Whistleblower claim leads to more efficient contracting practices at HHS

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  • The Interior Business Center said some 1,000 workers at the Social Security Administration should get paid today after employees discovered problems with their most recent paychecks. The American Federation of Government Employees said some SSA workers saw zeros on their paystubs for the last pay period. SSA said 992 employees were impacted by an undetermined error. It told AFGE that employees would get at least a partial paycheck by the official pay day next Tuesday. IBC said it will process pay for these employees manually. SSA is preparing messages to impacted employees about what to expect.
  • The State Department inspector general clears six whistleblowers at the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees Voice of America. The IG found the agency’s former CEO Michael Pack improperly retaliated against the employees by revoking their security clearances. The IG found Pack asked political staff to compile dossiers on others executives. New agency leadership under the Biden administration reinstated the security clearances and returned the executives to their former positions.
  • A whistleblower prompts better spending practices at the Health and Human Services Department. HHS will strengthen internal controls when using Other Transaction Authorities for procurements outside of the Federal Acquisition Regulation. That follows recommendations by its inspector general. The IG had confirmed mishandling of $84 million in OTA spending by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute after an alert from a whistleblower. Blood Institute officials disputed the OIG findings, but then the Office of Special Counsel weighed in to support the whistleblower and the inspector general.
  • The Government Accountability Office is upskilling its analyst workforce as part of its data strategy. GAO, which turns 100 years old this month, estimates every dollar Congress invests in its budget flags about $114 in potential cost savings. But in order to maintain this return on investment, the watchdog is looking at ways to make its workforce more familiar with data analytics and artificial intelligence tools. Taka Ariga, GAO’s first chief data scientist, said the agency’s data strategy will looking at improving the overall data literacy of its workforce. “Our employees recognize this sort of a traditional way of doing things is no longer sufficient.” (Federal News Network)
  • The Air Force will fully implement its tenant’s bill of rights by October, almost four months past the original deadline. The service initially planned to have all 18 policies set in place by June, but four of them still aren’t available everywhere. These remaining rights include a universal lease, which standardizes the contents of every privatized housing lease, and a formal dispute resolution process. This process will enable tenants to withhold rent payments while disputes with property owners are being resolved.
  • Military commanders are currently in charge of legal decisions regarding their subordinates; however, they may not be properly trained. They are not taking the proper legal training courses and the military services are not documenting which legal classes commanders are enrolling in. That’s according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office. The report poses more questions about the competency of military commanders to make complex legal decisions like when a case should be prosecuted. There is currently a bill in both houses of Congress that would take nonmilitary crimes out of the chain of command.
  • The Marine Corps is no longer requiring most of its service members to take pictures of their tattoos when applying for reenlistment or special duty assignments. Under the new policy, marines who do not have visible tattoos while wearing their uniform will not need to send in photos of them. The Marine Corps is currently undergoing an effort to eliminate unconscious bias from promotion boards.
  • Is it time to take military action against cyber criminals? A top official at U.S. Cyber Command thinks so. Kurt Sanger, who serves as general counsel for the command said in a recent op-ed on LawfareBlog.com that ranswomware and other kinds of cyber attacks have reached the point where it may be time for the military to get involved. Sanger said the threats now are so numerous that law enforcement entities are unable to keep up.
  • A batch of Pentagon nominees get their shot to prove themselves in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee next week. The committee meets July 13 to consider the nomination of Carlos Del Toro, President Joe Biden’s pick for Navy Secretary. The retired U.S. Navy commander and business executive would be just the second-ever Hispanic individual to lead the sea service. Joining Del Toro in front of the committee are four additional nominees, including Gilbert Cisneros Jr. to be under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and Kathleen Miller, the pick for DoD comptroller. The Senate has confirmed just six of President Biden’s DoD nominees so far.
  • Employees at the National Archives and Records Administration would return in-person to tackle a growing backlog of records requests under a new bill in Congress. Rep. Fred Keller (R-Penn.) introduced the RECORDS Act, which would restore pre-pandemic staffing levels at the National Personnel Records Center in an effort to reduce certain record request backlogs. The bill would increase the number of employees working in-person, and require the national archivist to develop a plan to improve operations at the center. The archivist would also submit a report on the center’s progress ninety days after staffing levels are restored.
  • GSA’s 8(a) STARS III contract may have gotten the go-ahead to proceed, but it’s not out of the woods yet. The General Services Administration tried to make its 8(a) STARS 3 contract protest proof by having rolling awards. Unfortunately, the Small Business Administration threw a wrench into that idea. IT Objects submitted a protest to the Government Accountability Office after SBA, not GSA, decided it was ineligible for an award. IT Objects is an 8(a) protégé to Dovel Technologies, a large business, under SBA’s mentor-protégé program. The protestor said SBA wrongfully deemed them ineligible for an award. GSA made more than 400 awards for the 10-year contract with a $50 billion ceiling in mid-June. GAO has until October 12 to decide the protest.
  • Innovative healthcare solutions are in-demand at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA and the Founder Institute are taking pitch applications through July 30 for its “Breaking Boundaries Collaboration Challenge.” Twenty health care innovators, non-profits, entrepreneurs, start-ups or academic affiliates will be invited to pitch Veterans Health Administration leadership on their early-stage solutions. The pitch event is part of the lead up to the VHA’s 2021 Innovation Experience event in October.
  • Auditors delivered yet another tough blow to the Department of Veterans Affairs and its electronic health record project. A small percentage of VA employees could easily navigate the health record after training and months of use. The VA IG said serious training deficiencies are part of the problem. Employees didn’t get enough time to train on the new EHR before it went live in Spokane, Washington last fall. Some employees say the training itself was a waste of time. Data shows employees saw fewer patients while training on the EHR and later using the new product. (Federal News Network)

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