New executive order aims to improve federal customer service

In today's Federal Newscast, President Joe Biden will sign an executive order aimed at saving Americans time and frustration when seeking a broad array of feder...

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  • President Joe Biden on Monday will sign an executive order aimed at saving Americans time and frustration when seeking a broad array of federal services, like renewing passports, applying for Social Security benefits and getting aid after natural disasters. The government has identified 35 service providers in federal agencies that can reduce administrative burdens and develop “new online tools and technologies that can provide a simple, seamless, and secure customer experience,” according to a fact sheet obtained by The Associated Press.
  • The U.S. Digital Service in OMB and the 18F office in GSA are providing inconsistent guidance to agencies on how to improve their digital services. A new report from the Government Accountability Office looked at the two organizations, which provide agencies with similar IT modernization help, and found as of March each program had issued at least one document that covered each of the six similar topics. Auditors say, however, that USDS and 18F do a good job coordinating projects and around the hiring of digital experts. GAO made two recommendations for OMB and GSA leadership to direct their respective organizations to work more closely together on IT guidance.
  • The IRS is gearing up for next year’s filing season, but still dealing with tax returns from the last two seasons. Nearly 100 House Republicans are asking the IRS what steps it’s taking to deal with persistent backlogs. Recent data shows the IRS has nearly 10 million unprocessed paper tax returns received in 2021, and an additional 5 million paper and electronic returns that have been suspended during processing. Lawmakers ask whether the IRS plans to hire additional staff to process tax returns, and whether the agency’s workforce is returning to the office and resuming normal operations. The members warn IRS spending in the Build Back Better Act doesn’t do enough to support taxpayer services.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency is putting equity and climate change at the center of its agenda. FEMA’s new strategic plan makes cultivating a diverse and resilient workforce a top priority. It also calls directing more resources to underserved communities. FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell says the agency must instill equity as a foundation of emergency management. Criswell also says FEMA will start focusing on larger projects that protect people and infrastructure from climate change effects. The strategic plan also highlights readiness, and FEMA’s role leading the federal response to an increasing number of natural disasters.
  • Agencies can use a special pandemic hiring flexibility to bring on new employees for another six months. The Office of Personnel Management is extending the Schedule A COVID-19 hiring authority until the end of the June. Agencies can use this flexibility to bring on new talent to respond to the pandemic for year-long temporary appointments. They can extend these appointments for another year if necessary. OPM says agencies still have a need for this flexibility to strategically and quickly bring on new talent to respond to the pandemic.
  • Two agencies will be looking for new CIOs in January. Long-time technology leaders at the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services are retiring by the end of the year. Federal News Network has confirmed that Russ Roberts, TSA’s chief information officer since 2018, is retiring after 17 years of federal services. Meanwhile, Janet Vogel, the acting CIO at HHS, is retiring after more than 40 years of federal service. Vogel has been acting CIO since June and joined HHS in 2018 as its chief information security officer. Vogel’s departure marks the sixth acting or permanent CIO to leave HHS since 2015. (Federal News Network)
  • A major oversight bill includes new whistleblower protections for federal employees. The House cleared the Protecting Our Democracy Act along party lines. The bill gives federal whistleblowers access to a jury trial to pursue their cases. It also includes more measures to keep federal whistleblowers anonymous. The bill has an array of other oversight measures. It prohibits the president from firing inspectors general unless under a narrow set of circumstances. And it limits on how long acting officials can serve in the executive branch. (Federal News Network)
  • Agencies are on the hook to patch a critical cyber vulnerability that emerged late last week. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Director Jen Easterly says the “log4J” vulnerability poses a “severe risk.” CISA added it to a catalog of known exploits that agencies must address. The flaw exists in the widely used “Java” open source software library. Easterly says she’s organizing a call with critical infrastructure companies on Monday to discuss the situation.
  • If you were thinking about joining the Space Force part time, it’s not going to be happening this coming year. Since the Pentagon started planning for the Space Force, one perpetual question has come up: Will there be a Space National Guard? That question will likely take at least another year to answer. While the House version of the 2022 defense authorization bill started the process of a Space Guard, the provision didn’t make it into the final bill. The Department of the Air Force still owes Congress a report on the feasibility of a Space National Guard.
  • The Defense Department is preparing to release a new National Defense Strategy in early 2022. That plan outlines how the military will posture itself for future conflicts. Defense Undersecretary for Policy Colin Kahl says the document will come out shortly after the release of the new National Security Strategy. The NDS is expected to highlight China and Russia as pacing challenges.
  • The Public Buildings Reform Board is finalizing a second round of federal buildings it recommends putting up for sale. But the Government Accountability Office warns the project is falling behind on goals. The General Services Administration has only sold one of 11 buildings from the first round of recommendations, and expects to spend $19 million from a revolving fund to get the remaining first-round properties ready to sell. That leaves the board and GSA with $27 million to rehabilitate its second round of federal buildings. GAO has kept federal property management and disposal on its high-risk list since 2003.

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