GAO: Agencies could’ve been more transparent in pandemic response OTA’s

In today's Federal Newscast, agencies spent billions on urgent COVID-related contracts, but they neglected to report some important award information.

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  • Agencies spent billions on urgent COVID-related contracts, but they neglected to report some important award information. The departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security doled out at least $12.5 billion through flexible contracting mechanisms known as other transaction agreements to respond to the pandemic. But the Government Accountability Office said there is limited transparency around who ultimately won some of those awards — because not all OTA award information is reported to the Federal Procurement Data System. DoD and the other agencies agreed with recommendations to update how they report OTA awards in the future.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs will require COVID-19 vaccines for its health care workforce. Physicians, nurses, dentists and other employees who work in VA hospitals will have eight weeks to get the vaccine. VA is the first federal agency to require COVID vaccines for their employees. VA Secretary Denis McDonough said the department lost four unvaccinated staff members in recent weeks due to COVID-19. Roughly 70% of the VA workforce is vaccinated. A total of 146 VA healthcare workers have died since the beginning of the pandemic. (Federal News Network)
  • The Postal Service is lifting its mask mandate for fully vaccinated employees and contractors. USPS said unvaccinated employees will still have to wear masks in situations where they can’t stay six feet away from coworkers. But the agency said it is not requiring proof of vaccination, and told managers and supervisors not to ask employees for this information. The change in USPS policy comes two months after the Office of Management and Budget lifted its mask mandate for the rest of the federal workforce. (Federal News Network)
  • A group of federal employee unions wants President Joe Biden to staff the Federal Service Impasses Panel. The National Federation of Federal Employees is leading the charge. NFFE and a dozen other employee unions said Biden should prioritize staffing at the panel after the president removed all members chosen by the previous administration. The unions also want the Biden administration to replace members of the Federal Labor Relations Authority. Biden promoted Ernest DuBester as FLRA chairman. But two members from the Trump administration remain at the authority.
  • Agencies now have more guidance from the Office of Personnel Management on telework. OPM said agencies should make decisions about expanding telework based on individual job functions, not based on a manager’s preference. Many agencies are considering new telework or remote work programs based on their experiences during the pandemic. They are also planning for more employees to return to the office. OPM said federal employees may face disciplinary action if they fail to return to their offices without an approved excuse. (Federal News Network)
  • The Air Force is allowing airmen to move up to 120 days of leave from 2021 to 2022. That’s according to a new memo signed by acting Air Force Secretary John Roth. The new policy was created to help airmen who were unable to take leave due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Air Force and other services put similar policies in place in 2020. Roth said rest and relaxation is crucial to military morale.
  • The Air Force is now using artificial intelligence and virtual reality to train its airmen. The Tech Training Transformation team developed a simulated version of the crew chief fundamentals course, where students interacted with AI airmen to receive hands-on instruction. Students scored similarly in the simulation to their peers who took the traditional model. They also completed the course 46% faster than students who didn’t use VR. The Tech Training Transformation team plans to develop a mobile app for the course that is not simulated.
  • The military is still considering if the Space Force needs its own National Guard component. Congress has some ideas of its own. Lawmakers are considering changing the name of the Air National Guard to the Air and Space National Guard. The change would symbolize that the reserve component would serve both the Air and Space Forces, but not actually change much in functionality. The Air Force was supposed to deliver a report on creating a separate Space National Guard in March, however officials tell Federal News Network it is still in the works. About 2,000 National Guard members work in space-related fields for the military.
  • The Senate has confirmed Frank Kendall to be the next secretary of the Air Force. Monday’s vote makes Kendall the top civilian official for the Air Force and the Space Force after a long prior history in the Pentagon. He last served as undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics during the Obama administration. The Senate confirmed Gina Maria Ortiz Jones as undersecretary of the Air Force late last week.
  • The National Nuclear Security Administration has a new leader. Jill Hruby was sworn in by Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm Monday after being confirmed by the Senate late last week. Hruby spent 34 years at Sandia National Laboratory, becoming the first woman to lead an NNSA national security laboratory before she retired from Sandia in 2017. As NNSA administrator, she’ll be front and center in debates over how to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.
  • The Biden administration is pushing Congress to fully fund the Technology Modernization Fund. Agencies overwhelmed the Technology Modernization Fund last month, submitting over 100 proposals that were valued at more than $2 billion. The White House said this is one of the main reasons why Congress should appropriate the administration’s request of $500 million in fiscal 2022 for the TMF. In its statement of administration policy about the 2022 spending bill making its way through the House, the Office of Management and Budget revealed for the first time the amount of money agencies requested from the TMF in this latest round of proposals.
  • Those long executive orders coming from the Biden White House might be comprehensive, but they are also hard to understand. Two of the orders — one on diversity and inclusion, and one on cybersecurity — add up to more than 10,000 words and were evaluated by text analytics company Visible Thread. The results: The orders score very low on the comprehension scale, and in some passages require post-doctoral level of skill to read, said Visible Thread CEO Fergal McGovern. His advice was to use the active voice more, shorten the sentences, and avoid “50-cent words.” The federal government does have a plain language policy so this might be time to dust it off?
  • The National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence in the National Institute of Standards and Technology chose 18 vendors to take part in a zero trust architecture project. These vendors will sign Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) that will let them take part in a consortium where they will contribute expertise and hardware or software to help refine a reference design and build example standards-based services. The goal of the effort is to demonstrate several approaches to implementing zero trust architectures, which will be designed and deployed using the concepts outlined in NIST’s zero trust architecture special publication.
  • Customs and Border Protection haven’t always protected apps that streamline passport information from cybersecurity threats. The agency failed to scan more than 90% of mobile app updates for security issues from 2016-2019. That’s according to a report from the Office of Inspector General. The IG also found that CBP did not check mobile passport control servers for vulnerabilities. The IG encouraged CBP to scan all passport app updates prior to their release, conduct security compliance reviews on a specific timeframe and develop a process to perform internal audits.
  • The House passed a bill that would make thousands of agency reports to Congress easily accessible to the public. The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act requires the Government Publishing Office to build and maintain an online portal that allows the public access to all congressionally mandated reports. The bill’s sponsors, Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and James Comer (R-Ky.), said these reports are currently only seen by congressional committees, or are scattered across dozens of agency websites.

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