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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.

Before we begin…

Even though these monthly summaries are about news affecting the work that happens inside agencies, there were a few headlines too big to ignore.

Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty of financial crimes. Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws and other charges and implicated Trump “in a criminal conspiracy.”

The Senate confirmation hearing of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has kicked off. Media outlets are providing live coverage, from the New York Times to The Wall Street Journal.

The official count of the number of people who died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria was raised from 64 to 2,975. According to an MSNBC reporter, “497 of the 2,654 migrant kids the Trump administration separated from their parents are still in federal custody.”

Navy veteran and Senator John McCain died.

1. Staffing issues

Trump decided that civilian federal government employees will not receive the 2.1% pay raise scheduled for 2019. Military service members will still receive a 2.6% increase. CNBC noted that “Congress could still authorize a raise.”

A federal judge struck down the majority of the provisions in Trump’s three executive orders that tried to make it easier to fire federal employees and weaken public sector unions. The Justice Department is expected to appeal the decision.

Trump revoked former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance for his role in the Russia investigation and for speaking out against the administration. The Associated Press characterized Trump’s decision as “an unprecedented act of retribution against a vocally critical former top U.S. official.” Wired explained how this threatens national security. The White House stated the administration is reviewing the security clearances of other critics, including one current government employee, Bruce Ohr, who works at the Justice Department. Trump later suggested Ohr should be firedVox has a useful explainer on why Trump is attacking Ohr.

Above the Law reports that, of the approximately 195 entry-level attorney positions in the 2018–2019 Department of Justice’s Honors Program, 67% will be placed in the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), a change from previous years. EOIR runs the courts that decides whether immigrants should be deported from the U.S. Meanwhile, the union representing EOIR’s immigration judges criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department for interfering with judges’ “ability to make independent decisions.”

The New Yorker reported that Trump’s National Security Council and other top advisers circulated a memo referred to as “The Echo Chamber” that accused President Obama’s aides of coordinating an organization to “undermine the incoming Administration.” Two people named in the memo said “the allegations are false and no such organization exists.”

Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Reality Winner was sentenced to more than five years in prison for leaking a classified report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, “the longest [sentence] ever imposed in federal court for an unauthorized release of government information to the media.”

2. Agency issues

The Washington Post gave a sneak peek into Fear, the new book about the Trump presidency by Bob Woodward, known for his breakthrough investigative reporting of the Watergate scandal. The Post explains that “Woodward illustrates how the dread in Trump’s orbit became all-encompassing…leaving some staff members and Cabinet members confounded by the president’s lack of understanding about how government functions and his inability and unwillingness to learn.”

Foreign Policy revealed that the White House used “misleading data and…an overly optimistic picture of the American economy” in a statement responding to a United Nations Human Rights Council report on poverty in the U.S. The UN report estimated “about 40 million [people in the U.S.] live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty, and 5.3 million live in Third World conditions of absolute poverty.”

NPR found that of the 235 school shootings reported in 2015 by the Education Department, only 11 could be independently confirmed, revealing problems with the department’s data collection methods.

The Trump administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated up to 1,400 additional people in the U.S. could die prematurely each year due to increased pollution resulting from the government’s new rules on coal-burning power plants. Also predicted are “48,000 new cases of what it described as ‘exacerbated asthma,’ and at least 21,000 new missed days of school annually.”

According to The Washington Postthe State Department is denying and revoking the passports of Americans whose official birth certificates show they were born in the United States. American military personnel, veterans, and Border Patrol agents are among those whose citizenship is being questioned.

Outside U.S. borders, there has been a “sharp drop in admission to the United States of Iraqi refugees who have helped American troops in battle.” Reuters reported “the Pentagon is concerned that not providing safe haven to more of the Iraqis, many of whom interpreted and did other key tasks for U.S. forces, will harm national security.”

3. More agency issues

Trump signed an executive order reversing and replacing Presidential Policy Directive 20, the classified “cyber rules of engagement” that govern where, when, and how the U.S. government can use cyber operations for national security.

Trump “mocked his own Justice Department” and renewed his criticism of Attorney Jeff Sessions, “prompting alarm from national security and law enforcement officials who fear the president is seeking to protect himself from encroaching investigations at the expense of lasting damage to ­institutions.”

A federal court ruled that groups of veterans can file class-action lawsuits against the Department of Veterans Affairs. Previously, only lawsuits brought by individuals had been allowed.

The Department of the Interior has finalized its plan to reorganize into 12 regional offices, called “Unified Regions.” According to The Hill, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke “promised…that no relocations will occur at least during the ‘initial implementation phase.'”

The Guardian reported that climate science research funding is being slowed down as “projects undergo an unprecedented political review by the high-school football teammate of the US interior secretary.”

The Trump administration announced more information about plans for Space Force, a new branch of the U.S. military that will focus on the defense of, well, space. As National Geographic pointed out, Air Force Space Command has led the U.S.’s military space operations since 1982, and employs more than 36,000 people.

4. Departures

The FBI fired Peter Strzok, the counterintelligence agent who had criticized then-candidate Trump in text messages sent during the 2016 presidential election. Trump sent a tweet taking credit for the firing.

Seth Frotman resigned as student loan ombudsman at Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). In his resignation letter, Frotman denounced Director Mick Mulvaney for leading the Bureau to “abandon the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting” and “serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America.”

Two key executives resigned from the Veterans Affairs’ new Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization, leaving “about half of its leadership positions staffed.” OEHRM chief medical officer Ash Zenooz quit. Days later, after just one month on the job, chief health information officer Genevieve Morris abruptly resigned. John Windom, the executive director of OEHRM was appointed to replace Morris as acting CHIO.

Frank Lara resigned as assistant director for correctional programs at the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for a position at The GEO Group, one of the largest for-profit companies contracted to house federal prisoners. Reporting on the “conflict of interest,” GovExec described how, while he worked for government, Lara instructed the BOP to identify inmates to be transferred to private prisons, including a facility owned by The GEO Group.

Similarly, two senior staff at the Interior Department have taken corporate jobs in the sector the agency is tasked with regulating. Deputy chief of staff Downey Magallanes left to become senior director of federal government affairs at oil and gas multinational BP. While at the Interior, Magallanes led the push to expand energy development into protected lands and waters. Vincent DeVito went from energy counselor at the Interior to executive VP and general counsel at Cox Oil Offshore LLC. According to The Hill, while at the Interior, DeVito changed federal rules to benefit energy companies, and, according to The Guardian, delayed endangered species protections at the request of a petroleum industry group.

Trump tweeted that White House counsel Don McGahn will resign “in the fall.” Shortly after, Stefan Passantino, McGahn’s deputy White House counsel of overseeing ethics and compliance, resigned. The Washington Post reported there is now just “one lone deputy counsel” left of McGahn’s five deputies.

Joanne Collins Smee resigned as the GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service deputy commissioner and director of Technology Transformation Services for a job in the private sector closer to her familyKelly Olson took over the roles in an acting capacity. Kay Ely, assistant commissioner for the GSA’s Office of Information Technology Category in the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) announced her retirement. Bill Zielinski will serve as acting commissioner.

Darren Beattie, a White House speechwriter and policy development aide, was fired after CNN discovered Beattie had attended and gave a speech at a conference “frequented by white nationalists.” Ian M. Smith, a policy analyst with the Department of Homeland Security, left the agency just after The Atlantic began investigating his connections with white nationalist activities. Guy Sands-Pingot is no longer going to become deputy director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), following a BuzzFeed News investigation into anti-Muslim comments he made on social media.

5. New hires

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) appointed 23 new immigration judgesThe Texas Tribune examined the “potential for conflicts of interest” at EOIR.

Carla Provost was named chief of the U.S. Border Patrol after serving as acting chief for more than a year. She is the first woman to lead the agency. Just 5% of Border Patrol agents are women, the lowest rate of women serving in all of federal law enforcement.

In addition to pushing through a slew of judges, the Senate also confirmed Jason Klitenic as general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI); Karen Evans as an assistant secretary for cybersecurity, energy security, and emergency response at the Energy Department; James Hubbard as undersecretary of natural resources and environment at the Department of Agriculture; Isabel Patelunas as assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the Treasury Department; and Lynn Johnson as assistant secretary for family support at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

There are several new faces at the Department of Defense (DoD). James Anderson was confirmed as an assistant secretary for strategy, plans and capabilities. Michael Conlin was hired as the DoD’s first chief data officer. Chris Shank was selected as director of the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), which finds new uses for high-tech weapons. And Col. Bradley Barnhart was named chief of staff of Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which provides defense-related IT and communications support.

Jack St. John, who had been serving as acting general counsel of the GSA, officially took on the role. David Chow was hired as chief information officer of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), replacing Chad Cowan.

Last but not least, Russia appointed actor Steven Seagal to a diplomatic role as a “special representative” to the U.S. Born in Lansing, Michigan, Seagal was granted Russian citizenship by Vladimir Putin.

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.

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