*** With about 10 legislative days left in the fiscal year, the appropriations process has hit a snag in the Senate. Even though there's a budget deal in place, Senate appropriators are getting bogged down in the weeds of how funds are being allocated across the 12 funding bills.
One sign that there's trouble on the horizon: the typically bipartisan defense funding bill passed out of committee on Sept. 12 on a party line vote of 16-15. Democrats are opposed because of the failure of an amendment that would have eliminated planned shifting of funds to support a border wall.
"It's shaping up to be a fight," Mike Hettinger, a former Hill staffer who lobbies on technology and procurement issues, told FCW. "It's not shaping up to be a smooth process."
In remarks on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he hoped to move a "minibus" of appropriations bills covering defense, foreign affairs, energy, health and labor through Congress before the close of the fiscal year. He indicated that whatever problems Senate Democrats have with allocations and spending priorities, these could be worked out in conference with the House.
"I would say to my friends on the Democratic side, no matter what the Senate skirmish looks like, in the end, the Democratic majority in the House should be able to protect what your priorities are," McConnell said.
However, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking member on the Appropriations committee, said in a statement that the Republican-backed allocations were "unacceptable."
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged Republicans to "start over on the…allocations, figure out an order to bring each bill to the floor, and get a bipartisan process back on track," and cautioned that a continuing resolution or even a shutdown could be the result.
*** Government agencies are increasingly looking to retrain their employees for new skills or new occupations entirely as new advances in automation are predicted to change the nature of as many as 80 federal occupations by 2022. According to a new white paper from the Partnership For Public Service, a non-profit that works with federal agencies and other stakeholders, areas of concern are specifically in cybersecurity and government technology. The paper examines efforts at the Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Veterans Affairs and elsewhere to "reskill" and "upskill" existing workforce for new or changing careers. "Organizations need to forecast what the workforce will look like in the future," the report states. "Get buy-in from key stakeholders and plan and implement programs [that will] teach employees valuable skills to help manage workforce changes."
*** A bipartisan group of senators asked the Government Accountability Office to look into how the Department of Veterans Affairs awards and manages high value contracts. In a Sept. 11 letter, Sens. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.), John Tester (D-Mont.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) noted that recent GAO reviews have found longstanding problems in VA acquisition and contractor management practices. "Given this, we are concerned that the VA has not taken proper steps to ensure that its contracting functions are sound, that the VA has the proper metrics in place to evaluate contractor performance, or whether large scale acquisitions achieve intended outcomes," the lawmakers stated in the letter.
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