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Mask requirements are back inside federal buildings. Federal employees, contractors and visitors are supposed to wear masks in areas of substantial or high transmission regardless of vaccination status. That’s the latest guidance from the Office of Management and Budget. The Department of Veterans Affairs has required masks for everyone in its central office in Washington, D.C. Masks are required for all Homeland Security employees in all areas of the country. (Federal News Network)
A possible vaccine mandate for federal employees has raised a whole host of tricky questions. The White House is eyeing new requirements for federal employees to either get the vaccine or face regular testing. Federal employment attorneys said a mandate is perfectly legal. But how it’s implemented will raise questions about who it applies to and how agencies collect, store and secure information about employee vaccination statuses. Two federal employee associations said they’re apprehensive about a possible mandate. President Biden is expected to announce more details later today. (Federal News Network)
The provision in the CARES Act that lets agencies reimburse contractors who can’t work because of the pandemic was an overwhelming success. New data from the Government Accountability Office found 12 of 15 contractors they interviewed said the paid leave provisions had a great or moderate effect on their company’s ability to retain employees. GAO also found four agencies paid more than $882 million to cover the costs of contract employees who couldn’t work due to COVID-19. Auditors made one recommendation for OMB to share lessons learned and best practices across the government.
The IRS is doing a good job of protecting its employees from COVID-19 procedures at some offices. The Office of Inspector General made unannounced visits to nine IRS locations, and generally found that they had good safety policies in place. The IG reported an ample supply of face masks and cleaning supplies, as well as changes to ensure social distancing. As of March of this year, fewer than 3,500 IRS employees out of more than 75,000 tested positive for COVID across the agency’s nearly 550 facilities. The IG did not list any recommendations for improvement.
The Navy is allowing its sailors to carryover up to 120 leave days from this year until September 2024. Carryover days are usually limited to 60. The Navy said it is expanding the number of carryover days due to the coronavirus and the inability of some sailors to take off. The Air Force announced a similar policy earlier this month. The Navy said sailors are responsible for tracking and managing their leave, which can be found on their leave and earnings statement.
The Defense Department said it will start doing more to understand the issue of hunger in the military. New academic reports show that one in three active duty service members are marginally food insecure. That means they have compromised economic access to the foods they need. The Pentagon said it is now taking steps to chronicle, analyze and scope the problem. In the meantime, the Defense Department said its training counselors to assess food insecurity in service members and their families so they can point them to the right resources. (Federal News Network)
The National Institute of Standards and Technology seeks public input on how to set rules of the road for fielding trustworthy artificial intelligence in and out of government. NIST is asking for feedback on how it should define key pillars of trustworthy AI, including transparency, fairness and accountability. NIST will incorporate these recommendations into an AI Risk Management Framework that will set voluntary standards for agencies and industries to consider when adopting AI solutions. NIST will accept comments through August 19. (Federal News Network)
The Biden administration wants new cyber benchmarks for some of the country’s most critical organizations. In a new national security memorandum, President Biden directed agencies to develop cybersecurity performance goals for all critical infrastructure sectors. Administration officials said the current patchwork of disparate requirements is not working. They want to institute a new baseline of standards across all critical infrastructure companies, especially those that rely on industrial control systems. The move to shore up critical infrastructure cybersecurity comes after a wave of digital attacks on key sectors this year, including the ransomware shutdown of Colonial Pipeline in May. (Federal News Network)
Transportation Security Administration employees are a step closer to seeing their federal workforce status changed. The House Homeland Security Committee passed the “Rights for the TSA Workforce Act of 2021″ yesterday. The bill would grant the same workplace rights, protections, and pay structure afforded to most other federal workers under Title 5 of the U.S. Code. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, called the change long overdue. Lawmakers hope the bill will help address TSA’s low morale and high turnover.
The Department of Homeland Security would get a new council on trade under a bill in the House. Congressman Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) introduced the DHS Trade and Economic Security Council Act, which would establish a commission made up of members from different agencies across the department. Agencies include the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, CISA and FEMA, among others. The council will coordinate departmentwide activity on economic security, as well as look at industries, technology and infrastructure that could impact the economy if disrupted. The council’s assistant secretary will appoint members, who will each serve two-year terms.
Federal spending on small business contracts has broken a new record. Agencies spent more than 26% of federal contracting dollars on small business last year, well past a goal of 23%. The Small Business Administration gave the federal government an A on its small business contracting scorecard, and eight agencies earned an A-plus. Agencies, however, fell short on prime contracting goals for women-owned small businesses and HUBZone small businesses. Despite the increase in contract spending, the number of small businesses receiving government contracts is decreasing.
The latest IT modernization scorecard is out and one agency rose to the top. The General Services Administration once again reached the pinnacle of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act or FITARA scorecard. In version 12 of the bi-annual scorecard released yesterday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee gave GSA an “A+” grade, the only agency to earn the top mark. This is GSA’s third “A+” grade out of the last four scorecards and only the fourth time an agency received the highest rating since the committee and the Government Accountability Office started measuring FITARA progress in 2015. Overall, the committee’s grades were similar to scorecard 11 and 10 with agencies mostly receiving “B” and “C” grades. (Federal News Network)