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What do you think of the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision? Will it affect you?

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In connection with an upcoming story on the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down much of the Defense of Marriage Act, Federal Times is interested in hearing from gay and lesbian feds (and their partners) on what they think of the ruling and of the Office of Personnel Mangement’s If you want to weigh in, please email Staff Writer Sean Reilly at sreilly@federaltimes.com or call him at 703-750-8684.

 

‘Shame on you,’ disabled vet Duckworth grills IRS contractor

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Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill, lost her legs and the use of her right arm as a helicopter pilot in Iraq in 2004. She was awarded a Purple Heart for her combat injuries.

Braulio Castillo broke his foot in a prep school injury nearly three decades ago at the U.S. Military Preparatory School, which he attended for nine months before playing football in college. He owns a technology business certified as a service-disabled, veteran-owned company eligible for government set aside contracts.

The two met at a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing Wednesday in an exchange neither will forget anytime soon.

For background, what brought them together was a months-long House probe into whether Castillo’s company won IRS contracts thanks, in part, to help from a top contracting official and friend inside the IRS named Greg Roseman, who pleaded the Fifth Amendment when called to testify.

While much of the hearing delved into questions about Roseman and Castillo’s friendship, lawmakers from both parties wondered aloud how a prep school injury suffered so long ago could result in Castillo’s company getting special set aside contract status from the government at a time when so many injured veterans are looking for work.

But among hours of testimony, Duckworth’s questioning of Castillo stood out.

She talked of her own struggles and those of a friend who, exposed to Agent Orange, died of leukemia. She talked of recovering from her injuries along with a young man whose leg had been blown off. And she talked about a backlog of veterans waiting more than 200 days to receive disability ratings from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

At one point, Duckworth read aloud from a letter that Castillo had sent to the VA as his company sought set-aside contract status, quoting him as saying, “These are crosses that I bear due to my service to our great country and I would do it again to protect this great country.”

Duckworth paused.

“I’m so glad that you would be willing to play football in prep school again to protect this great country,” she said. “Shame on you, Mr. Castillo. Shame on you. You may not have broken any laws … but you certainly broke the trust of this great nation. You broke the trust of veterans.”

You can watch the exchange here.

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IRS official pleads the Fifth

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An IRS technology official at the center of a House investigation into whether he pushed the agency to award contracts potentially worth up to $500 million to a company owned by a personal friend pleaded the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify at a House hearing Wednesday.

A House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report Tuesday said Greg Roseman, an IRS deputy director, may have influenced the IRS to award lucrative IT contracts to Strong Castle, Inc.

The same report also said the company had given the Small Business Administration misleading information to win approval so it could obtain set aside contracts, and that its Veterans Affairs-awarded status as a so-called service disabled veteran company was based on a nearly three decade old foot injury by its owner.

The House investigation also uncovered numerous text messages between Roseman and Strong Castle’s owner, Braulio Castillo. The company was previously called Signet Computers. The committee report said the company had little experience, but Castillo pushed back on that assertion, saying the firm had 15 years experience when he purchased it.

Still, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Ca., the chairman of the committee, said the company had little experience because employees under the previous owner from years ago were no longer around.

Appearing before the committee, Roseman declined to testify other than giving his title, and he declined to say whether he was still employed by the IRS.

The House report called the relationship between Roseman and Castillo “cozy.”

“Text messages … show that Castillo and Roseman had a long-term friendship that extended well beyond a professional relationship,” the report said, adding that many of the messages were vulgar.

Investigators also found a February 2012 email from Roseman to Castillo in which Roseman provided the name of a supervisory contract specialist at the General Services Administration, where Roseman previously worked, who could help Castillo get a contract on GSA’s Schedule 70, a catalog of governmentwide contracts for information technology products and services. In the email, Roseman told Castillo, “I’ve talked to her and she will look into expediting.”

Beth Tucker, a deputy  IRS commissioner, said the agency is the process of severing its relationship with Strong Castle.

While Issa said the IRS hadn’t indicated in recent days whether it would continue doing business with the company, Tucker characterized new text messages uncovered in the House probe as a surprise to IRS officials.

She said Roseman was asked by supervisors if he had a personal relationship with Castillo and “he denied it.”

Meanwhile, Castillo said his company won blanket purchase agreements from the IRS, which placed orders that amounted to about $50 million, with most of that money going to the company’s large business partner, IBM.

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Former Office of Special Counsel Director Scott Bloch sentenced

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It appears that the labyrinthine legal saga of Scott Bloch is over. Bloch, the former head of the government’s whistleblower protection office who once stood accused (incorrectly, he said) of retaliating against whistleblowers, was sentenced yesterday for having files erased from government computers, according to The Washington Post.

Bloch’s lawyer, William Sullivan, confirmed the terms of the sentence to FedLine today: Two years probation, a $5,000 fine, 200 hours community service, and–as a special condition of Bloch’s probation–one day in prison to be served at a facility in the Eastern District of Virginia. The Post has a succinct wrap-up of the case; for anyone wanting a somewhat more irreverent take on just how protracted the proceedings became, here’s a another FedLine post from two years ago.

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GSA to ask public for feedback on agency drivers

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The General Services Administration is launching an initiative to promote safer driving  by making it easier for the public to report the misuse of a government vehicle, according to the agency.

GSA will place a “How’s My Driving?” decal on 1,050 GSA vehicles within its internal fleet that will direct the public to report improper use of a government car to driving.gsa.gov. The initiative will streamline the reporting process and give the public one place to voice their concerns, according to the agency.

From the press release:

GSA remains committed to promoting vehicle safety. This program allows the American people to directly engage with the agency and will encourage safe and responsible usage of GSA vehicles. Safety is our top priority. For more information, visit driving.gsa.gov.

 

Probe finds personal ties, old injury aided IRS contractor

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A high school  injury nearly three decades ago enabled the owner of a contracting company to claim service disabled veteran status last year, opening the door to contracts worth up to a half billion dollars, a House investigation has found.

Braulio Castillo, owner Signet Computers, which has been renamed Strong Castle, injured his ankle in the fall of 1984 during his year at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School, but would later go on to play quarterback and linebacker the next year at the University of San Diego, according to a 157-page report Tuesday by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which will hold a hearing on the contract on Wednesday.

The report said high school football players recruited to play at West Point sometimes enroll in the prep school for a fifth year of high school to “redshirt” and prepare to play college football. Castillo’s injury happened during an orienteering exercise, and his nine months at the prep school represent the entirety of his military career, according to the report.

Still, 27 years later, soon after Castillo purchased a government contracting company, he filed a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs seeking compensation for a service disability, investigators found.

Once approved, the disability enabled Castillo’s company access to government set asides through the VA’s Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business program.

Castillo told a VA examiner weighing the company’s application for entry into the set aside program about the “crosses I bear due to my service to our great country,” according to the report.

He later told congressional investigators that his injury was debilitating over the years and that he’d had three foot fusions. Had Castillo completed his year at the preparatory school without injury, he wouldn’t have been considered a veteran, but a VA official told House investigators that cadets who are injured at school become a veteran due to the service-connected disability, the report said.

The House report also found Castillo’s newly purchased company had no experience with the IRS last year, but still won lucrative information technology contracts worth up to $500 million, in part, because of its status as a HUBZone contractor and Castillo’s relationship with a top IRS contracting official.

Under Small Business Administration rules, a HUBZone, or Historically Underutilized Business Zone, designation gives contractors an edge in competing for federal work if they’re based in certain economically distressed areas.

The SBA revoked Strong Castle’s HUBZone status in May, but has declined to disclose why, saying the decertification letter contains confidential business information.

The House report, however, said the company provided “inaccurate, unreliable and misleading information” to SBA. In a statement to Federal Times prior to the report, company has said it disagreed with the SBA ruling.

The House probe also found that as Strong Castle sought IT work within the IRS, Castillo turned to a personal friend inside tax agency for advice named Greg Roseman, the deputy director of IT procurement.

The House report called the relationship between Roseman and Castillo “cozy”,

Among thousands of pages of documents, House investigators uncovered dozens of text messages between Roseman and Castillo.

“Text messages … show that Castillo and Roseman had a long term friendship that extended well beyond a professional relationship,” the report said, adding that many of the messages were vulgar.

Investigators also found an email from Roseman to Castillo in February 2012, in which Roseman forwarded along a contact at the General Services Administration, where he had previously worked.

At the time, Castillo was trying to place his company on the GSA Schedule 70.

“I’ve talked to her and she will look into expediting,” Roseman told Castillo, referring to a supervisory contract specialist who “knew that the application was a priority for Greg Roseman,” the report said.

Prior to the report, the Federal Times previously sought to interview Roseman and submitted questions to the IRS, which did not respond. Inquiries to Castillo about his military experience also were not returned.

The company was placed on Schedule 70 after 50 days, while the average wait is 114 days, the report said.

“Greg Roseman’s relationship with Braulio Castillo was invaluable in helping Strong Castle win numerous contracts potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” the report concluded. “Given its limited track record and lack of prime contracting experience in the federal government, Strong Castle likely would not have won the contracts.”

Last year, the Treasury Department named Signet as its small business prime contractor of the year.

Shelanski, Tangherlini nominations get the go-ahead from Senate committee

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The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee gave quick approval this afternoon to candidates for two long-vacant executive branch positions.

On voice votes, the panel endorsed the nominations of Dan Tangherlini to head the General Services Administration and Howard Shelanski to lead the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget. Both nominations now go to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote, according to a news release. Tangherlini has been acting head of GSA since April of last year, but President Obama picked him to permanently fill the job only last month. The OIRA post has been unfilled since last August, when Cass Sunstein resigned to return to Harvard University.

[Spelling of Howard Shelanski's name corrected.]

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CFC hearing postponed

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Well, perhaps your humble FedLine correspondent should have held off on the previous Combined Federal Campaign post. The reason? We’ve just gotten confirmation that Wednesday’s hearing has been rescheduled until July 10. The reason is a conflict with a House Judiciary Committee markup session, according to a spokeswoman for the subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas.

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Comey nomination draws positive reaction from two FBI employee groups

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President Obama’s choice of James Comey to head the FBI has been welcomed by two groups representing key elements of the bureau’s workforce.

The FBI Agents Association had previously backed a former special agent—House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich.—for the job. But in a Friday statement issued shortly after Obama formally nominated Comey,  the association’s president, Konrad Motyka, said the former Justice Department official has an “outstanding reputation” among agents.

“We believe that Mr. Comey understands the centrality of the special agent to the bureau’s mission of protecting our country from criminal and terrorist threats,” Motyka said. “We look forward to meeting with him soon and working with him on the wide array of challenges facing our country.”

Also reacting favorably was the FBI Intelligence Analysts Association. While the association does not make endorsements, “we deeply admire his [Comey's] moral courage, vigorous defense of the Constitution, and unqualified belief that ‘intelligence under law is the only sustainable intelligence in the country,’” the organization, whose president is Daniel O’Donnell, said in a release today. “Mr. Comey also demonstrated his unwavering dedication to protecting the American people during the implementation of the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act (IRTPA) in his previous role as deputy attorney general.”

If confirmed by the Senate as the next FBI director, Comey would replace Robert Mueller, who is retiring.

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Who’s on deck to testify at Combined Federal Campaign congressional hearing

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[UPDATE AS OF 5:15 P.M EST TODAY: HEARING HAS BEEN POSTPONED UNTIL JULY 10]

For anyone who hasn’t seen it, here is the official witness list for this Wednesday’s House hearing on the proposed revamp of the Combined Federal Campaign. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., will lead off, followed by:

Mark Lambert, Associate Director for Merit System Accountability and Compliance
U.S. Office of Personnel Management

Kalman Stein
President and CEO
EarthShare

Debby Hampton
President and CEO
United Way of Central Oklahoma

Ju’Coby Pittman
President and CEO
Clara White Mission

Ken Berger
President and CEO
Charity Navigator

The hearing is scheduled for 1:30 EST Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the federal workforce, chaired by Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. Lambert formerly headed the CFC; it’s not clear why he is testifying instead of the current director, Keith Willingham. On Saturday, incidentally, OPM finally released hundreds of comments received on the proposed overhaul.

Anyone reading this post probably knows the background here, but if not, here’s a brief recap:

Back in early April, OPM published its draft plan for overhauling the CFC in the Federal Register. Among the draft’s more significant features: A shift to online/electronic giving; elimination of the current framework of about 184 local and statewide CFCs in favor of an unspecified number of regional campaigns; an application fee for charities to participate in the campaign; and creation of a permanent disaster relief program.

The public comment period ended June 7. As might be expected when you’re talking about overhauling a $250 million annual enterprise, reaction has been mixed.

Even before OPM formally released all the comments this weekend, a few dozen had become public. Based on that sample,  the Workplace Giving Alliance, a coalition of a dozen CFC federations, has put together a breakdown showing which aspects of the plan attracted the most attention from federal employees and other commenters. At or near the top of the list were  the provisions dealing with the charity application fee; electronic donations and changes to the local governance structure.

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