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News Briefs: March 4, 2013

Mar. 3, 2013 - 01:17PM   |  
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Hagel vows to ‘take care’ of DoD work force

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel pledged to take care of the Defense Department’s military and civilian workforce even as billions of dollars in Defense spending cuts loom.

In his first address to the Pentagon workforce as Defense secretary last week, Hagel said DoD needs “to deal with this reality” of the sequester, in which $46 billion is being cut from the department’s budget beginning March 1.

“We need to figure this out,” Hagel said. “You are doing that.”

If the department is hit with these spending cuts and a yearlong continuing resolution, which is $11 billion less than the Pentagon’s planned 2013 budget, senior Defense officials have said they would need to furlough most of DoD’s 800,000 civilian workers over the next six months.

Military pay is exempt from the sequestration cuts.

“I will do everything within my power as secretary of Defense to be worthy of you and to be worthy of this country and … everything I can to make sure our people are taken care of, their families, our veterans,” Hagel said.

He also pledged to support equality throughout DoD. “I’m committed to … assuring that every person in the Department of Defense, associated with the Department of Defense, civilian or military, is absolutely treated fairly, honestly, equal benefits,” he said. “Everything that each of you do should be dealt with on a fair and equal basis. No discrimination anywhere, in any way.”

Justice Dept. officials’ air travel: $11M in 4 years

Private government aircraft travel for the attorney general, FBI director and other top Justice Department officials cost $11.4 million during a four-year period ending in 2011, according to a Government Accountability Office review.

GAO found that the travel of three attorneys general who served during that period and FBI Director Robert Mueller accounted for 95 percent of all flights that ferried Justice executives to official meetings, conferences and personal business.

For security reasons, the attorney general and FBI director are required to take private government aircraft, even on personal business. The review found that the officials reimbursed the government, as required, for personal travel.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who requested the review, said the use of government aircraft should be reserved for actual crime-fighting and counterterrorism purposes.

House: $1B wasted on vets’ medical e-records

The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments have wasted about $1 billion in a failed effort to streamline medical record-keeping, the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee said in a hearing last week.

“I’m concerned we’re taking a step back toward a model that has been tried and failed,” said committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla.

Defense and VA officials said last month they had abandoned a plan to integrate records for both active-duty service members and veterans into a single electronic system. After cost estimates doubled and technology problems persisted, they decided on a less expensive plan to keep their current systems while making them “interoperable.”

The new program will be working by the end of the year and save the government “hundreds of millions” of dollars, said Elizabeth McGrath, the Pentagon’s deputy chief management officer.

GSA cancels this year’s Expo conference

The General Services Administration has suspended its annual Training and Expo conference because of tight budgets and reduced federal travel spending.

The GSA Training and Expo Conference was scheduled for May 14 in Orlando, Fla.

GSA spokesman Dan Cruz said that, while the conference is a valuable way for procurement specialists to get training and meet vendors, budget concerns were more important.

“In the current fiscal climate, agencies and businesses alike have been forced to make tough spending cuts. After carefully reviewing the projected spending and attendance for this year’s conference, GSA is suspending Expo for 2013 in an effort to use our resources responsibly and to deliver better value and savings for our government partners, our vendors and the American people,” Cruz said in a statement.

New leases will save $350M, House panel says

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved 16 federal leases it says will save $350 million a year.

Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., chairman of the subcommittee that oversees public buildings, said the savings are from reducing space requirements and fitting more employees into less room.

The panel, along with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, are responsible for approving leases of $2.66 million or more in value.

The leases include new office space for the Defense, Agriculture and Treasury departments in the Washington area and a Customs and Border Protection office in New York.

IG: DCAA botched research center audit

The Defense Contract Audit Agency botched an audit of a federally funded research center, the Defense Department’s inspector general found in a newly released review.

Among the lapses in their fiscal 2010 audit of the Institute for Defense Analyses, DCAA auditors did not adequately plan the audit, did not fully check the institute’s compliance with cash management requirements and did not do enough to assess the risk of fraud, the IG said.

The Virginia-based institute is a nonprofit corporation that runs three federally funded research centers that analyze national security and other issues. In 2010, it spent almost $227 million.

DCAA officials agreed with the recommendations for improvement.

GSA screens mobile device software

Agencies will soon have more options for managing and securing mobile devices.

The General Services Administration is identifying software that can support at least 10,000 devices and meet government standards, including capabilities to send and receive encrypted messages.

Industry has until March 8 to respond to the GSA request on fbo.gov.

Back pay for thousands of GSA employees

Thousands of General Services Administration employees will share in a $30 million settlement.

The settlement stems from a union grievance filed in 2002 that argued thousands of employees classified as exempt from overtime rules were actually eligible for overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Cory Bythrow, spokes-man for the National Federation of Federal Employees, said up to 5,000 employees are eligible for back pay for the period between 1999 and 2012. The union will work with GSA to identify how much each employee will receive.

The settlement covers only employees who are or were part of the bargaining unit represented by NFFE, according to Bythrow. The employees may include wage grade and General Schedule employees.

The union had filed for arbitration but settled the case without holding an official hearing, according to Bythrow.

GSA spokeswoman Jackeline Stewart said the agency reached the agreement after a careful analysis of the job duties performed by GSA employees.

“To better comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act, the new leadership at GSA has put controls in place to ensure overtime payment is appropriately documented and paid,” Stewart said.

The agency will conduct mandatory annual training for managers and employees on the law’s requirements, she said.

Senate confirms Obama’s Treasury pick, Lew

The Senate last week confirmed Jack Lew, President Obama’s pick to run the Treasury Department, on a 71-26 vote.

Obama said of Lew, his former chief of staff: “His reputation as a master of fiscal issues who can work with leaders on both sides of the aisle has already helped him succeed in some of the toughest jobs in Washington.”

Lew, who succeeds Timothy Geithner, also served as director of the Office of Management and Budget under Democratic presidents Obama and Clinton and as Obama’s deputy secretary of State.

The president said he would continue to rely on Lew’s advice and judgment “as we work to create good, middle-class jobs, provide more people with the skills those jobs require and ensure every hardworking American can earn a decent living.”

Edith Ramirez will be named FTC chief

President Obama will name Edith Ramirez to chair the Federal Trade Commission, FTC announced last week.

Ramirez, an FTC commissioner since 2010, has focused on intellectual property law in the technology arena and has also worked on cases to help protect vulnerable consumer communities, such as the poor and those who don’t speak English.

Ramirez would replace Chairman Jon Liebowitz.

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