COVID-19 News: OPM Delays FEVS, USDA Opens Telemed Grant Program, UN’s Broadband Agenda

Here’s an overview of some of the latest developments on the government and tech fronts due to COVID-19:

COVID-19 Causes OPM to Delay FEVS

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) delayed the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) until July as the Federal government prioritizes response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. In a March 31 memo to the heads of executive departments and agencies, Acting Director Michael Rigas announced that the 2020 FEVS is “now tentatively scheduled to begin Monday, July 13, with a six-week fielding period.” Additional details about schedules and reporting timelines will be announced as finalized. Last year, the survey launched in mid-May and results were presented in early November. Postponing data collection could also delay the final results timeline.

USDA Accepting Applications for $72M Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that due to the COVID-19 pandemic it was opening a second application window for the  Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant program. The program, which will award a total of $72 million in grant funding, is open to most state and local governmental entities, federally recognized tribes, nonprofits, and for-profit businesses. The funding is intended to help rural communities use the “unique capabilities of telecommunications to connect to each other and to the world, overcoming the effects of remoteness and low population density.” The first window for the DLT program closes on April 10, while the second window will begin on April 14 and will be open through June 13.

“Due to the COVID-19 National Emergency, USDA is providing an additional window for those who cannot complete applications prior to the first application deadline,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand. “This action will provide more time for applicants to complete their funding requests. Access to distance learning and telemedicine makes it easier for thousands of rural residents to take advantage of health care and educational opportunities without having to travel long distances or be among large groups of people.”

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UN’s Broadband Commission Adopts Agenda for Action

The United Nations’ Advisory Body, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, adopted an Agenda for Action to boost digital access and critical connectivity for the estimated 3.6 billion people worldwide who remain totally offline.

 

The Commission, part of the UN’s specialized agency for information and communication technologies, the International Telecommunications Union, held an emergency virtual meeting with over 100 representatives to outline immediate measures that the international community can take to strengthen digital access globally with the aim of strengthening the response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The agenda adopted April 3 included the three pillars of Resilient Connectivity, Affordable Access, and Safe Use for Informed and Educated Societies. This framework is the basis for the over 50 commissioners and their organizations to share their own initiatives and make commitments.

“We need to take immediate action to ensure no one is left behind,” said ITU Secretary-General and Commission Co-Vice Chair Houlin Zhao in his opening remarks. “This unprecedented crisis shows that nobody is safe until we are all safe. And it shows, with no ambiguity, that we will not unleash the full potential of broadband until we are all connected.”

NASA Launches NASA at Home

In a move to entertain and educate people social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, NASA has launched a new initiative – NASA at Home. In a press release on March 31, NASA said its new internet and social special will show the agency’s “discoveries, research, and exploration from around the world and across the universe.” The program is targeted at all ages groups includes videos, podcasts, e-books, do-it-yourself projects, virtual and augmented reality tours, and an app that puts users in the pilot’s seat of a NASA aircraft. The program also provides educational resources, including formal lesson plans, beginning with kindergartners.

“We know people everywhere, especially students, are looking for ways to get out of the house without leaving their house,” said Bettina Inclán, associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Communications. “NASA has a way for them to look to the skies and see themselves in space with their feet planted safely on the ground, but their imaginations are free to explore everywhere we go. We’ve put that information at their fingertips.”

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