From upcoming 2020 count to USPS reform, here’s what to look for in new year

From the upcoming decennial count, to the start of the taxing filing season, agencies have a lot to deliver in the new year. And speaking of delivering, the Postal Service and lawmakers will take a closer look at a White House task force’s reform plan for the agency.

As part of Federal News Network’s year-end review, here are a few action items that agencies will likely focus their attention on in 2019:

Census Bureau faces a very busy 2019

The Census Bureau will significantly ramp up decennial count operations in 2019. Over the last year, the agency has sought to reassure public concerns, both real and perceived, over whether the first internet-driven population count will protect personally identifiable information.

When it comes to perceived concerns, the agency faces an uphill battle.

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According to the Census Barriers, Attitudes and Motivators Study (CBAMS) the agency released Oct. 31, nearly a quarter of respondents said they were “extremely concerned” or “very concerned” that the Census Bureau would share their answers with other government agencies.

Nearly 30 percent of respondents to the CBAMS survey expressed similar concerns over whether the Census Bureau would keep their responses confidential.

This summer, the Government Accountability Office found that the agency had reported 3,100 security weaknesses “that need to be addressed in the coming months.”

Prior to the release of that GAO report, Kevin Smith, the Census Bureau’s chief information officer, gave an in-depth look at how the agency plans to defend against internal and external cyber threats.

This year, Census completed its end-to-end field test in Providence County, Rhode Island. However, the agency scrapped plans for field tests in suburban Washington state and rural West Virginia.

For all the Census Bureau’s cybersecurity and technology concerns, the Government Publishing Office in 2019 must also re-award a contract for printing the 2020 census forms.

GPO’s first awarded the contract to Cenveo in October 2017, but the company declared bankruptcy, and in a July 2018 ruling, a bankruptcy court judge awarded $5.5 million to Cenveo “for all properly invoiced work completed under an existing print order under the census contract,” while the Justice Department successfully terminated the contract.

GPO’s Office of Inspector General, in a report issued in March, determined the agency lacked “due diligence” in selecting Cenveo for the form-printing contract.”

Lastly, lawmakers have yet to confirm President Donald Trump’s permanent pick to head the agency.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved Steven Dillingham’s nomination to serve as Census Bureau director in November, but his nomination has yet to receive a full Senate vote.

A late start to the 2019 tax filing season?

Over the past year, the IRS has endeavored to update more than 450 forms and 140 IT systems before the start of the tax filing season in January, in order to comply with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

However, the National Treasury Employees Union and tax professionals have expressed concerns over whether a partial government shutdown will impact the start of the 2019 filing season.”

The IRS furloughed about 88 percent of its total workforce on Dec. 22 after lawmakers failed to avert the shutdown at midnight Friday.

Prior to the shutdown, the Treasury Inspector General on Tax Administration (TIGTA) had already expressed concerns in September that IRS is at risk of having to delay the start of the 2019 filing season, due to the amount of IT work that remains to be done.

In December 2013, the IRS delayed the start of the 2014 tax filing season following a 16-day government shutdown in October.

Lawmakers to review Postal Service task force report

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has long been prepared to hold a hearing on the recommendations of the White House’s postal task force, but had been waiting for the task force, chaired by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, to publicly release its final report.

In December, the task force finally unveiled its recommendations. Among them, the task force calls for rolling back collective bargaining rights for postal unions, but does not look to undo the Postal Service’s obligation to pre-fund health benefits for future postal retirees.

However, the report also walks back rhetoric about privatizing the Postal Service, as the Trump administration had outlined in June as part of a broader government reorganization plan.

However, the task force takes a closer look at the Postal Service’s business model, and questions whether the Postal Service should see itself as a mail business that delivers packages, or a package business that also delivers mail.

Big steps for St. E’s, more of the same for FBI HQ

The Department of Homeland Security appears ready to have some good news to show from its languishing St. Elizabeths campus consolidation project.

More than a decade after the Department of Homeland Security first envisioned moving to a consolidated campus east of the Anacostia River, the agency expects to move DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s office to the St. Elizabeths campus between March and April.

More specifically, Nielsen’s new office will be located in the pre-Civil War Center Building. The on-track move stands out as a bright spot in the General Services Administration’s largest construction project, which continues to face budget shortfalls and construction delays, as well as its share of skeptics who question whether DHS can still bring all of its component leadership under one roof.

Meanwhile, House lawmakers will also likely call for hearings and conduct investigations into current plans for the FBI’s headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C.

The General Services Administration must already conduct “a more comprehensive”  search of records it has on the FBI headquarters, a District Court judge ruled in December after a watchdog group filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

In May, another District Court judge ordered GSA to widen its search for documents related to a FOIA request on the Trump Hotel across the street from the current FBI headquarters building.