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A federal appeals court is fast-tracking a legal challenge to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for large, private employers. On Saturday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the government to respond to a lawsuit challenging the OSHA regulations’ legality by close of business today. The three-judge panel reviewing the case said it presented “grave statutory and constitutional issues.” Until those issues are resolved, the court is also barring the Labor Department from enforcing the regulations. (Federal News Network)
Employees at the Social Security Administration will begin returning to their offices starting Jan. 3. Senior leadership will start returning to SSA offices on Dec. 1. Many employees will be able to telework up to five days a week, at least during a six-month trial period. Field office employees can telework two days a week. Teleservice center employees are eligible for four days of telework each week. SSA administrative law judges can work remotely three-to-four-days a week.
Lawmakers proposed a new border oversight bureaucracy at the Department of Homeland Security. Legislation introduced by Democrats last week would establish a border oversight commission at DHS. The panel would include representatives from northern and southern border states to provide input on border policy decisions. The bill would also establish a DHS Office of the Ombudsman to investigate complaints and issue recommendations to improve border and immigration activities. And the legislation would require Customs and Border Patrol officers to get certain training, such as lawful use of force and de-escalation tactics. Democrats said they want to increase accountability and oversight of federal law enforcement activities at U.S. borders.
The Space Force is creating a new program to focus on on-orbit servicing assembly and manufacturing. Called Orbital Prime, the initiative will fund technologies to repair satellites and remove space debris. The program is run by SpaceWERX, which focuses on working with innovative commercial companies by awarding contracts quickly. Orbital Prime will use Small Business Innovative Research awards to reach nontraditional defense companies.
The Defense Health Agency said it is still working to resize the Military Health System. The Pentagon said its current plan is to offload 200,000 TRICARE beneficiaries from the Military Health System to private health networks. The plan is a reaffirmation of a previous strategy put out by the Defense Health Agency. DHA was forced to rethink that plan after the pandemic stressed the nation’s healthcare system. DHA said the plan is still fluid and has not been approved by the Defense Department or Congress. A recent study found that TRICARE beneficiaries who would have to get inpatient care from private hospitals would get worse care compared to military facilities. (Federal News Network)
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has a new deputy director. NGA announced intelligence community veteran Tonya Wilkerson will take over as the agency’s Number Two official. She had previously been the CIA’s associate deputy director for science and technology strategy. Wilkerson also held a number of positions at the National Reconnaissance Office. She joins NGA as the agency looks to build-out data analytics capabilities and increase its commercial partnerships.
House lawmakers added a huge windfall for the IT modernization coffers. Governmentwide technology modernization efforts are getting a huge boost from the Build Back Better infrastructure bill. House lawmakers added a total of $500 million as a manager’s amendment on Friday. House lawmakers are adding $250 million to the Technology Modernization Fund and $200 million for the Federal Citizen Services Fund. Legislators also are allocating another $50 million for OMB’s IT Oversight and Reform Fund. The bill still must be passed by the Senate. The initial version of the bill released in late October didn’t include any new money for TMF or the other IT modernization efforts.
Senate lawmakers are giving two key cyber bills a better chance to pass. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced an amendment to the 2022 Defense authorization bill to add the Federal Information Security Modernization Act and the Cyber Incident Reporting Act. Peters introduced both the cyber incident reporting act and the FISMA act in September, and both bills passed the committee in October. Lawmakers have traditionally used the NDAA to pass similar cybersecurity and technology legislation that has received bipartisan support.
The State Department named new leaders to take on a condition that’s affecting diplomats across the world. Secretary of State Antony Blinken named Jonathan Moore, a member of the Senior Foreign Service, to lead the department’s Health Incidents Response Task Force. The task force leads the department’s response to anomalous health incidents, more commonly known as Havana Syndrome. Blinken also named retired ambassador Margaret Uyehara to lead efforts to care for affected department employees. Blinken said the department is committed to protecting personnel. “When you sit down with our people and hear what’s happened to them, how they’ve been affected, it’s very, very powerful,” Blinken said.
An investigation launched by a whistleblower complaint finds regional leaders at the General Services Administration failed to reduce employees’ exposure to toxic substances. The Office of Special Counsel referred the tip to the head of GSA, which found that staff working at the Goodfellow Federal Center in St Louis were exposed to asbestos, lead, mercury, arsenic and other hazardous material. The GSA investigation found regional leaders downplayed risks and ignored experts. But the agency said it doesn’t have enough evidence to recommend disciplinary action.