Government Executive - All Content Executive is the leading source for news, information and analysis about the operations of the executive branch of the federal government.en-usFri, 14 Jun 2024 15:03:12 -0400Burnout among government workers is decreasing but still high, according to new pulse survey data of the consulting firm that sponsored the poll says the burnout rate could cause public employees to leave their jobs.Sean Michael NewhouseFri, 14 Jun 2024 15:03:12 -0400<p>Burnout among government employees has continued to steadily decline, <a href="">according to new survey data</a>, but researchers say it&rsquo;s still at a concerning level.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;I think that when government workers, in particular, are burnt out, they&#39;re less productive, less engaged and less innovative, and they&#39;re also more likely to leave their jobs, especially given that the opportunities in the private sector typically offer more pay,&rdquo; said Melissa Jezior, the CEO of Arlington-based firm Eagle Hill Consulting, which sponsors the twice annual pulse survey. &ldquo;So I think it&#39;s important to survey these people to help the government mitigate the risk of those things happening.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>Forty-one percent of government workers surveyed in a February poll said they felt burnt out, which is a 24% decrease from roughly two years ago. Similarly, the poll found that <a href="">45% of U.S. employees in general</a> reported feeling burnt out at work the same month.&nbsp;</p> <p>For government workers &mdash; which includes those at the federal, state and local levels &mdash;&nbsp; 48% of those experiencing burnout said a main cause is workload. This was followed by staff shortages and managing personal and professional life, both at 44%.</p> <p>Jezior thinks the decrease in burnout for government employees can be partly attributed to the increase in public sector hiring. She pointed to the <a href="">June Bureau of Labor Statistics report</a>, which found that government employment has continued to trend up, with an average monthly growth over the past year of 52,000 jobs.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re starting to see some of the cause for burnout is being eliminated at its root,&rdquo; she said.&nbsp;</p> <p>The market research firm Ipsos conducted the survey of approximately 1,250 U.S. employees, including 515 government workers.&nbsp;</p> <p>The majority of public employee respondents reported that increased flexibility, a four-day work week, decreased workload, better health and wellness benefits and working from home would alleviate their stress.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Biden administration has been pushing agencies to require employees <a href="">to spend more time in-office</a>. But Jezior doesn&rsquo;t think this effort will necessarily increase burnout.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;Bringing people together, I really think, does increase connection, which is also a great opportunity to decrease burnout,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;But it also decreases people&#39;s flexibility or their perceived flexibility. So I think it&#39;s just [about] making those moves cautiously and thoughtfully.&rdquo;</p> <p>In a discussion last month with the Office of Personnel Management, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy urged federal leaders to <a href="">balance telework with purposeful team building</a> to promote personal connections.&nbsp;</p> <p>Among government employees who report burnout, 41% said they are not comfortable telling their manager. This is an increase from 2023 when it was 35%. Jezior encouraged government managers to normalize conversations about burnout.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;If you create a better dialogue around burnout with your employees, I think you could get to finding a mutually-beneficial solution quicker,&rdquo; she said.&nbsp;</p> <p>Eagle Hill&rsquo;s report also found generational differences in public employee respondents experiencing burnout: 49% of Gen X and 42% of Millennials compared to 36% of Gen Z and 27% of Baby Boomers.&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, 64% of those surveyed who work for the government said that technology changes in the coming year likely would not impact their stress.</p> <p>These survey results mirror other polling data. According to the analytics firm Gallup in March, <a href="">about one in four government workers</a> report &ldquo;very often&rdquo; or &ldquo;always&rdquo; feeling burned out at work, with another two in five &ldquo;sometimes&rdquo; feeling that way.&nbsp;</p> <p>For the workforce in general, the Society for Human Resources Management reported at the end of April that <a href="">44% of U.S. employees feel burned out</a> at work.&nbsp;</p> A new pulse survey found that 41% of government workers surveyed in a February poll felt burnt out. Carmen Martinez Torron / Getty Images In spending bill, House Republicans are ‘deeply concerned’ with DeJoy’s USPS reform plans typically sympathetic to the postmaster general, Republicans are suggesting he chart a different course.Eric KatzFri, 14 Jun 2024 14:52:34 -0400<p>House Republicans, typically an ally of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, are moving legislation that asks the U.S. Postal Service to reverse course on some key elements of its efforts to overhaul its operations.&nbsp;</p> <p>The lawmakers voiced their concerns in a <a href="">report</a> on the fiscal 2024 Financial Services and General Government spending bill, which the House Appropriations Committee approved on Thursday. The language added to the growing chorus of discontent on Capitol Hill with DeJoy&rsquo;s signature Delivering for America plan and continued the pressure he is facing to change course.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;The committee is deeply concerned about the potential negative impacts on mail service to the American people, customer satisfaction, and cost overruns potentially undermining the goals outlined in the DFA plan,&rdquo; the Republican appropriators wrote in the report, alluding to USPS&rsquo; plans to consolidate mail processing operations at fewer facilities around the country. They added they were &ldquo;concerned with the USPS&rsquo; aggressive approach to consolidating processing and distribution centers into local processing centers and the notification and justification provided to customers and postal workers.&rdquo;</p> <p>Already, DeJoy has <a href="">agreed to pause</a> consolidation efforts at dozens of processing facilities until at least Jan. 1, 2025. He has noted his efforts to win over members of Congress have so far been unsuccessful, but vowed to continue to convince them that his vision is the only viable path forward for the Postal Service.&nbsp;</p> <p>For now, however, he is continuing to face bipartisan pushback.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;The committee remains concerned that these consolidations have contributed to reduced services and harmed postal performance,&rdquo; the lawmakers. They set goalposts for USPS, saying it should &ldquo;halt any realignment, consolidation, or partial consolidation of processing or logistics facilities&rdquo; that service areas seeing less than 93% of mail slated for two-day delivery meeting that standard or 90.3% for mail scheduled for three-to-five day delivery.&nbsp;</p> <p>On a national basis in the current fiscal quarter, USPS is currently delivering just 86% and around 71% of mail in those categories on time, respectively.&nbsp;</p> <p>DeJoy defended his 10-year plan to put USPS on a viable path last week at the National Postal Forum, saying his reforms are the only way to dig out of the financial hole the agency has operated in for nearly two decades.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;The future we seek has simple goals: evolve, serve, and create long-term viability,&rdquo; DeJoy said. &ldquo;However, this undertaking is of historic proportion. Our organization has been devastated, rendered inoperable and was on a terrible path which has not yet been fully solved for. And we continue to hold the plunge and raise ourselves up as we are satisfying our extraordinary daily demands and overcome the problems we face in an environment that is not accepting to change.&rdquo;</p> <p>The postmaster said he is waging a battle against &ldquo;the political bureaucracy&rdquo; that defends the status quo. He has acknowledged some changes not been rolled out successfully, but said USPS is learning about and fixing those problems. DeJoy called the agency&rsquo;s 400 &ldquo;dilapidated processing centers and the 19,000 post offices and other facilities where letter carriers pick up the mail each day a &ldquo;sacred cow&rdquo; unworthy of that title.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Postal Service&rsquo;s network as currently oriented is illogical, he said, and &ldquo;it must be dramatically and urgently changed.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>While the language in the Appropriations Committee&rsquo;s report is stark, it must be reconciled with the document its counterpart in the Senate produces. Even if included in a final version, the verbiage amounts only to a recommendation and does not carry the force of law.&nbsp;</p> <p>For now, many lawmakers and stakeholders across the postal community are imploring the Postal Regulatory Commission to issue an &ldquo;advisory opinion&rdquo; on the totality of DeJoy&rsquo;s DFA plan. PRC has often clashed with DeJoy and most recently pushed back on his rate increase strategy, saying postal management should exercise more discretion before continuing with its approach that &ldquo;may be unprecedented in the history of the Postal Service.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>Large-scale mailers and others that interact with the Postal Service regularly are hopeful an advisory opinion&mdash;while also not capable of issuing mandates&mdash;would provide a third-party assessment of the agency&rsquo;s plans, evaluate its assumptions and potentially offer additional fodder to motivate either the USPS board of governors or Congress to intervene.&nbsp;</p> <div class="related-articles-placeholder">[[Related Posts]]</div> <p></p> The postmaster says he is waging a battle against “the political bureaucracy” that defends the status quo.Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesFeds are still slated for a 2% average pay raise in 2025 per House appropriations bill House Appropriations Committee advanced legislation Thursday that failed to override President Biden’s 2025 pay plan.Erich WagnerFri, 14 Jun 2024 13:56:32 -0400 & Benefits<p>Civilian federal employees are still expected to receive an average 2.0% raise next year, after the House Appropriations Committee advanced a spending package Thursday that is silent of federal worker compensation.</p> <p>Last spring, President Biden turned heads by releasing a fiscal 2025 budget proposal with a 2.0% average pay increase for civilian federal employees in 2025. That figure came in well below Biden&rsquo;s previous pay raise plans&mdash;in 2024, federal workers saw an average 5.2% increase; in 2023, the increase was 4.6%; and in 2022, 2.2%.</p> <p>Biden&rsquo;s proposal not only fell short of his previous pay raises; it also abandoned the concept of pay parity between the military and civilian federal workforces. Biden&rsquo;s budget calls for a 4.5% pay increase for military service members next year.</p> <p>During a <a href="">congressional hearing</a> last month, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., an annual sponsor of the Federal Adjustment of Income Rates, which this year would increase federal employee pay by 7.4% on average, said his staff was unable to reverse engineer Biden&rsquo;s 2% proposal using available data.</p> <p>&ldquo;I guess; when we looked at our analytics, there&rsquo;s no way we could have gotten to 2%, and I hope we have an opportunity to dialogue about that,&rdquo; Connolly told Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Jason Miller. &ldquo;But I think that&rsquo;s just a very inadequate number for hardworking federal employees.&rdquo;</p> <p>The traditional method by which Congress may override a president&rsquo;s federal employee pay plan is through inserting language into the annual Financial Services and General Government appropriations package. The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday advanced that measure by a 33-24 vote without including the requisite language to impose a different pay raise for next year.</p> <p>In prior years, Connolly has introduced amendments calling for a larger pay increase for federal workers when the spending package reached the floor. But the chances of Republicans, who control the chamber, endorsing such a provision, seem low.</p> <p>The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to reveal its own spending bills for fiscal 2025.</p> <div class="related-articles-placeholder">[[Related Posts]]</div> <p></p> President Biden proposed a 2% average pay raise for the federal workforce in 2025.Christopher Furlong/Getty ImagesFeds saw more cyberattacks but better detection last year, FISMA report says major incidents were reported by agencies in FY2023.David DiMolfettaFri, 14 Jun 2024 10:00:00 -0400<p>Federal agencies saw a nearly 10% increase in cyberattacks targeting their systems last year, but they&rsquo;ve also been able to augment their detection and categorization of the digital incursions, according to a report issued to Congress last week.</p> <p>The <a href="">fiscal year 2023 readout</a> from the Office of Management and Budget, which oversees the Federal Information Security Modernization Act, says federal agencies reported 32,211 cyber incidents to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, versus 29,319 incidents in the prior year period.</p> <p>The most notable rise was observed in attrition attacks &mdash; brute force methods aimed at compromising systems &mdash; which surged from 197 incidents in FY22 to 1,147 in FY23. Email phishing attacks also saw a major increase, more than doubling from 3,011 to 6,198 incidents, reflecting an already observed prevalence of <a href="">deceptive tactics</a> that can help hackers infiltrate government networks.&nbsp;</p> <p>The observed increase in attacks is partly linked to agencies&rsquo; improvements in detection capabilities, which involved &ldquo;additional automation and training, and changes in event and incident tracking methodologies,&rdquo; the FISMA paper said.</p> <p>But 30 additional incidents in 2023 were rated as &ldquo;Medium&rdquo; risk, defined by CISA&rsquo;s National Cyber Incident Scoring System as those that &ldquo;may affect public health or safety, national security, economic security, foreign relations, civil liberties, or public confidence,&rdquo; says the report.</p> <p>Eleven of those cyberattacks were categorized as &ldquo;major&rdquo; incidents, as defined by a December 2023 federal information security <a href="">memorandum</a>. The Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury and Justice were among the agencies falling under that category, facing attacks that compromised personal data-containing records and certain administrative systems that managed funding.</p> <p>Civilian agencies have faced myriad cyber threats over the past year. They could be in line for a <a href="">10% increase in cybersecurity funds</a> under the White House&rsquo;s 2025 budget request, though the final number may change as Congress reconciles budget talks in the coming months.</p> Matt Anderson Photography/Getty ImagesWhat it will take to make Direct File permanent IRS will have to grapple with expanding access and capabilities — while also convincing skeptical lawmakers to maintain funding.Natalie AlmsFri, 14 Jun 2024 09:00:00 -0400<p>The IRS pilot of a government-backed online tool to file taxes for free, dubbed Direct File, is <a href="">going permanent</a>, the tax agency announced a few weeks ago.&nbsp;</p> <p>The IRS is inviting all states to join and expanding the tool&rsquo;s tax scope after it saw positive user ratings among those that filed their taxes with the tool.&nbsp;</p> <p>Here&rsquo;s what it will take for the IRS to see success long-term.</p> <p><strong>Dealing with drop offs</strong></p> <p>Despite the positive marks from most of those that got through the pilot, one big question with a lot of unknowns is why some people started the pilot tool but didn&rsquo;t finish.</p> <p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s certainly one of the number one things I would be focused on,&rdquo; a former administration official familiar with the Direct File pilot told <em>Nextgov/FCW</em>. They asked not to be named so that they could speak openly about the pilot. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not a small number that dropped off.&rdquo;</p> <p>Of the approximately 677,600 that finished the eligibility checker, about 20% went through the whole process and submitted an accepted tax return, according to an IRS <a href="">report</a> on the pilot, which notes that the final number of users aligned with IRS expectations.</p> <p>But the IRS doesn&rsquo;t have a lot of data on why people dropped off during the process, since only users that finished the pilot were asked to fill out a survey.</p> <p>Some may have wanted to check their eligibility but were never planning on going through the process. Others may not have been able to prove their identity, or not wanted to, Bridget Roberts, chief of Direct File at the IRS, told <em>Nextgov/FCW </em>over email, noting that the IRS wants to learn more so that they can make necessary improvements.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;That is where our user research comes in,&rdquo; she said in an interview with <em>Nextgov/FCW</em> when asked about drop-offs. &ldquo;And then, I think, looking for ways in the future to be able to offer that survey option to taxpayers who started, but didn&#39;t finish.&rdquo;</p> <p>Zooming in on drop-off rates at different parts of the process from the eligibility checker to final accepted return will be important, said Ayushi Roy, deputy director at the New Practice Lab at think tank New America, which fielded a feasibility analysis of a government-backed tool in 2023.&nbsp;</p> <p>First up, creating or signing in to an IRS account. The IRS <a href="">used vendor</a> for identity proofing in the pilot.</p> <p>Only 62% of those that finished the eligibility checker created or signed into an account.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;If I was in the product [team&#39;s] shoes at the IRS,&rdquo; said Roy, &ldquo;that&rsquo;s the kind of thing I&rsquo;d want to say, &lsquo;Hold on. What&rsquo;s going on there? What is it about the experience that we lost more people in that step?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p> <p>The user survey the IRS fielded for the tool found that 76% of users rated the facial recognition process as very or somewhat easy. The option to verify identity through a live video agent only saw less than 2% of users rating their experience as somewhat or very difficult, but that survey was only given to people that finished the Direct File process. The IRS report on the pilot also notes that some taxpayers had trouble using the service.</p> <p> would not provide the proofing rate of Direct File users or wait times for those that used its video verification option, which has been plagued by long wait times for some programs in the past.</p> <p>Some that abandoned the process may have been fraudsters, an spokesperson told <em>Nextgov/FCW</em>, also pointing to support the company gives to those that struggle, including video verification options. Others may be people that only wanted to check their eligibility, voluntarily stopped or failed a step and were retrying, they said.</p> <p>The IRS also would not provide specifics on proofing rates and wait times for, telling <em>Nextgov/FCW </em>that they &ldquo;are consistent with other IRS applications.&rdquo; The tax agency also would not give agency-wide data.</p> <p>Asked what identity proofing options would be available next tax season, the IRS told <em>Nextgov/FCW</em> that its plans aren&rsquo;t yet finalized and that adding more options is contingent on those other proofing options meeting standards set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.</p> <p>After making or signing into an account, users in the pilot could start a tax return.</p> <p>According to IRS data, about 40% of users who started a tax return on Direct File eventually submitted and 35% of those that started submitted an accepted tax return.</p> <p>For both the identity proofing step and the return steps, the IRS would likely want to look at how long individuals attempted to get through before they abandoned the process, Roy told <em>Nextgov/FCW</em> over email, as it can give clues about why people dropped off.</p> <p>If the IRS wants to increase the number of users, the agency will also need to consider making Direct File available earlier in the tax season &mdash; this year the pilot didn&rsquo;t open widely until March &mdash; and increasing usage among Spanish speakers, said Roy.</p> <p>Only about 1% of users engaged with the Spanish version of Direct File this year, said Roy. The New Practice Lab is currently doing user research on Direct File with Spanish speakers for a forthcoming report.&nbsp;</p> <p>The IRS report on the pilot doesn&rsquo;t include any information about the demographics of users.</p> <p>The Direct File team is also planning on increasing outreach and communications for the tool, something that was relatively limited during the phased rollout, said Roberts.</p> <p><strong>Tough choices</strong></p> <p>The tax agency is also staring down trade offs as it looks to expand the scope of Direct File and the states it&#39;s offered in with finite resources.</p> <p>The total cost for the pilot was just over $31 million. The IRS has a $75 million placeholder in its fiscal 2025 budget for the tool.</p> <p>One of the IRS&rsquo; first priorities: engaging with states to source new partners, said Roberts. Direct File was only offered in 12 states during its pilot in the most recent tax season.</p> <p>A lot of the work of connecting to new states was done this year on the IRS side, said Roberts. The IRS team built an application programming interface to allow taxpayers in Arizona, Massachusetts and New York transfer encrypted data to the state tool so that they didn&rsquo;t have to start over. In California, users uploaded PDFs of their federal return, and other states in the pilot didn&rsquo;t have state-level income taxes.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;Each new state that comes online is easier than the one before because we&#39;ve learned things [and] states have learned things. But every state is different&hellip; so there&#39;s no kind of magic button that brings a state in,&rdquo; said Gabriel Zucker, Interim Program Director of Tax Policy and Partnerships at Code for America, of the state-side process of joining the project.&nbsp;</p> <p>The nonprofit worked with Arizona and New York to create a <a href="">companion tool</a> for users to finish their state-level taxes and will be working with additional states next year to help them join Direct File.</p> <p>As for widening the scope of the tool, it&rsquo;s not as simple as adding a few yes-or-no questions, Merici Vinton, Direct File deputy service owner, told <em>Nextgov/FCW</em>.</p> <p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re trying to use your information to progressively answer the questions throughout the product, so it&rsquo;s all intertwined,&rdquo; said Vinton.</p> <p>&ldquo;The supported tax situations are the single biggest determinant of the complexity of the product,&rdquo; the IRS report notes. &ldquo;The Direct File platform used this filing season contained more than 350 screens. Under the hood were more than 1,000 &lsquo;facts&rsquo; representing information about the filer&rsquo;s tax situation.&rdquo;</p> <p>Another to-do item is &ldquo;building a sustainable team within the IRS<strong>,</strong>&rdquo; said Vinton. &ldquo;Last year was very much a startup and a pilot&hellip; It was just whatever it took to make it work, and so this year, it&rsquo;s actually also about the sustainability and the operations of building a team with a great culture that produces great work that people want to come work for.&rdquo;</p> <p>Although the specifics are still being worked out, the agency expects to keep its approach of a blended team with employees from the IRS, vendors, 18F and U.S. Digital Service, said Roberts.</p> <p>Long term, maintaining stable funding<strong> </strong>for Direct File will be key.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;Technology projects are not just a one-and-done,&rdquo; said Roberts. &ldquo;You need consistent, multi-year funding to be able to not only deliver them, but to continue to improve them and enhance them in future years.&rdquo;</p> <p>Some Republicans on Capitol Hill have criticized Direct File, even <a href="">blocking funding</a> for it in recent budget bills unless the IRS gets direct authorization for the program from several congressional committees.&nbsp;</p> <p>Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., chair of the Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement after Direct File was made permanent that the program makes the IRS &ldquo;tax preparer, filer and auditor.&rdquo;</p> <p>That could have relevance for another open question:<strong> </strong>the potential for prepopulation.&nbsp;</p> <p>Although some are eager to have the IRS pre-fill Direct File, at least in part, by importing information it already has about taxpayers &mdash; the Direct File report notes that pre-population was one of the most commonly requested features &mdash; there isn&rsquo;t universal buy-in, said Roy, noting that &ldquo;some people see it as an invasion of privacy.&rdquo;</p> <p>The Direct File team did add the feature of importing the prior year&rsquo;s adjusted gross income during the pilot by connecting to users&rsquo; online accounts, said Roberts.&nbsp;</p> <p>Asked if they would add more importing, she said, &ldquo;it&rsquo;s definitely something we want to look at,&rdquo; but noted the challenge of timing &mdash; employers send W-2&rsquo;s to the IRS in January and the IRS needs time to make that information usable.&nbsp;</p> <p>Big picture, importing information also could give Direct File a competitive advantage vis-a-vis the tax prep industry &mdash; members of which have panned the pilot &mdash; in addition to igniting political concerns around overreach, the former administration official noted.</p> <p>For the team that fielded the pilot, maintaining focus<strong> </strong>will also be important as some clamor for upgrades such as prepopulation.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;The Direct File team&rsquo;s success was built on ruthlessly prioritizing,&rdquo; said Zucker, pointing to the IRS approach of starting small and iterating over time.</p> <p>&ldquo;We need to deliver a second year and that is the top priority &mdash; not all the fancy bells and whistles,&rdquo; said Vinton. &ldquo;What excites us most is a successful year two and keeping that focus is, I think, going to be really important.&rdquo;</p> A sign touting IRS Direct File at the tax agency's Washington, D.C. headquarters on April 5, 2024.Tasos Katopodis/Getty ImagesRepublicans block expanded in vitro fertilization coverage for feds in House and Senate Democrats failed to secure the 60 votes needed to bypass a GOP filibuster, while House Democrats saw a similar provision defanged in appropriations talks.Erich WagnerThu, 13 Jun 2024 17:53:19 -0400<p>Republicans in both the House and Senate on Thursday blocked measures aimed at expanding federal employees and their families&rsquo; access to in vitro fertilization and other assisted reproductive technologies through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.</p> <p>Last week, Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., reintroduced a <a href="">package of bills</a> related to in vitro fertilization and other fertility treatments, including a mandate that OPM requires carriers in FEHBP, the world&rsquo;s largest employer-sponsored health insurance program, cover additional costs associated with IVF, as well as expand coverage to all types of assisted reproductive technology, such as gamete and zygote intrafallopian transfer. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised to quickly bring the legislation to the floor for a vote.</p> <p>Currently, FEHBP carriers cover artificial insemination and related drugs and the drugs associated with up to three in vitro fertilization cyclers per year. Lawmakers&rsquo; recent interest in the issue stems in part from the Alabama Supreme Court&rsquo;s brief banning of IVF earlier this year.</p> <p>Prior to discussion of the package on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, sought unsuccessfully to bring his own bill, the IVF Protection Act (S. 4368), to the floor for consideration instead. Despite its name, the bill does not actually codify or expand Americans&rsquo; access to IVF services, instead punishing states if they ban IVF by making them ineligible to receive Medicaid funding. Republicans then blocked consideration of the Democrats&rsquo; legislation by a 48-47 vote, with only Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, voting in favor of proceeding.</p> <p>On the House side, appropriators sought to amend that chamber&rsquo;s version of the fiscal 2025 Financial Services and General Government spending package to include a provision mandating expanded coverage of IVF in the FEHBP. House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro, who led the effort, said even with the federal government&rsquo;s insurance program, families can incur tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs associated with the procedure.</p> <p>&ldquo;One federal worker named Jonah was trying to start a family with his partner using IVF,&rdquo; DeLauro said. &ldquo;But she recently suffered a heartbreaking miscarriage at 12 weeks. They have opted to try again, but if it is not successful, they will not be able to afford another cycle . . . Extending federal employee benefits to cover IVF is not just the right thing to do, it&rsquo;s also beneficial for our government and our ability to retain skilled workers who can better serve our constituents.&rdquo;</p> <p>But Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, proposed an amendment to DeLauro&rsquo;s amendment, which replaced the provision&rsquo;s text with a mandate that OPM provide Congress a report on the current IVF coverage options within FEHBP and what it would cost to expand that coverage.</p> <p>&ldquo;We know IVF has helped countless women across the United States grow their families, and we should continue to ensure that women who want to become moms are able to do so, and politics should never get in the way with that,&rdquo; Hinson said. &ldquo;As someone who is strongly pro-life, I will continue to support IVF and I firmly believe women should be able to access fertility treatments. However, I believe Ms. DeLauro&rsquo;s amendment [solves] a problem that doesn&rsquo;t exist.&rdquo;</p> <p>DeLauro noted that multiple states have expanded their coverage of IVF in recent years, mostly to the tune of only minor premium increases&mdash;in Connecticut, state employees saw a 10-cent increase. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., accused her GOP colleague of a bad-faith effort to vote against expanding access to IVF under the guise of supporting it.</p> <p>&ldquo;You know what I&rsquo;ve learned in my 32 years of legislative experience?&rdquo; she asked. &ldquo;If someone doesn&rsquo;t want to vote on something in a straightforward way&mdash;because they actually oppose it&mdash;they propose a study. They want to study it to death, particularly if it&rsquo;s something that needs no further study. The underlying amendment is demonstrative of whether or not we support everyone being able to have access to start and build their families through IVF, or whether we oppose it. This is a straightforward vote. If you support making sure IVF is accessible and you don&rsquo;t want to study it into oblivion&mdash;particularly because it doesn&rsquo;t need further study&mdash;you&nbsp;vote against Ms. Hinson&rsquo;s amendment and for Ms. DeLauro&rsquo;s.&rdquo;</p> <p>The committee voted 34-24 along party lines to support Hinson&rsquo;s amendment. DeLauro then sought to withdraw her amendment, but was blocked by a Republican objection.</p> <div class="related-articles-placeholder">[[Related Posts]]</div> <p></p> Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., departs a press conference following a vote to protect access to IVF treatment on Capitol Hill on June 13, 2024. The Senate failed to reach the 60 votes necessary to pass the "Right To IVF Act," introduced by Duckworth, who had two children through IVF. Democrats are expected to force a vote to enshrine protections for in vitro fertilization to ensure nationwide access to contraception. Anna Rose Layden/Getty ImagesDHS needs to improve how it collects employee hiring and vetting data, GAO reports watchdog’s analysis found that the department did not meet its average hiring time targets in fiscal 2022 for nine out of 13 priority positions.Sean Michael NewhouseThu, 13 Jun 2024 16:42:00 -0400<p>The Homeland Security Department&rsquo;s efforts to quickly onboard personnel in essential positions has been hindered by a myriad of divergent data and vetting practices within its component agencies, <a href=";utm_content=daybook&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_source=govdelivery">a Government Accountability Office report has found</a>. The watchdog called on the department to improve how it collects hiring and vetting data.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;Having more accurate information could help provide additional clarity on DHS&rsquo;s hiring and vetting efforts, including whether DHS is making timely hiring decisions so that it does not result in DHS losing out on otherwise qualified candidates,&rdquo; said the report, which was published Tuesday.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In its analysis, GAO found that DHS did not meet its average targets in fiscal 2022 for how long it takes to onboard candidates for nine out of 13 positions that the department has designated as priority. Examples of those priority positions that missed their targets included Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection Air Interdiction agents.&nbsp;</p> <p>Additionally, GAO reported that DHS agencies do not track and report the time they take to hire candidates consistently, with some having different starting points. Department officials told GAO this is because some component agencies mass hire or post job announcements with indefinite application deadlines.&nbsp;</p> <p>While GAO considered this practice to be acceptable, it recommended that DHS clearly disclose limitations to this data when reporting to other agencies.&nbsp;</p> <p>GAO also discovered issues with DHS&rsquo; system for tracking the use of reciprocity, which is when an agency accepts the findings of an existing background investigation or trust determination regarding a job candidate with prior federal service.&nbsp;</p> <p>For example, the watchdog found that a given position could have multiple different names in the system with different spellings or acronyms. This makes it difficult to correctly determine the number of individuals who have a certain position.&nbsp;</p> <p>DHS said that it will begin using a new system in fiscal 2026. GAO recommended that the system include standardized position titles among other capabilities.&nbsp;</p> <p>GAO also recommended that component agency hiring personnel be included in hiring forums to help share faster onboarding practices and that DHS implement a candidate experience framework for personnel vetting that can be deployed department-wide</p> <p>The department concurred with each of the report&rsquo;s recommendations in a letter accompanying the report. In the letter, DHS officials said its processing time from fiscal 2023 to April 30, 2024 for applying reciprocity is down to seven days compared to nine in fiscal 2022 and 11 for fiscal years 2020 through 2021.</p> <p>DHS also argues in the letter that data from fiscal 2022, which GAO used for time-to-hire statistics, might not be indicative of the department&rsquo;s performance because it was operating under COVID-19 pandemic procedures at the time.&nbsp;</p> <p>GAO notes in the report that the federal government is overhauling its vetting process and is planning to complete implementation of a single vetting system by fiscal 2028.&nbsp;</p> <p>The watchdog conducted the report and delivered it to members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee following concerns about &ldquo;the consistency and transparency of DHS&rsquo; vetting processes.&rdquo;</p> <p>GAO in January published <a href="">recommendations to improve the transfer of personnel security clearances</a> and other vetting determinations. Specific to DHS, it issued a report in 2023 on <a href="">hiring and staffing gaps at the Federal Emergency Management Agency</a> and is currently reviewing U.S. Customs and Border Protection&rsquo;s recruitment, hiring and retention for law enforcement personnel.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> GAO called on DHS to improve how it collects hiring and vetting data. SOPA Images / Getty ImagesYour pre-retirement questions answered, part 1 first in a series tackling your pressing questions.Tammy FlanaganThu, 13 Jun 2024 15:00:00 -0400 & Benefits<p>Since I will be traveling over the next few weeks, I thought it might be a good idea to reach into my mailbag (email &ldquo;bag&rdquo; that is) and share some questions that have come from other federal employees who are planning for retirement. Sometimes it seems that the more you learn about getting ready for retirement, the more questions you have about getting ready for retirement. These questions range from the continuation of insurance to the basic retirement benefit under FERS/CSRS, as well as confusion about claiming Social Security and TSP distributions.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>FERS Basic Retirement Benefit</strong>&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Q. I hear people referring to the minimum retirement age of 62 and 57 and then sometimes it is called the full retirement age of 67. Was this for Social Security or FERS? </strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eligibility for the FERS Basic Retirement Benefit (aka government pension) is determined by your age and number of years of creditable service.&nbsp; In some cases, you must have reached the Minimum Retirement Age to receive retirement benefits. The<a href=""> minimum retirement age for FERS</a> is between 55 and 57.&nbsp;</p> <p>The <a href="">full retirement age for Social Security</a> is between 65 and 67. If you were born in 1957 or earlier, you&rsquo;re already eligible for your full Social Security benefit. The full retirement age is 66 if you were born from 1943 to 1954. The full retirement age increases gradually if you were born from 1955 to 1960 until it reaches 67. For anyone born 1960 or later, full retirement benefits are payable at age 67. Age 62 is the minimum age to claim Social Security retirement benefit.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Q. If I retire at 57 with 35 years, any suggestions on dealing with the no COLA until age 62?</strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>A 35-year career should be enough to retire comfortably, but there are some variables to consider. Along with<a href=""> FERS delayed/diet COLAs</a>, other considerations include:&nbsp;</p> <ul> <li aria-level="1">Have you determined how much of your pre-retirement income that you will need to live comfortably in retirement?&nbsp; Remember that you will have to allow for income tax and insurance withholdings from your retirement income.&nbsp; Be sure that your retirement estimate includes these withholdings and allows for a reasonable estimate of federal and state (if applicable) taxes.&nbsp;&nbsp;</li> </ul> <ul> <li aria-level="1">Will you be electing survivor benefits for a spouse?&nbsp; Be sure to consider this reduction from your FERS benefit.&nbsp; Also consider any benefits that might be payable to a former spouse.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</li> <li aria-level="1">Determine how much you will need to withdraw from your savings to supplement your FERS retirement benefit before and after age 62.&nbsp; Have you planned for how you will manage your TSP withdrawals and investment allocation after you retire?&nbsp;</li> </ul> <ul> <li aria-level="1">Do you have a plan for unexpected expenses?&nbsp; The biggest could be future long-term care needs.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</li> </ul> <p>Be sure to have enough money to cover your living expenses over those first five years of your retirement from ages 57 to 62, considering that there won&rsquo;t be an increase in your government pension benefit to offset the impact of inflation added to your current costs.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>For example, if you can live on $5,000/month net income and your FERS Retirement with Supplement provides $3,500 of the total needed (after withholdings for taxes and insurance), then the rest will need to come from your TSP and any other retirement savings. You will need to add an additional $150/month to the $5,000 that you estimated to cover your income needs after the first year if inflation is at 3%($5,000 x 103% = $5,150). This additional need will compound with future inflation. For example, in the second year, you will need an additional $304 /month over the initial $5,000 estimate ($5,150 x 103% = $5,304), then $463 / month the third year ($5,304 x 103% = $5,463).&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>If you can delay TSP withdrawals by going to work after retirement, this could be another solution. The next job doesn&rsquo;t need to offer benefits such as health insurance since you will have that with your retirement.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>If you aren&rsquo;t planning to go back to work, then the only other place to allow for inflation is by taking larger distributions from your retirement savings or to reduce your spending to offset the added need. Be sure that you have adequate savings in your TSP to be able to adjust your withdrawals each year without depleting your account too soon.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>It might be prudent to seek assurance from a <a href="">fiduciary financial professional</a> to be sure that it wouldn&rsquo;t make more sense to continue to work a few more years to increase your FERS benefit and allow your savings to continue to compound.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>You will begin receiving COLAs after reaching age 62. <a href="">&nbsp;</a>&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Q. I would like more info on how the retirement date impacts your COLA. </strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let&rsquo;s say that you retire on July 31, 2024, and you are either retiring under CSRS or FERS (under FERS, you must be 62 or older to receive the COLA in most cases).&nbsp; Your retirement benefit would be the same dollar amount for August, September, October and November. On Dec. 1, 2024, you would receive 4/12 of the 2024 COLA.&nbsp; This would be paid on Jan. 1, 2025 (this is your &ldquo;December&rdquo; payment). If you are retiring under FERS and you are, let&rsquo;s say, 58 years old, you would not receive any COLA until the year that you reach age 62. Your payments would stay the same until then. Certain retirees, like disability, survivor, and other special provisions, have different COLA entitlement rules.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Q. I have heard that retiring on the last day of the month is a good idea, how do pay periods figure into when to retire? Should a person retire at the end of a pay period as well? </strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you choose the end of the month that is also the end of a pay period (such as June 29, 2024, Nov. 30, 2024, Dec. 28, 2024, May 31, 2025, and Oct. 31, 2025, for most federal payroll systems, but not USPS), this means that your retirement will commence on the 1st day of the following month and you will earn your last leave accrual for working 80 hours for the last pay period.&nbsp; If you retire at the end of the month that is not the end of the pay period, then your FERS retirement benefit will commence on the firstday of the following month, but your last leave accrual would be for the last full pay period that you completed. For example, if you decide to retire on Friday, Aug. 30 (or Saturday, Aug. 31), your last leave accrual would have been for leave period 16, which ends on Aug. 24. Under FERS, an<a href=""> immediate, voluntary retirement</a> commences on the first day of the month following your retirement date.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Q. I have heard that I can roll over my lump sum annual leave payment directly to an IRA so that I won&rsquo;t have to pay tax on this money until it is withdrawn from the IRA. Is this true?</strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unfortunately, the lump sum annual leave payment is unpaid compensation, and it is taxable in the year that you receive this payment. You are not able to contribute to the TSP out of this payment and it cannot be transferred directly to an IRA without paying taxes on this payment.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the<a href=""> IRS:</a> If you&#39;re a federal employee and receive a lump-sum payment for accrued annual leave when you retire or resign, this amount will be included as wages on your Form W-2 for the year that you receive the payment. You can open and make contributions to a traditional IRA if you (or, if you file a joint return, your spouse) receives taxable compensation during the year. You can have a traditional IRA whether you are covered by any other retirement plan. However, you may not be able to deduct all your contributions if you or your spouse are covered by an employer retirement plan.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>If you resign from one agency and are reemployed by another agency, you may have to repay part of your lump-sum annual leave payment to the second agency. You can reduce gross wages by the amount you repaid in the same tax year in which you received it. Attach to your tax return a copy of the receipt or statement given to you by the agency you repaid to explain the difference between the wages on your return and the wages on your Forms W-2.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Your total contributions to both your IRA and your spouse&#39;s IRA may not exceed your joint taxable income or the <a href="">annual contribution limit on IRAs</a> times two, whichever is less. It doesn&#39;t matter which spouse earned the income.&nbsp;</p> <p>Roth IRAs and IRA deductions have other income limits. See <a href="">IRA Contribution Limits and IRA deduction limits.</a>&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Q. Is it possible to receive a refund of my contributions from FERS that are deducted from my biweekly salary?</strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you leave your government job before becoming eligible for retirement:&nbsp;</p> <ul> <li aria-level="1">you can ask that your retirement contributions be returned to you in a lump sum payment, you would use<a href=""> SF 3106, Application for a Return of FERS Retirement Deductions</a> or&nbsp;</li> </ul> <ul> <li aria-level="1">If you have at least five years of creditable service, you can wait until you are at retirement age to apply for monthly retirement benefit payments. This is called a<a href=""> deferred retirement</a>.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</li> </ul> <p>If an employee who is not eligible for an immediate retirement benefit when they separate from federal employment chooses to receive a refund of their FERS retirement contributions, then they have the following options:&nbsp;</p> <p>According to OPM, you can <a href="">roll over lump sum payments representing your retirement contributions</a>, including voluntary contributions, and applicable interest.&nbsp; An eligible payment can be paid either to you or directly to an individual retirement account or other employee sponsored plan. Your choice will affect the amount of taxes you owe.&nbsp;</p> <ul> <li aria-level="1">OPM is required to withhold federal income tax from taxable payments over $200 at the rate of 20%. However, you may choose to take all or part of these payments in a direct rollover to an individual retirement account or an employer-sponsored retirement plan that accepts rollovers. The taxable portion can be rolled over into the Thrift Saving Plan. If you make this election, we will not withhold the federal income tax from the taxable payments.&nbsp;</li> <li aria-level="1">You can open an individual retirement account to receive a direct rollover. You must contact the individual retirement account sponsor to find out how to have your payment made to your account. If you are unsure of how to invest your money, you may wish to temporarily establish an account to receive the payment. However, you may wish to consider whether you may move any or all the monies to another account later without penalties or limitations.&nbsp;</li> </ul> <p>If you choose to have the payment made to you and it is over $200, it is subject to the 20% Federal income tax withholding. The payment is taxed in the year in which it is received unless within 60 days after receiving it, you roll it over to an individual retirement account or retirement plan that accepts roll overs. You can roll over up to 100% of the eligible distribution, including the 20% withholding. To do so, you must replace the 20% withholding within the 60-day period. You will be taxed on any amount that you do not roll over. For example, if you roll over only 80% of the distribution, you will be taxed on the remaining 20%.&nbsp;</p> <p>You can find more information about the taxation of payments from qualified retirement plans from the following Internal Revenue Service publications:&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="">IRS Publication 575, &quot;Pension and Annuity Income&quot;,</a>&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="">IRS Publication 590-A, &quot;Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs)&quot;,</a>&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="">IRS Publication 721, &quot;Tax Guide to U.S. Civil Service Retirement System Payments&quot;</a>, and&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="">Form 4972, &quot;Tax on Lump Sum Distributions&quot;</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>OPM will not withhold any amount for federal income tax if your total taxable lump sum is less than $200. We will request a rollover election when you are eligible for a payment of $200 or more.</p> <div class="related-articles-placeholder">[[Related Posts]]</div> <p></p> Oleg Lyfar/Getty ImagesRepublicans look to 'dismantle' DEI efforts at federal agencies bill would strike down President Biden's diversity efforts and create strict rules preventing such initiatives.Eric KatzThu, 13 Jun 2024 13:10:00 -0400<p>Congressional Republicans are looking to unwind President Biden&rsquo;s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within federal agencies, with lawmakers suggesting the administration&rsquo;s push has led to discrimination in federal hiring.&nbsp;</p> <p>Biden is unlikely to sign into law any measure that undermines one of his signature initiatives to reform workforce policies within the federal government, but the bill&mdash;which won broad support within the Republican caucus&mdash;illustrates the legislation lawmakers will prioritize if former President Trump is reelected. Republicans have for years blasted DEI efforts in both the public and private sectors and sought paths to prohibit them.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Dismantle DEI Act, introduced by Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, would rescind not just Biden&rsquo;s <a href="">2021 DEI executive order</a>, but several other orders and memoranda related to discrimination based on sexual orientation; advancing opportunities for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders; establishing a White House Gender Policy Council; and other initiatives aimed at ending discrimination. All agencies would be forced to shutter their DEI offices, the Office of Personnel Management would have to close its Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility, and no federal funds could be used on such efforts.&nbsp;</p> <p>Biden in 2021 signed a sweeping order to improve recruitment, retention and professional development of underserved communities, including providing more comprehensive health coverage to LGBTQ+ federal workers, boosting protections for feds with disabilities and pushing agencies to transition from unpaid to paid internships.</p> <p>OPM and the Office of Management and Budget were tasked with developing a government DEI policy and each agency had to update their individual plans. The order created a chief diversity officer for the entire government and encouraged agencies to establish their own such officers internally.&nbsp;</p> <p>Biden&#39;s order <a href="">followed one Trump signed</a> toward the end of his presidency that barred agencies and federal contractors from engaging in diversity and inclusion training that involved the use of critical race theory or otherwise highlighted institutional racism in the United States. On his first day in office, Biden signed an order of his own <a href="">reversing that Trump-era policy</a>. It also directed agencies to advance racial equity and &ldquo;address unequal barriers to opportunity in agency policies and programs.&rdquo;</p> <p>The new Republican bill would rescind both of those orders, as well as others.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;The DEI agenda is a destructive ideology that breeds hatred and racial division,&rdquo; said Vance, who introduced the bill with five additional Senate colleagues. &ldquo;It has no place in our federal government or anywhere else in our society.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Texas, introduced companion legislation with 15 cosponsors in the House.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;This bill is a necessary step to restore merit and equality, not equity, in America&rsquo;s government institutions, and eliminate the DEI bureaucracy that sows division and wastes taxpayer money,&rdquo; Cloud said.&nbsp;</p> <p>The measure would require OPM and OMB to create new regulations that &ldquo;prohibit racist behavior and racist training in government&rdquo; and ensure oversight that no DEI efforts take place at any agency. Federal contracts would be barred from including any funds or language related to DEI and federal grant recipients would have to sign an agreement asserting they would not use any funds to advance such efforts.&nbsp;</p> <p>The bill would also open the government to lawsuits, as any individual could open a case in federal court if they felt the provisions of the law were being violated. If successful, they would be entitled to at least $1,000 per violation per day.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;DEI institutionalizes discrimination in hiring,&rdquo; said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., a cosponsor on the measure. &ldquo;Taxpayers expect the most qualified candidates to be hired, not the most favored.&rdquo;</p> <p>A recent Government Accountability Office <a href="">report</a> found the federal workforce gradually grew more diverse from 2011 to 2021.&nbsp;</p> Sen. J.D. Vance's, R-Ohio, Dismantle DEI Act would rescind the Biden administration's diversity, equity and inclusion policies and make the federal government potentially liable to lawsuits. Kent Nishimura / Getty ImagesFeds invest $60M to boost local climate resilience and workforce development Climate-Ready Workforce initiative looks to place individuals in good-paying jobs that help advance coastal communities’ climate resilience.Kaitlyn LevinsonThu, 13 Jun 2024 09:00:00 -0400<p>In the 1980s, the U.S. saw a $1 billion climate disaster every four months, one federal official said. Today, it&rsquo;s as frequent as every three weeks.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a stark reminder of the escalating [climate] risks we&rsquo;re up against, and the demand for adaptation and resilient solutions is increasing,&rdquo; said Jainey Bavishi, deputy administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. &ldquo;With that comes an increasing demand for a climate-ready workforce &hellip; to help communities and businesses prepare for the impacts of climate change.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>On a call with reporters Tuesday, Bavishi pointed to the fact that the number of city- and state-level climate adaptation plans have risen by 32% since 2018, but fulfilling those plans effectively is difficult without a diverse, skilled workforce.&nbsp;</p> <p>To help communities strengthen climate resilience and increase jobs, NOAA is investing $60 million into a workforce development program to help people find climate-centered jobs and implement climate mitigation across the public and private sectors.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Climate-Ready Workforce for Coastal and Great Lakes States, Tribes and Territories initiative will support nine job training programs, NOAA officials <a href="">announced</a> Tuesday. The programs in Alaska, the American Samoa, California, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington will help ensure coastal communities have the workforce to manage the impacts of climate change.&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the $60 million total, $50 million will go toward project implementation, and the other $10 million will support technical assistance for the grantees. The program also advances President Joe Biden&rsquo;s Justice40 initiative, which calls for 40% of benefits of federal investments to reach disadvantaged communities.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Climate-Ready Workforce Initiative will help forge partnerships among governments and stakeholders &ldquo;to train workers all over the country [in climate resilience] from supporting water resources and infrastructure in Ohio, to restoring wetlands and building living shorelines in Texas, to collecting real time environmental data to aid climate adaptation efforts in Native Alaskan communities,&rdquo; U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said on the call.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Massachusetts, for instance, the Boston Office of Workforce Development will train individuals for deploying the city&rsquo;s Climate-Ready Boston Coastal Climate Resilience Plan and the state&rsquo;s ResilientMass plan. With its $9.8 million in funds, the agency plans to train more than 1,000 workers, prioritizing those from historically underrepresented communities, for positions in nature-based solutions, emergency preparedness and response, water utility management, construction and other fields. Participants will then be placed into coastal climate-resilient jobs and will have access to wraparound services such as childcare, career coaching and stipends.&nbsp;</p> <p>Another $9.3 million was awarded to the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges to launch an initiative to encourage and promote tribal representation in climate resilience efforts. The program will improve collaboration among community and technical colleges, tribal nations and other stakeholders to prepare participants for designing and implementing climate adaptation strategies that align with indigenous tribes&rsquo; values and practices.</p> <p>&ldquo;Once people complete the training, we believe they&rsquo;ll be prepared for specific jobs in areas ranging from conservation to renewable energy, urban agriculture, green infrastructure, water management, emergency preparedness and many other fields,&rdquo; Raimondo said.</p> <p>A full list of awardees and projects can be found <a href="">here</a>. The nine projects are slated to start Aug. 1. NOAA will host <a href="">a virtual symposium</a> in December for grant awardees to update the public on their progress.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to advance effective, equitable workforce development and, importantly, support historically underserved communities so that everyone can thrive in the face of climate change and &hellip; receive the economic benefits of these investments,&rdquo; Raimondo said.</p> In an aerial view, workers move fresh sand delivered via barge to the main public beach during a sand replenishment project along eroding shoreline on May 21, 2024, in San Clemente, California. Mario Tama via Getty ImagesCoast Guard's handling of misconduct allegations draws increased scrutiny from Congress inquiries were spurred by a media report that the Coast Guard kept hidden a multi-year investigation into sexual assault at its service academy.Sean Michael NewhouseWed, 12 Jun 2024 17:35:23 -0400<p>Members of both parties in both houses of Congress criticized the U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday for allegedly withholding documents requested as part of investigations into the military branch&rsquo;s handling of misconduct, particularly sexual assault.&nbsp;</p> <p>The investigations subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing with Coast Guard Commandant Linda Fagan during which the panel chairman called sexual assault and harassment in the armed service a &ldquo;present, ongoing, persistent and unacceptably prevalent problem.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;The mishandling of abuse complaints seems intolerably common. We&#39;ve received reports from almost 40 whistleblowers just in the last few months that attest to this ongoing problem,&rdquo; said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. &ldquo;Unfortunately, the evidence points to a culture of cover up continuing, as exemplified by the resistance to producing for us documents that very specifically and importantly should be part of this investigation.&rdquo;</p> <p>Fagan said she is committed to &ldquo;lasting cultural change&rdquo; and that the Coast Guard reviewed nearly two million pages and provided all relevant documents to the subcommittee, totaling more than 18,000 pages.&nbsp;</p> <p>However Blumenthal complained that the Coast Guard won&rsquo;t provide documents deemed &ldquo;sensitive,&rdquo; which he interpreted as meaning &ldquo;embarrassing,&rdquo; and accused the military branch of dumping difficult-to-decipher documents the day before the hearing.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ranking member Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he expects subpoenas will be necessary.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;I was hoping that the assurances given to us months ago that everybody in the Coast Guard [was] going to be completely transparent, that they had to change the culture and they recognized that the only way to change the culture is through disclosure and accountability, I wish all that was true. But it hasn&#39;t turned out to be that way,&rdquo; Johnson said.&nbsp;</p> <p>While senators were grilling Fagan, leaders from the House Oversight and Accountability Committee sent her a <a href="">letter asking why the Coast Guard hasn&rsquo;t sent more documents</a> to the panel as part of its own investigation into the force&rsquo;s handling of racism, hazing, discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault and other misconduct.&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the letter, the Coast Guard has provided about 8,300 pages of documents in response to congressional requests sent on July 13 and Dec. 8, 2023. But the service previously indicated to the committee that it had &ldquo;1.8 million pages of potentially responsive material.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>The House committee leaders also criticized the armed service for refusing to brief them about plans to send additional documents to investigators and said they heard from whistleblowers who have &ldquo;come forward to recount traumatizing experiences and who have revealed additional cultural deficiencies and alleged incompetence and misconduct by current and former leaders within USCG.&rdquo;</p> <p>They set a deadline for the Coast Guard to fully comply with their requests for information by June 25.&nbsp;</p> <p>The letter was signed by full committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., full committee ranking member Jamie Raskin, D-Md., subcommittee on National Security, the Border and Foreign Affairs Chairman Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., and subcommittee ranking member Robert Garcia, D-Calif.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Coast Guard told <em>Government Executive</em> in a statement that it will provide a formal reply to the letter and &ldquo;is committed to transparency and affording Congress the opportunity to provide appropriate oversight.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>Both congressional inquiries were prompted by a June 2023 CNN report that <a href="">the U.S. Coast Guard in 2014 launched an investigation called Operation Fouled Anchor</a> into alleged sexual assaults at the Coast Guard Academy from the late 1980s to 2006. The investigation, which it kept secret from Congress, &ldquo;found that school leaders routinely failed to report serious allegations to law enforcement, intentionally avoiding the criminal justice system.&rdquo;</p> <p>Additionally, <a href="">Shannon Norenberg, the former sexual assault response coordinator at the Coast Guard Academy, on Sunday posted a blog</a> in which she claims that the Coast Guard did not offer forms to victims interviewed for Operation Fouled Anchor that would make it easier for them to obtain Veterans Affairs Department services for trauma from their sexual assault because doing so would increase the number of sexual assault cases reported at the academy.&nbsp;</p> <p>During her testimony before the investigations subcommittee, Fagan said that Norenberg&rsquo;s allegations would be part of an ongoing inspector general investigation.</p> <div class="related-articles-placeholder">[[Related Posts]]</div> <p></p> U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan arrives for a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations hearing on Capitol Hill on June 11, 2024 about sexual assault and harassment in the Coast Guard.Andrew Harnik / Getty ImagesFBI agents say they need more money to stay in the bureau in high-cost cities say they cannot support their elevated expenses on their current salaries.Eric KatzWed, 12 Jun 2024 16:48:26 -0400 & Benefits<p>FBI agents are warning they cannot afford to continue working in the nation&rsquo;s highest-cost cities, with many saying they may seek out careers outside the bureau as daily expenses grow and their pay remains relatively stagnant.&nbsp;</p> <p>Nearly 70% of agents assigned to high-cost areas find it difficult to live there with their current salaries, according to a recent survey of its membership conducted by the FBI Agents Association. Much of their membership is reassigned at management&rsquo;s whim and have little say over where they work, which the group said is exacerbating the problem. The issue has become particularly trying in recent years as housing costs have increased dramatically with inflation.&nbsp;</p> <p>FBI agents in cities like New York, Boston, Washington and Honolulu are speaking out to warn bureau leadership that they may pursue other careers.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;We are constantly considering moving and changing jobs, even leaving the FBI,&rdquo; said an FBIAA member living in Boston. &ldquo;It is getting to the point where we are deciding, &lsquo;What is the point of this?&rsquo;&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>FBI boasts that its agents earn between $81,000 and $129,000 per year on average, though starting salaries are typically slightly lower. Supervisory agents can earn up to $170,000 annually.&nbsp;</p> <p>FBIAA is particularly concerned that employees could lose their security clearances if they are unable to demonstrate financial solvency. They said turnover has increased to problematic levels in expensive areas and retention is getting more difficult as agents ask to be reassigned to lower-cost regions.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;As FBI agents, we dedicate our lives to protecting our country,&rdquo; said Natalie Bara, FBIAA president. &ldquo;The high cost of living in many major cities affects our work today as well as our ability to recruit and retain the talented people we need.&rdquo;</p> <p>Many agents said they have difficulty saving for retirement or their kids&rsquo; education.</p> <p>&ldquo;[We have] lots of anxiety induced by financial stressors and fear of never being able to retire,&rdquo; said an agent in San Francisco. &ldquo;Unforeseen events like a car accident or medical emergency can be financially devastating.&rdquo;</p> <p>A Brooklyn-based agent said rising costs without commensurate pay adjustments are making the FBI a short-term stopover for many of his colleagues.</p> <p>&ldquo;For agents wanting to stay long term and raise a family, it is almost impossible due to costs and availability of housing [and] daycare,&rdquo; the agent said.&nbsp;</p> <p>Many agents suggested they could earn significantly more in the private sector, as they maintain specialized skill sets and their FBI experience is valued in security and other fields.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;I question daily if my dream career working as an agent in the FBI was a poor decision in the sense that I cannot provide enough financially for my family,&rdquo; an agent in New York City said.&nbsp;</p> <p>To alleviate the situation, FBIAA is working with FBI headquarters, the Justice Department and members of Congress to provide boosted pay for employees in high-cost areas to help offset housing costs. The bureau and Justice have received the proposal warmly, FBIAA said, and some members of Congress are working to identify funding for a pilot program as part of the appropriations process. Those conversations have been ongoing for more than a year, however, and there is no guarantee extra spending will be approved.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the most recent round of funding, Republicans boasted they <a href="">cut FBI funding by 6%</a> and the party has derided the bureau after alleging it has conducted politically motivated work. Neither House Republicans nor Senate Democrats have unveiled their proposed funding levels for FBI for fiscal 2025.&nbsp;</p> <p>The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <div class="related-articles-placeholder">[[Related Posts]]</div> <p></p> Scott Olson/Getty ImagesSenators look to mitigate risks in AI procurement Gary Peters and Thom Tilis introduced new legislation that would codify safety measures in government contracts for artificial intelligence products and services.Alexandra KelleyWed, 12 Jun 2024 15:05:00 -0400<p>A bipartisan Senate duo introduced new legislation on Tuesday that proposes standards for the artificial intelligence technologies procured by the federal government, <a href="">as more agencies</a> work to take advantage of the beneficial aspects of AI and automated systems.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Promoting Responsible Evaluation and Procurement to Advance Readiness for Enterprise-wide Deployment &mdash; or PREPARED &mdash; for AI Act, introduced by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chair Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., would be the first law to codify guardrails for the use of AI in public sector procurement if passed, a spokesperson from the committee told <em>Nextgov/FCW</em>.</p> <p>Some of the provisions in the PREPARED for AI Act stipulate that agencies need to classify risk levels of AI usage, keeping a rights-centric approach in mind, something other federal agencies like the Office of Management and Budget have echoed in <a href="">earlier guidance</a>. It would also mandate that government contracts for AI products and services include safety information regarding data ownership, civil rights, civil liberties, privacy and adverse incident reporting.</p> <p>The bill would also require continuous testing and monitoring of an AI-based system during its deployment in government operations to mitigate risks.</p> <p>&ldquo;Artificial intelligence has the power to reshape how the federal government provides services to the American people for the better, but if left unchecked, it can pose serious risks,&rdquo; Peters said in a statement. &ldquo;These guardrails will help guide federal agencies&rsquo; responsible adoption and use of AI tools, and ensure that systems paid for by taxpayers are being used safely and securely.&rdquo;</p> <p>Peters has previously indicated support for codifying guidance for the AI procurement process into law <a href="">in remarks at a September 2023 hearing</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>Non-governmental entities expressed support for the PREPARED for AI Act. Alexandra Reeve Givens, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, saying that her organization will work with Peters and Tilis on advancing best practices in AI procurement.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;As agencies consider incorporating AI into government services and other processes, they must do so responsibly &mdash; working to protect people&rsquo;s rights and ensure the responsible use of taxpayer dollars,&rdquo; Reeve Givens said in a statement. &ldquo;The bipartisan PREPARED for AI Act lays a strong foundation by codifying transparency, risk evaluation, and other safeguards that will help agencies make smarter and more informed procurement decisions.&rdquo;</p> Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., shown here at a 2023 hearing, is cosponsoring legislation to reduce risk in AI procurement by federal agencies.Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesLawmakers unveil a new plan to revamp federal wildfire prevention and mitigation Modernizing Wildfire Safety and Prevention Act would create a new Middle Fire Leaders Academy to rapidly bolster the ranks of federal wildland firefighters.Erich WagnerWed, 12 Jun 2024 15:03:15 -0400<p>A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday introduced new legislation aimed at revamping how the federal government responds to wildfires, including better benefits and work-life balance for firefighters and a new training program aimed at increasing their numbers.</p> <p>The Modernizing Wildfire Safety and Prevention Act (<a href="">H.R. 8656</a>), introduced by Reps. Josh Harder, D-Calif., Scott Franklin, R-Fla., and Joe Neguse, D-Colo., implements recommendations from the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission as outlined in the panel&rsquo;s <a href="">September 2023 report</a>.</p> <p>The bill takes a four-prong approach to improving the federal response to wildfires: workforce development, improved support for federal firefighters, public health and mitigation technology.</p> <p>The measure would create a new Middle Fire Leaders Academy, aimed to rapidly train and certify &ldquo;wildfire and beneficial fire leaders,&rdquo; as well as a new program to award grants to educational and vocational training institutions who conduct wildland firefighting training.</p> <p>In an effort to improve federal firefighter retention, the legislation includes provisions extending wildland firefighters&rsquo; break in service provision to two years, thereby making it easier for firefighters to maintain eligibility for their more generous retirement benefits. It also authorizes the Interior Department to develop a Wildland Fire Management Casualty Assistance Program to help families of federal firefighters who were injured or have died.</p> <p>Other provisions would establish a federal smoke monitoring system to provide real-time information and forecasts on how wildfires may affect air quality, develop risk maps to forecast where fires might break out and creates a new Joint Office of the Fire Environment Center within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to monitor potential wildfires and manage the government&rsquo;s response.</p> <p>&ldquo;Last week, a wildfire came within a mile of my home,&rdquo; said Harder in a statement. &ldquo;More than 14,000 acres burned and 400 firefighters risked their lives to contain it. We no longer have a wildfire season in California&mdash;it&rsquo;s a year-round crisis. We cannot wait another day to tackle this threat. Alongside our bipartisan partners, we&rsquo;ve put together a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive bill to finally fight this crisis head-on.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;As a father of a wildland firefighter, I&rsquo;m pleased to join Reps. Harder and Neguse to modernize and innovate our approach to wildfire management,&rdquo; Franklin said. &ldquo;This comprehensive package will invest in new wildfire mitigation technologies and ensure permanent solutions to current and future workforce challenges.&rdquo;</p> <p>The bill quickly garnered support from a variety of employee organizations, environmental and industry groups.</p> <p>&ldquo;This legislation is a comprehensive and sensible approach to how the federal government should respond to the evolving wildfire crisis,&rdquo; said Randy Erwin, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents around 10,000 federal wildland firefighters. &ldquo;Experts from the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission laid out their recommendations, and now is the time to put these strategies into action. This legislation will greatly impact recruitment and retention of skilled personnel, with critical support mechanisms for the wellbeing of wildland firefighters at the forefront of this crisis. It will also equip the workforce with the necessary technologies and resources to safely protect our communities from wildfires.&rdquo;</p> A view of transmission towers in flames as Corral Fire continues in San Joaquin County, Calif., on June 2.Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu via Getty ImagesPut the telework debate to rest by focusing on productivity | Civil servants say telework improves productivity, but Congress wants data to prove it. Here’s one way OMB can reconcile the differences.Rob HankeyWed, 12 Jun 2024 07:00:00 -0400<p>When it comes to teleworking, the Office of Management and Budget and federal agency leaders may feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. That&rsquo;s because they are getting conflicting feedback from various stakeholders.&nbsp;</p> <p>OMB has the unenviable task of trying to balance the needs of civil servants and evolving expectations of the broader American workforce &ndash; with requirements set forth by the Biden administration and lawmakers. Reconciling the differences is challenging.&nbsp;</p> <div class="related-articles-placeholder">[[Related Posts]]</div> <p><strong>Same old debate, different time and cultural norms</strong></p> <p>Telework is not a new concept for the federal government. The first federal agency to experiment with <a href="">telework was in 1934</a>. Decades later, in the 1970s, the Office of Personnel Management conducted a pilot test with five different agencies. The U.S. Army and the National Institutes of Health&nbsp;also tested telework in the 1980s.</p> <p>These pilot programs showed telework promised &ldquo;favorable results&rdquo; in terms of productivity. However, all the projects were ended, over fears the program would be abused &ndash; a cultural perspective that was seemingly at odds with the test data.&nbsp;</p> <p>It wouldn&rsquo;t be until 2010, when high-speed internet connectivity helped usher in the <a href="">Telework Enhancement Act</a>, which codified remote work authorization into law for civil servants.&nbsp;Despite the authorization, the broad use of telework was tempered until the global pandemic of 2020. In our observation, that was the tipping point for cultural acceptance.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Identifying stakeholders needs today </strong></p> <p>Despite the widespread use of telework today, valid skepticism remains. It&rsquo;s a remarkable change from the generations that spent their careers in an office. That change has to be managed and that starts by understanding the perspectives of all stakeholders involved.</p> <p>Below is a high-level summary of the major sticking points of each stakeholder group:</p> <ul> <li aria-level="1"><strong>Civil servants.</strong> More than half of the federal workforce works remotely, according to the 2023&nbsp;<a href="">Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey</a>. Many civil servants report being more productive when they are free from office distractions. An even more recent poll of 6,300 civil servants found 67% say they get more done when permitted to telework. Just about 8% said the same of in-office. About 82% of workers polled indicated they felt the recent push to get civil servants back to the office was &ldquo;politically motivated.&rdquo;</li> <li aria-level="1"><strong>Congress. </strong>Some Members of Congress have questioned the efficiency of working from home &ndash; and they want to see <a href="">data</a> that proves it&rsquo;s viable. &ldquo;No one says we&rsquo;re totally opposed to telework,&rdquo; House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair James Comer, R-Ky., <a href="">said in a hearing</a> with Jason Miller, a deputy director with the OMB. &ldquo;We just want to see data that shows it&rsquo;s more efficient, and I don&rsquo;t think you all have that data.&rdquo;</li> <li aria-level="1"><strong>Administration.</strong> Last year OMB started petitioning federal agencies to bring employees back to the office for at least 50% of the time. This was met with stiff resistance from the unions. These concerns are worth noting because OMB needs to attract and retain talent. For example, the government is currently trying to hire some <a href="">500 employees to work on artificial intelligence</a> from the private sector. The federal government cannot compete with private sector pay scales, so it&rsquo;s already at a disadvantage. Add to it, the commute in Washington, DC consistently ranks as among the worst in the nation, which makes attracting talent the government desperately needs all the more challenging.&nbsp;</li> </ul> <p>When we compare the historical debate over telework with the one that&rsquo;s unfolding now, many of the arguments for and against telework are the same: the debate centers on productivity but the arguments are largely based on cultural experience.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Focus policy, process and data on an outcome</strong></p> <p>Those accustomed to the office are inclined to believe the office is the only answer. Digital natives, however, point to the pandemic and history of successful pilot programs.&nbsp;</p> <p>It&rsquo;s here that we get back to that difficult position. How can OMB reconcile these views? I believe there are three major steps:</p> <p><strong>1. Define the policy.</strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>OMB has said it wants federal employees to spend 50% of their time in the office &ndash; and they are about 80% of the way toward reaching that goal. Yet it&rsquo;s also suggested agencies can have the flexibility to modify things to meet their needs. This adds a degree of ambiguity to the policy, which is largely based on an abstract goal of time spent in a given location, rather than a business outcome.&nbsp;</p> <p>This shows up in the survey we alluded to previously. Fifty-six percent of civil servants polled do not think the purpose behind the policy is clear. That&rsquo;s important because employee buy-in isn&rsquo;t something that can be legislated, so it&rsquo;s worthwhile spending some time listening to civil servants and incorporating their feedback into the policy.&nbsp;</p> <p>We need to get this right, or we&rsquo;ll be doing it again in the future. If the goal is to improve productivity, the policy too should focus on productivity.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>2. Map the whole process.</strong></p> <p>The pressure is on OMB to collect data &ndash; so technology will play an important role here. Yet having worked on 39 projects just like this over the years, I know this is not a process that can be accelerated. It&rsquo;s important to map the whole process out before implementing any sort of technology, or the risk is high that key steps will be overlooked.&nbsp;</p> <p>For example, we know there&rsquo;s a form involved. Government employees must complete a telework agreement that requires approval by one or more supervisors. The agreement ensures certain conditions are met such as ensuring the employee has:</p> <ul> <li aria-level="1">Completed the requisite online <a href="">telework training</a>;&nbsp;</li> <li aria-level="1">Adequate workspace free from distractions;&nbsp;</li> <li aria-level="1">Access to supporting tools for messaging, collaboration and printing;</li> <li aria-level="1">Metrics for objectively demonstrating productivity.&nbsp;</li> </ul> <p>There are of course other requirements too, including re-certifying the telework agreement periodically. The point is that a telework agreement is more involved than just collecting a form. A form is merely a method of collecting data to support a process. That whole process needs to be considered for this to work out as intended and ensure telework is focused on productivity.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>3. Implement a purpose-built system.&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>The last step is to define the requirements for a purpose-built system. There&rsquo;s a decision to be made whether the government puts a single system in place for all agencies to use &ndash; or allows every agency to come up with their own.&nbsp;</p> <p>I believe the right answer is the former. A good example is why the system that is in use for many government ethics offices is our financial disclosure application (FDonline). It&rsquo;s designed to support the annual data collection, facilitates multi-step review and approval and reporting on metrics such as the number of applications submitted, in progress, approved, declined or being appealed.&nbsp;</p> <p>The system has become the standard for agencies such as the USDA, DoI and FAA, among many others. For example, the <a href="">FAA</a> uses this to manage disclosure filing for 16,000 employees who are required to file disclosure forms. The parallels between financial disclosure and telework are remarkably close.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Meeting citizens where they are</strong></p> <p>More and more of the things we do every day &ndash; shopping, banking, even finding love &ndash; are being done online. This was inconceivable twenty years ago, but today it&rsquo;s the status quo.&nbsp;</p> <p>The government has not been immune to this trend either. OMB itself has started to use terms like &ldquo;<a href="">digital experience</a>&rdquo; which were previously only heard in Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue.&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact is more government processes are moving online. This includes engagement with citizens through websites, apps, chats and other digital channels. It just makes sense to have a significant part of the federal workforce there too.&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet we&rsquo;ve also got to be able to prove the value if we are ever to put the debate over telework to rest. Proving that value starts by focusing on productivity.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><a href=""><em>Rob Hankey</em></a><em> is the CEO of </em><a href=""><em>Intelliworx</em></a><em>&nbsp;which provides FedRAMP-authorized&nbsp;workflow management software solutions to more than 30&nbsp;federal government departments and agencies. A retired rotary wing pilot for the U.S. Army, he later worked as a government employee before founding Intelliworx.&nbsp;</em></p> VectorMine/Getty ImagesSchedule F looms over trust in government summit survey data from the Partnership for Public Service shows there is strong bipartisan support among the public for a nonpartisan civil service.Sean Michael NewhouseTue, 11 Jun 2024 17:03:00 -0400<p>The vast majority of surveyed Americans oppose Donald Trump&rsquo;s plans to remove job protections for thousands of civil servants, according to <a href="">poll data</a> released by a nonpartisan good government organization this week.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;Americans expect a government that serves their needs ahead of any political interest. Rebuilding trust in government requires us to support &mdash; not weaken &mdash; our nonpartisan civil service system,&rdquo; Lindsay Laferriere, a director at the Partnership for Public Service, said at an event Tuesday focused on building trust in the government. &ldquo;There are many ways to improve government. The Partnership has been at this a long time and we have lots of ideas, but giving the president and his appointees more latitude to fire civil servants and hire their replacements based on political loyalty is not the answer.&rdquo;</p> <p>Trump, the likely Republican nominee for president, has campaigned on <a href="">reviving Schedule F</a>, a failed effort of his administration to convert tens of thousands of federal workers in &ldquo;policy-related&rdquo; positions out of the competitive service. This would effectively make them at-will employees.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Partnership&rsquo;s report found that 87% of Americans surveyed &mdash; including 88% of Democrats and 87% of Republicans &mdash; agree that having a nonpartisan civil service is important to a strong democracy.&nbsp;</p> <p>Likewise, 95% of respondents said that civil servants should be hired and promoted based on merit rather than their political beliefs, and 72% disagreed with the idea that presidents should be able to fire &ldquo;any civil servants that they choose for any reason.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;The concern is that [Schedule F] is viewed as sort of inside baseball [and] not relevant to people&#39;s daily lives when, in fact, it has profound significance for the quality of services and the capability of our government to protect us and make us safe,&rdquo; said Max Stier, the Partnership&rsquo;s president.&nbsp;</p> <p>Schedule F supporters have said it&rsquo;s necessary to more easily remove poor performers as well as government workers who disagree with the policy decisions of their bosses.&nbsp;</p> <p>Along those lines, the survey data also shows that two-thirds of respondents believe there &ldquo;are many civil servants who work to undermine policies they disagree with,&rdquo; including 79% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Partnership and Impact Research administered the poll from March 25 through April 1 to 800 adults nationwide. Responses were weighted based on the demographic makeup of the U.S.&nbsp;</p> <p>Notably, the report found that only 23% of respondents trust the federal government. In fact, trust in the federal government since 2022 declined across all demographic groups in the survey, including based on political affiliation, race and ethnicity, sex and age.&nbsp;</p> <p>However almost half of respondents reported that their own experiences with the federal government, such as when filing taxes or going through airport security, have been mostly positive. But just 28% agreed that was true for most Americans.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;What was new about our findings is that when you asked about individual federal agencies, or civil servants, people had a lot more positive impressions of those folks. And those are the people that deliver services and serve the public every day,&rdquo; Laferriere said. &ldquo;So there seems to be a bit of a disconnect. People like the federal employees who work in government, but they don&#39;t trust government overall.&rdquo;</p> <p>Author Michael Lewis, who wrote <a href="">a book about the federal bureaucracy under the Trump administration</a>, argued at the event that in order to rebuild trust in the government the stories and successes of its employees must be told. He equated doing so with changing a stereotype.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;It&#39;s very easy to cling to those stereotypes when you don&#39;t have actual personal interaction with the object of the bigotry or the stereotype. The minute you&#39;re in a foxhole with them, the minute you&#39;re in a basketball game with them, the minute you&#39;re just in a dinner with someone who you&rsquo;ve been stereotyping, you realize, &lsquo;Oh no. Stereotype wrong,&rsquo; or that it&#39;s just silly,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;And it&#39;s a stereotype we need to break.&rdquo;</p> New survey data from The Partnership for Public Service found that only 23% of respondents trust the federal government.shironosov / Getty ImagesBird Flu tests are hard to get. So how will we know when to sound the pandemic alarm? the government doesn’t prepare to ramp up H5N1 bird flu testing, researchers warn, the United States could be caught off guard again by a pandemic.Arthur Allen and Amy Maxmen, KFF Health NewsTue, 11 Jun 2024 17:00:00 -0400<p>Stanford University infectious disease doctor Abraar Karan has seen a lot of patients with runny noses, fevers, and irritated eyes lately. Such symptoms could signal allergies, covid, or a cold. This year, there&rsquo;s another suspect, bird flu &mdash; but there&rsquo;s no way for most doctors to know.</p> <p>If the government doesn&rsquo;t prepare to ramp up H5N1 bird flu testing, he and other researchers warn, the United States could be caught off guard again by a pandemic.</p> <p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re making the same mistakes today that we made with covid,&rdquo; Deborah Birx, who served as former President Donald Trump&rsquo;s coronavirus response coordinator, said <a href="">June 4 on CNN</a>.</p> <p>To become a pandemic, the H5N1 bird flu virus would need to <a href="">spread from person to person</a>. The best way to keep tabs on that possibility is by testing people.</p> <p>Scientifically speaking, many diagnostic laboratories could detect the virus. However, red tape, billing issues, and minimal investment are barriers to quickly ramping up widespread availability of testing. At the moment, the Food and Drug Administration has authorized only the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention&rsquo;s bird flu test, which is used only for people who work closely with livestock.</p> <p>State and federal authorities have detected bird flu in dairy cattle in 12 states. Three people who work on separate dairy farms tested positive, and it is presumed they caught the virus from cows. Yet researchers agree that number is an undercount given the CDC has tested only about 40 people for the disease.</p> <p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s important to know if this is contained on farms, but we have no information because we aren&rsquo;t looking,&rdquo; said Helen Chu, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Washington in Seattle who alerted the country to covid&rsquo;s spread in 2020 by testing people more broadly.</p> <p>Reports of untested <a href="">sick farmworkers</a> &mdash; as well as <a href="">a maternity worker</a> who had flu symptoms &mdash; in the areas with H5N1 outbreaks among cattle in Texas suggest the numbers are higher. And the mild symptoms of those who tested positive &mdash; a cough and eye inflammation, without a fever &mdash; are such that infected people might not bother seeking medical care and, therefore, wouldn&rsquo;t be tested.</p> <p>The CDC has asked farmworkers with flu symptoms to get tested, but researchers are concerned about a <a href="">lack of outreach</a> and incentives to encourage testing among people with limited job security and access to health care. Further, by testing only on dairy farms, the agency likely would miss evidence of wider spread.</p> <p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s hard to not compare this to covid, where early on we only tested people who had traveled,&rdquo; said Benjamin Pinsky, medical director of the clinical virology laboratory at Stanford University. &ldquo;That left us open to not immediately recognizing that it was transmitting among the community.&rdquo;</p> <p>In the early months of covid, the rollout of testing in the United States was <a href="">catastrophically slow</a>. Although the World Health Organization had validated a test and other groups had developed their own using basic molecular biology techniques, the CDC at first insisted on creating and <a href="">relying on its own test</a>. Adding to delays, the first version it shipped to state health labs didn&rsquo;t work.</p> <p>The FDA lagged, too. It didn&rsquo;t authorize tests from diagnostic laboratories outside of the CDC until late February 2020.</p> <p>On Feb. 27, 2020, Chu&rsquo;s research lab <a href="">detected covid</a> in a teenager who didn&rsquo;t meet the CDC&rsquo;s narrow testing criteria. This case sounded an alarm that covid had spread below the radar. Scaling up to meet demand took time: Months passed before anyone who needed a covid test could get one.</p> <p>Chu notes this isn&rsquo;t 2020 &mdash; not by a long shot. Hospitals aren&rsquo;t overflowing with bird flu patients. Also, the country has the tools to do much better this time around, she said, if there&rsquo;s political will.</p> <p>For starters, tests that detect the broad category of influenzas that H5N1 belongs to, called influenza A, are FDA-approved and ubiquitous. These are routinely run in the &ldquo;flu season,&rdquo; from November to February. An unusual number of positives from these garden-variety flu tests this spring and summer could alert researchers that something is awry.</p> <p>Doctors, however, are unlikely to request influenza A tests for patients with respiratory symptoms outside of flu season, in part because health insurers may not cover them except in limited circumstances, said Alex Greninger, assistant director of the clinical virology laboratory at the University of Washington.</p> <p>That&rsquo;s a solvable problem, he added. At the peak of the covid pandemic, the government overcame billing issues by mandating that insurance companies cover tests, and set a lucrative price to make it worthwhile for manufacturers. &ldquo;You ran into a testing booth on every other block in Manhattan because companies got $100 every time they stuck a swab in someone&rsquo;s nose,&rdquo; Greninger said.</p> <p>Another obstacle is that the FDA has yet to allow companies to run their influenza A tests using eye swabs, although the CDC and public health labs are permitted to do so. Notably, the bird flu virus was detected only in an eye swab from one farmworker infected this year &mdash; and not in samples drawn from the nose or throat.</p> <p>Overcoming such barriers is essential, Chu said, to ramp up influenza A testing in regions with livestock. &ldquo;The biggest bang for the buck is making sure that these tests are routine at clinics that serve farmworker communities,&rdquo; she said, and suggested pop-up testing at state fairs, too.</p> <p>In the meantime, novel tests that detect the H5N1 virus, specifically, could be brought up to speed. The CDC&rsquo;s current test isn&rsquo;t very sensitive or simple to use, researchers said.</p> <p>Stanford, the University of Washington, the Mayo Clinic, and other diagnostic laboratories that serve hospital systems have developed alternatives to detecting the virus circulating now. However, their reach is limited, and researchers stress a need to jump-start additional capacity for testing before a crisis is underway.</p> <p>&ldquo;How can we make sure that if this becomes a public health emergency we aren&rsquo;t stuck in the early days of covid, where things couldn&rsquo;t move quickly?&rdquo; Pinsky said.</p> <p>A <a href="">recent rule</a> that gives the FDA more oversight of lab-developed tests may bog down authorization. In a statement to KFF Health News, the FDA said that, for now, it may allow tests to proceed without a full approval process. The CDC did not respond to requests for comment.</p> <p>But the American Clinical Laboratory Association has asked the FDA and the CDC for clarity on the new rule. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s slowing things down because it&rsquo;s adding to the confusion about what is allowable,&rdquo; said Susan Van Meter, president of the diagnostic laboratory trade group.</p> <p>Labcorp, Quest Diagnostics, and other major testing companies are in the best position to manage a surge in testing demand because they can process hundreds per day, rather than dozens. But that would require adapting testing processes for their specialized equipment, a process that consumes time and money, said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at the Mayo Clinic.</p> <p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s only been a handful of H5N1 cases in humans the last few years,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;so it&rsquo;s hard for them to invest millions when we don&rsquo;t know the future.&rdquo;</p> <p>The government could provide funding to underwrite its research, or commit to buying tests in bulk, much as Operation Warp Speed did to advance covid vaccine development.</p> <p>&ldquo;If we need to move to scale this, there would need to be an infusion of money,&rdquo; said Kelly Wroblewski, director of infectious disease programs at the Association of Public Health Laboratories. Like an insurance policy, the upfront expense would be slight compared with the economic blow of another pandemic.</p> <p>Other means of tracking the H5N1 virus are critical, too. Detecting antibodies against the bird flu in farmworkers would help reveal whether more people have been infected and recovered. And analyzing wastewater for the virus could indicate an uptick in infections in people, birds, or cattle.</p> <p>As with all pandemic preparedness efforts, the difficulty lies in stressing the need to act before a crisis strikes, Greninger said.</p> <p>&ldquo;We should absolutely get prepared,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;but until the government insures some of the risk here, it&rsquo;s hard to make a move in that direction.&rdquo;</p> <p><em><a href="">KFF Health News</a> is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF&mdash;an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about <a href="">KFF</a>.</em></p> <p><em><a href="">Subscribe</a> to KFF Health News&#39; free Morning Briefing.</em></p> At the moment, the Food and Drug Administration has authorized only the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s bird flu test, which is used only for people who work closely with livestock.SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty ImagesIRS is reducing its physical footprint but needs a better long-term plan, its IG says IRS has reduced its office space by 2 million square feet since fiscal 2018, but the watchdog said it could save millions in real estate costs with additional steps.Erich WagnerTue, 11 Jun 2024 15:58:00 -0400<p>The Internal Revenue Service has reduced its property footprint by 2 million square feet since fiscal 2018, but the agency needs a better long term plan for space reduction, according to a <a href="">new audit</a> from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.</p> <p>Between the 2018 and the 2023 fiscal years, IRS&rsquo; overall space footprint fell from 24.3 million rentable square feet to 22.3 million, a decrease of about 8%. The agency expects to spend around $600 million in real estate costs across its 516 office buildings in fiscal 2024.</p> <p>Greater attention has been paid to unused office space and low occupancy rates in federal buildings due to the increased use of telework since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some congressional Republicans have been skeptical of the workplace flexibility&rsquo;s efficacy, they have argued that if the practice is effective, agencies should begin offloading unneeded space freed up by fewer in-person workers.</p> <div class="related-articles-placeholder">[[Related Posts]]</div> <p>At IRS, bargaining unit employees are allowed to work from home between four and eight days per pay period, depending on their job, while remote workers only come in &ldquo;infrequently.&rdquo; Last month, IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel began requiring managers, executives and other non-bargaining unit employees in the D.C. area to commute to work 50% of their work hours.</p> <p>In fiscal 2023, the inspector general found that a majority of IRS buildings experienced an occupancy rate of 50% or less. And while the agency has begun implementing a new hoteling system, whereby teleworking employees share work stations based on who is in the office, a majority still have their own dedicated work stations.</p> <p>&ldquo;As of September 2023, there were 9,084 out of 23,253 frequent teleworkers either sharing a workstation at a 2-to-1 ratio or higher or hoteling in IRS office space,&rdquo; the audit states. &ldquo;[The] remaining 14,169 IRS employees (61%) in frequent telework status were assigned to an individual workstation. Moving these employees to a 2-to-1 workstation sharing/hoteling ratio, for example, could potentially eliminate up to 7,084 unneeded workstations resulting in a potential space reduction of 396,704 rentable square feet.&quot;</p> <p>The inspector general estimated that step alone could save $10.8 million in real estate costs per year.</p> <p>&ldquo;We recognize that a 100% workstation sharing/hoteling rate at all locations is not always practical and space reduction projects often take several years to plan and complete,&rdquo; they wrote. &ldquo;However, implementing a 2-to-1 workstation sharing/hoteling ratio where it is practical to do so would better achieve compliance with the [Office of Management and Budget&rsquo;s] guidance to make more efficient use of the government&rsquo;s real estate assets and reduce the IRS&rsquo; total square footage while still allowing the flexibility to accommodate support of a 50% in-office presence for teleworkers, as needed.&rdquo;</p> <p>IRS says that it plans to continue to reduce its net office space by 421,000 rentable square feet by the end of fiscal 2026. But the inspector general said that plan likely will not meaningfully improve the agency&rsquo;s occupancy rate, and that it needs a strategic facility plan to help project the agency&rsquo;s future space needs and analyze how to reduce unneeded square footage.</p> <p>&ldquo;We believe that the IRS lacks a long-term space reduction plan that clearly specifies the space reductions it expects to achieve annually beyond fiscal 2026, and that sufficiently decreases its unneeded office space by maximizing the space savings associated with current practices in remote work, telework and workstation sharing/hoteling,&rdquo; the report states. &ldquo;Although the IRS has identified potential future space reduction projects through its strategic facility plan process, it has yet to translate this information into a long-term space reduction plan that outlines how and when it will achieve these reductions.&rdquo;</p> <p>The IRS concurred with two recommendations from the inspector general, including the call for a long-term space reduction plan, as well as reevaluating already planned space reduction projects to ensure that they mesh with the agency&rsquo;s current telework policy.</p> The IRS plans to reduce its net office space by 421,000 rentable square feet by the end of fiscal 2026, but TIGTA said the figure won't improve its occupancy rate. J. David Ake / Getty ImagesCourt dismisses criminal charges against federal firefighter arrested while conducting official duties arrest and subsequent indictment of a federal supervisor doing his job had caused panic within the workforce and has some concerned the damage will be difficult to reverse.Eric KatzTue, 11 Jun 2024 14:24:00 -0400<p>A federal court has dismissed a case against an Agriculture Department employee indicted on criminal charges for conduct he undertook as part of his job, providing relief to agency staff and advocates who had called the arrest and grand jury indictment&nbsp;an unprecedented breach of protections for civil servants.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ricky Snodgrass&rsquo; arrest occurred in Malheur National Forest in 2022 after he, a U.S. Forest Service &ldquo;burn boss,&rdquo; led a prescribed burn of 300 acres. Todd McKinley, the sheriff in Grant County, Oregon, arrived at the scene and arrested Snodgrass for reckless burning after unexpected winds caused the fire to cross onto private land.&nbsp;</p> <p>Snodgrass&rsquo; case had moved to federal court and his lawyers asked the Magistrate Judge Andrew Hallman in the U. S. Court for the District of Oregon to dismiss it. After reviewing the motion, Jim Carpenter, the Grant County district attorney, opted not to oppose the motion and Hallman approved it last week.&nbsp;</p> <p>In their motion, Snodgrass&rsquo; attorneys said their client&rsquo;s arrest amounted to a disagreement with the local sheriff over Forest Service policy and the state was subject to the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. Snodgrass was therefore immune from prosecution, they argued.&nbsp;</p> <p>Forest Service Chief Randy Moore praised the decision, noting the &ldquo;almost two-year ordeal&rdquo; had caused significant difficulties for Snodgrass but the agency had supported him throughout the process. USFS designated an agency liaison to help guide Snodgrass through the legal process and the Justice Department paid for an attorney it helped him find.</p> <p>&ldquo;We have maintained and continue to assert that accountability should be held by the agency if we experience a bad or unexpected outcome,&rdquo; Moore said. &ldquo;The accountability should never be held by an individual employee working within the scope of their official duties.&rdquo;</p> <div class="related-articles-placeholder">[[Related Posts]]</div> <p>A USFS release ahead of the 2022 burn cautioned residents to stay away from the area, asked them not to interfere with the operation and promoted the benefits of the effort. Some residents, however, did not heed the advice to stay away. Ranchers in eastern Oregon have a history of adversarial relations with federal personnel and have occasionally led efforts&mdash;at times in a violent manner&mdash;to interfere with their work.</p> <p>On the day of the fire, several local citizens drove back and forth along the road near the flames as a way of threatening the federal firefighters. Snodgrass called McKinley, the sheriff, to request assistance in closing down the road so the firefighters could finish the job. When McKinley arrived on the scene, the fire had crossed onto private land. He arrested Snodgrass for reckless burning&mdash;while the fire was still underway.</p> <p>The arrest and subsequent grand jury indictment <a href="">sent shockwaves</a> through the agency and across federal government, with employees saying it upended their understanding that they would be immune from prosecution while conducting official duties. At Forest Service specifically, several employees told <em>Government Executive </em>there was a general sense that the burn boss role was no longer one to aspire to and there was a growing discomfort with participating in controlled fires at all.&nbsp;</p> <p>USFS recognizes some risk for its employees, as it subsidizes half the cost of its firefighters to obtain personal liability insurance (though federal employees generally <a href="">enjoy significant protections from civil lawsuits</a> for any action taken in their official duties).</p> <p>The Forest Service has for years warned of understaffing and struggled to compete for firefighting talent against other agencies and jurisdictions. The agency has made improvements since Congress upped their pay by <a href="">as much as $20,000</a>, but employees have continued to voice concerns about insufficient recruiting. A chilling effect from Snodgrass&rsquo; trial that created a bottleneck at the lower levels of the agency would have only exacerbated the problem.</p> <p>Moore has sought to downplay those risks and communicated regularly to his workforce to voice his support and note efforts to improve relationships and build trust with community leaders.&nbsp;</p> <p>He said after the case&rsquo;s dismissal that Snodgrass&rsquo; arrest &ldquo;never should have happened in the first place.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;I know that Ricky&rsquo;s arrest has given many other firefighters pause as to whether to continue their role as a burn boss for the agency,&rdquo; Moore said. &ldquo;I am hopeful that the positive outcome of Ricky&rsquo;s case will give many of you the confidence necessary to continue working in your much-needed roles. As we continue to implement our &lsquo;Wildfire Crisis Strategy,&rsquo; the agency needs experienced firefighters more than ever.&rdquo;</p> <p>He added that while he cannot guarantee that a similar event will not occur again, he would personally promise to always have the back of &ldquo;any employee who is mistreated while performing their official duties.&rdquo; He also pledged to continue providing Snodgrass and his family with whatever support and assistance they require.&nbsp;</p> <p>The agency has already implemented reforms due to previous issues with controlled fires. In 2022, USFS personnel lost control of two prescribed burns in New Mexico that became the largest fires in the state&rsquo;s history and led to the destruction of hundreds of homes. That in turn led to a 90-day pause on all intentional burns and new protocols for such operations. Now, higher-ranking officials must be present for the burns, all weather reports must be documented and more precautionary measures must be taken.</p> <p>Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents USFS employees, said prescribed burns are essential for wildfire prevention and safety, but predicted the fallout from Snodgrass&rsquo; arrest would continue to be felt.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;Unfortunately, Ricky&rsquo;s arrest, indictment&nbsp;and the subsequent turbulence he and his family faced will cause other wildland firefighters to reconsider their roles as burn bosses,&rdquo; Erwin said. &ldquo;Without a robust program utilizing prescribed fires to clear debris and fuels, the wildfire crisis will only intensify, putting the workforce and the public in further danger.&rdquo;</p> <p>He called for consequences to Snodgrass&rsquo; arrest, saying the government must prevent &ldquo;unlawful actions&rdquo; against USFS employees and all other federal civil servants.&nbsp;</p> U.S. Forest Service firefighters in the Angeles National Forest burn piles of forest debris below Mt. Baldy on Nov. 29, 2023. Controlled burns are part of the service's forest management practices. Luis Sinco / Getty ImagesMove Guardsmen into the Space Force? You'll lose most of them instead | Air Force leaders don’t understand why people serve in the National Guard.Bobbi DoorenbosTue, 11 Jun 2024 13:35:11 -0400<p>Senior Air Force officials have <a href="">scoffed </a>at surveys that show that only <a href="">14 percent</a> of Air National Guard space professionals would be willing to transfer to the Space Force if it absorbs their units.</p> <p>Apparently, these officials believe that more Guardsmen will eventually go along if Congress approves the leaders&rsquo; <a href="">proposal</a> to move space-related Guard units to the Space Force without their governors&rsquo; consent.</p> <p>But if they&rsquo;re wrong&mdash;that is,&nbsp;if the Air Force gets its way and only 14 percent are willing to go&mdash;these units would be markedly degraded, and the nation would lose a significant portion of its military space capability at a critical time. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>I spent nearly 25 years in the Air National Guard, and I agree that the survey results are off. The figure is almost certainly less than 14 percent.</p> <p>My career took me to units in Iowa, Arizona, Arkansas and the District of Columbia. There was a common thread in each location: Unit members were happy with the opportunities for service the Air National Guard provided, and the concurrent life out of uniform it allowed.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Air National Guard appeals to people who want to serve both their country and their community. They take an oath to both their governor and the president. Many spend entire careers in one unit, which becomes their second family. &nbsp;Many, like me, have served in the same unit as a parent once did.</p> <div class="related-articles-placeholder">[[Related Posts]]</div> <p>Additionally, two of every three serve part-time. The Air National Guard enables them to live where they want, pursue their chosen civilian career, and make an operational contribution to the Air Force.</p> <p>Those operation contributions are substantial. Air National Guardsmen provide 37 percent of the Air Force&rsquo;s air-refueling capability, 34 percent of the airlift capability, and 25 percent of the fighter capability. They also provide <a href="">30 percent</a> of the U.S. military&rsquo;s space capability at a moment in time when we can&rsquo;t afford to fall behind.</p> <p>The Air National Guardsmen I know would never jump from the certainty, flexibility, and opportunity of the National Guard to all the unknowns of the single-component Space Force, including a new arrangement that its leaders <a href="">admit </a>will take five years to fully put in place.</p> <p>This is the great irony of the Air Force proposal. Officials <a href="">say </a>keeping space units in the National Guard requires too much bureaucracy. Yet it will take half a decade to build the administrative functions to manage both full-time and part-time personnel in the Space Force.</p> <p>In the interim, there would be no home for the part-timers&mdash;our &ldquo;traditional Guardsmen&rdquo;&mdash;in the Space Force. Even when the new service finally begins to accept part-time personnel, their opportunities will be limited. Space Force leaders have <a href=";usp=drive_fs">said </a>they don&rsquo;t want our highly experienced part-timers in &ldquo;operational&rdquo; roles. They would be relegated to training and administrative assignments.</p> <p>This is more bad news for part-time Air National Guard space professionals, and for our nation&rsquo;s space capability writ large. Many work full-time for aerospace or hi-tech companies, and they bring civilian-acquired skills not taught at any Space Force school. They don&rsquo;t serve in the Air National Guard for the money. They serve to make a contribution.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s one more factor contributing to the low interest in transferring to the Space Force.</p> <p>Transferring these units would destroy them. They could be rebuilt, but at an extremely high cost, and taking time that we don&rsquo;t have to spare. The National Guard Bureau says it would <a href="">cost </a>nearly $1 billion and up to nine years to return these units to their current level of expertise.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the U.S. military will have diminished space capabilities at a crucial time when Russia and China are rushing to bolster their presence in space.&nbsp;</p> <p>What&rsquo;s the rush? In a world where the United States needs dominance in this ever more competitive domain, why are they in a hurry to decrease our capacity? Air Force officials should hold off and maintain the Air National Guard space units while the Space Force builds its single-component concept, and then revisit without degrading capability.</p> <p>The nation can&rsquo;t afford to lose Air National Guard space talent. That will be one of the few certainties if Congress approves the Air Force&rsquo;s misguided legislative proposal. &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Bobbi Doorenbos, a retired brigadier general in the Air National Guard, is the Retired/Separated-Air representative on the board of directors of the National Guard Association of the United States.&nbsp;</i></p> Air Force Staff Sgt. Javin Delgado, a electronic warfare specialist with the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 154th Wing, prepares to calibrate electronic warfare equipment as Senior Airman Osmar Mendoza, a space systems operator with the California Air National Guard's 216th Electromagnetic Warfare Squadron, looks on during Vulcan Guard Bolt 6, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, March 27, 2024. U.S. Air National Guard / Master Sgt. Erich B. SmithWhite House enlists doctors and hospitals to combat gun violence gun violence a “public health crisis,” the Biden administration is asking state and local health departments, health systems and hospitals to boost their data collection on emergency room visits for firearm-related injuries.Samantha Young, KFF Health NewsMon, 10 Jun 2024 16:54:37 -0400<p><em>This story was first published by <a href="">KFF Health News</a>. Read the original <a href="">here</a>.</em></p> <p>The White House is calling on hospital executives, doctors, and other health care leaders to take bolder steps to prevent gun violence by gathering more data about gunshot injuries and routinely counseling patients about safe use of firearms.</p> <p>Biden administration officials hosted back-to-back events June 6 and 7 at the White House for about 160 health care officials, calling gun violence a &ldquo;public health crisis&rdquo; that requires them to act.</p> <p>The strategy also reflects a stark political reality: Congress has been deadlocked on most gun-related legislation for years, with a deep divide between Republicans and Democrats. If Democratic President Joe Biden wants to get anything done quickly, he will need to look outside the Capitol. He has <a href="">already enlisted educators</a> to talk to parents about safe gun storage and <a href="">community workers</a> to help at-risk youth.</p> <p>&ldquo;The president has been clear: This is a public health crisis. So, to solve it, we need the leaders from the health care sector,&rdquo; Rob Wilcox, a deputy director of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, told KFF Health News. &ldquo;Those are the leaders that run the health systems and hospitals that we go to for treatment, and it&rsquo;s those doctors, nurses, practitioners on the front lines.&rdquo;</p> <p>Health experts have long described gun violence as a public health crisis, one that disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic residents in poor neighborhoods.</p> <p>In 2022, more than 48,000 people <a href=",are%20from%20firearm%2Drelated%20assaults.">were killed by guns</a> in the U.S., or about 132 people a day, and suicides accounted for more than half of those deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An additional 200-plus Americans are injured each day, <a href="">according to estimates</a> from Johns Hopkins University research.</p> <p>Guns are the leading cause of death for children and teens.</p> <p>Gun violence prevention advocates applauded the Biden administration for attempting to depoliticize the issue by focusing on its health impacts. The health-centric message also resonates with the public, said Fatimah Loren Dreier, executive director of the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, who planned to attend the June 6 event.</p> <p>&ldquo;The idea that there can be a bipartisan-driven, apolitical way to address the gun violence problem has created tremendous opportunity,&rdquo; she said.</p> <p>But the initiative isn&rsquo;t just about messaging. It&rsquo;s about numbers and statistics. Relative to America&rsquo;s other deadly threats &mdash; such as cancer, HIV, and automobile crashes &mdash; <a href="">fewer federal dollars</a> fund gun violence research, mostly because of politics.</p> <p>In 1996, Congress cut federal funding for gun control research by the CDC, essentially shifting the responsibility for funding and conducting the research to the private sector and academia &mdash; and with a fraction of the previous budget. In 2019, Congress reversed course and has since agreed every year to allocate $25 million to the CDC and the National Institutes of Health for gun research, but public health experts say it&rsquo;s not nearly enough. By comparison, roughly three times that amount was <a href="">earmarked for research</a> on the prevention and treatment of underage drinking in fiscal year 2023, and 10 times as much to Parkinson&rsquo;s disease research.</p> <p>Slashing CDC research funding for firearms created decades-long gaps in data &mdash; and hamstrung efforts to respond to the crisis, researchers and health officials say. For instance, there&rsquo;s little government data available to researchers on firearms, even basic statistics such as firearm ownership by city and which guns are used in shootings.</p> <p>More timely and comprehensive data could give researchers a better understanding of the trends behind gun violence &mdash; and the steps to take to prevent it, said Bechara Choucair, an executive vice president and the chief health officer at Kaiser Permanente, who planned to attend the June 6 White House event.</p> <p>&ldquo;Anytime you want to address a problem with a public health lens, you have to understand the data,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;You have to understand the data at a granular level so you can design interventions and test interventions and see if it works or if it doesn&rsquo;t work.&rdquo;</p> <div class="related-articles-placeholder">[[Related Posts]]</div> <p>The White House is asking state and local health departments, health systems, and hospitals to boost timely data collection on emergency room visits for firearm-related injuries to &ldquo;support state and local jurisdictions in identifying and responding to emerging public health problems,&rdquo; Wilcox said.</p> <p>The goal is &ldquo;to inform prevention efforts,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>The data will cover fatal and nonfatal injuries. Existing CDC data focuses on deaths, while its data on injuries is limited. For instance, one person was killed in the Feb. 14 shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl victory parade, but the CDC data likely will not count the <a href="">roughly two dozen other people</a> who were injured.</p> <p>Collecting more detailed data could be costly for hospitals, whose ERs see most gunshot injuries, said Garen Wintemute, an ER physician and the head of a violence prevention program at the University of California-Davis. Right now, hospitals gather medical information about gunshot wounds and usually don&rsquo;t get into other details, such as what type of gun or ammunition might have been used.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s not clear exactly what data hospitals will be asked to collect.</p> <p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s an intensive process,&rdquo; Wintemute said. &ldquo;The clinicians are going to gather the data that they need in order to treat the patient, and that may not include all the data that a researcher later would want to know about what happened.&rdquo;</p> <p>Some of this data is already being collected on a limited basis. The CDC collects <a href=",visits%20faster%20than%20ever%20before.">near-real-time reporting</a> of gunshot injuries from ERs in about a dozen states. The White House wants data from across the nation.</p> <p>Wilcox added that federal grant dollars are available to health systems to conduct gun data collection through the <a href=",billion%20available%20for%20violence%20prevention">Bipartisan Safer Communities Act</a>, which Biden signed in 2022.</p> <p>This year, Biden asked Congress to again boost funding for CDC firearm research in his proposed fiscal 2025 budget, but his previous efforts have failed in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.</p> <p>Lawmakers have yet to release a draft of their spending proposal for the Department of Health and Human Services.</p> <p>&ldquo;We should focus our CDC resources on infectious diseases, transmittable diseases, and certainly chronic diseases rather than controversial, political-charged activities,&rdquo; <a href=";t=1260">Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) said</a> of Biden&rsquo;s 2024 funding proposal.</p> <p>Surveys show most Americans &mdash; across political affiliations and regardless of gun ownership &mdash; <a href="">support policies</a> that could reduce violence.</p> <p>At this week&rsquo;s meetings with health leaders, White House officials will also encourage doctors to talk with patients and the public about gun safety and securing guns.</p> <p>When Wintemute talks with patients in the ER, he sits beside them and asks about their safety and the safety of others in their home, a practice he said many doctors already use to address an array of potential risks in a person&rsquo;s life. The White House&rsquo;s call for physicians to talk about gun violence legitimizes that, he said.</p> <p>&ldquo;A health professional can do what we do about tobacco and alcohol and other sorts of potentially risky behaviors, and talk with patients about how do we minimize the risk,&rdquo; Wintemute said.</p> <p><em>This article was produced by </em><a href=""><em>KFF Health News</em></a><em>, which publishes </em><a href=""><em>California Healthline</em></a><em>, an editorially independent service of the </em><a href=""><em>California Health Care Foundation</em></a><em>. </em><em><a href="">KFF Health News</a> is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF&mdash;an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about <a href="">KFF</a>.</em></p> JazzIRT/GettyImagesCourt rules for DHS employees alleging their division was disbanded in retaliation to their whistleblowing decision sets a new precedent for federal employees that denied promotions -- even if never fully promised -- can amount to retaliation.Eric KatzMon, 10 Jun 2024 16:45:13 -0400<p><i>Updated 6/12/24 at 4:25 p.m.</i></p> <p>Federal employees who are not promoted after blowing the whistle on wrongdoing at their agency could be victims of reprisal, a federal court has ruled, even if the expectation of advancement was never explicitly guaranteed.&nbsp;</p> <p>A group of Homeland Security Department employees won an initial, precedent-setting ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit last week after initially losing before the Merit Systems Protection Board. The three employees said they were stripped of certain duties and responsibilities, and even saw their division within Customs and Border Protection disbanded, after they sounded the alarm DHS was failing to comply with a 2005 law.&nbsp;</p> <p>Mark Jones, Michael Taylor and Fred Wynn were all high-ranking officials within CBP&rsquo;s Weapons of Mass Destruction Division, who, as part of their duties, were tasked with disrupting the MS-13 gang and implementing the DNA Fingerprints Act. After they and another employee in 2018 raised their concerns to the DHS secretary&rsquo;s office about a failure to comply with that law, the court said CBP removed or decreased their responsibilities, duties, access and pay. That included duties related to MS-13 and the DNA law, and CBP eventually moving the entire division to a different office&mdash;the Operational Field Testing Division&mdash;and later dismantling it altogether.&nbsp;</p> <p>In its fiscal 2022 budget, CBP said OFTD had subsumed the WMD division &ldquo;due to complimentary mission sets.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>But in the employees&rsquo; telling, which the court said at this stage of proceedings it must accept as fact, CBP &ldquo;wasn&rsquo;t pleased&rdquo; with the DNA issue being flagged. Leadership called a meeting with Jones to discuss the whistleblowing and said because of it, it was removing responsibilities from the division and moving to OFTD.&nbsp;</p> <p>The employees initially brought their case to the Office of Special Counsel, which subsequently issued a report that found CBP officials had told the employees the agency was seeking to give them promotions and higher pay due their successful work on the MS-13 initiative. After they blew the whistle, however, those efforts were abandoned. OSC said the allegations of retaliation were therefore meritorious.&nbsp;</p> <p>The employees eventually took their case to MSPB, where an administrative judge found the lack of a promotion did not amount to a &ldquo;personnel action&rdquo; as defined in statute. Instead, the judge&nbsp;said, the potential promotion was theoretical and CBP failing to see it through did not amount to a denial or reprisal.&nbsp;</p> <p>In reversing that decision, the appeals court said the employees were &ldquo;simply stating, based on personal knowledge, what happened to them in the real world.&rdquo; The allegations were not frivolous or implausible, the court said. It did not rule on the merits of the case, saying instead that MSPB must consider the allegations.&nbsp;</p> <p>The court added the moving of the division could amount to a change of duties, responsibilities of working conditions, which would also amount to a violation of whistleblower law. The case now returns to the MSPB administrative judge for a new ruling.&nbsp;</p> <p><em>This story was updated to clarify the case went straight from an administrative judge at MSPB to the federal circuit.&nbsp;</em></p> <div class="related-articles-placeholder">[[Related Posts]]</div> <p></p> The three employees were all high-ranking officials within Customs and Border Protection’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Division.Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesLawmakers look to restore TSA funding to speed screening tech deployment measure is one of three bipartisan proposals rolled out this week that seek to bolster funding for TSA’s deployment of new technologies and to limit invasive pat-downs of travelers.Edward GrahamMon, 10 Jun 2024 15:57:55 -0400<p>Lawmakers introduced multiple bills this week to speed up the Transportation Security Administration&rsquo;s deployment of enhanced screening technology while also moving to improve the airport experience of travelers.</p> <p>A bipartisan group of lawmakers &mdash; led by Rep. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y. &mdash; unveiled a proposal on Monday to end the diversion of funds from the 9/11 security fee, which was instituted following the September 11 terrorist attacks to help fund TSA.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 diverted one-third of the collected revenue toward reducing the deficit, while also raising the security fee to $5.60 per one-way flight. The diversion of security fee funds is set to expire at the end of fiscal year 2027 if Congress does not extend it.&nbsp;</p> <p>The lawmakers&rsquo; <a href="">legislation</a> would end the fee diversion and create an &ldquo;aviation security checkpoint technology fund&rdquo; within the Department of Homeland Security to help TSA acquire and deploy new technologies. TSA is a component agency of DHS.&nbsp;</p> <p>In a <a href="">press release</a>, the bill&rsquo;s backers said this funding would help TSA deploy new Credential Authentication Technology, or CAT, machines, which scan travelers&rsquo; government-issued identifications. Since 2022, the agency has been rolling out upgraded CAT devices that <a href="">use facial biometrics</a> to compare real-time photos of travelers against their IDs.&nbsp;</p> <p>TSA Administrator David Pekoske <a href="">told lawmakers last month</a> that it would take an estimated 25 years for the agency to fully deploy the facial recognition scanners at all 400 U.S. airports under its authority unless Congress ended the fee diversion.&nbsp;</p> <p>In a statement, LaLota called the 9/11 security fee &ldquo;a total scam&rdquo; and said that more than $1 billion in revenue collected from travelers had been diverted to the Treasury Department.&nbsp;</p> <p>&ldquo;We have a duty to the American people to be truthful about where this revenue is going and ensure our airports remain safe and secure for decades,&rdquo; he added.</p> <p>Another bill <a href="">introduced</a> by Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., on Wednesday would require TSA to improve travelers&rsquo; experiences during the security screening process by &ldquo;encouraging the deployment of technological and other solutions.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>This includes giving TSA the authority to test &ldquo;technology using passive, noninvasive means, such as thermal imaging, to screen passengers for potential threat items without requiring physical contact.&rdquo;</p> <p>The proposal would also require TSA to develop a strategy for reducing pat-downs of travelers and limiting the need for passengers to &ldquo;divest items during screening without reducing security effectiveness.&rdquo;</p> <p>Additionally, the bill calls for TSA to &ldquo;collect anonymized statistics regarding the screening of passengers&rdquo; to determine how its practices affect minority travelers. The proposal said the agency should consider doing this, in part, through the use of &ldquo;noninvasive technologies, such as cameras and artificial intelligence.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;TSA has a responsibility to ensure their practices protect communities disproportionately targeted for security pat-downs while also protecting our national security,&rdquo; Garcia said in a statement. &ldquo;We must make sure folks feel respected as they undergo travel checkpoints, and don&rsquo;t fear flying.&rdquo;</p> <p>Rep. Shri Thanedar, D-Mich., also <a href="">introduced</a> a proposal on Wednesday that is designed to&nbsp; improve the airport screening process for veterans and disabled travelers. TSA would be required, in part, to provide annual training on how to screen disabled individuals and also enroll injured and disabled veterans into TSA PreCheck at no cost to the retired servicemembers.&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition to introducing his bill to end the security fee diversion, LaLota is a co-sponsor of both Garcia and Thanedar&rsquo;s proposals.</p> Memorial Day travelers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Several House lawmakers are backing legislation to restore certain airline fees to the Transportation Security Administration to pay for modernized security screening.Andrew Harnik/Getty ImagesEasing federal marijuana rules: There’s still a long way to go Drug Enforcement Administration typically looks at three factors when assessing how strictly to regulate a drug: its medicinal value, potential for abuse relative to other drugs and ability to cause physical addiction.Jacob Fischler, States NewsroomMon, 10 Jun 2024 13:06:52 -0400<p>Nearly three weeks after the Drug Enforcement Administration proposed loosening a federal prohibition on marijuana, the next phases of policy fights over the drug&rsquo;s status are starting to take shape.</p> <p>Public comments, which the DEA is accepting on the proposal until mid-July, will likely include an analysis of the economic impact of more lenient federal rules.</p> <p>Administrative law hearings, a venue for opponents to challenge executive branch decisions, will likely follow, with marijuana&rsquo;s potential for abuse a possible issue.</p> <p>Congress, meanwhile, could act on multiple related issues, including banking access for state-legal marijuana businesses and proposals to help communities harmed by the decades of federal prohibition.</p> <p>Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and longtime advocate for legalizing marijuana who&rsquo;s retiring at the end of the year, is encouraging his colleagues to build on the administration&rsquo;s action by taking up bills on those related issues.</p> <p>The politics of the issue should favor action, even in the face of an upcoming campaign season that typically slows legislative action, Blumenauer said in a May 17 interview, noting the popularity of a more permissive approach to the drug.</p> <p>&ldquo;Congress may not do a lot between now and November, but they should,&rdquo; the 14-term House member said. &ldquo;Because it&rsquo;s an election year, there&rsquo;s no downside to being more aggressive.&rdquo;</p> <p><b><strong>Economic impact</strong></b></p> <p>In a <a href="">proposed rule</a> published in the Federal Register last month, the DEA specifically asked commenters to weigh in on the economic impacts of moving the drug from Schedule I to the less-restrictive Schedule III list under the federal Controlled Substances Act.</p> <p>That will likely mean the agency will consider the impact of allowing state-legal marijuana businesses to deduct business expenses from their federal taxes, Mason Tvert, a partner at Denver-based cannabis policy and public affairs firm Strategies 64, said in an interview. Under <a href="">current law</a>, no deductions are allowed.</p> <p>That issue is seen by advocates, including Blumenauer and <a href="">fellow Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden</a>, who chairs the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, as paramount for the industry.</p> <p>Thousands of state-legal businesses struggle to earn a profit or operate at a loss under the current system, Blumenauer said.</p> <p><b><strong>Potential for abuse</strong></b><strong> </strong></p> <p>The DEA typically looks at three factors when assessing how strictly to regulate a drug: its medicinal value, potential for abuse relative to other drugs and ability to cause physical addiction.</p> <p>A <a href="">2023 analysis</a> by the Health and Human Services Department that looked at data from states where medicinal marijuana is legal showed that &ldquo;there exists some credible scientific support for the medical use of marijuana.&rdquo;</p> <p>That finding could lead DEA to look at other factors, Tvert said.</p> <p>&ldquo;The battleground that we&rsquo;ll see will be around how we define potential for abuse,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p><strong>Agencies split?</strong></p> <p>But the DEA proposed rule revealed a divided view among government agencies about the drug&rsquo;s potential harms, Paul Armentano, the deputy director for the longtime leading advocacy group National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told States Newsroom.</p> <p>The text of the proposed rule shows &ldquo;a lack of consensus&rdquo; among HHS, the Attorney General&rsquo;s Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration, he said.</p> <p>&ldquo;There are several points in the DEA&rsquo;s proposed rule where they express a desire to see additional evidence specific to concerns that the agency has about the potential effects of cannabis, particularly as they pertain to abuse potential and potential harms,&rdquo; Armentano said.</p> <p>&ldquo;The HHS addresses those issues, but the DEA essentially says, &lsquo;We&rsquo;d like to see more information on it.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p> <p>Kevin Sabat, the president and CEO of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, agreed that the DEA did not appear to agree with the HHS conclusion that medical uses exist.</p> <p>The proposed rule &ldquo;just brings up all these issues with the HHS&rsquo;s determination and it basically invites comment on all those issues,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p><strong>Administrative law hearing</strong></p> <p>Sabat&rsquo;s group will also be petitioning for a DEA administrative hearing, he said. An administrative law judge could rule that the proposal should not go through or that it should be amended to remain stricter than the initial proposal described.</p> <p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re going to highlight the fact that, first of all, this does not have approved or accepted medical use,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>Tvert said the accepted medical value question is likely not to be a major factor in an administrative law hearing. Several medical organizations and states that allow medicinal use have already endorsed its medicinal value, he said.</p> <p>Instead, the focus will turn to the drug&rsquo;s potential for abuse, he said.</p> <p>&ldquo;What will be critical is looking at cannabis relative to other substances that are currently II or III or not on the schedule, and determining whether cannabis should be on Schedule I when alcohol is not even on the schedules and ketamine is Schedule III.&rdquo;</p> <p>As of June 6, nearly 12,000 people had commented on the proposal in the 18 days since its publication.</p> <p>While opinion polls show that most Americans favor liberalizing cannabis laws &mdash; a Pew Research Center <a href=",not%20be%20legal%20at%20all.">survey in March</a> found 57% of U.S. adults favor full legalization while only 11% say it should be entirely illegal &mdash; the public comments so far represent a full spectrum of views on the topic.</p> <p>&ldquo;This rule is a horrible idea, this should remain in Schedule I,&rdquo; one comment read. &ldquo;Marijuana is a gateway drug and ruins lives.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;There are no negative side effects to its use,&rdquo; another commenter, who favored &ldquo;fully&rdquo; legalizing the substance, wrote. &ldquo;Its not harmful. The only harm is what the government has done to me and America. Shame on the people that continue to oppose this. Seriously shame on anyone that would stand in the way of this change.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>Congressional action?</strong></p> <p>Blumenauer authored a memo last month on &ldquo;the path forward&rdquo; for reform as the rescheduling process plays out.</p> <p>He listed four bills for Congress to consider this year.</p> <p>One, sponsored by House Democrats, would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act schedule entirely and expunge prior offenses.</p> <p>A bipartisan bill would make changes to the banking laws to allow state-legal businesses greater access to loans and other financial services.</p> <p>Another, cosponsored with Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., would allow Veterans Administration health providers to discuss state-legal medicinal marijuana with veteran patients.</p> <p>Blumenauer has also co-written language for appropriations bills that would prevent the Department of Justice from prosecuting marijuana businesses that are legal under state or tribal law.</p> <p>&ldquo;All of these things are overwhelmingly popular, they&rsquo;re important, we have legislative vehicles and supporters,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>Still, there may be disagreements about what to pursue next.</p> <p>Recent years have seen disagreements among Democratic supporters of legalization over whether to prioritize banking or criminal justice reforms.</p> <p>A banking overhaul has much greater bipartisan support, and advocates on all sides of the issue agree it&rsquo;s the most likely to see congressional action.</p> <p>But some who support changes to banking laws in principle object to focusing on improving the business environment without first addressing the harms they say prohibition has caused to largely non-white and disadvantaged communities.</p> <p>As <a href="">recently as 2021</a>, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer described banking reform legislation as too narrow. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called it a &ldquo;common-sense policy&rdquo; but said that he favored a more comprehensive approach.</p> <p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve gone around with Cory on that,&rdquo; Blumenauer said. &ldquo;More than anybody in Congress, I&rsquo;m in favor of the major reforms, and we&rsquo;ve been fighting for racial justice and equity &hellip; but (racial justice and banking reforms) are not mutually exclusive.&rdquo;</p> <p>In September, <a href="">Booker agreed</a> to co-sponsor the banking reform bill after winning a promise from Schumer that a separate bill to help expunge criminal records would also receive a vote. Neither measure has actually received a floor vote.</p> <p>In a statement following the administration&rsquo;s announcement on rescheduling, Booker praised the move, but called for further action from Congress.</p> <p>That includes passing a bill he&rsquo;s sponsored that would decriminalize the drug at the federal level, expunge the records of people convicted of federal marijuana crimes and direct federal funding to communities &ldquo;most harmed by the failed War on Drugs,&rdquo; according to <a href="">a summary</a> from Booker&rsquo;s office.</p> <p>&ldquo;We still have a long way to go,&rdquo; Booker said in the statement on rescheduling. &ldquo;Thousands of people remain in prisons around the country for marijuana-related crimes. They continue to bear the devastating consequences that come with a criminal history.&rdquo;</p> <p>Blumenauer said Congress should act on the proposals that have widespread support from voters.</p> <p>&ldquo;This not low-hanging fruit, this is having them pick it up off the ground,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;There is no other controversial issue that has as much bipartisan support that&rsquo;s awaiting action.&rdquo;</p> <p> <style type="text/css">figure, .tipContainer, .socContainer, .subscribeShortcodeContainer, .donateContainer {display:none !important;} .youtubeContainer { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; padding-top: 30px; height: 0; overflow: hidden; margin-bottom:12px; } .youtubeContainer iframe, .video-container object, .video-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100% !important; height: 100%; margin: 12px 0px !important; } .newsroomSidebar {width:35%;max-width:35%;padding:10px;border-top:solid 2px black;background-color:#d3d3d3;float:right;margin-left:50px;} .snrsInfoboxSubContainer {padding:10px;border-top:solid 2px black;background-color:#d3d3d3;} .halfwidth {float:right;width:50%;max-width:50%;} .indent2Container {margin-left: 1em;margin-bottom:1em; border-left: solid 1px black;padding-left: 2em;} @media only screen and (max-width: 600px) {.newsroomSidebar {max-width:95%;width:95%;margin-left:4%} .halfwidth {float:none;width:100%;max-width:100%;} } </style> </p> <p><em><a href="">North Dakota Monitor</a> is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. North Dakota Monitor maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Amy Dalrymple for questions: <a href=""></a>. Follow North Dakota Monitor on <a href="">Facebook</a> and <a href="">Twitter</a>.</em></p> <div class="related-articles-placeholder">[[Related Posts]]</div> <p></p> The DEA is accepting public comments on the proposal until mid-July.HadelProductions/Getty ImagesThe 'silver tsunami' is here. Is government ready? 10,000 Americans are turning 65 every day. As the nation’s aging population continues to climb, states and the federal government are working to get plans in place to care for older adults.Susan MillerMon, 10 Jun 2024 12:14:00 -0400<p>More Americans are about to be 65 years old than ever before. A record number will hit the milestone this year&mdash;<a href="">about 4.1 million</a>. But it&rsquo;s just one of many waves in the &ldquo;silver tsunami,&rdquo; a metaphor often used to describe the aging of America. Since 2011, 10,000 Americans have been turning 65 every day, <a href="">a trend</a> that the Pew Research Center says will continue through 2030.</p> <p>Indeed, the number of people 65 years old or older makes up 18% of the population today. That percentage will swell to 23% by 2054. The trend has major implications for government as the overall population will put a greater strain on health and long-term care services and increasingly call for assistance with housing and transportation. Amid this precipitous rise, governments are scrambling to prepare to care for their aging populations. Last week, the federal government took a big step in that direction with a report outlining recommendations for advancing healthy aging and age-friendly communities.&nbsp;</p> <p>The <a href="">report</a> from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services describes the opportunities and challenges of an aging population and defines goals and objectives for addressing critical aging issues. It details the web of services an aging society will need beyond financial security, safe housing and adequate health care, such as accessible communities, age-friendly workplaces and high-quality, long-term services and supports.</p> <p>&ldquo;As life expectancy rises, we have a unique opportunity to redefine what it means to grow older,&rdquo; said Debra Houry, chief medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. &ldquo;This framework serves as a roadmap for building age-friendly communities that prioritize the health and wellbeing of older adults.&rdquo;</p> <p>The framework, which was developed by experts from 16 federal agencies in partnership with community leaders in the aging services network, comes as several states have also started planning for their aging populations.</p> <p>Last week, Pennsylvania unveiled its master plan to care for older adults. The Keystone State is the fifth oldest state in the nation, and the number of residents 60 and over is projected to surpass 3.8 million, or one-third of the population by 2030. The commonwealth&rsquo;s plan, called <a href="">Aging Our Way, PA</a>, is a roadmap for improving &ldquo;the way older adults are cared for, how they receive and connect to services and supports, and how they can get the most out of their communities to age in place,&quot; said Department of Aging Secretary Jason Kavulich.</p> <p>The 10-year plan, which was released the day after the federal strategic framework, has five priority areas that cover affordability, aging in place, safe and convenient transportation, caregiver support and navigation services that make it easier for older adults to find services they need. The plan also includes 36 strategies and 163 tactics.</p> <p>New Jersey also released its &ldquo;age-friendly blueprint&rdquo; last week. The Garden State and Pennsylvania are the fifth and sixth states to release its master plan on aging, joining <a href="">California</a>,<a href=""> Colorado</a>, <a href="">Massachusetts</a>&nbsp;and <a href="">Vermont</a>.</p> <p>New Jersey&rsquo;s <a href="">blueprint</a> provides strategies and best practices to improve the state&rsquo;s communities for older adults and enable people to remain in their homes and communities as they age. It provides recommendations related to housing, health care, transportation, socialization, employment, communication and outreach. The recommendations are designed to improve communities&rsquo; accessibility and make it easier for residents to access the long-term services and support that will allow them to remain in their homes and connected to their loved ones as they age.</p> <p>The state is also putting some funding behind its plan. The New Jersey Human Services Department is <a href="">dedicating $5.5 million</a> to launch an age-friendly community grant program later this year. The program will help communities advance age-friendly practices, prioritizing those in the blueprint.</p> <div class="related-articles-placeholder">[[Related Posts]]</div> <p>Other states have also gone beyond master plans and outlining goals to create grant programs to help communities start acting on their age-friendly plans.</p> <p>In early May, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healy <a href="">announced</a> $2.4 million in awards to 20 organizations and communities across the commonwealth to help community organizations expand or launch programs for older adults and individuals with Alzheimer&rsquo;s disease and related dementias.&nbsp;</p> <p>Maryland this year <a href="">offered</a> a Healthy Aging Competitive Grant Opportunity designed to encourage aging safely at home and improving the life quality of those living in group or community housing settings. It also aims to reduce hospitalizations and higher levels of care that require residents to spend down their incomes and require Medicaid support.</p> <p>Ohio&rsquo;s <a href="">Healthy Aging Grants program</a> provides $40 million for local aging services that help Ohioans ages 60 and older stay healthy and maintain their independence. Funds are being distributed to all 88 counties to bolster critical aging support services, such as food and housing assistance, as well as internet access and digital literacy services. In March, the Ohio Department of Aging <a href="">announced</a> over $6 million in grant funding for 22 projects that will revitalize and expand adult day services in communities across the state.</p> <p>As of May, 13 states are in early stages of developing so-called multisector plans for aging, a 10-year plan for restructuring state and local government to address the needs of older adult populations. According to the federal strategic framework, four states have legislation or an executive order to develop an MPA, and seven are in varying stages of implementing plans.</p> <p>The HHS strategic framework &ldquo;represents a first-of-its-kind and much-needed primer for local, state and federal leaders in the United States, outlining exactly what it will take to support the nation&rsquo;s growing population of older adults,&rdquo; said Rear Adm. Paul Reed, HHS deputy assistant secretary for health, in a statement. &ldquo;By identifying the unique needs of older adults living in the United States and the necessary resources and tools to promote their health and well-being, this report is a critical step toward developing and implementing systemic solutions to help older adults thrive.&rdquo;</p> In increasing number of the population is approaching the age of 65, potentially putting a greater strain on health and long-term care services. Federal and state agencies are introducing new plans to prepare.Gary S Chapman/GettyImages