5 Things You Need to Know About Federal News From the Past Month

Changes in federal government keep coming fast. That’s why GovLoop gives you these monthly recaps of federal news that may affect agency management and employment. If you’ve fallen behind, check out the previous recaps.

By the time you read this, there will undoubtedly be new developments. And, this roundup can’t include everything. The focus is on federal news most relevant to government employees. Check out the linked sources for more information to stay on top of the latest news in government.

1. New hires and confirmations

The Senate confirmed Kenneth Marcus as assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education. His appointment was opposed by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Women’s Law Center, the Arab American Institute, and others. Frank Brogan was also confirmed for the Education Department as assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.

For the Interior Department, the Senate unanimously confirmed Tara Sweeney as assistant secretary for Indian Affairs. Anchorage Daily News reported she is “the first Alaska Native woman in a high-ranking Senate-confirmed position with the federal government.”

Christopher Krebs was confirmed as undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security’s National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD). Krebs told FCW “his top legislative priority is getting NPPD rebranded as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.”

Also confirmed: Jean Carol Hovland as commissioner of the Administration for Native Americans at the Department of Health and Human Services and Tibor Nagy was confirmed as head of the State Department’s Africa Bureau.

Ronald Gidwitz was confirmed as Ambassador to Belgium. He was “a major financial backer of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, who once owned a housing estate in which low-income tenants were said to endure ‘inhumane’ living standards.” The Senate also confirmed Admiral Harry Harris as Ambassador to South Korea. In an op-ed for The Korea Times, academic Emanuel Pastreich characterized Harris’ assignment as “unprecedented” and Harris’ himself as an “American warlord.”

The Senate confirmed Gordon Sondland, who gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee, to be Ambassador to the European Union. Other confirmed U.S. ambassadors include Brian Nichols, Zimbabwe; Joseph Mondello, Trinidad and Tobago; and Robin Bernstein, the Dominican Republic.

2. Departures

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy announced he would retire this summer, which will give Trump a chance to nominate a replacement to the Supreme Court.

Joseph Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations, announced he is returning to the private sector. After just 5 months on the job, Anthony Vinci, the first chief technology officer at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, quit to return to the private sector. Joseph Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations, announced he is returning to the private sector.

Joel McElvain, a career Justice Department lawyer resigned. McElvain is one of the three attorneys who withdrew from a case that would remove preexisting conditions protections from the Affordable Care Act. Dan Wenk says the Trump administration forced him out as superintendent of Yellowstone national park “over his wildlife advocacy.” As The Guardian reported, “a former park service national director, Jon Jarvis, said the maneuver was intended to send a chilling message and make an example out of Wenk.”

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Acting Director Mick Mulvaney dissolved the 25-member Consumer Advisory Board, a group of outside experts who advised the CFPB. The move came after Mulvaney was criticized for refusing to hold legally-required meetings with the advisory board.

Two of Scott Pruitt’s closest aides resigned from the Environmental Protection Agency: Sarah Greenwalt, senior counsel, and Millan Hupp, director for scheduling and advance. The EPA also shut down three committees made up of outside researchers and experts: Ecological Processes and Effects Committee, the Environmental Engineering Committee, and the Environmental Economics Advisory Committee.

And Pruitt himself resigned amongst a series of ethics scandals.

3. Staffing issues

With all the departures and hiring troubles in the White House, the administration decided to hold a job fair to try to fill vacant positions, including some in the West Wing, something that “would have been unheard of in the previous administration.”

Politico reported the strange story about how staff at the White House records department have been collecting fragments of paper ripped up by Trump, and then painstakingly reassembling the documents to comply with the Presidential Records Act law.

The State Department evacuated some of its staff who work at the American Consulate in Guangzhou, China after they fell sick of a “mysterious ailment” similar to one that affected American Embassy employees and their families in Cuba.

The New York Times reported about the “marginalization of science” in the Trump White House, as evidenced by the administration’s lack of a “science advisor or a senior counselor trained in nuclear physics,” no chief scientists at either the State Department or Agriculture Department, several disbanded or inactive science advisory committees, and more.

According to Federal Times, a new Department of Justice Inspector General report found that “women in law enforcement positions at the [DOJ] are demographically underrepresented and receive fewer promotion opportunities.” Women hold just 16 percent of the DOJ’s criminal investigator roles and “only between 6.3 and 11 percent of the field leadership positions at the DOJ’s four law enforcement components: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and the U.S. Marshals Service.”

4. Agency issues

In case you missed it, the White House issued a plan to reorganize the entire federal government. Check out this GovLoop summary of what you need to know about the proposed reforms.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development abruptly gave notice it was evicting federal union representatives from HUD office space. As Federal Times noted this “essentially prevents union representatives from conducting any work to represent their fellow employees in grievances against the agency.”

According to Foreign Policy, Mari Stull, a senior advisor to the State Department, “has been quietly vetting career diplomats and American employees of international institutions to determine whether they are loyal to President Donald Trump and his political agenda.”

An article in The New Yorker described how the “Office of Refugee Resettlement is completely unprepared” for the thousands of immigrant babies, toddlers, and other young children in its care. Reuters reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement “modified a tool officers have been using since 2013 when deciding whether an immigrant should be detained or released on bond…Previously, the tool automatically recommended either ‘detain’ or “release.’ Last year, ICE spokesman Bourke said, the agency removed the ‘release’ recommendation.”

The Trump administration tried to suppress a report by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry showing the widespread contamination of military drinking water with dangerous chemicals. The Los Angeles Times reported the administration also directed “federal scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey to get approval from its parent agency” before speaking to the media.

5. Other things that matter

The Trump administration withdrew the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Washington Post explained:

“The decision came a day after the U.N. human rights chief slammed the administration’s policy of separating migrant parents from their children after they enter the United States at the Mexican border, calling it ‘unconscionable’ and akin to child abuse.”

An investigation by Forbes found that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross did not divest from hundreds of millions of dollars of holdings as he confirmed in a sworn statement to the Office of Government Ethics. Instead he “maintain[ed] stakes in companies co-owned by the Chinese government, a shipping firm tied to Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, a Cypriot bank reportedly caught up in the Robert Mueller investigation and a huge player in an industry Ross is now investigating.”

A study by Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health revealed that 5,740 people, most American citizens, died as a result of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The researchers added, “Our results indicate that the official [government] death count of 64 is a substantial underestimate of the true burden of mortality.”

Note: This article not an opinion about or endorsement of any policies, regulations, or orders, nor of the behaviors of elected officials, political appointees, government employees, other individuals, organizations, or agencies.

Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, freelance writer, and trainer based in San Francisco. She helps organizations engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply