One member of Congress is doubling down on efforts to add an inspector general for the Thrift Savings Plan. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton reintroduced a bill to establish an IG office for the agency that manages the TSP. Norton said she continues to hear from participants about challenges with the TSP system, after the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board rolled over to a new recordkeeper last summer. Norton also led the charge in pushing the Government Accountability Office to conduct a comprehensive review of the planning, contract award and implementation of the new TSP system.
The Commerce Department’s inspector general is preparing for billions of dollars in new spending under the CHIPS Act. The Commerce Department Office of the Inspector General has just under 200 people today. But it plans to grow to more than 230 staff this year, and beyond 250 in fiscal 2024. Commerce is preparing to make the initial round of grants under the $50 billion dollar CHIPS Act, which is aimed at expanding domestic production of semiconductors. The Commerce IG is building out two separate teams to oversee that spending. And it’s looking for individuals with a background in semiconductor technology to help with the oversight.
The Postal Service has ended another month in the red, as it reports a $138 million net loss in February. In January, the net loss was more than a billion dollars. First-class mail volume was down more than 9% compared to the same period last year and package volume is down more than 17%. USPS is reporting an over $2 billion dollar net loss for fiscal 2023 so far. That’s more than double the loss USPS had expected at this point in the fiscal year.
The Office of Personnel Management expects to receive a much higher volume of calls during next year's Open Season. OPM is moving postal employees and retirees into a different health insurance marketplace from the rest of the federal workforce, starting in January 2025. That is required under the Postal Service Reform Act signed into law last year. OPM is asking Congress for more than $37 million in fiscal 2024 to stand up the new Postal Service Health Benefits Program. Part of the money would go toward creating a Customer Support Center (CSC) that would help enroll postal employees and annuitants in new health plans and answer their questions.
The Biden administration is figuring out a way to bring some standardization for how agencies can hire cyber workers. The White House's Office of the National Cyber Director and the Office of Personnel Management are teaming up to tackle the challenge of bringing cybersecurity workers into government. Kemba Walden, the acting director of ONCD, told the House Oversight and Accountability Committee the goal is to lower barriers and increase incentives to hire cyber workers. "We're working with OPM to shore up and harmonize the differing federal authorities across departments and agencies for hiring and retaining talent in this space. We are working with OPM on a legislative proposal," Walden said. That proposal is still under development, ONCD says.
Enrollees in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program may want to take a closer look at Medicare Part D. The Inflation Reduction Act has made some significant changes to Part D plans, including capping out-of-pocket spending and the cost of insulin. The Office of Personnel Management is now encouraging FEHB carriers to offer more Medicare Advantage plans, which include Medicare Part D. Federal health experts say the changes from the Inflation Reduction Act could also lead to cost savings for FEHB participants, up to $8,000 in some cases.
An industry association is pressing the General Services Administration for more details on its plans to expand a pricing data program. The Coalition for Government Procurement wrote to Sonny Hashmi, the commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service at GSA, asking when the agency plans to apply the Transactional Data Reporting (TDR) program across all schedule contracts. The Coalition also asked the FAS about its plans to train contracting officers on how to best take advantage of TDR. GSA launched TDR in 2016, with the goal of providing contracting officers with real-time pricing and other supply chain-related data.
The Navy is offering paid apprenticeships and other training to increase the pool of skilled workers to build ships. Currently 30% of shipyard workers have less than five years experience. The new program is in response to the challenges the Navy and industry have faced over the last year and a half. Public shipyards had higher-than-expected attrition in their labor forces, as well as challenges to recruiting new workers in a tight labor market. The problem of finding enough skilled shipyard workers is causing delays for new submarine programs.
Family members of active duty, reserve and retired service members can now renew their Uniformed Services ID cards online. DoD started the pilot program as an alternative to requiring dependents to show up in person at ID-card offices. To be eligible, the dependent's active duty sponsor has to have a common access card. The ID cardholder must already be enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System and be verified by the sponsor within 90 days before the request. DoD uses the dependent IDs for access to installations, and for benefits like health care and commissaries.
The business practices of cloud computing companies are coming under the microscope at the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC issued a request for information last week seeking comment on a range of issues related to cloud services, including market power and potential security risks. The commission is studying the use of cloud services across specific sectors like healthcare, finance, transportation, eCommerce and defense. And the regulator is also digging into questions around the contracting practices of cloud companies. Comments are due to the FTC by May 22.