Some Agencies Report 100% Vaccine Mandate Compliance as Others Begin Suspensions

Agencies continue to see vaccination rates rise as disciplinary actions ramp up.

The federal government gave its agencies and contractors time to comply to President Biden’s vaccine mandate, but not all employees have complied. Counseling and education were a first step among many agencies trying to get all their personal vaccinated, but it seems now more and more are taking steps towards more severe punishments. While all agencies have seen an improvement in vaccination and compliance status since the mandate was announced in November, the administration did suggest pushing back the harsher punishments till January.

Agencies are still pushing for compliance, and some are doing better than others. The department of Education, for example, is now 100 percent compliant. All its employees have been vaccinated or have an exemption pending. “The Environmental Protection Agency and Nuclear Regulatory Commission have seen their vaccination rates jump by an additional 3% of their workforces in recent weeks. Below are the compliance and vaccination rates for every major federal agency, which in some cases date back to December” (Katz 22).

The Agricultural Department still has around 1,600 employees that are not vaccinated and not in compliance. They plan to move into the next phase of disciplinary action immediately. As with other agencies, they are hopeful that this will encourage the rest of the employees to comply. “As we move forward with the next steps of the enforcement process, which will involve letters proposing brief suspensions for those few still not in compliance with the vaccination requirement, we anticipate that even more of our employees will get vaccinated in the days and weeks ahead,” a spokesperson said.

Some agencies were ready to move forward with harsher procedures in December but used that time instead to send letters to employees not in compliance warning them of the repercussions as the government asked agencies to wait till January. Some even went as far as reminding workers of friends, family, and colleagues that would be affected by their decision to not comply. According to the agencies, carrying out these suspensions and possible firings have not impacted the services that the American people rely on.

Agencies also must consider all their medical and religious exemption requests that they have received and begin working on them. “Agencies are in the process of reviewing and adjudicating exception requests,” the OMB official said. “That process will continue to pick up pace as agency personnel return from the holidays and last week’s federal office closures due to inclement weather.” Agencies are handling thousands of requests and the majority of employees have not heard back and could still face disciplinary action if their requests are denied and they do not get the vaccine.

By: Beth Gray

https://www.govexec.com/workforce/2022/01/some-agencies-report-100-vaccine-mandate-compliance-others-begin-suspensions/360630/

How to Avoid Achy Feet while Working at Home

One side effect of working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic may come as a surprise: sore feet. Here are some tips on how to get relief.

As the pandemic spirals on, working from home is becoming more prevalent and for many companies, permanent. With the ability to work from home comes some perks, one being comfort! Instead of dress slacks, we slip on sweatpants, and instead of heels or dress shoes, we go right to our warm comfy slippers or completely barefoot! According to Sean Peden, an orthopedic foot and ankle specialist from Yale University Medicine, these habits can lead to foot pain and other issues. “Many people are continuing to work at home part- or full-time, which for some can mean wearing slippers or walking around barefoot,” Peden says. “And because of that, many patients are coming to us with foot problems.” Taking care of your feet is extremely important and can prevent common injuries in your feet, ankles, knees, and your back. Below are a few examples of injuries and how you can protect against them.

Walking barefoot or with soft cushy slippers with no real sole is ill advised. Peden states that when selecting shoes for at home, it should be similar to ones we would wear out of the house. Our shoes need to have harder soles in order to absorb the shock of walking. After weeks or months of not having proper footwear, injuries can begin to occur, like calluses, but also bigger issues like arch collapse. Peden suggests having house shoes that are only worn indoors. “To be practical, I suggest a slip-on clog or slipper without laces. That way, you don’t have to tie and untie your shoes 10 times a day,” Peden says. “A hard sole is important because the harder the sole, the less stress the joints and tendons in your foot experience with each step. The hard sole transfers that stress to the shoe rather than to the foot. A good rule of thumb is if it isn’t something you could walk in for a few blocks comfortably, you shouldn’t wear it around the house all day, either.”

Two of the most common foot problems Peden has seen since the beginning of the pandemic is Achilles Tendonitis and Planter Fasciitis. Tendonitis can really impact an individual that has flat feet. The tendon in the arch of the foot becomes inflamed and can cause damage. Peden says if you experience pain from this, stay off your feet, ice the area, and find a good supportive pair of shoes to wear daily! Secondly, planter fasciitis, which is normally pain in your heel, is caused by inflammation in the foot at the band of tissue on the bottom of your feet. “The pain is usually on the bottom part of the heel,” Peden says. “It’s associated with tight Achilles tendons and calf muscles. If people spend a lot of their day sitting, for example, the muscles can tighten up, and wearing improper footwear can exacerbate the issue.” The fix for this is mostly proper footwear according to Peden, there is also a flexible splint that can be worn at night to stretch out the muscle, so it is not so tight by the morning. “Exercise, physical therapy, and weight loss can all make a difference in addressing foot pain, too. “One pound of additional weight on your body leads to six pounds of additional pressure on your foot. So, if you lose 10 pounds, that is really taking 60 pounds of pressure off your foot,” Peden says. With the pandemic, many people have gained weight, which compounds the problem. But the key is not to do too much too quickly to try to reverse it, Peden says. “If you try to lose weight by suddenly walking too much, that’s hard on your feet, too, and may lead to other foot problems. So, I often recommend cross-training, including low-impact cardio activities like biking or swimming. You can walk, but try to take it easy and, as always, wear good, supportive shoes. “Hiking shoes are often a good option, particularly if you walk on uneven surfaces, including trails. “They are a little safer than sneakers, and protect your foot and ankle better,” he says (Futurity 22)

Overall, Peden advises if you are having foot pain, seek medical attention. There are many comfort levels amongst people right now when it comes to visiting doctors, but if you are having foot pain, it is best to see an orthopedic doctor as it could be a very easy fix.

By: Beth Gray

https://www.govexec.com/workforce/2022/01/how-avoid-achy-feet-while-working-home/360319/

Omicron Is Pushing America Into Soft Lockdown

The coronavirus is raging again, this time with the new variant Omicron. This isn’t March 2020, but it may start to feel that way in a city near you. While mayors are not actually putting their cities under lock-down, it seems businesses are doing it on their own. In New York, for example, Broadway shows, numerous restaurants, butcher shops, and many other small to large businesses have closed their doors temporarily.

“For Brent Young, who runs a butcher shop and two restaurants in Brooklyn, it began last week when, one by one, staff members tested positive. “It’s more or less decimated our workforce,” he says. One of his restaurants had been booked solid with parties for a week—the holidays are one of the busiest times of the year for restaurants—but people started canceling those parties too. At this point it’s not worth trying to stay open, Young says, “because the anxiety’s so high no one’s wanting to eat.” For most vaccinated people, Omicron will be mild. But even a mild cold, sufficiently widespread, can disrupt a city” (Zhang 21).

This essentially is a soft lockdown brought on by the people because of the new variant. This definitely helps with the transmission of COVID-19, but health experts are still unsure of how much it will help. What we seem to be experiencing now is the “epi curve”. The cases must rise and rise until immunity builds and the virus is forced to slow, then the cases will drop dramatically. “In other words, “when you see a peak and see it go down, it doesn’t mean the risk has abated,” says Joshua Weitz, who studies viral dynamics at Georgia Tech. According to work by Weitz and his colleagues, this helps explain why COVID cases have peaked and plateaued multiple times over the course of the pandemic. Those peaks also tend to be asymmetrical, with steeper rises than falls” (Zhang 21). It is basically all up to how we are handling the situation as a people. We see a lot of cases, so as a result we become extremely careful. Then we get tired of being at home, or work calls us back, and then cases begin to climb again. This new variant is here unfortunately at a time when Americans are just flat out tired of the pandemic, so this soft lock down may not last long and we may not see that dip in cases that we have become accustomed to. Predicting how people are going to react to the variants is pretty much impossible, and even if we see a dip in cases, it could be for a variety of reasons, one being we just don’t have enough testing kits. With this soft lockdown, the economy is going to suffer. Even if people decide they just can’t stay home and go out, once a business has too many employees with the virus, they will be forced to close till they can bring back healthy employees. Unfortunately, this time around there is no government assistance financially. It is up to the business owners themselves to take on this pandemic and hope that immunity starts to build, and we can resume a somewhat normal life again, but never covid free.

By: Beth Gray

Omicron Is Pushing America Into Soft Lockdown – Government Executive (govexec.com)

New Executive Order Seeks to Reduce Worker Turnover on Service Contracts

President Biden issued an executive order on Thursday, November 18, with the intent to reduce worker turnover on service contracts with the government. This order is not entirely new, as something similar was in effect during the Obama administration, but then revoked under the Trump administration. According to a fact sheet provided by the white house, there are about 2 million service contract workers providing important federal functions. These jobs range from maintenance on military bases to call centers to transportation to research and development.

The fact sheet states that “the executive order extends the right of first refusal to qualified workers when a service contract changes hands and the jobs on the new contract are similar,” as turnover can be timely and costly. “Taxpayer-funded services [will] benefit from an experienced workforce that is already familiar with federal facilities, personnel and other requirements of the job” and this order will “provide firms that secure new federal contracts with a ready, skilled pool of workers.”

The fact sheet continued, “this executive order will also remove the requirement that the new contract remain in the same location for the job continuity policy to take effect. This change in policy updates the administration’s approach to account for the flexible nature of service sector work in today’s economy.”

The executive order also directs the department of Labor to issue final regulations within 180 days and then within 60 days of that the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council must amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation so that this can be included in contracts and the solicitations.  The executive order will also “apply to solicitations issued on or after the effective date of the final regulations issued by the FAR Council.” For the solicitations that are already issued, federal agencies are being encouraged to apply the provisions.

Unfortunately, the executive order does not apply to contracts under the simplified acquisition threshold. “These are contracts that are capped at $250,000, but can go higher for certain items, as well as employees hired to work on a federal service contract and at least one non-federal service contract as part of a single job “provided that the employees were not deployed in a manner that was designed to avoid the purposes of this order,” said the executive order. It also outlines how senior agency officials can make exceptions to this policy as well as authorizes the Labor secretary to investigate potential violations.” (Buble 21)

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers, which has almost 40,000 service contract workers, was especially thankful for the order. Robert Martinez Jr., association president, praised the president stating, “President Biden is a champion for working families and continues to put them at the top of his agenda, thousands of [International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers] members and other service contract workers can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing their jobs won’t be displaced when government service contracts change hands from one employer to another.”

By: Beth Gray

https://www.govexec.com/management/2021/11/new-executive-order-seeks-reduce-worker-turnover-service-contracts/186960/

Sabre88 Honors Its Veterans

As we Honor our Veterans today let us also remember it’s not just a day off from work or a day for sales.  Veteran’s Day is the day in which we celebrate our veterans.  Those who bravely fought to protect our borders and our revolutionary Freedoms.   November 11th annually, is set aside in remembrance of the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” which marked the end of World War I.   

Our great republic and all its citizens are forever indebted to Our country’s veterans deserve to be honored for their service and their sacrifices, as we would live in a vastly different world without them.

On this day, let us remember those who fought for our freedom and put themselves in harms’ way to protect our great nation. Let us honor and recognize our veterans for their contribution to our ability to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let us humbly give thanks to our heroes and reflect upon their steadfast sense of duty.

We are proud to honor our very own Sabre88 Veterans:

1.        Jim Hansel

2.        Brian J. Schweikert

3.        Robert Lightfoot

4.        Charlie Cernat

5.        Carlos Boglin

Thank you for your service!

The Battle for the Public Service Is Just Beginning

In his article on the critical debate over the future of the federal workforce, Donald Kettl argues that despite disagreeing, Sherk and Howard have nonetheless laid out important problems in the civil service largely ignored by their opponents on the left. Too often, the public service has become the front lines of a proxy war over the size, shape, goals, and performance of government itself. This debate is not about how to use the public service to fight partisan right v. left partisan or ideological battles. If we disagree about those mega-issues, we ought to contest them directly, instead of fighting them out over the desks of those who go to work trying to do the public’s business. What matters most is creating a system that improves the government’s ability to do the public’s work. 

 In October 2019 Former president Trump signed an executive order to make it facile to fire federal workers. When President Biden, in January rescinded that executive order, some were relieved that federal workers were protected from political impinging. While others were despondent, they could no longer fire poor performers. The critical debate over the future of the federal workforce raised questions among right reformers. Questions that speak to the character of administrators in our constitutional system of governance and, indeed, the Constitution itself. The debate isn’t being joined by the left, besides blocking efforts to cut the number of federal employees. However, both sides are missing the important matter: how to make provisions in the federal government, so that services can be delivered to the public in the best way possible.

 Right reformer Philip K. Howard’s on his Op-ed in USA Today argued that “Public union power is largely an accident of ancient history.” and guaranteed a “Republican Form of Government”. In other words, “elected officials lack the ability to run government.” Trump administrator official James Sherk developed the details of Howards theory in a memo written in 2017. He argued that “There are legal arguments that Article II executive power gives the president inherent authority to dismiss any federal employee.” that created the legal foundation for the president to issue an executive order to dismiss any federal official without cause.

 The schedule F debate is far from over, pressing at state level. These arguments compound to create a true constitutional crisis about the ability of voters to shape government through the decisions of the people they elect. Since the dilemma won’t subside, we need to dig deeper into the four problems at play: the constitutional debate; the question of firing feds; the problem of accountability; and the challenge of agile government.

Sherk and Howard’s contention based on Article II of the Constitution that holds that the executive power should be vested in the president. It so profoundly happens that the article they cited does not say what they say it says. That part of the Constitution was vague, and the founding fathers were far more concerned with creating the chief executive that they knew and ensuring that the power of the president could be checked by the other branches. In Federalist 70, Alexander Hamilton wrote about the president’s connection with citizens, the power to appoint ambassadors, and his power with respect to the legislature. There’s nothing about the ability to fire federal employees. In truth, the founders didn’t explore how to remove federal bureaucrats.

“At the center of the case for a radical change in the civil service system is the argument that, over time, it has evolved from a system that hires the best and brightest to one that protects the lame and the lazy.”  The protections provided to employees has evolved since the 2,600-word long Pendleton Act in 1883. Title V of U.S Code that contains the regulations to administer the civil service system, is more than 1,000 pages. The current merit system covers 80% more feds than the original act. Title V, in fact, covers only half of all the federal employees. There’s a very important discussion to be had about the need to figure out which policies ought to apply to all feds and the agencies they work for, and what flexibilities ought to be allowed to agency managers. According to Sherk and Howard we do a poor job of managing federal workers performances even though there is an initial probationary period and long-established due process protections. This issue arose from the assumption about the private sector: that private managers can fire employees with less hassle and do so often. There aren’t any records of private sectors firing employees at a faster rate than in the federal government, but there are anecdotes about outrageous behavior by both private sector workers and federal employees.

There’s evidence that, during the Trump administration, members of the career civil service slowed, obstructed, or sometimes ignored the policies laid out by superiors to undermine the Trump agenda. They were understandably enraged, but more fundamentally it framed the central battle: how much authority political appointees should have in pursuing the president’s agenda, and what responsibility career officials should have in repelling on issues they believe are immoral or illegal. 

Trump administration officials are angst with their inability to force a policy agenda through a federal bureaucracy they viewed as obstructionist, at best. Scholars have uncovered substantial evidence that political meddling in the work of government would “reduce the effectiveness of government and increase corruption,” There are laws that stop federal employees from blocking the legal decisions of their political superiors, based on political differences. The issue here is how best to ensure that the federal bureaucracy acts professionally on the political choices made by voters. What the debate does not need is an executive order that hides the big questions in the fog of an ideological war. It needs an out in the open debate.

We need a way forward that builds a government and a merit system that fits the needs of the 21st century. Before the creation of the civil service system, the federal government was plagued by incompetence, corruption, and political favoritism. Mission matters most. The fundamental purpose of the public service is to do the public’s business. Merit is key. The basic principle of hiring people for what they know, not who they know, has been the foundation of the public service since the very start. So, of course, is the principle of separating people who don’t effectively serve the public’s mission. Accountability lies at the core. Like every other element on American government, we need effective accountability for public employees. Human capital ought to drive the pursuit of performance. Viewing government employees as the government’s most important assets and creating a system that finds and nourishes those most important to achieving its mission. 

When it comes to federal employees, it’s unclear about how much partisan bias there might be. In any event, every public servant swears an oath to serve the country, not their partisan beliefs. It’s time to shift the debate about the public service from partisanship to pragmatism: how best to accomplish the work of the people, with a workforce expert enough to do the job.

By: Tanezha Mingo

https://www.govexec.com/management/2021/06/battle-public-service-just-beginning/174839/

Agencies get another tool for recruiting and hiring student interns, OPM says

Thanks to the Office of Personnel Management, federal agencies will have new tools and resources to help in the recruitment process of student interns. They will be able to use strategic skills to reel in students to specific temporary positions. In a final rule, which focused on hiring authority for post- secondary students, the Office of Personnel Management made it known that eligible students will be those pursuing a bachelors or graduate degree.

The temporary positions for these students will vary from one to four years depending on the term appointment. While the students are in school, they will have to work in General Schedule 11 level or lower. Those who have obtained their degree and fit the criteria of the further eligible requirements (like working a minimum of 640 hours during their employment), will be allowed to be appointed to a permanent position.

President Biden and his administration shared that there has been a struggle in hiring entry-level, young individuals under the age of 30, then that of 10 years ago. In essence, this new authority will give those in academic programs the opportunity and ability to get paid while at school, and while contributing to agencies with the skills they bring into the “work world.” Without the use of normal procedures in seeking employees, agencies can use different methods to recruit diverse and qualified students. For example, use program advertisements on their websites, and/or use third party platforms, essentially creating flexibility in who and how they identify and recruit applicants. With this new authority, vacancies in job positions, retirements, and budget cuts no longer pose a hindrance to federal agencies.

By: D’Andrea Tucker

Source: Agencies get another tool for recruiting and hiring student interns, OPM says | Federal News Network

NSA wants you to be careful where you log in to telework

The National Security Agency (NSA) urges you to be more mindful and careful of logging in to telework at public places (like your local Starbucks or coffee shop for example). As teleworking becomes more common, NSA believes that federal employees and contractors should prioritize securing their data when in public as public Wifi networks are oftentimes unsecured and active Bluetooth signals can give access to private information on your devices.

As the United States faces cyber threats, The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has launched a public-private partnership to develop and combat defense strategies and incident response plans to ransomware and threats. In an effort to strengthen the cyber workforce, training has been provided by CISA with certification prep courses and resources to help federal employees strengthen and tighten their cybersecurity skills.

A bill has been formulated and specifies that the crash course training should include the ethical practices, the security risks and a thorough understanding of what the AI technology poses. The bill is being sent to the Senate floor to be voted on.

By: D’Andrea Tucker

Source:https://federalnewsnetwork.com/federal-newscast/2021/08/nsa-wants-you-to-be-careful-

 where-you-log-in-to-telework/