5 Things You Need to Know About Transition News This Week

Changes in federal government keep coming fast. That’s why GovLoop is giving you these weekly recaps of presidential transition news that may affect agency management and employment. If you’ve fallen behind, check out all 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 presidential transition news most relevant to federal 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. Gov employee detained, searched at border

As reported by The Verge, four days after Trump issued the immigration and travel ban executive order, Customs and Border Patrol agents detained an American-born NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) employee who was returning to the U.S. from a trip to Chile.

According to Sidd Bikkannavar, who is a U.S. citizen, the agents pressured him into providing the access PIN to his NASA-issued smartphone even though he explained it “may have contained sensitive information.” After his phone was searched and he was released, Bikkannavar turned his phone over to the JPL cybersecurity team who “was not happy about the breach.”

As Bikkannavar’s border experience story went viral two weeks after the incident, legal and technology experts wrote about the government’s authority to search personal devices, with some recommending that people stop traveling with their technology devices. Worth a read: law professor Orin Kerr‘s opinion piece for The Washington PostQuincy Jones, teacher at FreeCodeCamp.com; and Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent for the BBC.

2. Government info, scrubbed and saved

Yet more government information, resources, and data went missing in the past week.

The White House deleted the information in its open data portal, and did not add new data or provide a link to the old data. The site was a searchable repository of government research, salaries, and visitor records. The site now vaguely instructs visitors to “Check back soon for new data.” Open government and open data experts saved the old data and criticized the White House’s lack of transparency about the change.

The Department of Energy took down its phonebook, a public list of its employees contact information that Mashable described as “help for journalists, civil society watchdog groups and many others seeking to penetrate the often opaque federal bureaucracy.”

A much shared Wired article described a group of proactive coders working to save government information at risk for deletion. The coders recently archived NASA and Department of Energy earth science websites and data, and are building systems to monitor changes to government websites.

Even when new information has been added to government websites, there have been quality control issues. USA Today reported that the White House has posted inaccurate versions of Trump’s executive orders to whitehouse.gov, and has taken days to post some orders.

See GovLoop’s previous recap for more stories of missing government website information.

3. Turmoil at State

While Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was traveling outside the country, his aides told staff on the seventh floor of the State Department that “their current assignments were prematurely coming to an end.” The seventh floor is home to career employees working for the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources as well as the State Department Counselor.

This event has been characterized as “layoffs” by CBS News and as “reassignments” by CNN. The Washington Post reported that “some were asked to leave, but there was also a handful who resigned.” CNN reported that “the unusual move has left career employees on edge about Tillerson’s reorganization of the entire agency and what it might mean for policy making.”

Worth noting is that R.C. Hammond, Newt Gingrich’s former press secretary, is the new spokesperson for the State Department.

4. Even more people out

After just 24 days on the job, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned amidst accusations that he had “inappropriate and potentially illegal” conversations with Russian officials before the inauguration. Flynn’s actions have dramatically refocused attention on Russia’s alleged involvement in the November election and Russian officals’ contacts with other people on Trump’s staff. Trump named retired general Keith Kellogg interim national security adviser. The same day Trump announced he’d found a replacement candidate, his pick, Robert Harward, turned down the NSA top job.

Andrew Puzder withdrew as potential Secretary of Labor, a nomination that had been opposed in a letter from a group of Labor Department employees. Many issues had troubled his nomination, including reports he hired an undocumented immigrant, accusations of domestic abuse, objections by Labor Department employees, and more. Trump then nominated R. Alexander Acosta as his new pick for Secretary of Labor. Acosta is the first Hispanic nominee Trump has made to his Cabinet.

The head of the Secret Service is retiring, or rather, re-retiring effective March 4. Craig Deare, whom Trump appointed as head the National Security Council’s Western Hemisphere division, was fired for his “harsh criticism” of Trump’s policies and advisers. Shermichael Singleton, a political appointee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development was fired for criticizing Trump in an op-ed for The Hill published before the election.

Ten of the 14 remaining members of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders have resigned. In their resignation letter, NBC News reported the commissioners objected to to Trump’s “portrayal of immigrants, refugees, people of color and people of various faiths as untrustworthy, threatening, and a drain on our nation.”

Ann Ravel, a Democratic member of the Federal Election Commission announced her resignation, effective March 1. In her resignation letter to Trump, which she posted publicly, Ravel denounced the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision and called for the prioritization of campaign finance reform. The New York Times wrote that Ravel’s “departure will probably set off an intense political fight.”

5. People in

Despite a rare push by EPA employees against his nomination, the Senate approved Scott Pruitt as administrator of the EPA, an agency he sued when he was Oklahoma attorney general. A “bitterly divided” Senate also confirmed Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary. With a narrow 51-49 vote, the Senate also confirmed Mick Mulvaney as Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director, or as Mulvaney put it, “the most hated man in Washington.”

Also confirmed were Linda McMahon as head of the Small Business Administration and David Shulkin as Veteran Affairs secretary. The Washington Post maintains a list of the 690 positions that require Senate confirmation.

The White House has hired Mike Dubke, founder of a conservative political advertising firm, as its communications director. Sean Spicer had been filling that role while also working as press secretary.

What other presidential transition developments have caught your attention? What stories are you and your colleagues talking about at the office? Share your thoughts in the comments. (However, please keep politics out of the conversation.)

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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