Senate bill would improve death benefits for civilian feds

In today's Federal Newscast: Sen. Sinema (I-Ariz.) has introduced a bill that would improve death benefits for civilian feds. The SBA has come under fire for pl...

  • Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) offered up a companion bill aiming to improve death benefits for civilian feds. The new legislation would offer 10 times the current benefit amounts for families of civilian workers who are killed on official duty. The bill would also offer more money to the families to cover funeral expenses. The goal of the bill is to bring benefits for civilian employees in line with what military members and Foreign Service employees already get. Sinema's bill comes after the introduction of the bipartisan House version earlier this month. Federal unions and employee organizations have been quick to voice their support for the legislation.
  • The General Services Administration has some big changes in the works for its widely used login service. Within the next year, GSA plans to add a face-matching technology to The agency will also give customers the option to verify their identities in person at a post office or through a live video chat with a trained identity verification professional. Agencies are increasingly using to provide access to government programs and services online. GSA said agencies will have the option of whether to adopt the facial recognition feature.
  • The Social Security Administration said it overpaid about two million beneficiaries over the past two years, because it is dealing with its lowest staffing level in 25 years. At the same time, SSA is providing benefits to a record 71 million Americans. Kilolo Kijakazi, the acting SSA commissioner, told lawmakers that understaffing is part of what is leading to these overpayments. “SSA cannot continue to do more with less to achieve the high-quality service that our beneficiaries deserve," Kijakazi said. SSA hired 7,800 new employees in fiscal 2023, but it has had to put a freeze on new hires and overtime since Congress passed a continuing resolution last month.
  • The General Services Administration is almost at the end of the beginning for its OASIS+ contract. Vendor bids are due Friday for the OASIS+ professional services follow-on vehicle and GSA does not expect to extend the deadline. Tiffany Hixson, the assistant commissioner for the Office of Professional Services and Human Capital Categories in the Federal Acquisition Service, said this, however, is not the last chance for companies to bid. "It's not a one and done. Once we get done with the initial source selections for Oasis+, we will be reopening the solicitations and plan to leave those open for most of the program's lifecycle," Hixson said. She added that GSA does not plan to put a cap on the number of awards it makes, which is part of why it will have ongoing on-ramps.
  • The Small Business Administration is coming under fire for its decision not to collect repayment of loans of less than $100,000 under pandemic relief programs. House Small Business Committee leaders are threatening to subpoena SBA Administrator Isabella Guzman if they don't get the documents they want by October 25. Republican lawmakers said the Biden administration's decision not to pursue repayment of loans under $100,000 through the Paycheck Protection Program and the COVID Emergency Injury Disaster Loan program is a dereliction of duty.
  • Workforce planning issues are hindering the productivity of the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review and that office has not developed a clear plan to address current staffing needs, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. GAO added that the office at DoJ doesn't have assigned roles or responsibilities to help guide long-term workforce planning. Those challenges are, in part, contributing to a backlog of nearly 2.2 million pending immigration cases.
  • The latest technology might soon help the Coast Guard in its battle with illegal fishing. Using unmanned technology and artificial intelligence, as well as digesting and analyzing open-source data, could help the Coast Guard pinpoint areas where there is illegal fishing. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Linda Fagan said this would let ships go right to the source of illegal activity.
    (Tech could help the Coast Guard catch illegal fishing - Adm. Linda Fagan speaking at a CSIS event)
  • The Department of Homeland Security honored 266 employees with the Secretary’s Award this week. The award recognizes individual and collective achievements of the DHS workforce. Recipients included those involved in processing immigrants at the southwest border, employees who deployed across the country to respond to natural disasters and the staff who helped resettle refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine.
  • The security classification system could get an overhaul to decrease overclassification and prevent mishandling classified information. A bipartisan group of representatives is proposing the reform in order to advance better use of intelligence and to improve public trust. For example, the proposed bill would codify classification authority, simplify declassification, promote sensible classification training and invest in technology to modernize the classification system.
    (The classification system could have some major reforms under proposed bill - Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio))
  • Agencies will have to write a better playbook for better customer experience, if a bipartisan bill makes it through Congress. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) joined Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) to introduce the Improving Government Services Act. If passed, the bill would require agencies to come up with a plan to improve their level of service to the public. That would include providing a callback option for those seeking help and training programs for employees. The bill also pushes agencies to pursue self-service options for their public-facing services.

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