With the threat of a government shutdown, feds might have questions about how it would affect their pay and benefits. If there is a shutdown this year, it would be the first time all furloughed federal employees are fully guaranteed backpay. In past government shutdowns, feds have always eventually received backpay. But it wasn’t until a 2019 law that retroactive pay was completely safeguarded. During a shutdown, furloughed employees are also unable to take paid leave. But paid time off and sick leave will still accrue. Health insurance coverage does continue during a shutdown for both furloughed and excepted employees. This all comes as up to 2.2 million civilian federal employees face the possibility of either a furlough or work-without-pay under a potential government shutdown.
A watchdog report warns of contaminated water at some federal buildings that could make occupants sick. The inspector general for the federal government’s landlord, the General Services Administration, said it found elevated levels of the Legionella bacteria in the water at six GSA-controlled buildings. The report flaged federal buildings in Detroit, Chicago, Utah, Nebraska and New York state. The bacteria cause a serious type of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease. GSA said it is testing water at larger federal buildings more regularly. GSA said it may provide bottled water to employees at impacted buildings or temporarily close a building if necessary.
The effort to reduce unemployment insurance fraud is intensifying. The General Services Administration and the Labor Department are expanding a pilot program that lets citizens use the Login.gov platform to verify their identities to access unemployment benefits. After a successful 2022 pilot in Arkansas, GSA and Labor said every state can use Login.gov to improve access, decrease fraud and increase security in the delivery of unemployment insurance benefits. Most recently, Hawaii residents impacted by the Maui fires used Login.gov to access multiple agency services, including unemployment insurance benefits, FEMA and Small Business Administration services.
Agencies are looking to technology to help cut into Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) backlogs. At least seven federal agencies are exploring how using artificial intelligence or automation can help process FOIA requests. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is piloting AI software that can redact information from records. The CIA is also testing how AI can assist with the FOIA review process. The Justice Department’s annual report on FOIA said AI can make processing records requests more efficient, but also needs human supervision and safeguards.
The Office of Management and Budget is turning up the heat on House lawmakers over their plan for a 30-day continuing resolution. OMB Director Shalanda Young said the current version would make 8% cuts to non-defense or Veterans Affairs accounts. Young said if these cuts were for a full year, it would force agencies to hire fewer employees, including up to 800 Customs and Border Patrol agents and 4,000 FBI personnel. Young continued to call for House Republicans to work in a bipartisan manner to keep the government open and address emergency needs for the American people.
There's a partial opening in the blockade that has been keeping hundreds of senior military officers from taking their jobs over the last few months. The Senate voted yesterday to confirm Air Force Gen. CQ Brown as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to replace Gen. Mark Milley. Several other military leadership positions are expected on the floor this week, including votes to confirm the commandant of the Marine Corps and the Army’s chief of staff. Almost 300 military nominations are still on hold because of a disagreement with an Alabama senator on DoD’s policies for reimbursing servicemembers who have to travel to other states for abortions or other reproductive health care.
The Department of Homeland Security is turning to former officials and other experts for advice on issues like fentanyl trafficking, terrorism and emerging technology. DHS announced the Homeland Intelligence Experts Group this week. It includes former CIA Director John Brennan, the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and other former intelligence officials, in addition to journalists, human rights advocates and civil libertarians. The group will meet four times a year to provide recommendations to the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis.
A bill on federal IT and another on marijuana use were approved yesterday in the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability. Committee lawmakers unanimously approved the Modernizing Government Technology Reform Act, which would extend the Technology Modernization Fund through 2030 and require agencies to develop IT inventories. The committee also approved the Cannabis Users Restoration of Eligibility (CURE) Act, which would prevent prior marijuana use from becoming grounds to deny someone a job or be rejected for a security clearance.
Some federal employees will get a chance to offer their feedback on the government’s benefits packages. The Office of Personnel Management has opened its latest Federal Employee Benefits Survey. The goal is to collect data on the value of employee benefits. OPM will also ask respondents if they think the currently available benefits meet their needs, or where there might be room for improvement. OPM issues the survey every other year to a random sample of about 100,000 federal employees. The selected feds will receive an email with the benefits survey in the coming weeks.
The Biden administration is getting ready to deliver another round of free COVID-19 rapid tests. Starting this Monday, households will be able to order four free rapid tests through COVIDTests.gov. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Postal Service have delivered more than 755 million tests through the program so far. HHS said the tests can detect the COVID strains that are now spreading. And the agency said the tests won’t expire at least through the end of the year.