Senate Republicans join calls to bring federal employees back to the office. The House’s SHOW UP Act now has a companion bill in the Senate. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced the legislation to return federal employees to pre-pandemic work locations, in effect increasing in-office work. The bill’s supporters said returning to the office would improve agencies’ accountability and productivity. But the SHOW UP Act is unlikely to become law, as Democrats are largely against the bill, and say telework helps with federal recruitment and retention. The House passed its version of the SHOW UP Act along party lines earlier this year.
The IRS is planning to let taxpayers test out an IRS electronic tax-filing platform. The IRS is launching a pilot program next filing season that will allow some taxpayers to use a prototype online tax-filing platform that is run by the agency. That pilot will help the Biden administration decide whether it should scale up the program for the rest of the public. The IRS partnered with the U.S. Digital Service to build the direct-file prototype. IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel told reporters that taxpayers can still use tax software, work with private tax professionals or file a paper tax return, if they prefer. “Taxpayers will always have choices for how they file their taxes," Werfel said.
Federal Executive Boards (FEBs) saved the government millions of dollars in 2022. FEBs are a forum for communication and collaboration among federal agencies outside of Washington, D.C, where some 85% of all feds work. With the help of the 28 FEBs nationwide, the Office of Personnel Management estimated that agencies saved $6.6 million last year in training costs for federal employees. FEBs’ work in alternative dispute resolutions resulted in another nearly $10 million in government savings. During 2022, OPM said FEBs also helped raise millions of dollars for charity organizations, donated thousands of pounds of food and hosted blood drives.
Hundreds of thousands of current and former federal employees are at risk of identity theft. More than 237,000 current and former Transportation Department employees are on high alert, because DoT's employee transit benefits processing system, called TRANServe, suffered a data breach. A department spokesperson said DoT's CIO's office is investigating the breach and is working with other agencies, including CISA, to mitigate the incident. Meanwhile, DoT has suspended access to the relevant systems while they further investigate the issue, and secure-and-restore the systems. Reuters first reported the data breach.
The Pentagon’s acquisition leadership wants to make it easier to buy commercially available products. Although efforts are in the works to expand those acquisitions, defense leaders said more has to happen. The Defense for Research and Engineering's Office of Strategic Capital and the Air Force AFWERX program, a technology directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory, have helped expand purchasing of commercial products. Defense officials, though, said they need more programs to expand commercial purchasing.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is renewing its multibillion-dollar contract with Oracle-Cerner for a new Electronic Health Record (EHR). The renewed contract includes terms meant to hold the vendor accountable for persistent outages. The renegotiated contract includes larger fines Oracle-Cerner will need to pay VA, if the EHR doesn’t meet performance targets. Instead of renewing the EHR contract for another five years, as originally planned, the VA renegotiated with Oracle-Cerner to extend the contract for five one-year terms.
The Office of Personnel Management lowered its backlog of retirement claims by more than 2,500 in April. This is the lowest the inventory has been since December 2020, although it's still more than 7,000 claims above its steady state goal of 13,000. While its backlog inventory lowered, the amount of time to process a claim increased. It took, on average, 70 days for a claim to be processed in April. This is compared to 69 days in March and 65 days in February. OPM's goal is to process claims in an average of 60 days.
Three agencies have kicked off a test to buy environmentally cleaner construction materials. The General Services Administration, the Federal Highway Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency announced the interim requirements for low-embodied carbon construction materials. Over the next six months, GSA will buy these materials for 11 infrastructure projects funded by the Inflation Reduction Act. The agencies developed these requirements by gathering market insights from domestic manufacturers, local suppliers, small businesses and environmental and labor groups over five months. The goal of this test run is to gain actual market availability insights, inform any adjustments that may be needed and let GSA issue a final set of material requirements for the agency’s Inflation Reduction Act construction program.
A group of professors and cadets at the Air Force Academy want to make a robot part of operational Air Force missions. The research focuses on gathering data and developing solutions on how to integrate a robot into the military and use it for base defense. Senior and first-year cadets collaborate to define customer requirements for the robot by using modeling software and three-dimensional applications. The research also looks at measuring human behavior and people’s attitudes toward being in close proximity to a robot.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Peace Corps are going to work together more closely to give volunteers a better way to address climate and other environmental challenges. Through a new memorandum of understanding (MOU), the EPA will provide training, assistance and project implementation to Peace Corps volunteers. The MOU also creates career opportunities at the EPA for returning volunteers. The two agencies have worked together since 2010 on an assortment of issues, including providing technical input on training.