$7.9 million retrieved as DHS OIG tackles COVID-19 fraud

In today's Federal Newscast: COVID fraud leads to indictments, convictions and millions recovered, thanks to the efforts of the DHS OIG. Leaders at OPM search f...

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  • Pandemic-related fraud has kept the Department of Homeland Security’s office of inspector general busy. Since January 2020, the DHS OIG has received nearly 7,700  complaints related to the COVID-19 response. In a semiannual report to Congress, the IG said the complaints resulted in 379 high-impact investigations. The work has helped lead to 48 indictments, 29 convictions and $7.9 million dollars in recoveries, restitutions or fines. The DHS OIG is one of nine federal IG offices participating in the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.
  • Congress wants the Defense Department to figure out exactly how much it costs to wear a uniform. The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act directs the DoD to figure out how often its servicemembers are replacing their uniforms, and how much individual members pay out-of-pocket for uniform expenses. Based on that information, DoD will consider whether to give enlisted service members a higher uniform allowance, and whether officers should start getting extra money for uniforms. The Pentagon has four months to complete the study and offer a recommendation.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services wants to hear from the public before significantly increasing its fees for some services. It plans an online public listening session next Wednesday at 2 p.m. on the proposal. The agency is looking to raise fees by $532 million per year over the next 10 years. That’s what USCIS, a mainly fee-funded agency, said it needs to cover its costs. A request for a naturalization hearing, for instance, would jump from $700 to $830.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is ready to make grant funding for IT systems even easier for states to obtain. CMS is testing a continuous authority to operate as part of its DevSecOps pipeline for its electronic advanced planning documents (eAPD) product. The eAPD platform helps state agencies streamline the creation, submission, review and approval of the documents used to request IT grant funding from CMS. CMS worked with the General Services Administration’s 18F organization for two-plus years to develop the eAPD. CMS said the number of documents states must submit decreased by as much as 50% in some cases. Now CMS is rolling out the eAPD product to new systems, including the Medicaid Management Information System.
  • Intelligence agencies want to make technology more accessible for their employees with disabilities. Spy agencies are getting serious about new IT accessibility standards. The intelligence community has not had to comply with federal technology accessibility requirements due to an exception in the law for classified systems. But Jennifer Kron, the deputy chief information officer at the National Security Agency, said that is no longer an excuse. “NSA has said, ‘That’s not how we’re going to do it. We are going to be compliant,’” Kron said. “And we have strong support from across the entire IC from the leadership on down now.” (Intel agency IT leaders prioritize accessibility in technology – Federal News Network)
  • The Justice Department said states cannot sue Postal Service employees for delivering abortion medication. USPS can continue to deliver prescription abortion medications nationwide, without its employees facing legal action in states that have restricted access to abortion. USPS general counsel sought a legal opinion from DOJ after the Supreme Court in June 2022 overturned Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed a federal right to have an abortion. USPS said individuals are responsible for complying with all statutes and regulations when mailing packages. DOJ issued a similar legal opinion protecting VA employees who are authorized to perform abortions under limited circumstances. (USPS employees can’t be sued by states for delivering abortion medications, DOJ finds – Federal News Network)
  • Leaders at the Office of Personnel Management try to find better ways to support their hybrid workforce. OPM is using polling questions during staff meetings to try to fully engage both in-person and virtual attendees. And those poll questions will likely lead to bigger changes for the agency’s workforce. For example, OPM’s Chief Information Officer used the polls to find out which types of “soft skills” training courses the staff most wanted. Based on the results, OPM plans to make the highest-ranked training course available to employees later this year.
  • The Defense Department remains under pressure to improve access to pharmacies in rural areas, including those locally owned, under TRICARE. Seeking a remedy to the situation, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) wrote his third letter since September to the Defense Health Agency and its industry partners under the TRICARE Pharmacy Program contract, known as T-Pharm5. The Oklahoma Republican said while he appreciates DHA reopening access for some of the 15,000 pharmacies initially excluded, the providers are faced with a no-win situation. Lankford said the pharmacies were overwhelmingly offered non-negotiable contracts with reimbursements rates far below cost that would have resulted in significant financial losses for nearly every prescription filled. He wants answers from DHA and its partners to six questions by January 20.
  • A new ‘help wanted’ sign has gone up at the Office of Personnel Management. The agency is looking for a deputy associate director to help lead the work on Federal Executive Boards (FEBs). Staff members at the 28 FEBs across the country help coordinate and communicate information among local federal offices, particularly during emergencies. The FEB network also collaborates on common federal management challenges, such as the hiring process. The new FEB lead will be tasked with developing long-term strategies for FEBs.
  • The State Department is taking a new step to connect emerging technology to its diplomatic mission. The department’s new Office of the Special Envoy for Critical and Emerging Technology is now officially up and running. The department has named Seth Center as deputy envoy to build out the office’s capabilities. The special envoy’s office is focused on developing State Department expertise in biotechnology, advanced computing, artificial intelligence and quantum information technologies.
  • Milancy Harris will serve as the deputy undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, having been sworn-in on January 3. Harris previously served as the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Irregular Warfare and Counterterrorism in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict. In addition to her private sector experience, Harris brings 15 years of government service to the job, mostly focusing on foreign policy, counter-terrorism and intelligence. She began her career in intelligence, serving in analytic roles at the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Counterterrorism Center.


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