Congressman looks to punish those responsible for mysterious Havana Syndrome

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  • The Pentagon’s decision to try to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for troops is getting praised by military advocacy organizations and lawmakers alike. The Defense Department is trying to get approval for mandatory vaccines for troops by mid-September at the latest. The National Military Family Advocacy Network couldn’t be happier about the move. Eileen Huck, the organization’s deputy director for health care, said the military is taking the right step to safeguard the health and well-being of service members and their families. Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said DoD will monitor the COVID situation and ask for the mandate sooner if needed. (Federal News Network)
  • Coast Guard personnel who plan to take a vacation anytime soon will need to get vaccinated first. A new policy that took effect on Friday says the service’s uniformed personnel won’t be allowed to travel outside their local area unless they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The new policy also applies to leave that’s already been approved. Vaccinated members are allowed to travel without restrictions, including overseas.
  • A bill from the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s top Republican looks to punish anyone found responsible for a mysterious illness called Havana Syndrome. Rep. Michael McCaul’s (R-Texas) Havana Syndrome Attacks Response Act would impose sanctions on countries and individuals who are behind these incidents, but the federal government has yet to publicly assign blame for them. The condition first emerged in 2016, with 40 U.S. embassy staff in Havana reporting dizziness, tinnitus, visual problems, vertigo and cognitive problems. Those same symptoms have since been reported by personnel in China and other overseas posts.
  • The Government Accountability Office is adding 26 new recommendations to its high priority list for the Defense Department. The new status of the suggestions brings the number of extremely important recommendations to 81. The new recommendations run the gamut in terms of topics. Some deal with acquisition and contracting, while others address health care and diversity and inclusion.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency is having trouble following acquisition regulations for some of its contracts. A report from the Office of Inspector General revealed that, for six blanket purchase agreements, contracting officers did not perform annual reviews of active agreements, offer contracts to multiple vendors or negotiate price reductions. In doing so, staff did not comply with policies from the Federal Acquisition Regulations, Office of Management and Budget and EPA itself, and have possibly missed out on saving money. The IG recommended that EPA develop procedures to verify that contracting officers follow requirements for blanket purchase agreements.
  • The Patent and Trademark Office’s mega IT services contract is finally ready to take off. It’s a winning streak any sports team would be proud of. USPTO came out on top on all 13 of the protests filed by unsuccessful bidders of its $2 billion IT modernization and services contract. Four months after USPTO awarded five vendors a spot on its business oriented software solutions (BOSS) procurement, the Government Accountability Office denied the final protest by Salient CRGT. GAO denied all the other protests as well, except for one which the protestor withdrew. Under the 10-year BOSS vehicle, USPTO hopes to take advantage of innovative commercial software development and integration services.
  • Twenty new judges are appointed to hear appeals for veterans benefits decisions. The Department of Veterans Affairs Board of Veterans’ Appeals now has a total of one-hundred-and-thirteen veterans law judges. Most of the newly appointed judges begin working before the end of fiscal 2021, while more are expected to be appointed in 2022. VA Secretary Denis McDonough said veterans law judges play key roles delivering benefits to former service members, and that once sworn in the new appointees will have extensive training and mentoring from seasoned judges.
  • The Biden administration is calling on agencies to identify bottlenecks that make their public-facing services inaccessible to certain demographics. The Office of Management and Budget finds agencies need better data to understand equity gaps in their public-facing services. Agencies had until Sunday to submit equity assessments to OMB, outlining the barriers that some demographics might face getting access to government services. This work is part of an executive order President Joe Biden signed on his first day in office. OMB found 14 million low-income Americans paid for private tax-filing services last year, even though they qualified for free tax filing through a program led by the IRS. (Federal News Network)
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Social Security Administration have a new data sharing agreement to make it easier on people applying for citizenship. USCIS will immediately begin transferring information about applicants filing for lawful permanent resident status to SSA. Upon receiving the data, SSA will automatically assign an original social security number or issue a replacement card. USCIS receives more than 575,000 I-485 applications every year.
  • The Department of Homeland Security is partnering with Girl Scouts to promote cybersecurity awareness. The 2021 Girl Scout Cyber Awareness Challenge will provide girl scouts in grades six through twelve with opportunities to learn more about cybersecurity and programming. It’s designed to inspire a new generation of girls to explore the possibility of cyber careers. DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency will work with CYBER.ORG to administer the program, which is part of Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ 60-day cybersecurity sprints. The last sprint resulted in over three hundred new cybersecurity hires in DHS.
  • Census Bureau statisticians have to fill in the gaps after 10-20% of questions from last year’s count are unanswered. Questions left unanswered dealt with sex, race, Hispanic background, family relationships, age and household size. Usually the rate of unanswered questions is closer to 1-3%, so the bureau is using other data sources including tax forms, Social Security card applications and previous Census forms. Acting Bureau Director Ron Jarmin said the blank answers came from paper and online forms, face-to-face and phone interviews. Although the bureau plans to release what data it has on Thursday — for Congressional redistricting purposes — Jarmin said updated numbers will be released later this month. (Federal News Network)

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    (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)FILE - In this Aug. 14, 2015, file photo, a U.S. flag flies at the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba. The United States is renewing calls for the Cuban government to determine the source of “attacks” on U.S. diplomats in Cuba that have affected some two dozen people. At a senior-level meeting with Cuban officials in Washington on June 14, 2018, the State Department said it had again raised the issue, which has prompted a significant reduction in staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.(AP Photo/Desmond Boylan, File)

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