Lawmakers worry HHS memo to employees could stifle communications with Congress

In today’s Federal Newscast, two senior Republican lawmakers have called for reassurances from the  Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that is not interfering with its employees’ communications with members of Congress.

  • Two senior Republican lawmakers have called for reassurances from the Department of Health and Human Services that it is not interfering with its employees’ communications with members of Congress.  Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote to HHS Secretary Tom Price this week expressing concerns about an internal memo. In the memo, Price reminded HHS employees to first talk to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Legislation before communicating with lawmakers or their staff.  Chaffetz and Grassley called the direction a possible violation of federal law.  They want Price to clarify the rights of agency employees to communicate directly with Congress.  (House Oversight and Government Reform Committee)
  • Two members of Congress have renewed a legislative attempt to change the legal status of federal airport screeners. The proposed law from Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) would confer Title 5 status on 40,000 Transportation Security Administration employees.  The law would give them greater bargaining rights and job protections. Congress left Transportation Security Administration workers out of Title Five when the agency formed after the 9/11 attacks. Screeners voted to join the American Federation of Government Employees in 2011.  (House Committee on Homeland Security)
  • The secretive Pentagon office in charge of quickly turning the military’s existing weapons into new capabilities said it has a perfect track record so far.  The Strategic Capabilities Office has only been around since 2012, but its director told Congress this week it has managed to successfully transition all six of the weapons systems it’s developed into programs of record that are now controlled by the military services. The secret to its success, according to Dr. Will Roper, is its insistence on prototyping new concepts before it tries to convince military commanders they’ll work. He said more than two dozen other projects are in the pipeline, with five of those nearing the transition stage.  (Federal News Radio)
  • Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said she wants more answers about the Defense Department’s leased office space in Trump Tower in New York City. After receiving a response from DoD to her March letter, McCaskill followed-up with a letter to the General Services Administration on May 2 asking for more further details. Among other things, McCaskill wants GSA to reveal more information about the cost of the lease and the vetting process of the owner they are renting from.  (Sen. McCaskill)
  • The Office of Management and Budget said it is reviewing more than a decade’s worth of policies to determine which ones are no longer necessary. Acting Federal CIO Margie Graves said her office is reviewing 20 years’ worth of technology guidance, including some policies from Y2K and some that refer to Windows XP. OMB said it expects to complete the review in the next 60 days and come up with a plan to reduce the number of data calls and compliance efforts by agencies. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Defense Department is giving its cybersecurity scorecard an update.  DoD’s Acting Chief Information Officer John Zangardi said version 2.0 of the cyber scorecard will be more dynamic than the first version. The original scorecard measured 11 items and relied on self-reporting, Zangardi said. The newer version will read more like a heat map for threats and have automated reporting.  (Federal News Radio)
  • The Homeland Security Department said it wants to hear from the public and industry about security issues that most concern them. DHS said it is collecting feedback as it finishes a top-to-bottom strategic review of the department’s priorities and programs. Those ideas may become a part of the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. DHS will submit it to Congress in December. (Department of Homeland Security)
  • More than 140 Republican lawmakers have delivered a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) calling for a vote to repeal budget caps on defense spending imposed by the 2011 sequester. The letter states sequestration caps on defense are a security issue and not just a spending issue. President Donald Trump also called for a repeal of the sequestration caps on defense. (The Hill)
  • Two senators said they want the General Services Administration to hurry up and decide where it’s putting the new FBI headquarters. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said the recently passed spending bill secures over $500 million for the project, with a commitment from Congress to fund the rest in 2018. The lawmakers, of course, would prefer one of the proposed Maryland sites be chosen. Two of the final three sites on the GSA shortlist are in Maryland and would bring nearly 11,000 jobs to the state. (Sen. Van Hollen)