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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.

Finally and importantly, this is 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.

1. So, so many departures

The number of prominent White House employees and other key agency staffers who have either quit, been fired, or removed themselves from the nomination process keeps growing.

Though this resignation didn’t happen in June, we’re including it anyway since it’s a doozy. Office of Government Ethics director Walter Shaub, Jr. announced he is resigning effective July 19. Shaub has been vocal about his concerns over Trump’s conflicts of interests and other ethics problems plaguing the administration. He said, “There isn’t much more I could accomplish at the Office of Government Ethics, given the current situation.” Shaub has a new job at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit working on election law and campaign finance.

Two top executives suddenly resigned from the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) at the General Services Administration (GSA), FAS commissioner Tom Sharpe and deputy FAS commissioner Kevin Youel Page. As Federal News Radio reported, “both resignations come in the wake of GSA’s decision to merge the Technology Transformation Service (TTS) into FAS and make the commissioner’s job a political one instead of career.”

David Rank, top U.S. diplomat in China, resigned from the State Department’s Foreign Service. A few weeks later, Rank explained his decision for The Washington Post: “When the administration decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change, however, I concluded that, as a parent, patriot and Christian, I could not in good conscience be involved in any way, no matter how small, with the implementation of that decision.”

Patent and Trademark Office director Michelle Lee resigned without warning, following several months of uncertainty over her future in the position. Lee’s permanent replacement will need Senate confirmation. George Conway, Kellyanne Conway’s husband, withdrew his name from consideration as head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division and then very publicly criticized Trump. Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Josh Pitcock, is leaving and being replaced by Nick Ayers. Sheriff David Clarke withdrew his name from consideration as an assistant secretary at Homeland Security.

Finally, six experts quit Trump’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA), explaining “The Trump Administration has no strategy to address the on-going HIV/AIDS epidemic, seeks zero input from experts to formulate HIV policy, and — most concerning — pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease.”

2. Hires and nominations

There has been a swell of hires of an unusual sort. Trump expanded his private legal team for the Russia and Comey firing investigations. VP Mike Pence has hired a personal lawyer for the investigations. At least 10 of Trump’s current and former aides now have their own attorneys, too. And, even Trump’s personal lawyer retained his own lawyer. Meanwhile, Robert S. Mueller III now has 15 lawyers on his special counsel team for the Russia investigation.

Though Trump accused Senate Democrats of being “obstructionists” and delaying confirmations, an early June Politico article described how the administration has been slow to complete the necessary paperwork for nominations, leading to the “historic lag in filling administration posts.” Later in the month, Roll Call analyzed the nominations and approvals, and found a “surge” of nominations sent in June.

After great anticipation following the Comey firing, Trump nominated Christopher Wray for FBI director. Wray’s confirmation hearing is on July 12. Trump also nominated Richard V. Spencer for secretary of the Navy (not the white nationalist Richard Spencer). Spencer’s confirmation hearing is on July 11.

BuzzFeed News reported Trump will nominate Jennifer Newstead as the State Department’s top legal adviser. Newstead helped draft the Patriot Act. Trump has also nominated Kay Bailey Hutchison to be NATO ambassador, Patrick Pizzella to be deputy secretary of the Department of Labor, Brendan Carr to the final Republican position on the Federal Communications Commission, and a slate of judicial nominees.

Trump appointed an anti-transgender activist Bethany Kozma as senior advisor at the office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in the U.S. Agency for International Development. This appointment has created controversy. Trump nominated his party planner Lynne Patton to oversee HUD’s largest regional office. This hire has also created controversy.

Surprising no one, Jason Chaffetz, who announced his resignation from Congress in May, has a new job at Fox News. Sean Spicer is still looking for his own replacement as press secretary.

3. States push back against voter fraud commission

Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity sent “sweeping request” to all 50 states asking them to send detailed voter records information. The Commission requested each person’s name, address, date of birth, last four digits of their Social Security number, party affiliation, military status, felony convictions, and their voting history dating back to 2006.

The request met with extreme backlash. At least 44 states and the District of Columbia are refusing to turn over all or part of the requested information, citing privacy concerns or because the request violates state laws. Several officials and watchdog groups have been especially outspoken, saying the request is a move toward voter suppression and intimidation.

The Hill reported that the Election Integrity Commission’s request may have violated the law of the Paperwork Reduction Act “by ignoring federal requirements governing requests for information from states.”

4. Non-cooperation as administration policy

In a move called “unusual,” the White House ordered federal agencies not to cooperate with oversight requests from Democratic lawmakers. The only exceptions are if the requests involve a national security agency or if they come through House committee or subcommittee chairs. This story came to a head in June as several agencies were singled out for ignoring requests, including the EPA, the Department of Transportation, and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Putting national security before politics, Homeland Security said it will respond to requests from any member of Congress, regardless of party.

With Republicans in control of all committees and subcommittes, this policy has been described as a “new level of partisanship” and a “gag order…to hide the truth from the American people.” According to Democrats, agencies have ignored 275 oversight requests from the House and 225 from the Senate.

Democrats are not the only ones asking the administration to lift the ban. Republican lawmakers, particularly Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, have spoken up in defense of the right of their Democratic colleagues to receive oversight information from federal agencies.

5. Agency news grab bag

Politico reported that the Trump administration has let the White House Council on Women and Girls “go dark,” despite Ivanka Trump’s sporadic forays into women’s issues on behalf of the administration.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to reduce its workforce by over 1,200 employees this summer through buyouts and retirements, reducing the agency’s staff by nearly 10%.

After Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, cities and states banded together to fight climate change. Twelve states and Puerto Rico joined the U.S. Climate Alliance to uphold the objectives of the Paris Agreement and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, while another 10 states and the District of Columbia pledged to independently follow the Paris Agreement. In addition, 343 U.S. mayors representing 65 million Americans have signed onto the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda and “committed to adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement.”

What other federal government developments have caught your attention? What stories are you and your colleagues talking about at the office? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and speaker 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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