With 2015’s new Congress having settled in, new bills have been proposed, that could have an impact on contracting, programs in VA, and national healthcare. This article will break down the first wave of new bills recently introduced.
The Rightsizing Activities of Intelligence Non-Governmental Contractors Act of 2015 (RAINC Act) was introduced in House on January 6, calling for the Director of National Intelligence to look into how many contractors with top security clearances are engaged in intelligence activities with the department, as well as the type of information those contractors have access to. The Director is expected to deliver his findings, accompanied by his analysis, as well as a plan for reducing the number of contractors by 25% by December 31, 2015, and to have made the planned cuts by December 31, 2016. A second, the Civilian Contractors Engaged in Intelligence Activities Reduction Act of 2015 was introduced on the same day, is virtually the same bill.
Three bills were aimed at the VA: The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, Defending Veterans from Sequestration Act, and The Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Planning Reform Act of 2015. On February 12, 2015, the President signed The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act aimed to evaluate and improve existing mental health programs within VA, train and retain psychiatric professionals, collaborate with non-profit suicide prevention organizations in order to help struggling veterans, and extend hospital time for veterans for non-combat injuries (with restrictions).
Defending Veterans from Sequestration Act is an amendment to the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, exempting administrative expenses of VA from any presidential sequestration order issued under that Act, while the Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Planning Reform Act requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to submit a report every four years of the budget necessary to continue the VA’s commitment to caring for the Nation’s veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Planning Reform Act of 2015 passed the House on March 24, 2015, and is currently in the Senate.
There are currently two bills dealing with health care on the floor, and they are polar opposites of each other. The first is the Access to Insurance for All Americans Act, which would abolish the Affordable Care Act, and in its place, reinstate all Acts that the Affordable Care Act amended, and directs the Office of Personnel Management to provide the same health care federal employees receive to non-federal employees unless they are eligible for public health insurance (Medicare or Medicaid), under the federal employee health insurance program, or a member of the uniformed services. In a complete turn-around, the second health care driven bill, the No Exemption for Washington from Obamace Act, would require the members of the executive and congressional branches to enroll in the Affordable Care Act health insurance program.
2014 was the year of the cyber-attack. While Sony was perhaps the highest profile attack, but there were over 20 other cyber-attacks last year, mostly against retail chains and major tech companies like Google and Apple. Congress took notice of the upswing, and have four different bills currently on the floor of the House and Senate, looking to improve the Nation’s cyber security.
The Cyber Security Education and Federal Workforce Enhancement Act would create a branch in the Department of Homeland Security dedicated to recruiting cyber security professionals, education programs on cyber and computer security in schools from Kindergarten through post-secondary education, summer and part-time openings for students in federal agencies, and programs for encouraging and training diversity in the field of cyber and computer security.
The Cyber Defense National Guard Act is basically an order to the Director of National Intelligence to figure out how much it would cost the Government to recruit and train an army of White Hats that would be called the Cyber Defense National Guard. The report would also determine what federal department and/or location would be best equipped for such training, and if, should such a force be created, it would be of assistance during a major attack or natural or man-made disaster, or if the negative costs would outweigh the benefits of such a force.
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act is a bill that declares that should one federal entity come into possession of important information pertaining to a cyber-threat, that information will be immediately shared with all other federal entities so that they can begin the process of preventing, responding to, or recovering from the attack (because common sense needs an act of Congress to be employed).
Big Data & Privacy Concerns
Finally, there’s the Secure Data Act of 2015. This act seems to come a little late to the party of trying to assuage the American people’s feelings towards government surveillance in the wake of the many reports leaked from the NSA last year, by declaring that no federal agency can require anyone in the business of designing, building, or selling computers, laptops, tablets, software, etc. to place surveillance equipment or software in those devices.
The Fair Tax Act of 2015 has the potential to change the way money is spent throughout the country, as it proposes to abolish the IRS completely, and collect taxes by raising the sales tax in each state to 23%, leaving the responsibility of transferring the tax money to the Treasury to the individual states, and the revenue would then be allocated among five different departments. There would be a gradual fade out of the IRS till 2019 when it would be completely abolished, only to resurface three years later if Congress would fail to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment within seven years of the Fair Tax Act becomes active. While this bill was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means on the same day it was introduced in the House, making it move a little faster than some of the other bills on this list, it has not gone any further since early January, meaning it is moving much more slowly than other bills on the list.
The “Shutdown” Effect
The current government budget and debt has become a major concern over the past few years due to the Government shutdown of last year and a second one threatened near the end of 2014, therefore it should come as no surprise that several bills have been introduced in the House to start dealing with the debt so that the budget isn’t as much of an issue this fiscal year. H.R. 39, H.R. 49, and H.R. 58 are three versions of the same bill, with a single difference between them: the percentage by which the bill cuts government spending. The choices are by 1%, 2%, or 5%, but since most of these bills have not moved anywhere beyond the committee they were referred to the day they were introduced, there’s no knowing what the percentage cut will ultimately be, or what effect it will have overall.
Ensuring the Full Faith and Credit of the United States and Protecting America’s Soldiers and Seniors Act has its roots in the incident last year when the government hit its spending limit, and Congress wouldn’t raise it. To counter that move, the U.S. Treasury paid the government’s expenses for months using “extraordinary measures”, rather than paying the department’s own debts. Should this happen again in 2015, this bill states that the Treasury must pay off its own debts before it would be allowed to spend money elsewhere. To go hand in hand with this is the Transparency on Prioritizing Spending Act, which would require the White House to write a list of spending priorities in case it does hit the debt ceiling again and send it to Congress. While both of these sit in the house, a third, very similar bill was introduced in the Senate on the same day; the Federal Debt Management Act of 2015. Also based on the actions of the Treasury last year, this bill would prevent the department from using “extraordinary measures” as well as give Congress a daily update on the department’s expenses.
The last two bills recently introduced to Congress affect two very different aspects of life, though there is the trend of Congress asking a great deal from Homeland Security this year. The first is an order to the secretary of Homeland Security to obtain and implement a biometric exit data system. For those of us who are not familiar with biometric exit data systems, it is a system for tracking the ingress and egress of foreign travelers by air and sea using the physical traits of each person, such as fingerprints or photos taken at the time of entry. Given the divided feelings about immigration in Washington, the bill doesn’t come as a surprise, though the estimated costs of such a system (between $400-600 million in the first year alone) might stall talks on it for a while.
The final bill on the new roster would almost seem to not belong on this list except for its tie-ins to the GSA scandal back in 2010 that involved a convention in Las Vegas that cost the government over $800,000, and the IRS conference scandal (also in 2010) in Anaheim, California, which cost over $4 million. Senator Dean Heller seems willing to take the risk though, introducing a bill to the Senate in early January titled Protect America’s Cities from Government Blacklist Act of 2015. The bill declares that no federal department can publish or create a policy blacklisting certain cities from being selected as conference locations because they are considered vacation or resort locations. Basically, Senator Heller would like to cordially invite you to hold your next convention in Las Vegas.
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