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New Briefs: July 16

Jul. 15, 2012 - 02:10PM   |  
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GSA limits travel to Blacks in Government event

General Services Administration employees who wish to attend the National Training Conference of Blacks in Government in August will have to show the training is essential to their jobs.

The same restrictions apply to the National Training Program hosted by Federally Employed Women this week, Tony Costa, GSA’s chief people officer, told employees in a July 10 email.

Both conferences are in Detroit.

“GSA continues to support training, however travel related to training requires more review than in the past and will be reduced greatly over the coming months,” Costa said.

The agency approved new rules limiting travel after the release of an April 2 GSA inspector general report detailing wasteful spending at an $822,000 GSA regional training conference in 2010 in Las Vegas.

The findings prompted the firing or resignation of top GSA officials.

“I encourage you to work with your manager to carefully determine if your specific job requirements and approved individual development plan supports your participation in this or any other training opportunity,” Costa wrote.

132 lawmakers support same-sex benefits

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and 130 other House Democrats filed an amicus brief July 10 supporting a lesbian federal employee’s legal battle to get her wife federal health benefits.

Karen Golinski won a major court victory in February when a federal district court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and that the government had to extend health benefits to her wife.

Golinski’s case has now reached the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Democrats’ brief argues that Section 3 of DOMA was enacted hastily and clearly harms gay and lesbian people, and that the federal government has no legitimate interest in denying married same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities that married opposite-sex couples now enjoy.

The Office of Personnel Management in March ordered Blue Cross Blue Shield to cover Golinski’s wife, Amy Cunninghis. But in May, OPM said that the Golinski ruling only applies to her, and no other gay employees’ spouses or partners should get benefits.

OMB orders faster contractor payments

The White House directed agencies last week to pay prime contractors faster — to get payments to small-business subcontractors faster and help them grow.

Agencies must pay prime contractors in 15 days, instead of the 30 days they have to make payments now, according to an Office of Management and Budget memo issued last week.

“Such acceleration helps to improve cash flow for small businesses, increases liquidity, unlocks capital for the purposes of investment and growth, and increases small business participation in federal contracting,” OMB acting director Jeff Zients wrote.

OMB directed agencies to speed up payments to small-business prime contractors from 30 days to 15 days last year. The White House issued five executive actions last week to spur small businesses’ growth.

DIA awards $5.6 billion contract

The Defense Intelligence Agency has awarded 11 companies spots on its $5.6 billion support services contract.

The Solutions for Intelligence Analysis II (SIA II) contract award is among the top 10 largest federal awards expected this year, according to contract estimates by Deltek market analysts.

Companies will compete to provide support services for intelligence analysts, war fighters, defense planners, and defense and national security policy makers, DIA said in a news release. The contract has two base years and three one-year options.

The winners: BAE; Booz Allen Hamilton; Buffalo Group; CACI; CTC; Cyberspace Solutions; L-3; Lockheed Martin; Mission Essential Personnel; SAIC; and Veritiss.

DISA takes lead in DoD cloud adoption

The Defense Information Systems Agency will play a major role in deciding how the Defense Department adopts cloud computing services and products.

DISA will serve as the department’s cloud service broker, which means all DoD components must acquire government or industry-provided cloud services through DISA, according to a memo from DoD chief information officer Teresa Takai released last week. DISA will manage the use, performance and delivery of cloud services and negotiate contracts between cloud service providers and DoD users. DoD’s Cloud Computing Strategy, also released last week, incentivizes DoD components to use shared cloud services and training acquisition professionals to procure cloud technologies. It also calls for cloud hardware and software to be incorporated in DoD data centers.

IRS ‘the new Gestapo,’ Maine governor says

The National Treasury Employees Union last week demanded Maine Gov. Paul LePage apologize for calling the IRS “the new Gestapo.”

LePage, a Republican, compared the IRS to the infamous Nazi secret police organization in a July 7 radio address criticizing the IRS’ role in enforcing the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to buy health insurance.

“We the people have been told there is no choice,” LePage said, according to the Portland Press Herald in Maine. “You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo — the IRS.”

NTEU President Colleen Kelley sent LePage a letter July 11 demanding a full apology and calling the insult “over-the-top political rhetoric.” She also warned that such comments “can also lead to violent attacks on these workers.”

But a day after Kelley sent her letter, LePage again made an IRS-Gestapo comparison.

“The Holocaust was a horrific crime against humanity, and, frankly, I would never want to see that repeated,” LePage said at a July 12 campaign event in Vermont, according to the Press Herald. “Maybe the IRS is not quite as bad — yet. They’re headed in that direction.”

Former IG: Management problems persist at DHS

Almost a decade after its creation, the Department of Homeland Security faces problems with financial management, information sharing and contracting, the agency’s former inspector general told a congressional panel last week.

Top managers are aware of those challenges and have “made some headway” in fixing them, Richard Skinner, now a consultant, said at the hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “The question is whether the department has the resolve and wherewithal to sustain these efforts.”

Twice, for example, the department has tried to implement an integrated financial management system, only to fall short both times, Skinner said.

In a new strategy announced in December, officials said they would instead focus on replacing systems at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other parts of the department where the need is acute. Because of budget cuts this year, however, those initiatives are on hold, Skinner said.

The hearing was among the first in a series the committee plans in advance of the 10th anniversary this November of the signing of the Homeland Security Act, which created DHS.

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