House Democrats continue to spar with Homeland Security’s inspector general

In today's Federal Newscast, lawmakers look to address what they say is troubling behavior by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.

  • The Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) backlog of retirement claims shrank by more than 2,200 in May. OPM’s inventory backlog dropped to just over 18,000 claims, making it the lowest it has been since June 2020. While the inventory backlog lowered, OPM still has improvements to make as it is more than 5,000 above the steady state goal of 13,000. The time it took OPM to process retirement claims, however, did not make any progress. On average, it took 71 days, one more day compared to April. OPM’s target goal is to process claims in 60 days.
  • New small business contracting numbers are in for fiscal 2022 and the results are mixed. First, the good news, federal agencies beat the governmentwide goal of awarding 23% of all contracts to small firms for at least the sixth year in a row. New data from the Category Management office shows agencies gave about 24.1% of all eligible dollars to small businesses. Now for the bad news, that's more than a half a percent less than what agencies achieved in 2021, which equates to about $5.2 billion. In all, small businesses captured almost 63% of all awards from civilian and defense agencies last year, up from 59% in 2021.
    (Category management small business landscape - General Services Administration)
  • As wildfires worsen, Congress urges more support for federal firefighters. A group of bipartisan senators said time is running out to give federal first responders long-term benefits. 16,000 federal firefighters received a temporary pay raise as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. But that funding will expire this September. The lawmakers, along with union leaders, are pushing the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee to consider a bill that would authorize a permanent raise. The senators said, especially amid rapidly worsening fire seasons, the investments are critical for workforce retention, housing costs, work-life balance and mental health and wellbeing of federal firefighters.
    (Letter to HSGAC for federal firefighters - Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.))
  • For the first time, financial assistance staff in agencies have a standardized course for grants management. The most recent update of the President's Management Agenda (PMA) said the launch of a Grants 101 training course last winter was one of two key accomplishments. The Grants 101 training includes five modules to provide employees with some basic knowledge and skillsets. The other key accomplishment was a job announcement to streamline the hiring of grants management specialists across all agencies. The PMA update said 44% of all those who applied and made the certification list were hired by different agencies.
  • Senate Republicans introduce a bill to increase oversight of foreign aid coming from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Enhancement Act builds on legislation Congress approved in 2016, which led to State and USAID developing a foreign aid dashboard. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the dashboard doesn’t reliably disclose who implements aid projects. Their new bill would require agencies to disclose information on prime contractors and subcontractors receiving foreign aid dollars.
  • The State Department is ramping up hiring to handle a historic increase in passport applications. The department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs is on track issue a record 25 million passport books and cards this year, about a 15% increase from last year. Routine processing for a passport now takes about between 10-13 weeks, and expedited processing takes about 7-9 weeks. Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Rena Bitter said the bureau hired 177 new passport adjudicators this year, growing its workforce by about 10%. But Bitter said the bureau also needs to update its IT systems to stay ahead of its workload.
  • Agencies have about two months to tell the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) how many Hispanic federal employees are working in their offices. They’ll also have to explain any efforts they made to address underrepresentation, career development and retention of Hispanic feds over the last year. The goal is to identify barriers in employment for the underrepresented demographic group and eventually make corrections where needed. The upcoming August 11 deadline also applies to reporting the same information for employees with disabilities who are working at agencies. The data call from OPM comes directly from the agency’s Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA).
  • President Joe Biden put forward his pick for a key national security position on Wednesday. Biden will nominate Mike Casey to be director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center. Casey has served as staff director of the Senate Intelligence Committee since 2016. He has also served at the House Armed Services Committee, and also was legislative director to former Oregon Congressman Vic Snyder. The NCSC has not had a permanent director since Biden was sworn into office.
  • Lawmakers look to address what they said is troubling behavior by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee introduced the DHS Inspector General Transparency Act yesterday. The bill would require the IG to publish reports that substantiate whistleblower retaliation, report to Congress on delayed or terminated audits, provide Congress with data on tips and complaints made to the OIG hotline. Democrats have sparred with DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari over numerous issues in recent years. They said he delayed informing Congress about missing Secret Service texts from Jan. 6 and suppressed findings related to domestic abuse and sexual harassment at DHS, among other actions.
  • The Defense Department's (DoD) use of controlled unclassified information needs better identification and clearer instructions. A DoD inspector general's report said the Pentagon should improve its guidance to ensure the services are properly marking documents. Both contractors and military personnel also need better training on how to work with the classification process. The IG's office also recommends a DoD-wide solution for automatically populating documents and e-mails with the required markings. DoD agencies agreed with the recommendations.
    (Audit of the DoD’s oversight of the controlled unclassified information - Department of Defense Office of Inspector General)
  • A former acting deputy secretary of defense for international security affairs drank on the job and failed to treat staff with dignity and respect. Those were the findings of a Defense Department inspector general's report on Michael Cutrone, a former assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. The report said Cutrone created an intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment. Multiple sources reported his actions and the investigation highlights the importance of people coming forward when they believe there is evidence of wrongdoing. Cutrone retired from DoD in January 2021. The IG's office recommended that a copy of the report be placed in his personnel file.
    (Report on the investigation on Michael Cutrone - Department of Defense Office of Inspector General)

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