To listen to the Federal Newscast on your phone or mobile device, subscribe in PodcastOne or Apple Podcasts. The best listening experience on desktop can be found using Chrome, Firefox or Safari.
The Senate has more political appointees than ever to confirm, and the process itself is taking longer. The number of positions requiring Senate confirmation grew by 59% between 1960 and 2016. It took an average of 56 days for the Senate to confirm nominees in the Reagan administration, compared to 112 days in the Obama administration and 117 days in the Trump administration. That’s according to a new report from the Partnership for Public Service. It says Congress should scale back the number of appointees needing Senate confirmation, or convert more to career positions.
Federal employees have a little over a month left to use the emergency paid leave provided under the American Rescue Plan. The Office of Personnel Management is tracking how much leave employees are using. Congress approved $570 million for employees to take time off to get vaccinated or recover from vaccine symptoms or COVID-19 itself. Employees exhausted nearly $186 million, or one-third of the funds by mid-August. Employees have until September 30 to take this leave through the American Rescue Plan.
Peace Corps volunteers prepare to reenter the field after the pandemic forced them to evacuate back to the US last year. Volunteers would need to be vaccinated, and about 2400 of those 7000 evacuated last year want to return to their countries of service. Thousands more have applied to volunteer but Peace Corps Acting Director Carol Spahn said it depends on the virus situation and vaccine requirements of each country, and it could be years before the Peace Corps is back to full operations. (Federal News Network)
Last week the military had a reminder of how deadly the coronavirus pandemic still is. The Pentagon saw its deadliest week of the pandemic last week after five service members died from COVID-19. The military has yet to release the names or what branch the service members were in. Since the beginning of the pandemic 34 service members have died from COVID-19. More than 330,000 people in the military or working for the military have contracted the disease. In recent weeks the United States has seen a tremendous spike in coronavirus cases as the delta variant continues to spread rapidly.
The effects of the Delta variant of COVID-19 are easy to see in Veterans Affairs hospitals. According to official VA data compiled by Stars and Stripes, the number of COVID cases at VA facilities shot up from just 3,700 at the end of July to nearly 13,000 by the end of last week. According to VA statistics, only about 55% of its patients are fully-vaccinated.
The Air Force is canceling its annual marathon for the second year in a row. The precaution is due to increased risks as coronavirus is once again surging. This year would have been the 25th anniversary of the event, which takes place at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. The Air Force was expecting more than 20,000 runners, volunteers and guests to attend. There will be a virtual option for runners who still want to participate.
U.S. Transportation Command is invoking a rarely-used legal authority to help move evacuees from Afghanistan back to the United States. DoD activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet yesterday, ordering American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, Omni Air, Hawaiian Airlines and United Airlines to mobilize a total of 18 aircraft as part of the evacuation effort. The commercial carriers aren’t being asked to land in Kabul. They’ll pick up passengers the military has already moved to Bahrain and other temporary locations. It’s only the third time in history DoD has activated the civil reserve fleet. The other two were during Operation Desert Storm and a short period in Operation Enduring Freedom, shortly after the invasion of Afghanistan.
Contractors have another year before they must ask the Defense Department for pre-approval for employees to travel overseas if they have access to classified information through the National Industrial Security Program. The initial deadline was set to take effect this Wednesday, August 24. But DoD in a Federal Register notice last week extended the deadline until Aug. 24, 2022. This will give DoD time to modify its IT systems to capture multiple or batched foreign travel reports submitted in a single submission by contractors.
The General Services Administration wants to extend the requirement for vendors to submit additional and notarized information when they register or renew their System for Award Management (SAM) information. In a Federal Register notice, GSA asked for comments from contractors or others about whether the information collection is burdensome. GSA instituted the requirement for additional information in a notarized letter by an officer of the company to help stop fraud and other attempts by bad actors to impersonate companies and submit bids.
The Postal Services reports improvement in mail delivery since July. First-class mail, marketing mail and periodical deliveries are up between about one-to-three percentage points since the start of the fourth quarter. USPS said the improvements are due in part to its recent shift in strategy toward more ground-based deliveries rather than by air, and improved network efficiencies. The Postal Service’s ten-year “Delivering for America” plan has $40 billion worth of infrastructure investments and a goal of 95% on-time service. But the holiday season is in view, and the Postal Service has installed 46 out of 112 new package sorting machines around the country since April.
It seems like every agency has at least one or two artificial intelligence projects in the works these days. But now some lawmakers are questioning whether certain functions should be left up to algorithms. Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said law enforcement AI programs funded by Justice Department grants can be subject to racial biases. Wyden said he and a group of other lawmakers are waiting on a response to a letter they wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland in April. The letter expressed concern over lack of oversight into law enforcement AI programs. (Federal News Network)