A steady stream of new mail is arriving at 25 federal agencies from the House Oversight and Accountability Committee. House Republicans, in a series of letters to agency heads, are doubling down on federal telework policies. Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) is asking agencies for specifics on the number of teleworking employees, telework-eligible positions and how often employees telework in a given week. The letters are the latest push from GOP lawmakers in their frequent calls for agencies to return to pre-pandemic telework policies.
The Office of Personnel Management’s new “retirement quick guide” outlines each step of the retirement claims process, common mistakes from employees and information on different benefits options. The end goal is to reduce errors in applications, and by extension, address bigger problems for retirement services. “We want information at their fingertips. Our hope is that it will reduce the amount of time that it takes to process a retirement application, resulting in a reduction in our backlog," said Lori Amos, OPM’s deputy associate director for retirement. OPM plans to update the guide every month.
The Interior Department has notified some federal employees about a potential data exposure earlier this year. The Interior Business Center (IBC) said a misconfiguration in its Datamart system allowed a handful of human resources employees to view personnel records from other agencies for six days in mid-January. The IBC provides agencies with shared HR IT services. The center said the exposure was due to unintentional user error, and the security setting was fixed within a week. The scope of the disclosure was limited to 22 HR professionals, and the IBC said it has no reason to believe any personal information was misused.
Veterans are about to see a higher cost-of-living adjustment. The House passed the Veterans Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act, which now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk. The bill will increase the rate of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities, as well as for survivors of some veterans. The increase in VA benefits will equal the cost-of-living increase provided to Social Security beneficiaries. The new VA cost-of-living adjustment goes into effect this December.
GSA is trying once again to expand its commercial platform pilot. The General Services Administration said it fixed its solicitation to bring more companies in to the commercial platform initiative after a protest stalled its initial efforts. The cross-agency priority effort is to improve how agencies buy commercial items through common platforms. The National Industries for the Blind filed a protest with the Court of Federal Claims in February over non-compliance with the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act (JWOD). GSA said it's taken corrective action and now is requiring bidders to say how they will comply with the JWOD Act. GSA has reopened bids to all those who initially submitted proposals in February. New bids are due by June 12.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has set a year-end goal to implement a majority of its new recruitment and retention tools. The VA is setting a systemwide goal to have every network use at least half of new PACT Act workforce authorities by the end of the year. Those include higher limits for student loan repayments; recruitment, relocation and retention incentives and eliminating statutory limits on awards and bonuses. Undersecretary for Health Shereef Elnahal said facilities are "well on their way” to achieving that year-end goal. “There are a number of additional types of authorities that allow us to be that much more of an attractive place of work for people considering the VA," Elnahal said.
Texas lawmakers are leading a bill calling for regular updates on Postal Service crime. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) introduced the Upholding a Secure Postal System Act (USPS Act). The bill would require the Government Accountability Office to give congressional committees annual updates on mail theft. The bill would require GAO to give these congressional briefings for five years and include the steps USPS is taking to combat mail theft. USPS has seen 25,000 incidents of mail theft from its blue collection boxes so far in fiscal 2023.
The Air Force inspector general is looking into the chain of events that lead to the security breach at the Massachusetts Air National Guard base. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told a group of defense reporters on Monday that he stays in close touch with the IG and expects a report soon. Kendall said while the IG report will not be made public, it is one of the steps needed before the base can be cleared to resume its operational role. Intelligence work at the base is temporarily shut down.
The new acquisition rule for Project Labor Agreements for large-scale construction projects is raising the ire of House Republicans. Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), Chairman of the Oversight and Accountability Committee, led a group of 18 lawmakers asking the Office of Management and Budget to provide a briefing about the draft PLA rule by May 31. The lawmakers are concerned that the acquisition rule, which is close to being final, would raise taxpayer costs, cut non-union workers out of federal projects and force right-to-work states to freeze local workers out of cooperative federal projects. Comer asked OMB to provide documents and answer questions before the briefing, including all economic analyses.
A new plan for modernizing the Defense Department's record keeping will help users access data faster. The strategy, released Monday, lists goals for record management including making it easier to find and use information for decision making, automating the process to retrieve-and-create records, and then manage them throughout their lifespan. In the short term, the strategy calls on the DoD chief information officer to turn the strategy into action. The plan identifies steps to be taken over a five-year period to accomplish the goals of the strategy.
New cybersecurity legislation is on the move in the House. The Homeland Security Committee approved five bipartisan bills last week, including the Securing Open Source Software Act. It would direct the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to establish a risk framework for the government’s use of open source software components. The committee also passed the DHS Cybersecurity On-The-Job Training Act. That bill would create a voluntary training program at DHS so even non-cyber employees can learn the ins-and-outs of cybersecurity.