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GSA hopes to trade Baltimore building for construction or repair services

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The General Services Administration is hoping to trade its Metro West building in Baltimore for construction or renovation services on its other facilities, according to an agency announcement Wednesday.

The agency plans to issue a request for information for developers in the area Aug. 8 and interested parties will have 45 days to respond.

The 1.1 million-square-foot building will become vacant in 2014. The facility has a parking garage and sits on nearly 11 acres of land, according to the agency.

“Now that the Metro West facility will soon no longer serve the government’s needs, GSA is seeking ideas from the development community on a potential exchange of the building,” said GSA Regional Administrator Sara Manzano-Diaz.

She said the responses they receive from the business community will help the agency determine the best use of the property and save money on maintenance and repair costs while providing funds for needed projects elsewhere.

This isn’t the first time GSA decided to explore the possibility of exchanging one property for another or for services.

On Dec. 3, 2012 GSA issued a request for information to exchange the 2.4 million-square-foot J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in downtown Washington for a new headquarters nearby.

A 2005 law authorizes GSA to enter into special financing deals to exchange, trade, lease or otherwise negotiate for new construction or renovation projects.

Senate committee passes bill to strengthen agency cybersecurity efforts

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Legislation that would enhance agency cybersecurity efforts and boost research into protecting critical systems from cyber attack passed out of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Tuesday.

The Cybersecurity Act of 2013 would task the National Institutes of Standards and Technology with developing a set of voluntary standards and guidelines to reduce cyber attacks on critical infrastructure.

The legislation would also direct the Office of Science and Technology at the White House with developing a cybersecurity research plan that would include guidelines on how to test and build new software and how to improve consumer education on cybersecurity.

Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., committee chairman, said the legislation was a bipartisan effort that should be passed by the Senate.

“Now that the Commerce Committee has passed its bill, we’ve got to build on today’s momentum and get it to the floor,” Rockefeller said in a news release.

Senate panel to vote this morning on nominees to lead OPM, Census Bureau

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Two Obama administration candidates for nuts-and-bolts jobs are scheduled to get confirmation votes at 10 a.m. today from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

First up, according to a committee advisory, is the nomination of John Thompson to head the Census Bureau. Thompson, who previously worked for the bureau as far back as the 1970s in such posts as associate director for the decennial census, is currently president and CEO of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, according a White House bio.

The Senate panel is also supposed to vote on the nomination of Katherine Archuleta for director of Office of Personnel Management. Archuleta, who has held an array of jobs in and out of government, helped run Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and also spent about two years from 2009 to 2011 as chief of staff for the Labor Department.

Confirmation hearings for both Thompson and Archuleta produced no fireworks, so presumably this morning’s votes will be similarly routine. For anyone wanting to watch the action online, however, here’s a link to the committee’s site. Assuming that the two win the panel’s approval, the only thing standing between them and another stint of public service is a vote by the full Senate.

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AP: Defense Department likely to cut number of furlough days

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The Defense Department could cut as many as five furlough days from the 11 currently planned by the end of the fiscal year in September, according to an Associated Press report. The report, which cites only anonymous sources, says that Pentagon officials are looking at trimming the total number of unpaid days off to somewhere between six and eight. Hold your breath, though–no announcement is planned this week, according to the AP.

At present, about 650,000 DoD civilian employees are generally losing one day per week to the furloughs that began early this month; as Defense News is reporting, the furloughs–imposed as part of the Pentagon’s strategy for dealing with sequester-related budget cuts–are turning even routine business into a hassle. Meanwhile, DoD employees are flooding the Merit Systems Protection Board with thousands of appeals.

While Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said for months that department officials hope to trim the total number of furlough days, the AP story suggests that they may actually be preparing to do so.

Poll: More than half of Americans feeling little or no impact from sequester

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For hundreds of thousands of federal employees, there’s been no escaping the effects of sequester-related budget cuts, either on their jobs, their paychecks or both.

For the general public, though, not so much. In a national poll this month by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, 55 percent of those surveyed said the cuts have had little or no impact on themselves and their families.

There is another way to look at the results. As NBC News’ story notes, the percentage of respondents who said they’ve felt “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of impact stood at 22 percent, up from 16 percent in April.

But with more than half of Americans still feeling essentially unscathed, the new poll suggests one reason why Congress isn’t hustling to avert a second sequester during the new fiscal year that starts in October. The telephone survey of 1,000 respondents was conducted from July 17 through July 21 and has a margin of error of 3.10 percent.

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At MSPB, the furlough cases keep coming

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Furlough-related appeals continue to pour into the Merit Systems Protection Board. As of this morning, the number of docketed appeals stood at 4,647, up about 50 percent  in a week. And that number doesn’t include another 4,587 cases that have been received but are not yet docketed—most of which are likely furlough-related as well, Clerk William Spencer said in an email.

The surge temporarily knocked out the board’s electronic “e-Appeal” service a few times this week. It has also prompted the board to post the following message on its homepage:

“Due to the unprecedented large volume of furlough appeals being received in the Board’s regional and field offices from employees of the military services and Department of Defense activities (DoD), there will be delays in the docketing and processing of all DoD furlough appeals. The Board will also be unable to respond quickly to additional inquiries. We ask therefore that parties to the DoD furlough appeals refrain from contacting the regional and field offices until we inform you that processing of your appeal has begun.”

“We regret any inconvenience to the parties caused by the overwhelming number of appeals, but assure you that every appeal will be adjudicated with great care once we are able to begin that process.”

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Lincoln Memorial closed after someone threw green paint onto statue

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If you were looking to go to the Lincoln Memorial today you are out of luck, according to news reports. Apparently someone threw green paint onto the statue of Abraham Lincoln and the National Park Service has closed the monument in order to clean it.

From CNN:

Vandals splashed green paint on the base of the Lincoln Memorial’s statue overnight, prompting officials to temporarily close the marble fixture on Washington’s National Mall, authorities said.

Police were alerted just before 1:30 a.m. and found paint splattered on the leg and base of the 19-foot-tall statue of Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Park Police Capt. Steven Booker told CNN Friday. There were no discernible letters or markings.

The memorial will be closed until it is cleaned up, Booker said. A timeframe was not given.

NIST on track to release preliminary cybersecurity standards

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The National Institutes of Standards and Technology is on track to develop a preliminary set of voluntary cybersecurity standards by October, according to the head of the agency.

Patrick Gallagher, NIST director, said at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee hearing Thursday that the agency is working closely with private industry as mandated by a Feb. 19 executive order.

“We have made significant progress but we still have a lot to do,” Gallagher said.

He said the agency has already held three workshops for industry feedback and will continue to work with the private sector to develop a flexible set of principles that will remain relevant for as long as possible.

President Obama directed NIST in the executive order to work with the private sector on standards that will help protect critical infrastructure – such as telecommunications and manufacturing – from cyber attack.

Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.V., chairman of the committee, said it is critical that NIST and the private sector work together on any cybersecurity framework to make sure it is adopted by the private sector.

“Making progress against our cyber adversaries is going to require a sustained coordinated effort between the public and private sectors,” he said.

OPM proposes broader range of penalties for Hatch Act violations

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Federal employees found to have violated the Hatch Act’s prohibitions on partisan politicking would face penalties ranging from a reprimand to a five-year ban from federal employment under proposed changes published in today’s Federal Register.

Up to now, the only sanction has been automatic firing, unless the three-member Merit Systems Protection Board unanimously agreed to impose a 30-day unpaid suspension. As a result, agencies were sometimes reluctant to pursue minor infractions.  The Office of Personnel Management’s proposed changes follow up on the framework laid out in the Hatch Act Modernization Act, which Congress approved last December in part to give the board more flexibility.

Under the proposal, violators could face the following sanctions: Removal, reduction-in-grade, debarment from federal employment for up to five years, suspension, reprimand or a $1,000 fine. The MSPB would also no longer have to vote unanimously to impose lesser penalties.

OPM is taking public comments on the proposal through Sept. 23.

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TSP board to ask whether sequester and furloughs affecting participants’ investment choices

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The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board plans to ask Thrift Savings Plan participants whether the sequester and–in many cases, employee furloughs–has prompted them to change their investment choices.

The question will be added to the biannual survey going out to a sample of about 50,000 TSP account holders this fall, Renee Wilder, the board’s director of enterprise planning, said in a brief interview today. At the board’s monthly meeting, Wilder said that TSP participation among active Federal Employees Retirement System members dipped slightly in June to a 12-month low of 2.39 million, but it is unclear whether that decline stemmed from soft market conditions or the impact of sequester-related budget cuts. The overall FERS participation rate remained relatively stable last month at 86.8 percent.

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