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News Digest: June 18

Jun. 17, 2012 - 02:34PM   |  
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Senate bill requires six-day postal delivery

The Senate Appropriations Committee last week passed a spending bill that would require the U.S. Postal Service to deliver mail six days a week.

The bill, if approved by the full Senate, would overturn a provision in the postal reform bill the full Senate passed in April that allows the Postal Service to go to five-day mail delivery.

The committee passed the financial services and general government spending bill containing the six-day delivery mandate June 14. It will now head to the Senate floor. It is unclear why the provision was included in the bill.

The earlier postal reform bill would allow the Postal Service to end most Saturday delivery in two years if it can show the step is financially essential.

The Postal Service, which is losing billions of dollars a year, is begging Congress to allow it to drop Saturday delivery. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has said that requiring two more years of Saturday delivery would cost the Postal Service $3 billion per year.

Levin: Debt deal could include more DoD cuts

If a deficit-reduction deal is reached, it could in¬clude $100 billion more in defense cuts over the next decade, according to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. That would be in addition to the $487 billion the Pentagon is already shaving off its projected spending over the next 10 years. However, it is far less than the additional $500 billion in automatic cuts that would be enforced under sequestration.

Sen. Carl Levin said last week he would not want to see cuts to the Defense Department’s budget go above an additional $10 billion a year over a 10-year period.

“I think defense has got to contribute, but I think we’ve got to be very, very careful that we don’t do the draconian approach on defense or on any of the other important programs like education and so forth,” said Levin, D-Mich.

He singled out the nuclear weapons stockpile as one area where the Defense Department could safely make further reductions.

Levin is not alone in saying that defense will have to play some role in a larger deficit-reduction package.

On June 7, a task force of defense heavyweights organized by the Bipartisan Policy Center urged Congress to adopt a comprehensive deficit-reduction package to avoid the damaging impacts of sequestration (Story, Page 10).

SBA rule requires contract justifications

A rule proposed by the Small Business Administration would expand requirements for agencies to justify consolidated and bundled contracts, both of which tend to be awarded to large contractors.

A consolidated contract combines contracts that can be performed by small or large businesses into one solicitation. Agencies would have to show the benefits of consolidating contracts and identify the impact on small businesses under the proposed rule.

A bundled procurement combines work previously performed only by small businesses or work that could have been performed by small businesses. Agencies already must justify their use of these contracts, but the proposed rule would require them to also publish a list of bundled contracts and the reason for each on a website.

Comments on the proposed rule are due by July 16.

CBP has 10 drones but lacks plans to use them

The Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection has spent some $180 million on unmanned aircraft systems, but lacks adequate plans for using and maintaining them, according to a recent inspector general report.

Since 2004, CBP has purchased 10 drones to provide reconnaissance, surveillance and other capabilities. But CBP procured the drones without detailing the desired level of operation, without acquiring sufficient funding for operations and maintenance equipment, and without coordinating with other agencies supported by CBP’s drone missions, such as the Defense Department and FBI, the report found.

CBP flew the drones 3,909 hours, or 37 percent of the recommended 10,662 flight hours. A lack of equipment, resources and qualified staff were among the reasons why the drones were underutilized.

CBP agreed with the IG’s recommendations that it not buy more drones until the required operational equipment is in place, and that it create a method to receive reimbursements from agencies supported by CBP’s program.

GSA may replace costly DUNS identifier system

The General Services Administration is looking for a new method of tracking contractor and grantee data as costs for using the current system climb, according to a new report.

Federal regulations require contractors, grantees and other entities that do business with the government to register for a unique identifier called a DUNS number, which is provided by the Dun & Bradstreet data firm. The government uses that number to track company information, spending and past performance reports.

New reporting requirements for grantees and loan recipients, along with the stimulus program, required thousands more entities to register for DUNS numbers, the Government Accountability Office said in a June 12 report. The government also expanded its use of DUNS numbers, such as to link subsidiaries to parent companies, the report said. That increased GSA’s contract with Dun & Bradstreet from about $1 million in 2002 to more than $19 million when the contract was last signed in 2010, the report said.

Other companies could provide unique identification numbers, but that would require costly changes to several data systems governmentwide, the report said. GSA is evaluating the possibility of a government-owned numbering system or a hybrid method that uses both DUNS numbers and a government-owned system, the report said.

IT reforms take hold, federal CIO says

Agencies are reaping millions of dollars in savings by moving information technology services to the cloud and restructuring high-risk IT projects, federal CIO Steven VanRoekel said in a June 7 blog post.

Starting in fiscal 2013, agencies expect to save about $100 million a year by moving email to the cloud, he said.

The General Services Administration, for example, moved to Google’s cloud email systems last June and expects to save nearly $3 million a year.

The administration’s IT reform plan released in December 2010 instructs agencies to use so-called TechStat reviews to turn around or terminate at least one-third of underperforming IT projects by the end of the month. Governmentwide, agencies have saved more than $4 billion by canceling or rescoping IT projects using the data-driven reviews, VanRoekel said.

‘Boneyard’ cutting workers

For the first time in several years, the Air Force’s “boneyard” in southern Arizona is cutting jobs.

The Arizona Daily Star reports 62 civilian workers have accepted early retirement offers as part of a plan to downsize a unit of the Air Force that oversees aerospace maintenance.

The group is one of Tucson largest employers, accounting for more than 850 full-time jobs. Workers are responsible for maintaining or retiring old aircraft at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

The group added 245 positions in 2010.

Military officials said the amount of work typically fluctuates, and two maintenance contracts are about to end.

House-backed DATA Act draws OMB criticism

A House-passed bill to expand the government’s tracking of federal spending would add bureaucracy and a new layer of regulation, Office of Management and Budget Controller Danny Werfel said last week in objecting to the legislation.

Under the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, the DATA Act, all agencies would have to report spending and obligations to a newly created board, which would then post the information on a website that would replace the existing USASpending.gov.

The board also would have the power to issue guidance to agencies, Werfel said, even though OMB already does that.

“There needs to be a compelling reason,” for the changes, Werfel said at a Partnership for Public Service forum on lessons learned from administering the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The bill is awaiting Senate action after unanimously winning House approval in April. It has the backing of Earl Devaney, former chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.

“Bureaucracy moves fastest where there is an act of Congress and concrete dates in it,” Devaney said at the same forum.

OPM cautions agencies over ‘burrowing in’

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry is warning agencies to watch out for political appointees “burrowing in” to career civil service jobs this election year.

Berry issued a June 8 memo to agency heads reminding them that personnel actions must “remain free of political influence or other improprieties and meet all relevant civil service laws, rules and regulations.”

Political appointees sometimes move into career jobs — a process known as burrowing in — to hold on to their positions after the administration that installed them ends.

Critics such as federal labor unions and management associations say the practice corrupts the federal government’s merit system.

The Bush administration allowed 20 appointees to burrow in throughout 2008, and 45 of President Clinton’s appointees likewise converted to career jobs during his last year in office.

But appointees also burrow in during nonelection years. The Government Accountability Office in 2006 reported that between 2001 and 2005, 144 non-career appointees at 23 agencies switched to career positions.

OPM used to insist on approving conversions of political candidates to career jobs only during election years — and then, only for competitive service appointments. But in 2010, it began insisting that it approve all conversions at all times.

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