterans Benefits Administration.
  • The watchdog for the Office of Personnel Management said the agency didn’t do enough to inform its employees of positive or suspected COVID-19 cases last year. OPM reported 72 COVID cases at its facilities during a six-month period last year. The agency’s inspector general reviewed a sample of those cases. It couldn’t find evidence that OPM informed employees about potential COVID exposures for many cases. OPM also didn’t require or enforce a mask mandate for its employees in 2020. OPM since resolved the IG’s concerns when it issued a new safety plan and implemented the president’s mask mandate earlier this year.
  • One congressman wants to see how agencies are planning to safely reopen federal offices and bring employees back to work. New legislation requires agencies to address health and safety protocols, vaccines and employee telework, and post those plans online. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) introduced and named this bill after one of his constituents, a federal worker who died from COVID-related complications. The bill cleared the House Oversight and Reform Committee yesterday. It moves on to the House floor for a vote.
  • May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and the Office of Personnel Management said it’s dedicated to supporting agency leaders and human resources practitioners throughout the pandemic, and beyond as they prepare for the future of work. OPM said agency leaders should be especially mindful of mental health factors as federal employees return to their offices. OPM will also host a virtual seminar on mental health and work-life balance for HR leaders next week.
  • The Government Accountability Office identified another 112 steps agencies could take to weed out overlap and duplication in federal programs. Agencies have already saved billions of dollars through prior efforts to address duplication and overlap. But GAO said hundreds of billions of dollars are ripe for saving. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro said a federal program inventory would go a long way toward helping agencies address duplication and overlap. The Government Program and Results Modernization Act required agencies to create a common inventory 10 years ago. (Federal News Network)
  • President Joe Biden will send his full fiscal 2022 budget request to Capitol Hill on May 27. The Office of Management and Budget confirmed that is when more specific funding data and policy initiatives will be available. The White House submitted Biden’s initial budget request for discretionary spending to Congress in early April. That called for a 16% increase in non-defense discretionary spending. The full budget request will likely address things like the federal pay raise for 2022, agency staffing levels and more details on the President’s Management Agenda. (Federal News Network)
  • A major postal reform bill makes its way to the House floor. The House Oversight and Reform Committee passes the Postal Service Reform Act. The bill would end the agency’s 2006 mandate to prefund retiree health benefits well into the future and requires future retirees to enroll in Medicare. Republicans on the committee included a requirement for USPS to stand up an online dashboard tracking on-time delivery. Committee Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.) said the bill is built on compromise, and has a good chance of becoming law. (Federal News Network)
  • GSA reopens the door to a governmentwide cloud contract with a new RFI. The General Services Administration’s first enterprise cloud contract for email-as-a-service struggled after it was awarded in 2011, but 10 years later, the time may be right to try again. GSA released a request for information for infrastructure, platform and software-as-a-service that would use the pay-as-you-go model. In the RFI, GSA asked vendors to provide both basic details and technical offerings. These includes whether the company has successfully deployed cloud services in the last three years, whether it received a FedRAMP authorization and what is the most appropriate acquisition strategy. Responses to the RFI are due May 24.
  • The State Department is partnering with Google to provide skills training to women in technology. The Women Tech Founders Program will give female entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa technical skills training from Google experts. The program will provide networking opportunities and workshops focused on design thinking, machine learning and product development. State will pick a select number of the 50 participants to be program ambassadors in their regions. The partnership is part of the State Department’s Providing Opportunities for Women’s Economic Rise initiative.
  • Agencies denied a majority of Freedom of Information Act requests, either partially or in full in fiscal 2020. Justice Department data shows agencies claimed an exemption in nearly half of all FOIA requests, and claimed there were no records in 16 percent of cases. Agencies fully granted requests in only 21% of cases. The governmentwide backlog grew to more than 140,000 requests, and agencies processed 100-thousand fewer FOIA request compared to the previous year.

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