3 things you may have missed from Congress this week

With about six months left until the start of the next administration, lawmakers are continuing to focus on the ever-popular topic of “burrowing in.”

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) wants details from the Office of Personnel Management, the agency in charge of reviewing an employee’s appointment from political appointee to career federal employee.

In a June 30 letter to acting OPM Director Beth Cobert, Chaffetz asked about the number of political appointees who have been converted to career employees between Sept. 1, 2015 to the present. He’s looking for full sets of documents that explain who has been converted, which agencies and positions were involved and salary information for each conversion.

“The Office of Personnel Management and appointing agencies must ensure each conversion of a political appointee to a career position results from a fair and open competition,” Chaffetz wrote. “Hiring decisions must be free from political interference, legitimate and justified.”

OPM has until July 14 to respond to the committee.

Earlier this year, OPM reminded agencies of the existing procedures they must follow if they want to convert political appointees to career positions in the next administration.

The policies date back to the Carter administration. OPM revised its requirements in 2010, opting to conduct pre-hiring reviews on a continual basis rather than during the year before a presidential transition.

Keeping better track of IG recommendations

A new Senate bill aims to bring more transparency to inspector general recommendations and the actions agencies have — or haven’t — taken to meet them.

Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), the chairman and the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, introduced the bill.

The Inspector General Recommendation Transparency Act would require agency inspectors general post their audit recommendations online.

Lankford and Heitkamp said Congress has had a difficult time keeping track of these recommendations in the past. Posting them online will give Congress and the public a better view into the process agencies are taking to follow through on IG recommendations, they said in a statement.

Agencies collectively have a little more than 700 open IG recommendations, Michael Horowitz, Justice Department IG and chairman of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, told Lankford and Heitkamp at a subcommittee hearing last December.

New hiring procedures for VA health care professionals

The Veterans Affairs Department has long lamented the thousands of vacancies — as many as 43,000 — that they’re attempting to fill at VA medical centers.

Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) introduced a bill that would let the VA secretary consider the private sector market, as well as the applicant’s experience and the complexity of the job or the hospital location before setting pay for a new medical professional.

Other provisions would require the VA to create a single recruitment database for the entire department, as well as an executive management fellowship program.

“I know this committee has focused heavily on accountability, and while I think it is of the utmost importance, it’s important that we also focus on the hiring and retention of high quality employees within the department so our veterans receive the best services possible,” House VA Subcommittee Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) said, during a March 16 hearing on this topic.

The bill cleared the House Veterans Affairs Committee and now awaits full consideration by the House.

The legislation is similar to other proposals included in the Senate VA Committee’s omnibus, the Veterans First Act.

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