New evidence shows extent of ‘Mar-a-Lago Trio’ involvement with VA modernization efforts

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  • The House-passed continuing resolution failed in the Senate along party lines. The continuing resolution would have kept agencies running through Dec. 3. It also included a temporary suspension of the debt ceiling that Republicans don’t support. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) says Democrats will try again to pass some sort of stop-gap measure this week. At least 36 agencies have updated their shutdown contingency plans as the deadline approaches at 11:59 p.m. Thursday. (Federal News Network)
  • Federal employees have Thrift Savings Plan loan options in the event of a government shutdown. TSP participants furloughed during a lapse in appropriations or considered excepted workers continuing to work without pay can request a loan at any time. Employees qualify for TSP loans as long as they do not have an outstanding general loan balance within the last 60 days, have not had a taxable loan distribution in the last year, and have at least $1,000 in contributions and earnings in their account. The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board made changes to make the loan process easier for feds after the record-long 2018-2019 shutdown.
  • Lawmakers want to make sure agencies are rehearsing their lines when it comes to responding to a significant cyber attack. The House’s defense authorization bill would establish a National Cyber Exercise Program to evaluate the nation’s Cyber Incident Response plan. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency would be in charge of running the exercises. The program would simulate what would happen if a cyber attack takes out a government or critical infrastructure network. The House passed the defense bill last week, while the full Senate has yet to take up the measure.
  • Two Senate lawmakers are taking aim at the 112 new examples of fragmentation, overlap and duplication in the federal government that the GAO identified in its 11th annual report earlier this year. Senators Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced the Acting on the Annual Duplication Report Act of 2021 to make changes to eight programs that could save the government hundreds of millions of dollars. One provision in the bill would require GAO to study whether the Government National Mortgage Association over-relies on a contractor workforce. Another provision would require the Treasury Department to review potential changes to the metallic make up of coins to identify potential cost savings.
  • The military is seeing the deadly COVID-19 trend continue in its troops. In just two months, the Defense Department doubled the amount of service member deaths related to coronavirus. The number now stands at 52. All of those were died from the disease were not fully vaccinated. The Pentagon is now mandating that all service members get their shots. Members of the Air and Space Forces need to finish their vaccinations by November and soldiers in the Army have until mid-December.
  • Troops living in 56 areas across the nation may be able to get more funds from the government. The Pentagon says that because housing prices are rising so quickly this year, it is giving some troops a temporary bump in basic allowance for housing. BAH is a monthly stipend to help service members pay for home costs. However, the Defense Department found its 2021 subsidy is not competitive enough for the rents and mortgages of some areas. The temporary increase will last from October to the end of the year. Areas seeing the biggest increases include Twenty Nine Palms in California; Boise, Idaho and cities in the southwest. Troops will get an email if they are eligible for the increase. (Federal News Network)
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs is making changes to benefit eligibility regulations for individuals discharged under a dishonorable status. Most veterans under dishonorable discharges currently can not receive VA benefits. More veterans would be eligible for benefits under modified regulations that would change the VA’s character of discharge determination process. VA issued a request for information seeking feedback to help shape the proposed changes. VA will host two virtual listening sessions next week to seek additional information and comments on the proposed rule are due by Oct. 12.
  • House Democrats have new documents that show the extent to which three associates of former President Trump developed their own agenda to transform the Department of Veterans Affairs. The group was known Mar-a-Lago trio. Documents show the trio saw itself as an advisory committee to the president. They held meetings on behalf of the government with Apple, Johnson and Johnson and CVS Health. The group pushed an Apple platform to monetize veterans’ medical records and a proposal for CVS Minute Clinics to provide veterans with health services.
  • The Department of Homeland Security is handing out cash to innovators with bright ideas about tackling climate change. DHS’ Science and Technology directorate and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are accepting proposals through Dec. 7 for the “Cooling Solutions Challenge.” They want ideas on how to better protect people from heat-related illness or death during extreme heat events or other disasters. The challenge is the first in a new series of prize competitions aimed at strengthening nationwide resilience to climate change.
  • The Homeland Security Department wins a protest of its FirstSource III solicitation, but it’s not out of the woods quite yet. The Government Accountability Office ruled in favor of DHS in one of several protests of its $10 billion small business IT hardware contract called FirstSource III. KPaul Properties submitted a complaint over the requirement in the solicitation to have an ISO-9001 and/or an ISO certification for open trusted technology provider standards, calling it unduly restrictive. GAO denied the protest, saying industry not only had ample time to comment, but the requirement was not restrictive. GAO says of the 637 proposals from 325 offerors DHS received, only five vendors failed to provide at least one of the certifications. DHS still is facing two other protests filed in early August.
  • The Justice Department inspector general’s office is hiring a chief diversity officer, as part of the Biden administration’s focus on equity and inclusion in government. The chief diversity officer will lead the IG office’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and will train OIG staff to identify and avoid bias in the workplace. The new hire is also expected to evaluate workforce data and flag any potential barriers to diversity. DOJ OIG will accept applications through the end of September.
  • The State Department seeks to reskill its workforce as part of its new data strategy. State is updating job descriptions to include expected data competencies, and will create a new series of data science positions as part of its Enterprise Data Strategy. The strategy highlights data as the foundation of the department’s increased focus on AI, 5G and cybersecurity as part of its diplomatic mission. The department’s Enterprise Data Council will implement the strategy, and report to the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources. (Federal News Network)

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