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Transparency board to hold open meeting

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It may say something about federal attitudes toward openness that the Government Accountability and Transparency Board typically meets in secret.

But for the record, the board—launched by the Obama administration two years ago to tackle big-picture spending issues—will hold a public meeting next month. The purpose is to let members of the public weigh in with presentations “regarding accountability and transparency for federal expenditures made through contracts and grants,” according to a recent Federal Register notice.

Among the questions on which the board wants input at the Jan. 22 meeting:

“What questions are you trying to answer with federal spending information?”

“Where does federal spending information need clearer instructions or explanation?”

“What suggestions do you have for prioritizing federal spending information?”

Those interested in attending the meeting—to  be held at the General Services Administration’s regional office in downtown Washington, D.C.—should send an email to federaltransparency@ratb.gov and write “January 22,2014 GAT Board RSVP” in the subject line. The Register notice has more info for people wanting to make presentations.

The upcoming public get-together appears to be a first for the panel, which is mainly made up of agency inspectors general and operates under the purview of the Office of Management and Budget. Its mission is to build on lessons learned from the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (created to monitor spending from the 2009 stimulus bill) as well as to study ways to reduce waste and make spending more transparent, with Vice President Joe Biden’s office getting monthly updates, according to the relevant executive order. The board is currently chaired by Richard Ginman, director of procurement and acquisition policy at the Defense Department, according to its website.

While its sessions are closed and generally not announced in advance, the board later posts minutes online; the most recent compilation is from October. The site makes no mention of next month’s meeting.

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Want to honor good work by a federal employee?

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Do you work with or know a federal employee who has made a particularly noteworthy contribution to the public good?

Then ’tis the season to put in a nomination for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (Sammies) at servicetoamericamedals.org. The deadline is Jan. 17.

The medals, given out by the Partnership for Public Service, span eight categories, including career achievement; science and environment; and homeland security and law enforcement. Three main criteria will be used in choosing the winners: On-the-job innovation; commitment to public service and impact of their work on meeting the needs of the nation, the partnership said in a news release. Any career fed is eligible to be nominated.

Thirty finalists will be honored at a Capitol Hill awards ceremony during Public Service Recognition Week in the spring; recognition for the winners will come at a black-tie dinner next fall.

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Is the administration moving to include transgender care in federal health insurance coverage?

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The short answer? Maybe.

Dive into the longer but far more satisfying answer below…

While some company and local government health plans cover care for transgender policy-holders, the Federal government does not and specifically excludes transition-related care from coverage.

Transition-related care may include hormone replacement therapy, mental health services, and sexual reassignment surgery (SRS).  The costs of this care can easily reach into the tens of thousands of dollars, putting it beyond the reach of many who need it.

But some recent and almost unnoticeable steps by federal agencies could mean transgender care coverage federal employees and many others.

Many people believe the inner workings of the government are needlessly complex or hopelessly laborious. And in many cases they are.

So follow me into the workings of the government so I can show you.

On Dec. 2 the departmental appeals board at the Health and Human Services Department decided that the “National Coverage Determination” (basically what is covered under Medicare and Medicaid and other programs) excluding sexual reassignment surgery specifically from Medicare coverage needed to be revisited.

The coverage decision has been in place since May 6, 1981 and  the original determination stated:

“Transsexual surgery for sex reassignment of transsexuals is controversial. Because of the lack of well controlled, long term studies of the safety and effectiveness of the surgical procedures and attendant therapies for transsexualism, the treatment is considered experimental;. Moreover there is a high rate of serious complications for these surgical procedures. For these reasons, transsexual surgery is not covered.”

The complaint that sparked this action noted that the language was terribly out of date and had no real bearing on modern day medicine. It seems HHS is inclined to agree.

But what does this have to do with Federal employees?  In addition to administering Medicare, HHS is also responsible for enforcement of section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which covers “any health program or activity, any part of which is receiving Federal financial assistance, including credits, subsidies, or contracts of insurance, or under any program or activity that is administered by an Executive Agency or any entity established under this title [of the ACA].”

If you read that and thought the scope of the inquiry was extensive you are right. It covers a wide range of programs, including at least Medicare, Medicaid and the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.

On an HHS Q and A on Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act – which prohibits discrimination on the bases of “race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in certain health programs and activities” the agency answered a list of self-imposed questions, including:

“Does this mean that transition related surgery is required to be covered by health insurers?”

The answer was a simple “no.”

But the Q and A has since vanished from the site. (Update: I want to make clear the Q and A I link to is a web archive version.)

At the same time the agency issued a request for information on the same section (1557) seekinginformation on a variety of issues to better understand individuals’ experiences with discrimination in health programs or activities and covered entities’ experiences in complying with Federal civil rights laws.”

The agency specifically requested examples of covered discrimination on the basis of sex, ‘including discrimination on the basis of gender identity, sex stereotyping, or pregnancy.”

While the rulemaking is far from complete these are signs the administration is open to changing how it treats its transgender employees.

This could be a huge step in getting transgender care covered under the health plans available to millions of people across the country.

I have reached out to the Office of Personnel Management and to HHS for comment. I will update if I hear anything.

Tired of watching the Redskins lose? Check out OPM’s updated bad weather policy.

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YouTube Preview ImageAttention, Washington, D.C.-area feds: With the scene outside looking a lot more frightful than delightful Sunday afternoon, what better time to tear yourself away from the Redskins debacle and get back up to speed on dismissal and closure policies in case of bad weather or other emergencies. Last week, the Office of Personnel Management held a webinar (see above) on the subject and here’s a memo from OPM Director Katherine Archuleta: http://tinyurl.com/my7wjkf. For those who really want to go hard-core, this is the link to OPM’s updated 35-page manual on the subject: http://tinyurl.com/lslzns9.

It’s still too early to say what’s in store for tomorrow, but in a Tweet late Sunday evening, OPM officials said they will announce the operating status for D.C.-area offices by 4 a.m. Monday. As soon as we at FedLine hear something, we’ll let you know.

[This post has been updated as of 11:27 Sunday evening.]

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