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Former Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, misused his position to advance a commercial development project. That’s according to a report by the Interior Department’s inspector general. The report alleges that Zinke lied to an agency ethics official about his involvement in the project that included a microbrewery in his hometown. Zinke worked on the commercial project through a non-profit foundation despite agreeing to cut ties. After being named Interior secretary in 2017, Zinke agreed to stop providing the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation with his services. (Federal News Network)
A government watchdog group is raising concerns about alleged conflicts of interest for the head of the White House’s Digital Service. The Project on Government Oversight is asking the Office of Management and Budget to rescind ethics waivers it approved for USDS Administrator Mina Hsiang. POGO said OMB waivers exempt 94% of Hsiang’s investment portfolio, which includes the tech company Google, and a stake in her family’s holding company. POGO also claims OMB allowed Hsiang to hold several financial assets for nearly a year, that it now says posed a conflict of interest.
President Joe Biden is promoting the deputy in the White House science and technology office to perform the duties of the director. Biden is also calling on the recently retired director of the National Institutes of Health to perform the duties of White House science adviser. Alondra Nelson and Francis Collins were tapped to replace Eric Lander. Lander resigned last week after an internal investigation had found credible evidence that he mistreated staff. (Federal News Network)
Another agency begins laying the ground work to bring employees back to the office. The Justice Department is the latest to join the small but growing bloc of agencies who plan to reopen their doors to more and more employees. Justice updated its workforce safety plan from February 2021 with new details about vaccination requirements and testing, face masks and physical distancing, and about reporting, contact tracing and continuous monitoring. What Justice didn’t include is any timeline for bringing employees back to the offices. A Justice spokesman said about 67% -to-75% of the department’s workforce currently report to their official worksite. He said Justice will transition away from maximum telework for the rest of the workforce over the next few months as pandemic conditions allow. (Federal News Network)
The Small Business Administration may have been a little too flexible during the pandemic. A new inspector general report found out of 40 small firms in the 8(a) program auditors reviewed, 15 did not have approved business plans. This made these firms ineligible to receive $93 million in awards. The IG said without these business plans, SBA is unable to assess and report on 8(a) participants’ overall state of readiness to compete in the open economy. The IG made eight recommendations for how SBA can improve its oversight and management of the 8(a) program.
The Postal Service is seeking the ability to gather COVID-19 vaccination and testing data from its workforce. USPS is laying the groundwork to track the vaccination and testing status of its workforce amid the COVID-19 pandemic, or any future public health emergency. USPS, in a Federal Register notice, said these changes to its system of records will give the agency greater flexibility to prepare for and respond to a wide variety of emergencies. USPS said in a statement that the agency is NOT updating its COVID-19 vaccine or testing requirements as part of this notice, nor is it currently planning to collect information on the vaccination status of its employees. (Federal News Network)
The Air Force’s innovation hub is looking to military spouses for some of its new hiring opportunities. AFWERX, an Air Force shop that turns civilian technologies into military solutions, is opening up 50 positions with remote options. The organization said these jobs are perfect for military spouses who are constantly traveling with their service members. The jobs are set to open as soon as April. The Air Force is trying to cut military spouse unemployment. Some surveys have the rate as high as 35%. AFWERX is also holding a job fair in March.
The Army is holding its first-ever Best Squad Competition. Teams of five soldiers will go up against each other in feats of technical and tactical proficiency. The competition will be held in September. The Army said small units need to be the solid foundation for the service’s excellence. The competition will test those elements.
Over the past two years, Russian state-sponsored hackers have systematically infiltrated the unclassified networks of cleared defense contractors. That’s according to a new advisory issued by U.S. agencies this week. The hackers have stolen proprietary documents and emails, including information about weapon systems. U.S. agencies said the hackers are taking advantage of simple passwords, unpatched systems, and unsuspecting employees to gain access to the sensitive networks.
The Department of Homeland Security made a dent in its FOIA backlog last year. DHS’s FOIA backlog is at a 10-year low. That’s according to DHS Chief Privacy and FOIA Officer Lynn Parker Dupree. She said the department ended fiscal year 2021 with a backlog of 25,102 cases. “We’re using some automation to help process routine requests so that we can focus our actual manpower on the complex requests.” DHS receives an average of 250,000 cases FOIA requests every year, with the majority of them related to immigration records.