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News Briefs: May 27, 2013

May. 26, 2013 - 11:24AM   |  
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Obama announces pick for new OPM director

President Obama plans to nominate Katherine Archuleta to be the next director of the Office of Personnel Management.

Archuleta, who has previously served as the national political director for Obama’s re-election campaign and chief of staff at the Labor Department, would be the first Latina to head the agency if confirmed.

“Katherine brings to the Office of Personnel Management broad experience and a deep commitment to recruiting and retaining a world-class workforce for the American people,” Obama said in a statement. “I am grateful Katherine has agreed to serve, and I look forward to working with her in the coming years.”

Sen. Tom Carper, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he is glad Obama has chosen someone to head OPM, and added he is concerned about the large number of senior vacancies in the government.

“I look forward to meeting Ms. Archuleta and working with my colleagues on the committee to consider her nomination in a thorough and timely manner,” Carper said.

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association urged the Senate to quickly confirm Archuleta.

“In the midst of a three-year pay freeze, increased pension contributions for new hires, furloughs of half the federal workforce, and a new wave of retiring federal employees, it is important to build on former Director John Berry’s strong leadership at OPM,” said NARFE President Joseph Beaudoin. “We look forward to continuing our close relationship with OPM in maintaining a strong federal workforce.”

Berry stepped down last month when his four-year term expired. OPM’s general counsel, Elaine Kaplan, is currently serving as acting director.

Obama taps Tangherlini to be permanent GSA chief

President Obama said Wednesday he plans to nominate acting administrator Dan Tangherlini to become the official head of the General Services Administration.

Tangherlini was appointed acting GSA administrator in April 2012 after an inspector general report detailing $823,000 in wasteful spending at a 2010 conference toppled the agency’s leadership and resulted in the firing of more than a dozen employees.

In a statement, Obama praised Tangherlini for turning the agency around and rebuilding its credibility.

“As acting director, Dan helped restore the trust of the American people in the General Services Administration by making the agency more efficient, accountable and transparent,” Obama said.

After taking over as head of GSA Tangherlini slashed bonuses, reduced travel and has focused on rebuilding GSA’s customer base and expand its products and services.

DoD approves Apple iPhones, iPads for military use

The Defense Department will allow government-issued iPhones and iPads to connect to the military’s networks, the Pentagon announced.

The Defense Information Systems Agency approved Apple mobile devices using the iOS 6 operating system. But DISA only approved government-issued iPhones and iPads, and said that personally-owned Apple mobile devices will not be allowed on military networks.

The department said the approval of Apple devices is a vital step towards creating a multi-vendor environment that allows the government to choose from several different mobile products. DISA has already approved the BlackBerry and Samsung Knox operating systems.

DISA is currently setting up Defense’s Mobility Device Management system, which will provide a process to manage and distribute mobile applications and improved cybersecurity defenses.

“All of these pieces must be in place to allow the secure use of commercial mobile devices on department networks,” Mark Orndorff, DISA information assurance executive and program executive officer for mission assurance and network operations, said in a statement. “DISA is running a pilot program today where we bring this all together.”

Defense hopes to be able to support roughly 100,000 mobile devices from multiple vendors by February 2014.

More feds investing in TSP's L Funds

The number of Thrift Savings Plan participants enrolled in the L, or lifecycle, Funds reached a record 864,469 in April.

And the L Funds’ growth rate is accelerating. The number of L Fund enrollees grew 5 percent in the first four months of 2013 — greater than the 4 percent growth the L Funds experienced in all of 2012. Between December 2011 and December 2012, the number of L Fund participants grew from 788,326 to 821,082.

The L Funds are mixtures of TSP’s five underlying funds that are automatically adjusted based on how close or far an investor is from retirement. Participation in those funds dropped several times during the market crash and recession in late 2008 and early 2009, as many TSP investors sought shelter in the low-risk, low-reward G Fund. But L Fund participation has gradually grown since late 2009, as participants regained their confidence, and picked up the pace in recent months.

TSP participants are also shifting more and more money into the L Funds. Last month, TSP participants moved $468 million into the L Funds, largely out of the stock-based C, S and I funds. So far this year, about $2.8 billion has been transferred into the L Funds, bringing its total balance to nearly $53 billion. That is roughly 15 percent of the TSP’s total $352 billion balance.

This growth “is what success looks like,” Gregory Long, executive director of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, said at the board’s monthly meeting last week. “This is a trend that we’d like to see continue.”

The TSP board has for years encouraged participants to invest in the L Funds. Long said he could not be sure exactly what is causing the explosion of interest in the L Funds, but said he hopes the board’s continued advocacy is starting to yield results.

Chief Investment Officer Tracey Ray said that so far in May, participants have moved about $476 million into the L Funds.

“It seems to be a very steady trend,” Ray said. “It’s a very different picture from what last year looked like.”

GSA awards governmentwide mobile contract

The General Services Administration on Wednesday awarded a governmentwide contract for discounted wireless services and mobile devices, which the agency expects will save $300 million over five years.

Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile were awarded spots on the Wireless Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative contract. The contract aims to cut costs by capitalizing on the more than $1 billion the government purchases each year in wireless services and products, which GSA hopes to steer through its new contract.

Wednesday’s announcement means GSA has achieved one of several milestones outlined in the Obama administration's Digital Strategy released a year ago. The contract offers each agency the option to pool their unused minutes with a specific carrier instead of paying additional overage fees, as well as access to smartphones, cellphones and broadband data devices.

The wireless contract was slated to be released in November, but it was delayed by a protest Verizon filed last June with the Government Accountability Office. The contract's delay has forced some agencies to award their own contracts for mobile and wireless services or modify the terms of existing contracts, at a time when the administration is trying to rein in duplicative wireless services contracts.

“Until now, wireless purchasing has been fragmented among multiple buying channels resulting in individual bureaus, departments and operating divisions across the government managing more than 4,000 wireless agreements and 800 wireless plans from various carriers,” GSA said in a statement.

The Department of Homeland Security, Agriculture, Energy, Interior and Justice departments have committed to using the contract.

Pentagon goes it alone on electronic health records

The Defense Department is abandoning its plans to build a single, joint electronic health record system with the Veterans Affairs Department in favor of developing its own system using commercial software.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s decision follows a 30-day review of the Integrated Electronic Health Record program, an initiative that was supposed to be a change of course from past projects that sought to modernize the departments’ separate systems. During a Pentagon press briefing Wednesday, Defense acquisition chief Frank Kendall said the department’s core system will be based on commercial software and common standards, which will ensure the new system can communicate with VA’s electronic health record system and those of other healthcare providers.

Kendall, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said the department will meet with VA to discuss a new path forward and to consider the costs and risks associated with building a new system. VA decided to continue using its existing system, the Veterans Health Information System and Technology Architecture, or VISTA.

“In an ideal world, they [VA] would have preferred we go along with them, and we may end up” using VA’s system, said Kendall, adding that there is no requirement the departments use the same software to modernize their systems.

“It’s like an e-mail system,” Kendall said. “We don’t have to use the same e-mail systems to send e-mail to each other.”

Kendall highlighted the cultural differences between the two departments, and the need to ensure Defense clinicians feel comfortable with any new system. However, those cultural differences have contributed to a record of failed efforts to seamlessly share health data as troops move from active duty to veteran care.

In a letter to President Obama Wednesday, 20 Republican and Democratic lawmakers urged the president to end the back and forth between DoD and VA over how best to integrate their health record systems. “The time has come for a decision to be made and for the permanent merging of electronic healthcare records of the DoD and the VA,” according to the letter. “We can no longer waste the time or money that will result from endless bureaucratic inaction.”

The departments have spent an estimated $1 billion on the integrated health record initiative.

Kendall did not say how much it would cost to modernize Defense’s system but said he hopes the department can upgrade to the new system within its current budget. The new path forward comes as Defense faces $37 billion in sequester budget cuts this year.

Kendall said the Pentagon will lay out a more detailed plan over the next few weeks.

VanRoekel to lead OMB's management team

Steven VanRoekel will lead the Office of Management and Budget’s management team, following the departure of OMB’s No. 2 official this month.

“[OMB] Director [Sylvia] Burwell has asked U.S. Chief Information Officer Steve VanRoekel to lead OMB’s management team on an interim basis until a new deputy director for management is confirmed,” OMB spokeswoman Ari Isaacman Astles confirmed in an email. VanRoekel, however, will continue serving as federal CIO and administrator of the Office of E-Government and Information Technology.

VanRoekel was named federal CIO in 2011 and has served as managing director of the Federal Communications Commission and in an executive director position at the U.S. Agency for International Development. He will fill in for Jeff Zients, who stepped down as OMB’s deputy director for management on May 1, about a week after the Senate confirmed Burwell as OMB director.

Meanwhile, Deputy Controller Norman Dong has been tapped to lead OMB’s Office of Federal Financial Management for now, although he will not serve as acting OMB controller. The previous OMB controller who headed that office, Danny Werfel, was named acting IRS commissioner last week.

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