Vaccine guidance for contractors leaves many open questions

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  • The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Council has issued regulatory guidance on implementation of the vaccine mandate for federal contractors. The council, which officially puts out contract clauses, was forced to work with a tight deadline and released its ruling light on specifics. The short memorandum essentially just tells contractors to follow guidance issued by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. Though the rule release is a step forward in the process, contractors still have a list of unanswered questions they are waiting for clarity on.
  • Agencies can start disciplining unvaccinated federal employees next month. The Office of Personnel Management has more details on how agencies might start disciplining employees who don’t comply with the federal vaccine mandate by Nov. 8. OPM recommended agencies start by providing more education to employees about the vaccine and the consequences of not complying. Agencies could then consider a 14-day unpaid suspension. Employees who continue to refuse vaccination could face removal from federal service next. (Federal News Network)
  • The Labor Department said federal employees could receive injury compensation if they experience adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine. The Federal Employees’ Compensation Act covers injuries that occur on the job. President Joe Biden’s recent executive order makes the vaccine a condition of federal employment for executive branch employees. Labor said employees who receive their shots after Sept. 9 and experience adverse side effects can file a claim under the FECA. The order doesn’t apply to Postal Service employees.
  • Small business contractors and subcontractors are in line to get paid faster. A new proposed rule by the Federal Acquisition Regulations Council would require agencies to pay small business contractors within 15 days of receipt of an invoice. The FAR Council also is proposing prime contractors to receive payments more quickly from agencies so they can accelerate their payments to their small business subcontractors. The FAR Council addressed this issue in 2013 with a change to the FAR. But Congress in the 2020 Defense authorization act mandated a more specific payment timeline. Comments on the proposed rule are due by Nov. 29.
  • A stopgap highway funding bill gets furloughed Transportation Department employees back to work. President Joe Biden signed a 30-day extension of federal highway spending Saturday night. Funding for these programs lapsed Friday, and forced the Transportation Department to furlough 3,700 employees. The agency says it didn’t furlough any safety-critical employees. The agency furloughed 2,000 employees under similar circumstances in 2010, later passed legislation giving furloughed employees back pay.
  • It’s cybersecurity awareness month, and President Joe Biden is convening a multi-nation summit to discuss ransomware and other cyber hot topics. The White House said 30 countries will participate in the event later this month. They’ll discuss how to combat cybercrime, improve law enforcement collaboration and stem the illicit use of cryptocurrency, especially through diplomacy. Earlier this year, Biden pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin to deal with ransomware gangs operating out of Russia, but a top FBI official recently said there’s no evidence of Moscow policing those groups.
  • The government reached a major milestone in its security clearance reform efforts last week. All Defense Department security clearance holders are now enrolled in an initial version of continuous vetting. The program runs automated records checks to help evaluate the trustworthiness of those with access to sensitive government information. The current version of the program only checks three data sources, but officials hope to expand that to seven by next year. They also want to start getting non-national security agency employees enrolled in the program as well. The automated record checks will eventually replace the need for all periodic reinvestigations of clearance holders.
  • Agency Freedom of Information Act offices said email searches remain a challenge keeping up with the volume of FOIA requests. The FOIA Officer Council’s Technology Committee, in a recent white paper, finds a wide variety of tools and strategies agencies use to conduct FOIA searches. The report also finds a major gap between public expectations for FOIA requests, and how quickly agencies can search their records.
  • David Laufer, the former Chief of the Prosthetics and Orthotics Department at Walter Reed Medical Center, is sentenced to eight months in prison, and will have to pay nearly $8,000 in fines. This is after he plead guilty to steering contracts towards a Maryland orthopedic services provider in exchange for cash and gifts, and lying to federal agents about them. (Department of Justice)
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs is measuring its IT modernization progress by the numbers. Over the last two years, VA has reduced its technical debt for common core technologies and end user devices by 10%. Neil Evans, VA’s acting chief information officer, told House lawmakers how the agency is cutting into this $1 billion hole. “VA’s infrastructure readiness program established in fiscal year 2019 guides the ongoing refresh and replacement of IT infrastructure that sustains all of VA’s IT operations.” Evans said VA is better at supporting its mission readiness and improving its security posture through this program. (Federal News Network)
  • The Air Force said it will launch a redesign of its official website in October. As it upgrades, the site will not release new content until Oct. 6. The service said it is adding full-frame photo galleries, updated slide shows, augmented reality and live broadcast capabilities to its page. The Air Force has been making an effort to update much of its public facing presence in order to recruit younger talent.
  • After a concerning report on military suicides, the National Guard is thinking about what it can change. The Army National Guard saw a 35% increase in suicides last year compared to the year before. Leaders of the military component say they are taking new steps to intervene against suicidal actions and prevent them before they happen. One pilot program targets soldiers who have had childhood trauma. Those soldiers are more likely to experience suicidal ideations. The Guard says the program reaches out to those troops on a regular basis to check in on their mental state. The Guard is also collecting data from some of its programs in hopes of finding patterns in those who experience suicidal ideation.

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