Proposed vaccine mandate for federal employees could face some legal hurdles

In today's Federal Newscast, the federal employee vaccination mandate expected from the White House may not go down easy.

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  • The White House is “strongly considering” requiring federal employees show proof they received their COVID-19 vaccinations in order to return to their workplaces. The Associated Press said it spoke to a person familiar with the plans, who said employees who are not vaccinated will otherwise have to submit to regular testing and wear a mask. The administration is expected to announce its final decision later this week. (Federal News Network)
  • The federal employee vaccination mandate expected from the White House would have a big effect throughout the Washington region. If the White House follows through with an order that all federal employees get vaccinated, it would likely include contractor employees that work on site at agencies. In other words, it could affect a million people locally. But it wouldn’t go down easily. One law firm that represents aggrieved federal employees said it expects court challenges. Tully Rinckey attorneys said no federal law prohibits agencies from requiring vaccines. But it could be challenged on several grounds, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, medical and religious accommodations, and collective bargaining agreements. At least one federal mandate is already in place. The Department of Veterans Affairs has ordered all Title 38 medical personnel to get vaccinated.
  • Agency chief financial officers said the pandemic is changing how their agencies look at hiring and productivity. Most CFOs who took an Association of Government Accountants survey said remote work didn’t hurt their productivity, and that remote work could help the agencies reduce office space. Respondents said their agencies managed to onboard new employees during the pandemic, but reported that new employees had trouble building connections with coworkers while working remotely.
  • The General Services Administration is looking at reducing federal real estate as telework eases demand for space. GSA has planned to offer its headquarters as a space where other federal employees can telework, as part of its upcoming Workforce 2030 plan. GSA is also looking rolling out a program called “home office in a box”, which would give feds the option to order home office gear needed to keep teleworking. GSA’s assistant commissioner for facilities management Andrew Heller said telework gives GSA an opportunity to save on real estate costs, and that “most work can now be done anywhere and at any time. I think organizations really have proven that over the last 18 months.” (Federal News Network)
  • A new advanced notice of proposed rulemaking aims to make the most significant changes to the Buy American Act in almost 70 years. The Office of Management and Budget released the rule today that, among other things, raises the percentage of component parts required to be manufactured in the U.S. in a product that agencies buy. OMB said the increase will go from 55% to 60% immediately. It will then increase again to 65% by 2024, and 75% by 2029. (Federal News Network)
  • Federal acquisition leaders are being encouraged to take a page or two from the private sector’s playbook. Six agencies reviewed by the Government Accountability Office have often neglected to use best practices for procurement that are relied upon by leading companies like Facebook, AT&T and ExxonMobil. Only one of the agencies — NASA — has consistently worked with internal stakeholders, especially end users, to develop performance metrics for procurement. GAO recommended the six agencies, which include the Army, Navy, and Air Force, as well as the Departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, to update their buying processes in line with leading private sector companies.
  • A group of former federal and Defense Department executives recommended major changes to the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification or CMMC program. The IT Acquisition Advisory Council released a white paper yesterday outlining 11 areas the Pentagon could make both short and long term improvements to the supply chain security program. Among the recommendations are to move the CMMC out of DoD and to NIST or DHS, as well as updating the acquisition rule so prime contractors carry a heavier burden to comply with the requirements. IT-AAC’s recommendations come as the Government Accountability Office is in the middle of a congressionally mandated report on CMMC.
  • Biden has picked a familiar face for a top position at the Department of Homeland Security. The White House announced Biden will nominate Bill Valdez as under secretary for management at DHS. Valdez was previously a member of the senior executive service at the Department of Energy. He also led the Senior Executives Association until last year. Valdez currently serves as chairman of the Alliance of Latinx Leadership & Policy.
  • The Veterans Health Administration is still looking for a permanent leader. The Department of Veterans Affairs is again soliciting candidates for the top job in its health administration. The position was vacant throughout the entire Trump administration and remains open today. A commission will vet candidates and recommend individuals to the president for the top VHA job. VA has been trying to fill this job for months. It convened a commission to find candidates earlier this year. But the president hasn’t nominated a new undersecretary for health.
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee advanced the nominations of five key Defense Department officials. The committee approved Carlos Del Toro as Navy Secretary, Gilbert Cisneros as Defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness and Kathleen Miller as military as deputy DoD comptroller. The committee also advanced Mara Karlin as assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities and Michael Connor as assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works.
  • Lawmakers once again want to delay a Defense Department plan to change its health system. For the past couple years, the Pentagon has wanted to shed 18,000 medical positions. The Defense Department said it would rather redirect people into increasing the military’s lethality. The drawdown was supposed to happen over a few years, however Congress doesn’t agree. For the past two years it has pushed off the plan and the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee wants to push it off again. Members of the panel said they are concerned that losing medical personnel could hurt the military in the long run. (Federal News Network)
  • The need for modernized, financial systems will hit a crescendo over the next four years. New data shows 56 different financial management systems across the government are reaching end of life quickly. And 60% of those are still hosted in agency data centers. This data from the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Fiscal Service helped spur the initial roll out of the financial management shared services marketplace. Fiscal Service expects to finalize its acquisition strategy this summer, and then offer the first set of commercial and federal shared services under the Quality Services Management Office or QSMO in late fiscal 2022.
  • The Biden administration said it’s disappointed Congress isn’t meeting the White House’s request to boost State Department spending on IT. The fiscal 2022 spending bill that’s making its way through the House would give the department $275 million to spend on IT, a 40% decrease from what the administration requested. The bill also left out more than $100 million to secure State’s cyber infrastructure in response to the SolarWinds breach.
  • The State Department is making strides to rebound from its sixteen-month long hiring freeze under the Trump administration. The Bureau of Global Talent Management said it provided bureaus the ability to fill more open positions to minimize the backlog that occurred during the freeze. These actions were in response to a report from the Office of Inspector General, which held that GTM was slow to respond after the hiring freeze ended. The IG viewed recruitment actions from October twenty eighteen to June twenty twenty.
  • The National Archives and Records Administration said it can resolve its backlog by the end of next year. That’s not fast enough for members of Congress. A bipartisan group of six House members have urged NARA to consider the technology modernization fund as a potential solution. Members said more funding could accelerate NARA’s plans to digitize military records and eliminate a backlog of 500,000 pending requests. Veterans need those records to access federal benefits. NARA said it’s recalling employees back to work in person as soon as it’s safe. (Federal News Network)
  • The Agriculture Department released a tool using artificial intelligence to help parents and caregivers teach children healthy eating habits. The MyPlate Alexa skill is available to all Alexa device owners, as well as IOS and Android users who download the Alexa app. The feature will provide families information on what and how to feed their child based on their age. It will build on USDA’s MyPlate initiative, which launched in 2011 as a consumer-friendly translation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

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