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The State Department is now allowing U.S. citizens to self-select their gender on their passports. As part of this policy change, the department will no longer require medical certification from passport applicants if the gender selected on their paperwork doesn’t match the gender on their citizenship documents or other forms of ID. Ian Brownlee, acting assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, said the department is also working on a gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming individuals. “The processing of adding a gender marker is complex and will take time, but we are committed to getting this right,” Brownlee said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has completed a months-long strategic review of its electronic health care records project. No details just yet, but Secretary Denis McDonough said he needs another couple of weeks to digest the findings before letting the project proceed. He said the review will have led to changes in deployment, and the department expects to ultimately complete it on time. McDonough said reworks will apply to both the technology and management of the program, but that ultimately VA will stick with the Cerner product. He added that interoperability with the Defense Department EHR remains the coin of the realm, a top reason for the new EHR in the first place.
More personnel changes are coming to the Office of Personnel Management. Anne Harkavy is OPM’s new chief of staff. She founded the Democracy Forward Foundation and served as a deputy general counsel for the Energy Department during the Obama administration. Kathleen McGettigan is now a senior adviser in the director’s office. McGettigan most recently served as acting OPM director while the agency waited for the Senate to confirm a permanent leader. She was previously OPM’s chief management officer — a role now filled by former OPM chief financial officer Dennis Coleman.
House lawmakers are advancing a defense bill that would cut off funding for the Guantanamo Bay detention facility by 2022. The House Appropriations defense subcommittee approved the fiscal 2022 spending legislation yesterday. The bill meets the Biden administration’s $706 billion request for the Pentagon. It would add $1.7 billion to the administration’s request for procurement to buy more aircraft, ships and other equipment. But the bill includes a corresponding $1.6 billion cut to the research and development request. The legislation now heads to the full committee.
The Pentagon’s Space Development Agency just crossed a major threshold. The two-year-old agency launched its first satellites out of Cape Canaveral yesterday. Two SDA satellite missions hitched a ride on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket as part of the company’s Transporter 2 mission. One set of SDA satellites is designed to test out optical communication in low-Earth orbit. The other payload will demonstrate on-orbit data fusion through an upgradable software suite running on an edge processor. SDA wants to get to the point where its delivering hundreds of satellites every two years as part of a National Defense Space Architecture.
The $50 billion IT services contract from NIH is facing a backlash. Two industry trade associations are calling on the NIH Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center or NITAAC to reassess its CIO-SP4 governmentwide acquisition contract and push back the proposals deadline. The Professional Services Council and the Coalition for Government Procurement said changes made last week to the solicitation are causing confusion and forcing companies to scramble to meet new, last-minute requirements. Among the changes causing concern are NITAAC’s decision to modify the past performance requirements for some small firms and their decision not to answer all of the bidders’ post-RFP questions.
Agencies are beefing up the federal firefighter workforce ahead of a potentially long and tough wildfire season. The Biden administration said no federal firefighter will make less than $15 an hour this year. The Office of Personnel Management will allow seasonal workers at the Agriculture and Interior Departments to work extra hours beyond their usual terms. OPM also approved direct-hire authority for the Forest Service. The Interior Department will convert 575 career seasonal workers into full-time employees. Permanent federal firefighters up to the GS-9 level are eligible for retention incentives this year.
Six of 11 agencies are taking most of the appropriate steps to prevent waste, fraud and abuse in the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. NASA, USDA, Commerce, Education, NSF and HHS all implemented a majority of the 10 recommendations the SBA made to reduce the risk to the programs. The Government Accountability Office found the Defense Department had the most work to do to protect their SBIR and STTR programs from waste, fraud and abuse.
The IRS ended up with a historically high backlog during this year’s filing season. The National Taxpayer Advocate found the IRS ended the filing season with a record backlog of 35 million tax returns that needed manual processing from its workforce. Nearly 17 million were paper tax returns waiting to be processed, while almost 16 million returns required further review from the IRS. The National Taxpayer Advocate said the backlog raises the need for the IRS to offer more of its services online.
The Federal Labor Relations Authority delivered another blow to the Department of Veterans Affairs and its implementation of the VA accountability law. The authority said it stands by a November 2020 decision, which said VA violated its labor contract with the American Federation of Government Employees when it fired, demoted or suspended VA workers without giving them at least three months to improve their performance. An arbitrator ordered VA to reinstate those employees with back-pay. VA said it’s still reviewing the decision.
The Biden administration is expecting agencies to back up future budget requests with data and program performance metrics. The Office of Management and Budget is directing agencies to complete a strategic plan for evidence-building that will last through fiscal 2026. The plan will include a capacity assessment and a learning agenda looking at program performance. Agencies will complete draft versions before the end of the fiscal year and will finalize these documents in time for the fiscal 2023 budget planning process.
Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) have reintroduced bipartisan legislation to help federal employees that began their careers as temporary workers to retire on-time. The Federal Retirement Fairness Act would help ensure those employees that weren’t able to make retirement contributions as temporary employees can make catch-up contributions. Those employees may otherwise have to retire without full benefits or work longer to obtain them. National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE) President Ken Thomas and National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) President Randy Erwin praised the effort.
Artificial intelligence would track consumer product safety under a new bill in Congress. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) introduced the Consumer Safety Technology Act, which would set up a program within the Consumer Product Safety Commission that uses AI to track consumer product hazards, injuries and recalls. The legislation passed the House and has made its way to the Senate. The commission will have one year after the passage of the bill to launch a pilot program.
Air Force branches collaborate to deliver zero trust networks across the entire department. The AF-Net Sustainment and Operations Branch at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts is partnering with the Air Combat Command Directorate of Cyberspace and Information Dominance to bring an Air Force-wide zero trust network by fiscal 2023. The project is currently unfunded, but ACC plans to submit a fiscal 2023 budget request. Air Force expects to conclude its proof-of-concept tests for the project later this summer.