A bill to restore full Social Security benefits to certain federal employees is regaining steam in the House. Co-sponsor Abigail Spanberger of Virginia said hundreds of members from both parties are backing the bill, which didn't get a vote last year. The Social Security Fairness Act would end the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset starting next year. The 40-year-old rules deduct Social Security benefits from some 2.8 million retirees and dependents. Spanberger said Congress has a busy agenda, "but it can't be used as an excuse for not taking a vote on a piece of legislation that frankly has received so much support in the past. We know the votes are there."
(Federal Drive with Tom Temin - Abigail Spanberger)
The departments of Justice and Labor continue to feel the ire of Congress over the billions of dollars fraudulently paid out under the unemployment insurance (UI) program during the pandemic. Five Republican senators wrote to Justice and Labor leadership seeking answers to eight questions around the steps they are taking to recover what some auditors estimate to be $65 billion or more in bogus payments. The lawmakers are trying to determine how effective two different task forces are in recovering fraudulent COVID-19 UI benefits. The letter was sent after a House hearing earlier this month revealed the UI program's improper payment rate was 21.52% in 2022.
The National Security Agency released a cybersecurity information sheet to help teleworkers protect their home networks from cyber attacks. The agency said home networks can serve as access points for criminal activity and theft of sensitive information. Spearphishing, malicious ads, email attachments and untrusted applications can present risks for home internet users. NSA wants to minimize the risk by teaching users how to secure their devices and networks and learn safe online behavior.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is looking to expedite hiring as part of an agreement with one of its unions. The VA reached an agreement with the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) on several memorandums of understanding. One allows the VA to proceed with the next steps of the hiring process within three days of posting a job announcement, rather than waiting the previous standard of 15 days. NFFE expects that should help VA to shave a few weeks off the hiring process. NFFE General Counsel Jeff Friday said the memo addresses the union’s number-one issue, which is understaffing. "It’s kind of a self-perpetuating thing — they have trouble hiring, and then people are overworked, and then people leave,” Friday said.
IT leaders at agencies are homing in on fraud detection and prevention. The federal chief information officers council is putting a renewed focus on anti-fraud tools. The effort comes after fraudsters ripped off potentially tens of billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief. Federal CIO Clare Mortarana said IT leaders will need to work across agencies, with chief financial officers, the oversight community and others, to tackle the challenge. “This is not a budget problem or a management problem or a CIO Council problem,” Martorana said. “This is actually an American problem. And we are here together to try and solve that.”
A decade in the making, we finally have new data on how agencies are meeting Section 508 accessibility requirements. A majority of documents agencies put out as PDFs are not easily accessed by people with disabilities. This was one of several new findings from the Justice Department in its first governmentwide report on Section 508 compliance since 2012. The new data also shows that while many agencies are meeting 508 standards with their websites, several — including the departments of Agriculture, Labor, State and Veterans Affairs — said 50% or less of their public-facing websites meet accessibility requirements. DoJ made 21 recommendations for how all agencies can improve how they serve people with disabilities. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) has been leading the charge to get DoJ to follow the 1998 law.
A new bill under consideration would instruct agencies to do a deeper analysis before relocating an office. The Conducting Oversight to Secure Transparency (COST) of Relocations Act would require agencies to conduct and then publish a cost-benefit analysis before relocating a federal facility. The analysis would consider costs of real estate and staffing, as well as more long-term impacts, like employee attrition and loss of institutional knowledge. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) introduced the bill in response to reports that showed negative outcomes on staff attrition and agency mission, after the Agriculture Department relocated two major research facilities in 2019.
A top House Republican is probing a no-bid contract awarded by the Department of Homeland Security. DHS awarded the $1.5 million legal services contract without competition in late January. Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) is asking the agency for more details on the deal, including a copy of the contract itself. Comer said DHS has a pattern of relying on sole source, no-bid contracts, citing an $87 million dollar Immigration and Customs Enforcement contract from 2021, where the IG found the agency failed to meet sole-source requirements.
A watchdog report finds the Department of Veterans Affairs needs to beef-up its security to deal with recent threats. The agency saw 36 serious incidents in fiscal 2022, including a bomb threat that forced an evacuation at one VA facility. The IG report said police shortages contribute to the security vulnerabilities and noted that there have been significant police staffing shortages at VA since at least fiscal 2018.
Edwards Air Force Base has entered a land-management agreement for a new solar energy facility on base property. In the largest Defense Department public-private partnership agreement of its kind, the energy station will feature close to two million solar panels that can produce up to 1,300 megawatts of power to the California Independent System Operator grid. That's enough to power over 238,000 homes, while displacing more than 320,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually. The new facility will potentially lower electricity costs for the civilian workforce, base residents and surrounding communities.
According to attorneys who specialize in representing feds who get called into committee investigations, preparation is important, but how feds handle House committee hearings can be crucial. Witnesses should, for example, stay on message and avoid sharing details outside their area of expertise. The attorneys said staying on target and remaining calm will help feds avoid becoming scapegoats of competing political agendas in Congress during a divided government.