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Quick Hits for Sept. 24

*** Behind the scenes on Capitol Hill work is progressing to pass a continuing resolution to keep the entire government open into fiscal year 2019. The House Rules Committee announced plans to move a bill to fund the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Labor and Education for a full vote on the House floor next week. The bill includes a CR that extends 2018-level funding to agencies that aren't covered by the "minibus" appropriations packages currently moving through Congress.

As expected, the Defense funding bill includes some caveats to Pentagon plans to move quickly into cloud computing. The final conference report from House and Senate appropriators orders the Pentagon to submit reports on cloud budget accounting to lawmakers before obligating funds to move data to systems under the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure and the Defense Enterprise Office Solutions contracts.

"The conferees are not suggesting that the Department implement a separate, new financial management system for cloud computing," lawmakers wrote in a joint explanatory statement, "but urge the Secretary of Defense to adapt the current system to provide reliable and timely data on the budgets requested and funds expended to procure cloud computing services, and the budgets requested and funds expended to prepare and implement legacy systems for migration to the cloud environment."

*** Is the Department of Health and Human Services removing essential health and insurance coverage content from its public-facing website? Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wants the panel's chairman to investigate and compel HHS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to produce relevant documents by subpoena. In a Sept. 21 letter to committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), , Cummings complained that agency officials were unresponsive to requests for documents about the removal of information related to the Affordable Care Act, breast cancer prevention coverage and health content aimed at gays and lesbians.

*** Cummings is also pressing Gowdy to compel Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon to testify at a deposition to explain how the Trump administration is responding to a recent district court decision that invalidated aspects of multiple executive orders covering the federal workforce, in particular dealing with union negotiations. In a Sept. 20 letter, Cummings said he wants Pon to explain under oath what the administration is doing to bring agencies into compliance with the court decision. So far, Pon has declined Cummings' request to appear voluntarily, citing ongoing litigation.

Relatedly, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) wants HHS to explain whether it is taking the invalidated portions of the executive orders into account in its current union negotiations. In a Sept. 17 letter, Murray pushed HHS to "disclaim any reliance" on the orders and return to the bargaining table.

Speaking on the Sept. 20 episode of the public affairs program Government Matters, National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon said that HHS is "not complying at this point" with the court decision. Reardon said that overall agency compliance was a "mixed bag," with the IRS appearing to be in full compliance and the Social Security Administration indicating that it intends to comply.

*** The United States continues drop in the Open Data Barometer, a report on government data transparency that has been issued annually since 2013. The U.S. started strong on the basis of good intentions and policy development, but poor execution has hampered scores. Declining scores span the Obama and Trump administrations and are due to a weakening of open data initiatives, a lack of responsiveness to Freedom of Information Act requests and the general treatment of open data as a side project. Initially, the U.S. ranked with open data champions like Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, but it has regressed into the category of "contenders" with Russia, Italy, Columbia, Germany and India.

As government transparency advocate Alex Howard reported in a recent analysis for FCW, the Trump administration is giving short shift to ongoing efforts to update the National Action Plan for open government.

Posted on Sep 24, 2018 at 1:33 AM


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