Some more insight on how agencies will handle religious exemptions to vaccine mandate

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  • The Biden Administration’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors faces new legal challenges. State attorneys general from 18 different states filed three separate lawsuits on Friday. Florida filed its own suit a day earlier. The cases raise numerous legal issues, but in general, they claim the mandate intrudes on state authority and violates federal procurement law by sidestepping the usual notice and comment period for federal regulations. Unless courts intervene, the vaccine mandate for contractors is set to take effect on December 8. (Federal News Network)
  • Agencies will soon have new resources to help them prepare for the hybrid work environment. The Office of Personnel Management is preparing more telework and remote work guidance soon. OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said the goal is to help agencies embed these flexibilities in their workplaces: “We have this guide coming out. We’re also pulling together trainings and information around how to manage in a hybrid work environment and how to operate well in a work environment, as well as a new website focused on future of work.” (Federal News Network)
  • The Biden administration offered up a few more details on how it might handle employee requests for a religious exception to the vaccine mandate. Agencies will consider multiple factors when granting religious accommodations. And no one factor is determinative. The administration said agencies may consider whether employees have acted consistently with their professed religious beliefs. Employees don’t have to answer all questions on their agency’s religious exception form. But the administration encourages federal employees to provide as much information as possible.
  • Starting today, visitors to the Pentagon must fill out a form certifying their COVID-19 status to enter the building. That includes contractors and Defense Department personnel who do not have regular access to the Pentagon reservation. The form visitors must present indicates the person’s vaccination status. Those unvaccinated or who decline to answer must present a negative COVID test within the last 72 hours to enter.
  • Some discounts and savings might now be available for Defense Department and Coast Guard civilian employees. The Navy Exchange is now open online to civilians who work for the Pentagon and Coast Guard. Exchanges are stores that are sales tax free and sometimes provide discounts compared to major brand stores. The Navy’s Exchange Service Command said the expanded customer base will allow it to contribute more to Navy quality of life programs. The program is also open to retired civilians who worked for the Defense Department or the Coast Guard.
  • Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) want to make sure federal employees overseas are eligible for the child tax credit. They say some Foreign Service officers and other employees working outside the country are currently ineligible for the child tax credit Congress expanded with the American Rescue Plan Act earlier this year. The framework for the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan currently envisions expanding the tax credit for another year. Kaine and Van Hollen said the forthcoming bill should clarify eligibility for Foreign Service officers as long as they meet the required income thresholds.
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is setting standards for how employers make hires using artificial intelligence. EEOC is launching an internal working group to coordinate its AI oversight, and holding listening sessions over how employees currently use AI tools. This program builds on the commission’s oversight of AI tools in hiring that started in 2016. Commission investigators also took training this year on the use of AI in employment practices.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee is applying some fine tuning to the False Claims Act. The committee passed updates to the law that hasn’t seen new legislation in 11 years. The committee approved amendments that would change the evidentiary standards for proving materiality of a claim. It would let the government or whistleblower establish materiality by a preponderance of the evidence. The bill also would require the court to order the requesting party, upon a motion by the government, to pay the government’s attorney’s fees and other expenses. The bill now moves to the full Senate for a vote. There is no companion bill in the House.
  • One U.S. agency has started identifying systemically important critical infrastructure. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is determining what parts of U.S. critical infrastructure are most important to the nation. CISA Director Jen Easterly said the new project is based on how important sectors are to the functioning of the economy, important networks, and how they’re logically connected to other infrastructure. “We’re in a state now where our critical infrastructure is much more vulnerable than it should be, and frankly, that’s what I worry about most every day,” Easterly said.
  • Lawmakers are raising questions about the Transportation Security Administration’s new cyber requirements for pipeline operators. GOP members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee requested an inspector general review of the TSA directives. They point to industry concerns that the cyber requirements are overly broad and were issued without enough time to get feedback. TSA issued the cyber directives in the wake of the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack. The agency is planning to issue another set of directives for rail and air operators.
  • The Defense Information Systems Agency has a new chief technology officer. Steve Wallace is the new CTO at DISA and has laid out 10 emerging technology priority areas for fiscal 2022. Wallace said at the DISA forecast to industry day last Friday that some of these priorities are new and others carried over from 2021. He said encrypted internet traffic analysis, 5G and cyber breach and attack simulation are among the priorities that need long-term attention. Meanwhile, DISA issued a RFI earlier this year for the next generation mobile device management services, and launched a prototype for infrastructure-as-code last year.
  • The Postal Service sees an uptick in on-time deliveries, a sign it’s ready for the holidays. USPS reports it delivered 91% of first-class mail on-time so far in the first quarter of fiscal 2022. That’s a 3% increase from its overall performance in the fourth quarter of the last fiscal year. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said the agency is ramping up its capacity, and is ready for peak operations. USPS installed 88 new package sorting machines since April, and will be able to process an additional 4.5 million packages every day.

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