IG: GSA purchased products from North Korea during height of the pandemic

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Federal employees who’ve refused to get vaccinated won’t face any new consequences, for now. A federal judge blocked the government from enforcing the federal employee vaccine mandate. The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force said even though agencies need to stop imposing penalties for vaccine refusers,...

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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.

  • Federal employees who’ve refused to get vaccinated won’t face any new consequences, for now. A federal judge blocked the government from enforcing the federal employee vaccine mandate. The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force said even though agencies need to stop imposing penalties for vaccine refusers, any disciplinary measures they’ve already finished can stay intact. That means agencies won’t need to re-hire any employee they might have already fired for refusing the vaccine, and written reprimands they issued before last week’s court injunction will stay in employees’ files. (Federal News Network)
  • The General Services Administration struggled to follow the Trade Agreements Act for some contracts that helped with the response to the pandemic. There was one that allowed not only products from a non-TAA country, but from North Korea. The Federal Acquisition Regulations prohibits most imports from North Korea. The GSA inspector general said the Federal Acquisition Service in GSA did not always report TAA non-compliant products that were added to contracts in support of the COVID-19 response. This left FAS’s control to monitor and roll back the use of a regulatory exception ineffective. The IG also found contracting officers modified contracts to add TAA non-compliant products that were not in support of the COVID-19 response.
  • The General Services Administration improves the updated Regulations.gov sites by restoring some popular features of the old version. Back by popular demand: The ability to view all of the comments on a given docket item in a single tab. Since the revised site went live a year ago, visitors could only see comments document-by-document within the docket. The consolidated view had been available on the old version of Regulations.gov. GSA also brought back email subscriptions for people wishing to track changes to a docket item. GSA said those two services topped the list of requests from the public.
  • The Federal Labor Relations Authority has voted to de-certify the union representing Justice Department immigration judges. Members Colleen Duffy Kiko and James Abbott, the two Republicans, voted for the measure, which excludes judges from any bargaining unit. Chairman and Democrat Ernest DuBester dissented. The de-certification petition was filed during the Trump administration, on the grounds that judges are management employees. The Biden Justice Department had withdrawn the petition against the union, seeking a stay and reconsideration of a 2020 vote to decertify.
  • The largest federal employee union makes a case for better pay and benefits for transportation security officers. The American Federation of Government Employees is urging the Department of Homeland Security to include a pay increase for Transportation Security Administration officers as part of its forthcoming budget request. In a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the union also suggested TSA Administrator David Pekoske is scuttling plans to increase pay and benefits for officers. AFGE said Pekoske is overestimating the costs of expanding their collective bargaining rights and paying them in line with the General Schedule.
  • More than 100 members of Congress are asking the National Archives and Records Administration for an update on how it’s handling a backlog of veterans’ record requests. NARA officials told lawmakers earlier this month that 25% of the workforce at its National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis is showing up to work in-person, far from the 75% in-person staffing goal it set in November. Members said veterans are waiting up to 18 months for documents needed to obtain medical care or disability compensation from the Veterans Affairs Department.
  • The Marine Corps is following its sister services in taking a different approach to beards. Razor bumps are a painful side effect of shaving for people with curly hair. The ailment is chronic for about 60% of Black men and can be damaging to the skin. The Marine Corps is now changing its policy so that troops who suffer from razor bumps will be able to grow out facial hair. The move is one that other military services have already taken as they consider how to be a more inclusive force. The new Marine Corps policy will begin on January 31. Commanders will have the authority to issue no-shave passes.
  • Army Futures Command is continuing to grow as the service’s premiere acquisition and modernization organization. The command published a new website updating the public on its endeavors over the past year. Futures Command said it now has more than 100 ongoing projects supporting Army modernization priorities, it has reduced procurement time to about three years and plans to have 24 new systems in soldiers’ hands by 2023. The command is also assisting in technologies to deter COVID-19, like creating 3D-printed N95 masks.
  • The Army is ready to create its first ever cloud instance outside the U.S. Later this year, the Army will establish a cloud instance in the Indo-Pacific region to test out these capabilities at the edge. Army CIO Raj Iyer said this is about operationalizing the cloud capacity that they have. “This is an area where we are pioneering this kind of effort across the DoD. What this will do is allow us to start integrate cloud into all aspects of experimentation in the Pacific.” The Army’s pilot builds off of the DoD OCONUS cloud strategy issued last year.
  • Agencies are looking to bring some cohesion to digital identity projects. But officials say they may need congressional action to take a truly strategic approach. Still, the General Services Administration is ramping up the use of Login.gov. And the Social Security Administration’s new digital ID verification system has done more than 40 million checks for financial services companies. The Transportation Security Administration is also planning to begin allowing travelers to use mobile IDs at select airports starting this year. (Federal News Network)
  • The IRS is taking steps to avoid tax return processing delays as the filing season starts. It’s sending letters to taxpayers who received an Economic Impact Payment or child tax credit payment last year. The letter outlines the payment amounts received by the taxpayer, according to IRS records, and should be used for this year’s tax return. The IRS is looking into some press reports that the amount listed on these IRS notices, in some cases, doesn’t match what taxpayers actually received. The agency said it’s not a widespread problem. IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said most people who file an error-free 2021 tax return online and request a direct deposit will receive their refund within 21 days. (Federal News Network)
  • The agency that manages the Thrift Savings Plan completes a modernization of its financial systems, after spending more than a year on the project. The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board worked with the Interior Business Center to stand up integrated systems to handle the board’s finances, acquisitions and official travel. The launch of those systems completes a 15-month Financial Systems Modernization effort and allows the board to decommission four legacy IT systems. The Interior Business Center is a shared service provider for these systems, and eliminates the needs for the board to maintain custom-developed software.

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