Government events may soon look a little like before COVID-19

In today's Federal Newscast, the Safer Federal Workforce Committee issues a slew of updates to the governmentwide policy for dealing with COVID-19.

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  • The General Services Administration is making it easier for new companies to get a schedule contract. Starting on May 16, GSA began letting any company with less than two years of corporate experience submit an application to obtain a schedule contract. In expanding the Startup Springboard initiative, which started in 2017 just for technology firms, newer companies in any field can submit information to GSA such as the background of their executives, project experience of key personnel and financial documentation to demonstrate their ability to successfully perform in the federal market.
  • Employees at the Defense Health Agency are among the newest feds to elect for union coverage. With a majority vote of over 60%, DHA headquarters staff pick the American Federation of Government Employees to be their sole union representative. The agency, comprising the Defense Department’s civilian healthcare workers, currently has 2,200 employees. But AFGE says it will reach about 65,000 later this year, with DoD transferring workers from other units. AFGE calls the election a “big win” because it’s difficult to unionize dispersed employees — much of DHA headquarters is working remotely and spread across the country. (Federal News Network)
  • The State Department’s new Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy is one step closer to getting its first permanent director. President Joe Biden plans to nominate cybersecurity executive and former Marine Nate Frick to lead the bureau. The bureau began operations in April, and is focused on cybersecurity through the lens of national security, economic opportunities and human rights. Frick currently serves as general manager for information security at the internet search company Elastic. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced last October that the agency would stand up this bureau as part of a broader modernization of the agency.
  • There’s a new admiral at the helm of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Vice Adm. Frank Whitworth the Third took over as Director of NGA last week. He replaced Vice Adm. Robert Sharp. Whitworth was previously director of intelligence on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. Sharp had been director at NGA since February 2019 and retires after 33 years of service in the Navy.
  • The Defense Department’s Inspector General helped with 159 criminal convictions in the first half of fiscal 2022. The organization also helped bring in nearly $750 million in civil judgements and about $190 million in criminal penalties. All three of those categories are up from the previous six months. In the last half of the 2021 fiscal year, the DoD IG helped with 139 criminal convictions, about $361 million in civil judgements and $456 million in criminal fines.
  • Children going to schools operated by the Defense Department overseas will need to start coughing up lunch money again. When COVID hit, the Agriculture Department and the Defense Department decided to waive the cost of school lunches for children going to schools operated by the Pentagon overseas. That waiver is now set to expire at the end of June. Beginning next school year, kids in elementary school will need to pay $3.50 for lunch. Secondary school children will pay three seventy five. Breakfast will be $2. Families may apply for free or reduced lunches for their children starting in mid-July.
  • The Army has separated more than 800 soldiers for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine since it announced the rule back in February. It’s also issued reprimands to about 3,400 soldiers. As of last week, 96.9% of active troops, and 88.6% of reserve members were fully vaccinated for COVID-19. More than seven hundred active duty troops requested medical exemptions from getting the vaccine while more than 4,400 requested religious exemptions. Of those requests, the Army says it only granted 22 medical and 11 religious exemptions.
  • The Safer Federal Workforce Committee issues a slew of updates to the governmentwide policy for dealing with COVID-19. Agencies can now host conferences or events larger than 50 people. Federal employees, contractors and visitors need to self-certify they are full vaccinated or have had a negative test in the previous three days to enter a federal facility. These are among the changes in 10 areas the Safer Federal Workforce Committee made late last week to the COVID-19 protocols agencies must adhere to. Among the other areas the committee changed include official travel, mask wearing and testing. This was the first major update to the frequently asked questions in almost three months.
  • Top members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee are calling on the VA to cut the red tape needed to certify volunteers who drive veterans to medical appointments. The Senate last year passed the Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act, which requires the VA to set a national policy regarding medical exams required to certify volunteer drivers. But Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and committee members Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) say the VA has yet to complete this requirement. The senators say the lack of a standard process results in long wait times for volunteers to receive their certification.
  • The Labor Department awards more than $57 million in grants to organizations that help veterans experiencing homelessness find work, get job training or apprenticeships and other assistance. The money comes from Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service and funds 112 continuation grants, plus 56 new grants totaling more than $20 million. Recipients can use a range of services to help homeless veterans and those at risk. Veteran homelessness is a priority for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, led by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge, and VA Secretary Denis McDonough.
  • Recent high-profile cyber attacks reveal the urgent need to address cybersecurity weaknesses. In response, the Government Accountability Office asks the Department of Health and Human Services to prioritize health IT and cybersecurity. GAO recommends that the agency work with sector partners to adopt a cyber framework, as well as maximize coordination in its cyber assessments. If implemented, the recommendations may improve HHS’s ability to address cyber risks. Currently, GAO has a total of 56 open recommendations for the department.
  • New recommendations are out for how the government can address the national cyber workforce shortage. One potential job for the White House’s relatively new national cyber director? Take charge on addressing the cyber workforce shortage. A new report from the Cyberspace Solarium Commission says National Cyber Director Chris Inglis should lead a cyber workforce development strategy. The commission says the biggest issue agencies face today is the lack of good data on their cyber and IT personnel requirements. The report also recommends Congress grant agencies additional flexibilities when it comes to cyber hiring. (Federal News Network)
  • $6 million will be going to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to explore the idea of using geothermal heating and cooling technologies at federal facilities. The money is coming from the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The funding will go towards technical assistance for geothermal energy deployment at federal sites, helping reduce or replace electricity demand, offset peak loads to the grid, and add resiliency and security to local energy systems.

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