House Republicans are demanding eight years of data from the Energy Department about employees who may have breached conflict of interest rules. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology leaders wrote to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm last week seeking details about how DoE trains, manages and ensures employees do not work on projects related to stocks they own. The letter comes after a Wall Street Journal story that said more than 130 officials in the Energy Department collectively reported about 2,700 trades in companies, that ethics officers labeled as related to the agency’s work. The committee wants answers from DoE by April 19.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is adding almost half a billion dollars to the ceiling of a popular health IT contract. The Veterans Health Administration's Integrated Healthcare Transformation IDIQ contract is just three years old, but it has surpassed all expectations. So much so that VA is adding $450 million to the $1 billion ceiling of the contract and is preparing for version 2. VA said it originally anticipated that the next contract would be competed in the 2028-2029 timeframe. But now service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses should expect to compete for the next IHT contract this year. VA said it expects to brief industry on its strategy by the end of May.
The Defense Department still has work to do when it comes to fixing its privatized military housing. A report from the Government Accountability Office offered 19 recommendations for ways DoD can improve oversight. Issues include assistance available to residents, poor housing conditions, and private company performance. Past efforts to reform military-housing oversight involved legislation with specific oversight requirements. Now, GAO wants the Pentagon to improve inspection standards and training, and offer more detailed guidance for dispute resolution. DoD agreed with the recommendations, but has yet to resolve them.
The largest federal employee union is seeing its membership get even larger. The American Federation of Government Employees reports its highest net gain of bargaining unit members in nearly seven years. The union is currently at its highest membership since September 2021. AFGE said its goal is to reach 290,000 members by the end of 2023. AFGE's announcement comes after the Biden administration reported a recent 20% increase in governmentwide union membership. Close to 80,000 feds joined a union between September 2021 and September 2022.
A top whistleblower advocate in the Senate calls on the Biden administration to honor whistleblowers in a new way. Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is calling on President Joe Biden to honor government whistleblowers in a White House Rose Garden ceremony this summer. Grassley is asking the White House to hold the ceremony on July 30 to celebrate National Whistleblower Appreciation Day. Grassley has made this request to every president since Ronald Reagan, but none has taken him up on his request. Grassley, who is co-chair of the Senate Whistleblower Caucus, said the ceremony would recognize whistleblowers for their work rooting out fraud, waste and abuse.
The Defense Department has ambitious goals to modernize its software development practices, but implementing them is a lot harder. That is one finding from a new Government Accountability Office study. Last year, when DoD published its first software modernization strategy, officials said they would have a detailed implementation plan ready-to-go by August 2022. That plan still has not been published, and GAO said the department still has a long way to go to map out the workforce it will need to achieve the strategy. As of now, DoD is still collecting data about which members of its workforce are involved in software development.
The Office of Personnel Management is looking to hire a resident medical expert. The opening is for an OPM chief medical officer, who would be responsible for informing agency executives on changes to clinical guidelines, health benefits, insurance claims and more. The position would also work as a liaison with health carriers for OPM's various health benefits programs. OPM is currently reviewing job applications for the open position.
The State Department owns thousands of properties worldwide, but is having trouble finding a workforce to maintain those facilities. The Government Accountability Office found the department, as of fiscal 2020, reported a $3 billion maintenance backlog. Last year, the department saw a 23% vacancy rate for its more than 240 Foreign Service maintenance positions. The department is also having trouble hiring the more than 8,500 locally employed staff it needs to handle facility maintenance all over the world.
The rollout of new packaging for microchips moves the Defense Department a step forward in securing its domestic microelectronics supply chain. BAE Systems received the first two prototypes for DoD's SHIP integrated packaging program last Thursday. The SHIP program develops pathways for access to state-of-the-art microelectronics packaging by turning to commercial industry production to meet DoD’s requirements. The next step involves production of the packaging, which includes tiny chiplets that have advanced functionality, low power, smaller size and cutting-edge performance.