USDA cutting down on telework for all employees

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  • The Agriculture Department sharply curtailed telework for all its employees. USDA will allow employees only two teleworking days per pay period, or about four days per month. The new policy replaces practice established in 2014, which allowed full-time teleworking. The HR office now says the department supports telework, but only if it has no negative impacts on mission or customer service. Rules for telework eligibility remain unchanged. Agreements still require annual review. The new policy will follow a 30-day phase-in. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
  • Customs and Border Protection has a serious staffing problem. The Border Patrol has 1,900 vacancies, CBP also has 1,200 vacant officer positions. Border patrol agents and union reps say they can’t secure the border and meet the Trump administration’s demands to hire 15,000 agents, without fixes to pay, recruitment and retention. It currently takes CBP an average of 292 days to hire a new agent or officer. It costs the agent $180,000  to recruit, hire, train and deploy new agents to the field. (Federal News Radio)
  • Are you in or out? That’s the question White House staffers are reportedly being asked according to CBS News. Sources indicate quite a few staffers are considering leaving and so the administration wants to know who so it can stagger the departures. The reasons cited include exhaustion, low morale and more tempting offers in the private sector. (CBS News)
  • The Trump Administration will soon release a new plan calling on military representatives and diplomats to help increase international sales for U.S. weaponmakers. Reuters reports the new “whole of government” approach will aim to ease export rules on military products, and factor in economic benefits in the decision making process that up until now has focused more on human rights. (Reuters)
  • The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency named Peter Highnam its deputy director. Highnam formally served as the research director at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. President  Donald Trump also nominated Paul Ney Jr. to be general counsel for the Defense Department. He most recently served as Tennessee’s chief deputy attorney general. As deputy director of DARPA, Highnam will oversee projects in artificial intelligence, data analytics, electronic warfare and biosecurity. Highnam is taking the place of Stefanie Tompkins who is taking a leadership role at the Colorado School of Mines. (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) (White House)
  • A federal court declined to press the pause button in the ongoing legal dispute over President Donald Trump’s attempt to ban transgender Americans from military service. The Justice Department had asked the court to delay depositions in the case until late February, when the Pentagon expects to wrap up a new comprehensive review on transgender service. But a federal judge ruled Tuesday there’s no reason to do so, and said depositions of DoD officials and other discovery will move ahead as scheduled, even though preliminary court rulings have already barred DoD from enforcing the ban. The plaintiffs include several currently-serving troops who argued their military status remains in limbo until the president’s policy is definitively declared to be unconstitutional. (Federal News Radio)
  • President Donald Trump asked the secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs to develop a plan to give seamless access to mental health and suicide prevention to service members for a year after they leave the military. VA Secretary David Shulkin said the first year back in civilian life is the riskiest for new veterans. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Social Security Administration received the go-ahead to move out on its mega IT services contract. The three companies protesting being left off of SSA’s $7 billion IT services contract lost their cases before the Government Accountability Office. GAO denied all three vendors’ protest in December. This means SSA can move forward with its awards to Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and CGI Federal for programmatic, administrative and management system support services. SSA awarded the 10-year contract in August, but the protests by CSRA, Accenture Federal and Enterprise Services delayed the contract. (FedBizOpps)
  • In fiscal 2017, the FBI brought down only a fraction of the cyber criminal operations it reported in previous years. A new report from the Justice Department Office of Inspector General revealed the FBI disrupted more than 260 cyber threats last fiscal year, but only made it halfway to its goal of dismantling them. The agency squashed over 2,500 in 2014. The FBI says its made significant progress in neutralizing global cyber threats. (Department of Justice Office of Inspector General)