Federal Times Blogs

DoD to cut the number of furloughed civilians?

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Some good news could be coming in the next day or two for a lot of furloughed Defense Department civilian employees.

Under the “Pay our Military Act “signed by President Obama this week, DoD not only gains the authority  to pay uniformed military on time, but to do the same for civilian employees whom Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel determines are “providing support” to those troops.

And the word is that the Pentagon also plans to use that new authority aggressively to return a significant number of civilians to work. Exactly how many is unclear, but FedLine feels comfortable saying that it will be 100,000 or more.  That would make a big dent in the ranks of the approximately 400,000 who are now furloughed because of the partial government shutdown that began Tuesday. For the record, though, we haven’t gotten any official confirmation from the Pentagon or Capitol Hill. “We are hopeful the department will make a determination as soon as this weekend, but we don’t know for sure,” Senate Armed Services Committee spokeswoman Kathleen Long said via email.

But on Thursday night, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that he and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are “doing everything we can” to put idled civilian workers back to work, noting that they had already been furloughed for six days this summer because of the sequester.

“This is no way to treat patriots,” Carter said to loud applause at the Partnership for Public Service’s banquet honoring this year’s Service to America award winners.


The visitor control center at Navy’s Building 197

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 Access into the Washington Navy Yard’s Building 197, where a shooting rampage in Washington left at least a dozen people dead Monday, includes a security clearance check and vetting by contract-hired “visitor control technicians,” contract records show.

Authorities have identified Aaron Alexis, 34, a Navy veteran, as the dead gunman. While it’s unclear how Alexis got into the building Monday morning, the Associated Press reported that he may have used someone’s identification.

In April, the Navy hired Kansas-based contractor Transtecs Corp. for “visitor control office support services” at the Washington Navy Yard, according to the government’s online procurement database.

While there’s no indication that Transtecs’ work has come under question in the shooting, contract records related to the company’s hiring do shed light on the sort of vetting the Navy requires to get into Building 197, which houses the Navy’s Sea Systems Command.

A 30-page task order on the company’s website says Transtecs provides the labor to support the ID badging system and associated equipment at the building.

A person who answered the phone for Transtecs Monday said the company declined to comment.

Entry into the building includes a check of the Joint Personnel Adjudication System to verify an individual’s clearance level prior to authorizing access, the task order shows.

“The contractor shall utilize the government furnished Picture Perfect Access Control System to issue visitor badges and code Control Access Card (CAC) badges permitting entry,” the task order also states.

“The contractor shall code all CAC’s and visitor badges after the vetting process is completed authorizing access into specific or all NAVSEA buildings, as appropriate.”

The company’s website lists multiple federal agencies as clients, including the Navy, Air Force, Army and Defense Logistics Agency.

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MSPB gaining ground on furlough appeals

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The Merit Systems Protection Board is making headway in containing an unprecedented surge in appeals fueled by Defense Department employee furloughs.

As of yesterday, the board had docketed almost 16,600 appeals, or about half the total. It now expects to have most of the remainder done soon after Labor Day and then begin the adjudication process for the DoD cases, according to the latest update posted on its home page.

Challenges of sequester-related furloughs–most of them from Defense Department workers–have swollen the MSPB’s workload to roughly five times its normal level. Consider some numbers provided today by Board Clerk William Spencer. The total number of furlough appeals (docketed and undocketed) stood at 32,368.  Appeals of all other kinds: 5,346.

No doubt to the relief of the tiny MSPB’s 200-strong workforce, the surge is showing signs of ebbing. While he didn’t have exact figures, Spencer said that the influx of new appeals has dropped since the beginning of last week.

In its online update, the board apologized for any inconvenience to appellants, but added that it would be inefficient to start adjudicating appeals “only to discover that furlough appeals raising similar arguments, filed by similarly situated employees, remain to be docketed.” Going forward, the MSPB “hopes to consolidate and adjudicate as many similar claims as possible, and this cannot be done until the docketing process is near completion.”


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IBM to integrate Air Force pay, personnel systems

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The Air Force on Monday awarded IBM an $11.8 million contract to integrate its military personnel and pay processes into one system.

As part of the Air Force Integrated Personnel and Pay System Program (AF-IPPS), IBM will design “an enterprise resource planning-based solution to meet all personnel and pay requirements,” according to a Defense Department announcement. Work is expected to be completed by December 2014.

The new personnel and pay system will replace the Military Personnel Data System (MilPDS) and the Defense Joint Military Pay System (DJMS) for the Air Force, according to a December 2012 Mitre report. The new system will play a key role in helping the Air Force meet its audit goals.

The system will serve about 507,000 service members and “thousands of military leaders of different ranks, specialties, and career fields,” according to the administration’s IT Dashboard, which tracks the status of large technology projects. The Air Force expects the system will reduce annual payroll errors by 75 percent, and allow airmen to be compensated in a timely manner at least 98.5 percent of the time.

The Mitre report also notes the new system will have a self-service capability for airmen to update personal information and access their pay records anytime. However, the system is expected to have more than 100 user interfaces and connections to external systems, which could create technical, cost and schedule challenges, the report said.


Feds fall victim in ID theft scam

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Federal employees were among the hundreds of victims of what prosecutors Thursday described as a large-scale identify theft ring operating in the Washington area.

Ten people were charged in the scam to steal personal information, including social security numbers, from dental and insurance offices and other area businesses, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia announced in a news release Thursday.

A copy of the indictment can be viewed here.

Prosecutors said more than 600 potential victims have been identified, including employees at the State and Defense departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Once they stole the personal data, members of the identity theft conspiracy used that information to create bogus ID’s to open credit lines under the victims’ names, running up charges at Macy’s, Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers, according to the 16-page indictment.

Prosecutors announced the arrests of: Janero Blalock, 31, and Christopher Bush, 39, whom authorities identified as the ringleaders, as well as Adrienne Pritchett, 42; Segale Battle, 30; Jamille Ferguson, 31; Tekia Thomas, 20; and Elizabeth Monika Hunter, 19.

Two others were already in custody: Jennifer Scruggs, 44, and Rungnatee Person, 45. Prosecutors said an arrest warrant had been issued for one other defendant, Kevin Middleton, 32.

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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.

Labor groups seek support for furlough-related amendments

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Organized labor is urging a congressional committee to allow House members to vote on two amendments dealing with federal employee furlough policy when they take up a fiscal 2014 defense spending bill.

One of the amendments would “register a vote of no confidence” in the Defense Department’s use of furloughs; the other would stop furloughs of DoD employees paid through working capital funds, according to a letter this week from William Samuel, head of the AFL-CIO’s government affairs department.

The letter was addressed to leaders of the House Rules Committee, which acts as gatekeeper in deciding which amendments House members can consider when the defense bill comes up for floor debate. The committee was supposed to make that call yesterday, but the decision will now probably come next week. Also weighing in on behalf of the working capital fund amendment (offered by Reps. Tom Cole, R-Okla., and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash.) is the National Federation of Federal Employees.


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Furloughed DoD workers launch petition drive

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Defense Department civilian employees are appealing directly to the Obama administration to end the furloughs that are taking a 20 percent bite out of the paychecks of many.
“We have taken sequestration harder than all the departments,” states the petition created today on the White House’s “We the People” site. “Department of Defense civil servants continue to ‘take one for the team’ and we will continue to do our service to our country, but would like our country to listen.”
The petition, which must attract 100,000 signatures in the next 30 days to merit an official response, comes a little over a week after furloughs began for some 650,000 DoD civilians. Pentagon leaders have told them to expect up to 11 unpaid days off by the end of the fiscal year in September.

U.S. military’s Afghan HQ opens just in time for possible demolition

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$34 million military building

Photo courtesy, SIGAR

By one estimate, it’s one of the best constructed facilities in Afghanistan, but soon the $34 million military center in Hemland province could be torn down because, well, it turns out troops are leaving and the U.S. government might not have really needed the building in the first place.

Special Office of Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko outlined the scope and history of the expensive problem in a letter this week to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, which you can read about here.

But for a virtual tour of the building’s clean, spacious and barren offices and meeting rooms, the IG’s office has posted a set of photos online.

No doubt, it’s a spacious facility, but there’s just one thing missing: people.

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Marine Corps looks to DISA, industry to slash mobile costs

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The Marine Corps is testing new capabilities it hopes will cut mobile computing costs in half.

The service is working with Verizon, Sprint and AT&T on a small beta program to test the feasibility of wireless carriers managing the security of mobile devices, based on Marine Corps policies and standards. The devices will be managed using a dual persona solution, which will allow the carriers to manage government data and applications but not personal use of the phone by military and civilian users.

“If the beta goes well and we prove the technical requirements that need to be employed, then we will move into the pilot,” said Rob Anderson, chief of Command, Control, Communications and Computers- Vision & Strategy Division at Marine Corps Headquarters.

The pilot will include about 500 users in the northern Virginia area, but the Marine Corps hasn’t determined if the pilot will use personal or government devices. If successful, the pilot will be expanded across the military service and serve as the foundation for a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) program.

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps is also testing how capabilities offered by the wireless carriers stack up to a mobile device management solution offered by the Defense Information Systems Agency. DISA is testing a mobile device management (MDM) solution provided by Good Technologies.

“We want to compare both pilots,” said Anderson, who spoke at a mobile computing summit Tuesday. He said the Marine Corps will compare the cost of DISA managing mobile devices versus the wireless carriers and consider user feedback from both pilots.

“We are keeping all options open,” he said. “Whatever the most cost efficient is, [that's] the way we will go. Money is going to drive this train.”