Major VA Electronic Records System On Hold
The Veterans Administration (VA) decided (April 6) to further delay additional deployments of its new electronic record-keeping system. System deployment had already been delayed until June to address identified issues, but now system deployment will be delayed indefinitely.
Deployments under the VA’s Electronic Health Modernization program were put on hold twice in 2022 given problems identified with software that presented both patient safety concerns, and concerns that the system was not adequately meeting the needs of users in the field. Oracle is the prime contractor of the system after acquiring Cerner (who received the original $10 billion contract award) back in June 2022.
In February, the General Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on this issue that found problems with the quality of legacy data transfers and with how the new system was working for some users. GAO said that the VA identified errors in allergy, medication, and immunization data, which may pose risks for patient safety; and that the agency started making reports from the system available without doing the work needed to ensure these met user needs.
In March, GAO reported that most current users have expressed dissatisfaction with the new system, with user surveys showing that only about 6 percent of users agreed that the system enabled quality care, and 4 percent agreed that the system made them as efficient as possible.
The current version of the system has been deployed to five locations so far. The next site was previously supposed to begin deployment in June (the VA facility in Saginaw, Michigan).
IRS Releases Strategic Operating Plan
The IRS released a strategic operating plan (April 6) with 190 “key projects” intended to improve service and address tax avoidance by high-income earners. Many of the activities will be funded using an $80 billion funding infusion for the agency provided in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.
The IRA plan is built around three core elements:
Rebuilding and strengthening IRS customer service to end long phone wait times, add online tools, and add in-person taxpayer assistance.
Add capacity to better understand and audit the complex filings of high-income taxpayers, large corporations and complex partnerships.
Update outdated IRS systems to help ensure the most modern and robust security in technology to protect taxpayer data.
Overall, the plan contains 42 initiatives covering more than 190 key projects and more than 200 milestones and milestone timeframes to track progress.
IRS Funding Rescission Proposal
The House passed (January 9) legislation (H.R.23) rescinding funds provided within the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The vote was 220-210, with 3 representatives not voting. All voting Republicans voted for the legislation, and all voting Democrats voted against the bill.
The IRA provided the IRS with $79.6 billion in additional funding primarily to increase tax enforcement ($45.6 billion), replenish operations and oversight ($26.0 billion), modernize business systems ($4.8 billion), and improve taxpayer services ($3.2 billion).
The House-passed legislation proposes to rescind about $71.5 billion worth of unspent funding. The Congressional Budget Office has, however, estimated that this action would actually cost the Federal budget an estimated $114 billion because the IRS would not be able to step up enforcement of existing tax laws. Last year, CBO estimated that revenue would increase from stepped-up enforcement by more than $180 billion, though such estimates are highly speculative.
House Republican leaders have argued that stepped-up IRS enforcement will hurt average American families. Putting aside the fact that no-one should be permitted to disregard/violate tax laws irrespective of income, and as it is unclear if the House majority believes tax laws should not be properly enforced, CBO nevertheless stated in August 2022 that while “some of the increased revenues will be collected from taxpayers with income less than $400,000; the amount will be a small fraction of the total increase.”
The US Senate is unlikely to consider the proposal in the current Congress.
IRS Presidential Audit Process
The House Committee on Ways and Means released the results (December 20) of an investigation into the Presidential audit process of the Internal Revenue Service. The Committee looked at the extent to which an audit was conducted by the IRS on any of the recent prior tax returns of former President Donald Trump.
In summary, the report found that a mandatory IRS program to audit Presidential tax returns “was dormant, at best,” with just one audit opened while President Trump was in office and none were actually completed. The only audit that actually did start was only started immediately after the Committee inquired about the audit process and status with respect to the former President.
As part of the release, the Committee released its report and redacted detail of the President’s tax information.
Energy Efficiency & Federal Buildings
The Biden Administration released (December 7) a Federal buildings energy standard that the Administration claims will lead to a 30% reduction in Federal building energy use by 2030.
Achieving the reduction would be accomplished in two key ways:
Impose a standard that requires Federal agencies to cut energy use and electrify equipment and appliances to achieve zero scope 1 emissions in 30 percent of buildings by square footage by 2030. To reach this goal, agencies will buy heat pumps, electric water heaters, and other energy efficiency and building system technologies supported by the Inflation Reduction Act.
Issue a proposed rule requiring new/newly-renovated Federal buildings be electrified; most importantly meaning that such buildings will install/replace systems that do not utilize fossil fuels for heating, with an 90% on-site emissions reduction by 2025 and full decarbonization by 2030 for such buildings.
The Administration says that 25% of the US government’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the government’s building inventory.
Civil Service Protection Legislation
The House of Representatives passed (September 15) the “Preventing Patronage System Act” (H.R.302) by a vote of 225 to 204, with three members of Congress not voting. Six voting Republicans joined all voting Democrats in supporting the bill.
The legislation limits civil service Federal employee reclassifications to the five excepted civil service schedules in use prior to fiscal year 2021. The legislation would not prevent new reclassifications, but would require any President to obtain specific authority for any new classification authority in law.
The rationale for this legislation has its genesis in a 2020 Executive Order put in place by the Trump Administration that unilaterally created a new classification – i..e, “schedule F” – requiring agency heads to reclassify policy-determining, policymaking, or policy advocating positions to a newly created schedule F. It would have removed due process rights and civil service protections of employees moved into that schedule. The implication, in a nutshell, would have been that persons in those positions could be easily removed in favor of those solely tied to political hiring considerations.
While the Senate is unlikely to consider this bill during the current (117th) Congress two Senators–Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)–will offer an amendment to the must-pass 2023 Defense Authorization that incorporates the House proposal. It is not clear that such an amendment will pass the Senate.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced (August 17) that it will “implement changes across the agency that will set the foundation for large-scale cultural and operational changes to improve organizational accountability.”
Though the announcement did not include a lot of specifics, the CDC did reveal that its “first steps” will be to:
Elevate Science and Laboratory Sciences to report to the CDC Director to improve accountability for delivering timely information.
Start a process for organizational structural changes to incentivize public health action, implementation.
Create a new executive council – reporting to the Director – that will determine agency priorities, track progress, and align budget decisions, with a bias toward public health impact.
Create a one-stop shop for external partners to navigate the agency.
Create a new equity office to promote an equity focus “across all of the work CDC does, as well as how the agency operates.”
Federal "Zero Trust"
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued (July 22) FY 2024 budget guidance to agencies on cybersecurity, including Zero Trust Implementation at the top of its list. The Guidance is consistent with more detailed zero trust guidance issued in January.
Federal agencies are expected to achieve certain zero trust goals by the end of 2024, and “demonstrate a commitment in their budget submission to making this shift and achieving a new and more resilient foundational state.”
The core concept behind zero trust is that an organization's devices should not be trusted by default, even if they are previously-verified and connected to an organization's network; that; an authentication approach should be structured in a manner that minimizes the risk that a person/device is who they say they are when a network is being accessed and utilized (e.g., through two-way authentication where two parties are authenticating each other at the same time).
Census Undercounting of Minority Populations
The Census Bureau released the results (March 10, 2022) of its post-enumeration survey and analysis following the 2020 census. While the results showed that the total population count was accurate, the census undercounted other populations such as the Black/African American population and the Hispanic/Latino population.
The Black or African American alone or in combination population had a statistically significant undercount of 3.30%, higher than the undercount (2.06%) of the 2010 census. The Hispanic or Latino population had a statistically significant undercount rate of 4.99%, significantly higher than the undercount (1.54%) in 2010. The Asian population actually had an overcount rate of 2.62%, up from 0.00% in 2010.
Under- or overcounts can affect not only the distribution of voting populations in the redistricting process of States, but it can affect the distribution of Federal resources. As articulated in an article in RollCall, about $1.5 trillion in Federal funds are distributed annually on the basis of population data.
Buy American Rules
The Biden Administration announced updated rules tied to Buy American Act requirements for Federal purchasing. Key Federal agencies (GSA, DOD, NASA) published a joint final rule (March 7, 2022) that will gradually increase the U.S. domestic content threshold to 75%, from 55% today. Under the rule, the threshold will increase immediately to 60% this year, to 65% in 2024, and 75% in 2029. A 55% threshold will be available until 2030 in situations where domestic products at a higher threshold are not available or costs are “unreasonable.”
Postal Reform Legislation
Comprehensive postal reform legislation was enacted into law in April (2022). Its core elements enable the Postal Service to reduce costs and implement reforms planned under a 10-year financial sustainability and service plan unveiled in early 2021. The plan outlined price increases, processing facility consolidation, slower mail delivery, and new sources of revenue.
The most significant elements of the new law include:
Requiring future Postal Retirees to enroll in Medicare, which they paid into, instead of staying on the Postal Service health care plan. This action could save the Postal Service nearly $23 billion over 10 years.
Dropping a 75-year retiree future health benefits pre-funding requirement that does not exist with other Federal Government agencies and the private sector. This action could save the Postal Service $27 billion over 10 years.
Requiring the Postal Service to deliver mail and packages at least six days a week.
Requiring a public-facing online dashboard with national and local service level performance data updated each week.
Customer Experience Scores
Customer experience continued to improve during 2021 for Federal Government agencies, according to the customer research firm Forrester. The 15 Federal agencies rated by Forrester earned an average score of 62.6 out of a 100-point scale, a gain of 1.5 points from 2020 the "second year of improvement in a row and the highest Federal average we've ever recorded" says Forrester.
Ethics Reforms & Worker Protections
The House passed the Protection Our Democracy Act (December 2021). The legislation updates and reforms U.S. Federal employee and political appointee protections and ethical standards, including for the President. Some of the major provisions:
$50,000 fines for Hatch Act violations for some employees.
Subjects the President & Vice President to the Hatch Act.
Makes it harder for a President to fire Inspector Generals.
Prevents retaliatory investigations against whistleblowers.
No action on this legislation is currently anticipated for Senate in the current (117th) Congress.
Federal Sustainability Goals
The Biden Administration issued an Executive Order (EO) (December 2021) and a Federal Sustainability Plan which both center principally on the Federal Government's contribution to reducing carbon emissions. The EO sets five outcome goals:
100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity (CFE) by 2030, at least half of which will be locally supplied clean energy to meet 24/7 demand;
Purchasing of 100 percent zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) by 2035, including 100 percent zero-emission light-duty vehicles by 2027;
Net-zero emissions from federal procurement no later than 2050, including a Buy Clean policy to promote use of construction materials with lower embodied emissions;
Net-zero emissions building portfolio by 2045, including a 50 percent emissions reduction by 2032; and,
Net-zero emissions from overall federal operations by 2050, including a 65 percent emissions reduction by 2030.
Biden Management Agenda
The Biden Administration released (November 17, 2021) its Presidents Management Agenda (PMA) for the Federal Government. The agenda is built around three priorities: strengthening/empowering the workforce; delivering excellent, equitable, and secure services and customer experience; and, managing the business of government to "build back better." Some of the key action focus areas are digital workforce, digital services, financial management, accountability, and cross-government information sharing and coordination.
The Administration subsequently released a Federal "Learning Agenda" in support of the PMA. The Learning Agenda is intended to help build research and evidence in shaping programs, activities, strategies, and outcomes in support of the PMA.
No Results Found
Classified National Security Information
This is an Executive Order (13526) that prescribes a uniform system for classifying, safeguarding, and declassifying national security information, including information relating to defense against transnational terrorism.
Status: this EO was implemented in December 2009.
Preparation, Submission, & Execution of the Budget
This is core policy document of the Federal Government guiding Federal agencies in the development, justification, execution, and management of resources (Circular A-11).
Status: Circular A-11 is updated every ear, but generally does not change in any significant way.
This is summary of the provisions of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act , a law which increased stock and trading disclosure requirements on Members of Congress staff, and ensured that they are subject to insider trading laws.
Status: the STOCK Act became law in 2012.
Disaster Response & Recovery Laws
This is a summary by the Congressional Research Service describing existing policies encompassed within law and related rules pertaining to disaster response and recovery, including which level of government and agency is in charge of which element of disaster response and recovery, and the extent and processes behind Federal financial and other supporting resources.
Status: all current laws are in effect, and no significant changes in law and policy are expected at this time.
HAVANA Act of 2021
This law authorizes the CIA Director, the Secretary of State, and other agency leaders to provide injured employees with additional financial support for brain injuries that are incurred during a period of assignment to a foreign or domestic duty station; are in connection with war, insurgency, hostile acts, terrorist activity, or other agency-designated incidents; and, are not as the result of willful misconduct.
Status: this law was enacted on October 8, 2021.