Beware: Computer "Ransomware" Impersonates OPM

According to Phishme and Fedscoop, there's a new piece of computer Malware that can infect your computer that appears to come from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. According to Phishme, the thieves send an email to unsuspecting users "that cite[s] the purported detection of 'suspicious movements' in the victim’s bank account that were detected by the US Office of Personnel Management." The emails ask the recipient to "examine the attached scanned record," which is a file that, if opened, infects the recipients computer.

The Malware, dubbed "ransomware,"....

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NTEU Celebrates Veterans

NTEU has many veteran members. Each of our veterans makes an important contribution to NTEU and EPA and deserves to be celebrated. We have found, however, that frequently there's a bias against veterans at EPA regardless of the laudatory things said around veterans day. So if you're in a position to hire a veteran at EPA, please do. And if you're not, please take the time to thank your veteran colleagues for their service.

OPM Changing Credit Monitoring Providers

Nearly all of us were affected by OPM's data breach where they revealed social security numbers and finger prints of some 21.5 million individuals due to inadequate security on their network. As a result of this data breach, they provided credit monitoring services to any affected individual.

Recently, OPM announced that one of their providers will no longer provide services, and anyone using that provider will be allowed to switch to OPM's other provider. Here's OPM's announcement in full....

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Administrative Leave Available for Voting

You may have seen management's email this week on getting administrative leave to go vote. The NTEU Collective Bargaining Agreement specifies in Article 23, Section 2, that you "may arrive for work three hours after the polls are open or leave work three hours before the polls close, whichever requires the lesser amount of time."  And if this general rule does not allow you sufficient time to vote, you "may be excused for such additional time as may be needed to enable him/her to vote."

You must let your supervisor know in advance, however.

Below is the full text of the All-Hands email....

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Telework Available for New Employees During Safetrack

Prior to today, EPA limited who could telework to those employees that had been with EPA for not less than 90 days - six months, at the supervisor's discretion. In other words, you had to work for EPA for at least 90 days before you could even request telework.

Today Chapter 280 signed an agreement with EPA that allows new employees to begin teleworking immediately, with supervisor approval, if they've been impacted by Metro's Safe Track repairs. NTEU Chapter 280 has been negotiating this and other Safe Track-related flexibilities with the agency in an effort to minimize the impacts of the track work on its members. It's been difficult, and the agency has not been very cooperative, but on this issue they agreed.

Specifically,...

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Women More Ethical Than Men?

For the attorneys in our membership, there's a fascinating new study by Scholars at UCL Faculty of Laws, Cardiff University, Northwestern University and the University of Tulsa that shows a tendency of female law students to be more ethical than their male counterparts.

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Federal Benefits "Open Season" & Free Consumer's Checkbook Plan Comparison

How to get your free Washington Consumer's Checkbook's Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees.

How to get your free Washington Consumer's Checkbook's Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees.

Once a year the federal government lets its employees make changes to their health, dental, and vision plans and flexible spending accounts without having what's known as a qualifying life event, such as a marriage, birth, death, or other qualifying event. This once-a-year time to change is known as "open season" in fed-speak.

This year's open season runs from November 14 to December 12, 2016.

But how do you decide which health plan is right for you? As a benefit of being an NTEU member, NTEU provides free access to the Washington Consumer's Checkbook's Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees, which normally costs $10 per person. This excellent, easy-to-use guide takes you through a few simple steps to find the best health plan for you and your family. Find every plan available to you ranked by estimated out-of-pocket costs and more.

Not a member of NTEU, visit our Join page and sign up now to get your free health benefits guide starting November 14. The image, above, is NTEU's publication on this free access (click it to download a PDF document).

Job Openings in Office of General Counsel

OGC just announced the following openings:

ANNOUNCEMENT: EPA-OGC-2016-0011
POSITION: Attorney-Adviser, GS-0905-11/12
OFFICE: OGC
LOCATION: Washington, DC
OPENING DATE: 09/22/16
CLOSING DATE: 10/13/16
https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/451246300/

ANNOUNCEMENT: EPA-OGC-2016-0012
POSITION: Attorney-Adviser, GS-0905-11/12
OFFICE: OGC
LOCATION: Washington, DC
OPENING DATE: 09/22/16
CLOSING DATE: 10/13/16
https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/451247700/

ANNOUNCEMENT: EPA-OGC-2016-0013
POSITION:  Law Clerk, GS-0904-11
OFFICE: OGC
LOCATION: Washington, DC
OPENING DATE: 09/22/16
CLOSING DATE: 10/13/16
https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/451248400/

ANNOUNCEMENT: EPA-OGC-2016-0014
POSITION: Law Clerk, GS-0905-11
OFFICE: OGC
LOCATION: Washington, DC
OPENING DATE: 09/22/16
CLOSING DATE: 10/13/16
https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/451249500/

Why is NTEU Suing OPM?

Image courtesy Nextgov.com (AP Photo by Susan Walsh)

Image courtesy Nextgov.com (AP Photo by Susan Walsh)

Members periodically inquire about why NTEU is suing the U.S. Office of Personnel Management over the massive data breach, thought to be perpetrated by Chinese hackers. The lawsuit was filed to protect members’ constitutional right to informational privacy, which OPM violated by failing to properly secure the records, despite numerous warnings about security deficiencies from OPM’s inspector general.

How bad was the problem and what did OPM know and conceal? A House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report, "accuses OPM of misleading the public and Congress about the breaches to play down the fallout — criticizing the agency for its claims that the two cyber attacks were not connected and not proactively announcing the first breach when it was uncovered in 2014," according to The Washington Post. The article also notes that the problem was imminently preventable, noting that "numerous inspector general reports ... raised the alarm about the agency's digital security before the hacks," according to The Post.

Among other relief requested by NTEU in its lawsuit, NTEU wants the court to order OPM to provide lifetime credit monitoring and identity theft protection for any NTEU member affected by the cyber attacks and to take corrective measures to improve its information technology security. Lifetime credit monitoring is the least the government should do for this instance of gross OPM negligence. We all devote our lives to protecting human health and the environment, so we should be able to expect that the Office of Personnel management is protecting our information, and if they aren't, that they take care of protecting us after the breach.

But OPM doesn't want to protect you. Rather than OPM stepping up and doing what's right and providing long-term credit monitoring, OPM is seeking to dismiss the NTEU lawsuit. Oral argument on the OPM Motion to Dismiss is scheduled oral argument for Oct. 27. More on the NTEU lawsuit here.

Effecting Positive Organizational Change at EPA

by Lou Kerestesy

Too often, when government attempts to change, it ends up reinforcing behaviors it doesn’t want.

Government is under such tremendous pressure to improve that change is the new normal. Yet many in government feel worn down by change that doesn’t improve much for them or their customers. Agencies that undergo “change management” efforts make three common mistakes that inhibit change and reinforce undesirable behavior:

  1. Most organizational change is conducted from the top, where the view is too broad to see specific behaviors that need to be different. A top-down view lacks information from lower and peripheral parts of the organization needed to make change stick. It also mistakenly assumes leaders control or can influence the right change mechanisms throughout the organization.
  2. Most organizational change is about the organization, not behavior. Goals, benefits, strategies,  new processes and procedures, tools, re-organizations — most are about the organization. Leaders rarely describe specific existing behaviors in need of change, or what desired behaviors would look like.
  3. Most change efforts take the wrong approach to changing behavior. Top-down, organizationally focused change requires compliance, and compliance relies on punishment and penalty (with some negative reinforcement). These are great for preventing, decreasing and stopping unwanted behavior, but not for promoting new behavior.

Fixes to these shortcomings are straightforward.

Leadership can integrate top-down and bottoms-up approaches by talking to the people who will be impacted by change. The "what" and "why" of change should be communicated from the top down and from the center out. But information about the how of change needs to be communicated up and in. Hold town hall meetings, set up a cross-agency workgroup, take surveys — find ways to ask people in the organization “how would we do that?” and, periodically, “how’s it going?”

An easy fix to sync behavioral and organizational change is to identify not just the current activity that leadership want to be different, but also the behavior. Explain what’s wrong with current behaviors and what triggered the need to change them. Describe new behavior that leadership wants to see. Ask people who do the work to tell you how their behavior would have to change to be more of something that is the target of the change effort — more innovative, customer-service oriented, risk tolerant, etc.

Finally, promote new, desired behavior using positive reinforcement. But beware, that doesn’t mean pats on the back and bonuses.

Everything we do produces a consequence. When a behavior changes our environment in ways we like, we repeat it. When it changes our environment in ways we don’t like, we stop. According to Aubrey Daniels in “Bringing Out the Best in People,” we do what we do because of what happens after. To change the right behaviors in the right way is to understand what reinforces them and to modify reinforcements accordingly.

Consider this example: If contracting officers spend more time with customers to produce better requirements and solicitations but miss deadlines for awards and extensions, what happens? They’re not rewarded for better contracts and forgiven for missing deadlines. They get in trouble for missing deadlines because the real reinforcement in their world is for throughput, not better quality.

Organizations get the behaviors they reinforce. If they modify reinforcements they can change behavior like a magnet aligns metal shavings. One powerful positive reinforcement an organization can offer is to enable someone to improve what they do to benefit themselves and their customer, and let them carry out it without getting in trouble.

Organizations will likely find they must prioritize — that as their people do more of something, better, they have less time for something else. But that’s also what change management is about, isn’t it?

 

Lou Kerestesy is the Founder and Chief Innovator at GovInnovators and has 30 years’ experience in federal, state and local government. GovInnovators mission is to help government serve best by innovating itself, from the inside out. Lou can be contacted by clicking here. Lou's full bio at LinkedIn.

Commentary originally published on fedscoop.com and used by permission of the author here.

Early Timecard Certification - Delayed Supervisor Approvals

You may have seen the "This Week @ EPA" email from the Administrator today. Under the "Hot Topics" section, the email notes early time and attendance attestation due to the upcoming Labor Day holiday. It further notes that "employees will receive pay only after they and their supervisors certify their timecards in PeoplePlus" and that if your supervisor fails to approve your timecard by the deadline, your pay will be delayed by four days after your supervisor certifies.

Pay period deadlines are:

  • Employees are required to input, “attest and submit” and “save” their time and attendance information in PeoplePlus by 10:00 PM EDT on Wednesday, Aug. 31.
  • All managers and supervisors with time approval responsibilities must complete their approvals of submitted time cards by 8:00 PM EDT on Thursday, Sept. 1.

If your pay is being delayed due to your supervisor not doing her or his job--in other words, approving your timecard late, please immediately contact Chief Steward Alan Carpien and ask him to intervene. We can speak with the supervisor and, if necessary, file a grievance on your behalf to challenge repeated delayed pay due to supervisor lateness.

Keep in mind that any grievance we file for you must be filed within 30 days of you finding out you were not paid on time. We need to speak with you about any delay well in advance of that 30-day deadline. More on the grievance process here.

What to Do When You've Been Wronged at EPA

The agency and its employees, through its unions, agreed on procedures to challenge actions that we don't think are fair, appropriate, or accurate. We call that process a "grievance," and it's detailed in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), Article 34.

EPA guarantees that a grievance filed by an employee "does not affect the employee's standing with the Agency." Employees are assured by EPA that they will be free from "restraint, interference, coercion, discrimination, intimidation or reprisal" for filing a grievance or participating in the grievance process. See CBA, Article 3, Section 3.

Prior to filing a grievance, we typically try to reach out to your manager to discuss the matter, with your permission, of course. We find that we can sometimes resolve the issue informally prior to resorting to the formal grievance process.  But where our informal contact bears no fruit, where you're uncomfortable with us reaching out informally to your manager, or where it is strategically disadvantageous to do so, we then move to a formal grievance.

Process
The grievance process is established to resolve issues at the lowest level possible. To accomplish this, the agency and NTEU agreed on a three-step process....

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Website Changes

We wanted to mention a couple of cool changes to the NTEU Chapter 280 website that we recently activated. At the top of the home page, for example, you'll note a new news panel that shows you the most recent posts from our news blog. In addition to the first three most recent posts, the panel will rotate automatically through the most recent 15 or so posts, three posts at a time. This saves you time, letting you quickly see what's new, and allowing you to only click the stories you're interested in.

In addition to the home page news panel, we also have a news sidebar that sits next to each article you're viewing. This side bar allows you to move directly from one story that interests you to another without needing to go back to the main news listing.

We've had a Twitter feed for a while. But you've had to navigate to our Twitter page to view our posts or subscribe through your favorite Twitter app. Now you can visit the home page and scroll to the bottom. You'll see the most recent tweets of the Chapter right on our website.

If you have any other suggestions to make the website more useful to you, or to provide story ideas, please make them using our Contact page.

Just Because You're Paranoid...

Bruce Schneier's webpage.

Bruce Schneier's webpage.

....doesn't mean people aren't out to get you.

This week, noted security expert Bruce Schneier mentioned in his Crypto-Gram newsletter an interesting hack of a computer monitor. He notes:

A group of researchers has found a way to hack directly into the tiny computer that controls your monitor without getting into your actual computer, and both see the pixels displayed on the monitor -- effectively spying on you -- and also manipulate the pixels to display different images.

Mr. Schneier's note reminds us of an important point. When you're using your government computer, the agency can and does actively spy on its employees. They can view the websites you visit, passwords you type on your keyboard, and even activate the camera and microphone on your computer.

All this is a way of saying that you should avoid doing personal web surfing on your government equipment. While EPA has a limited personal use policy that allows some use of the government computer for non-government purposes, it always easier not having to explain to your boss why you are visiting 75 pages a day on the Washington Post website. Our recommendation is do your surfing on your personal phone.

Pioneering Fulltime Telework at EPA (Part 1 of 2)

Last summer, my spouse, who works for U.S. Department of Justice, was promoted and reassigned to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Like many couples, we discussed and debated whether this move made sense for our individual careers and our life together as a married couple. I believed my twenty year career with EPA, an Agency with a mission I loved and worked so hard to further, was coming to an abrupt end.

Around the same time, a new collective bargaining agreement between the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) entered into effect for all employees in the bargaining unit, expanding telework options to include fulltime telework. I explored the notion of fulltime telework with my management and the union. I am happy to say that I am writing this blog from Albuquerque, New Mexico as an EPA Headquarters employee assigned to the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA).....

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New NTEU National Website

Some of the new members-only features of the new NTEU website.

Some of the new members-only features of the new NTEU website.

NTEU's national office recently unveiled its new website, and it rocks! It includes a new member page tailored to you with news specifically about EPA, new access to member benefits, a legislative action center, and more, designed to give you even more for your paying membership.

If you're having trouble accessing the new website's members-only section, check out this login tips and tricks sheet. And if you're still having problems, email webhelp@nteu.org.

Want to get all these awesome benefits but you're not a member? Visit our Join page and fill out the SF-1187 form to start your membership today!

Political Activities as a Fed: The Hatch Act

It's all politics all the time lately in the media. As a fed, we have some restrictions on what we can and cannot do at work and at home when it comes to political activity. We want to keep you out of hot water, particularly since the Hatch Act's only authorized penalty is removal from your job as a fed.

According to the Washington Post, "there have been 88 complaints of Hatch Act violations" since October 1, 2015. Five of those resulted in disciplinary actions and six more in informal settlements with penalties ranging from three to fourteen days suspension.

And while high-placed political appointees get a pass with no punishment for clear violations, the little guy gets hammered. And since we're all little guys (you too ladies), we need to watch out. Below is a quick question-and-answer list put out by the EPA Office of General Counsel on what you can and cannot do....

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Long-term Care Insurance Premium Increases

Many of you know that you're eligible for long-term care insurance as a federal employee. The Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP) helps you pay for care when you are ill, injured, or disabled. Long term care is care that you need if you can no longer perform everyday tasks by yourself due to a chronic illness, injury, disability or the aging process.

In the past, premiums were relatively stable. However, in 2010 the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) approved premium increases. On Tuesday OPM briefed NTEU's national office regarding yet another premium increase. If you have coverage, expect significant premium increases on November 1, 2016....

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Federal Employee Group Life Insurance "Open Season"

Been interested in life insurance but thought it was too expensive? The Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Program (FEGLI) is opening an enrollment opportunity called an "open season" from September 1 - 30 this year. During the open season, if you are an eligible Federal employee, you can elect any coverage that FEGLI offers on the lives of your eligible family members.

Unlike other federal employee benefit programs that hold annual Open Seasons, FEGLI open seasons enrollment opportunities are fairly rare, with the last one occurring in 2004.

Any coverage changes made under the upcoming FEGLI Open Season will take effect October 1, 2017, and the Open Season is available only to current federal employees.  All enrollments or other FEGLI changes should be provided to your servicing EPA HR office.

The OPM-sponsored program is the largest group life insurance program in the world, covering over 4 million Federal employees and retirees, as well as many of their family members. OPM is charged with administering the program and setting premiums, and contracts with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (Metlife) to provide the insurance coverage.  In fiscal year 2015 over 76,000 death and dismemberment claims were paid, totaling $2.9 billion in benefit payments.

Additional information from OPM here.