The Supreme Court is considering whether a former mail carrier refusing to work on Sundays put an ‘undue hardship’ on the Postal Service. Attorneys for Gerald Groff, the former rural carrier assistant, said USPS did not go far enough to accommodate his religious beliefs when it scheduled him to work Sundays. The case may soon decide whether USPS or other employers should face a higher bar to demonstrate whether a religious accommodation request would become an “undue hardship” on business. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said Groff’s refusal to work Sundays put a direct burden on other mail carriers. “That caused problems with the timely delivery of mail and actually produced employee retention problems,” Prelogar said.
A union expansion to reach federal employees in Europe is gaining traction. Just a handful of Defense Department civilian employees have so far joined the newest local chapter for the American Federation of Government Employees. But the union said that number is growing by the day. Once AFGE reaches the 30% threshold of eligible members who sign up, it plans to petition the Federal Labor Relations Authority for formal recognition. AFGE officials hope to meet that goal by the end of the year.
A Biden cabinet official is the latest federal executive found in violation of the Hatch Act. In a letter, Special Counsel Henry Kerner informed President Biden that Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra improperly endorsed the reelection of Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Cailf.), while speaking at a public event last fall. The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from using their official authority or influence to affect the outcome of an election. Becerra told the Office of Special Council that his remarks were off-the-cuff and since then he has received additional training on the Hatch Act.
Defense Department personnel are set to get new guidelines for handling classified information. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is directing DoD’s chief information officer to immediately issue new guidance on proper security procedures for classified info. That comes from a directive signed out by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin yesterday. The CIO’s guidance could include restricting distribution lists for classified networks, allowing limited access to certain intelligence products and only allowing people to print things from top-secret networks by exception. The Pentagon is also considering increasing inspections when people enter and exit classified facilities. Austin’s memo comes after an Air National Guardsman was arrested last week in connection damaging classified data leaks.
The Agriculture Department has presented its initial thinking to move to the next generation of cloud services. USDA is considering a new approach to give mission areas rapid access to cloud capabilities. In a new request for information, Agriculture has laid out this concept called Stratus and asked for industry feedback. USDA envisions a contract vehicle with multiple pools of vendors providing hyperscale cloud services, cloud integration and support, and software-as-a-service capabilities. For this initial RFI, USDA is asking hyperscale cloud providers to answer six questions, including pricing structure, security compliance and consumption models. Responses to the RFI are due by May 4.
The Office of Personnel Management will soon remove COVID-19 from its operating status. Starting May 15, the pandemic will no longer drive agencies' decisions on how and where they serve the public. OPM said agencies should follow White House guidance that calls for more of a balance between telework and in-person work. The change to the operating status only impacts federal employees working "inside the Washington Capital Beltway," as OPM phrased it. Other federal employees should look for announcements issued by individual agencies.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is getting a new Chief of Staff. CISA announced that Kiersten Todt will step down after nearly two years in that role. Todt will return to the private sector, but continue working with CISA in a senior advisory capacity. She will be replaced by Kathryn Coulter Mitchell, who currently serves as the Deputy Under Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate. As CISA’s Chief of Staff, Mitchell will be charged with supporting planning efforts, resourcing decisions, and implementation of the agency’s strategic plan.
Two agencies have agreed to work together to achieve net-zero operations. The Department of Homeland Security and the General Services Administration signed a memorandum of understanding to promote decarbonization, clean-and-resilient technology and high-performance sustainable buildings. This is the first MOU between GSA and another agency specifically with the goal of reducing their environmental footprint. As part of the MOU, the agencies will share technical expertise, tools and training to increase facility sustainability and resilience at the DHS headquarters at St. Elizabeths, as well as throughout DHS’ footprint nationwide.
A new Directed-Energy Lab will offer the Army and industry partners a chance to collaborate on innovation and modernization. The Army Space and Missile Defense Command Technical Center at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama will feature indoor and outdoor facilities to test new technologies. Industries working with the Army can use the lab to benchmark the progress of new products and technology that are still in development. It's the Army’s first lab to provide a third-party source of integration-and-verification of directed-energy weapon systems.
A new initiative started by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering will foster a closer collaboration with companies in the commercial space sector. The office wants help from commercial companies to assess risks and adopt new technologies. Commercial satellites currently play a large role in space intelligence gathering. The research and engineering office wants to expand the role of the commercial space industry and get new ideas and new products designed for defense use. The program will fall under the management of the office’s Director for Space Lindsay Millard.