GAO: HHS needs to find ways to shield its scientists from political strong-arming – Federal News Network

gao:-hhs-needs-to-find-ways-to-shield-its-scientists-from-political-strong-arming-–-federal-news-network

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  • The Department of Health and Human Services needs to take steps to protect career scientists from political interference. That’s according to the Government Accountability Office, which finds political inference led to altered scientific findings related to COVID-19 during the Trump administration. GAO says many of these incidents went unreported because career scientists were afraid of retaliation, or suspected agency leadership was already aware of the interference. The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis will hold a hearing on GAO’s findings this Friday.
  • New data is out about how often agencies punished contractors for misbehaving in fiscal 2020. Agencies debarred more than 1,200 contractors in 2020, up from by more than 150 over the previous year. The Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee’s annual report to Congress for fiscal 2020 shows agencies held more vendors accountable for their actions, but also took more advantage of oversight flexibilities such as administrative agreements. In all, agencies suspended 415 companies and proposed more than 1,300 for debarment. Additionally, 15 agencies reported that criminal indictments or information constituted a basis for a portion of the suspensions, while 16 agencies reported reliance on criminal convictions for debarments.
  • Those looking to learn about how the government addresses unfair labor practices can hear more from the organization in charge of that. Starting May 3, the Federal Labor Relations Authority will host training sessions through its general counsel office. Some of the topics they’ll cover include union fair representation duties and the scope of bargaining. The virtual sessions will be capped at 250 attendees. A list of all programs is available at FLRA.gov.
  • The Labor Department is looking to diversify its applicant pools for federal roles through an apprenticeship program. In its equity action plan, the agency announced that it will collaborate with community partners, including historically black colleges and universities, in an effort to open more pathways to federal service. The agency will also partner with the Office of Personnel Management to launch the apprenticeship programs. The Labor Department’s effort is one of more than 300 new actions that agencies are taking to advance equity across government.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says equity will be baked into its delivery of care going forward. That includes all CMS centers, the CHIP or Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation and the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality. The agency will talk to stakeholders including insurance providers, health care facilities, pharmaceutical companies, researchers and “people with lived experience” for efforts like better collection and standardization of demographic data, and promoting culturally appropriate services in multiple languages. CMS will bring together industry players to improve maternal health outcomes this summer.
  • The Energy Department’s plan to hire a thousand employees under its Clean Energy Corps initiative is raising alarm bells among some members of Congress. Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee wrote to Secretary Jennifer Granholm seeking answers to more than a dozen questions. The lawmakers say Energy’s “massive hiring initiative” has “grandiose goals” but provides the committee with too few specifics. DoE announced the Clean Energy Corps in January and plans to use special hiring authorities provided under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The committee is seeking a briefing from DoE by May 4 and answers to the questions by May 20.
  • The Postal Service tells its regulator that its postal banking pilot will go on, despite a lack of customers. USPS told the Postal Regulatory Commission in a recent filing that it will continue its check-cashing pilot “in its current form” beyond its expected end date this March. USPS told the commission in January that six customers had taken advantage of the pilot it launched at four post offices last September, and that the agency made just over $35 in revenue. Top Republicans on the House Oversight and Financial Services Committees tell Postmaster General Louis DeJoy the pilot goes beyond the agency’s core mission of delivering mail and packages. (Federal News Network)
  • The Defense Department is entering into a contract with Texas A&M University to help develop hypersonic weapon flight designs. The Pentagon is increasingly interested in hypersonics as a China and Russia continue to develop their own. The contract is for half a million dollars and will help DoD understand the effects of environment on the flight of the weapons.
  • The Air Force is thinking about how it will move ahead with its chief architect office. Earlier this week, the Air Force’s chief architect, Preston Dunlap, resigned after three years on the job. Now the Air Force thinks it may need to expand the role he once held. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said the service needs a position that can oversee all research and acquisition programs to ensure they integrate well. The evolution of the architect’s office could do that. The Air Force is building complex weapons systems that share data and communicate facilitating the need for an overarching leader to oversee them. (Federal News Network)
  • It took more than two years of evaluation, but now the Army has chosen a contractor for two new weapons. Sig Sauer got a 10-year, firm fixed price contract to make what the Army calls the Next Generation Squad Weapon. It will come in two versions, a rifle and an automatic rifle, both using the same 6.8 mm cartridge. The initial delivery is worth $20 million. The new weapons, dubbed the XM5 and XM250, will replace the M4 and M249. The Army says the new rifles are lighter but more lethal.
  • The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is bringing industrial control system experts into the mix of its Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative. The latest companies to join the JCDC include Honeywell, Schneider Electric and Siemens. The collaborative brings agencies and industry together to thwart cybersecurity threats. The addition of industrial control systems companies comes after the Biden administration warned Russia could be planning cyber attacks on U.S. critical infrastructure.
  • Spy agencies are considering how to best harness open source intelligence. The intelligence community is considering the role open source intelligence plays in its typically secret world. Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Stacey Dixon says it’s something the IC has been considering for some time now, and it’s come to the forefront during the war in Ukraine. “There’s a lot of really useful information out there and so figuring out how do we legally, keeping in mind privacy and civil liberties, how do we bring in the information that’s useful and see how we can complement the classified information we have in terms of being able to provide insights to our customers.” (Federal News Network)

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