Contractors Seek Clearer, Uniform Guidance for Returning to Offices

A lead trade association would like federal agencies to issue uniform guidance for their contractors’ return to workplaces amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

The approximate 4.1 million federal contractors play an integral role in the functioning of the government, but are often managed differently than the 2 million federal employees. After calling on the Trump administration to issue guidance regarding telework at the onset of the pandemic, the Professional Services Council, which represents over 400 companies that work with the federal government, now would like to see agencies issue some form of uniform guidance regarding returning to workplaces. 

The Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management outlined in April how federal agencies should consider bringing employees back to offices, while noting it will vary based on the region. Although there have also been questions, confusion and concerns, individual agencies have been issuing their own reopening plans for their employees. 

“The guidance needs to be clearer, it needs to be more uniform, it needs to be consistent and it needs to be visible, transparent,” David Berteau, PSC president and CEO, told Government Executive during an interview last week. “I think it’s a huge hole in the government’s response. They don’t tend to think of contractors as part of an integrated workforce when they absolutely are.” 

He said he hasn’t seen a “good example” of a federal agency that has issued guidance specific for contractors and in most cases they only say the decisions are left up to the individual contractors when asked. 

Berteau acknowledged that there does need to be some flexibility depending on the companies’ locations and their specific needs, but it “could simply say, for instance, with respect to contractors, you know, ‘Don’t make them come back to the office unless you need.’” 

Robert Burton, partner

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German authorities search offices, homes in DFB tax evasion probe

German prosecutors and tax authorities searched offices of the German Football Association (DFB) as well as private homes of current and former officials on suspicion of serious tax evasion, the Frankfurt prosecutors’ office said on Wednesday.

It said six unnamed former and current officials of the DFB were suspected of having intentionally falsely declared income from advertising inside football stadiums during home games of the national team in 2014 and 2015 as income from asset management, leading to €4.7 million in unpaid taxes.

The DFB, which does not pay taxes for any income from asset management but is obliged to do so for earnings from any commercial activities, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

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Some 200 officials were deployed in the searches that took place across several locations in five federal states.

“Based on the investigation until now there is the suspicion that those accused knew of the tax incorrectness but consciously chose it to give DFB a major tax advantage,” the prosecutors’ office said in a statement.

It did not name the six people nor did it provide any details of their positions within the organisation.

This is the latest in a series of legal cases that have tarnished the world’s biggest football federation which was also investigated in relation to a suspected misuse of funds in relation to the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Theo Zwanziger, who headed the DFB from 2006-2012, and his successor Wolfgang Niersbach were investigated for years in Germany and Switzerland over those allegations. Both have denied any wrongdoing.

Reinhard Grindel,

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Hawaiian defense contractor with Maine offices charged with bank fraud

A Hawaiian defense contractor whose business has offices and employees in Maine has been accused of falsifying loan applications to receive $12.8 million in federal funds from a coronavirus relief program.

Martin Kao was arrested Wednesday and charged with bank fraud and money laundering. The news was first reported by Civil Beat, a Hawaii-based investigative news organization.

According to a 37-page criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, Kao is suspected of lying on two applications to receive funds under the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, part of the CARES Act passed by Congress in late March to address the pandemic. Maine Sen. Susan Collins was a co-author of the act.

Kao and several of his employees have donated to Collins’ reelection campaign, and the two appeared together in Maine last summer when Collins announced an $8 million federal contract to his company, Navartek LLC, now known as Martin Defense Group.

Investigators believe Kao, when applying for PPP loans, deliberately overstated his company’s need for relief, inflated the number of his employees and used a subsidiary company so that he could apply twice. They also allege Kao transferred $2 million in PPP funds to a personal bank account.

The complaint also indicates that Kao told officials at the banks that were delivering the PPP loans that he works closely with unamed U.S. senators and said some senators or their staff had advised him on the application process.

“[The Senator] is suggesting a conference call with his Banking Committee and SBA staff director . . . SHE HELPED WRITE THE PPP RULES. . . . . ,” he wrote in an email to a bank executive, according to the complaint. “She has confirmed directly that CPB should and is obligated to fund once SBA issues the approval number.

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Renovation loans get pandemic boost as homeowners want home offices

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Vexed by work-from-home arrangements owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, homeowners are taking the long view and rethinking floor plans. The reality is, home offices are no longer a luxury.

In the initial three weeks of public health lockdowns in March, according to Gallup, the percentage of employed Americans working from home doubled to 62%. Of these workers, three in five said they’d prefer to work from home when restrictions are lifted. Homeowners are serious about dedicating room for work.

There’s a mainstay in mortgage finance poised to help in working from home. The Federal Housing Administration’s 203(k) rehabilitation mortgage insurance program is designed for borrowers to renovate when they purchase or refinance.

For over 40 years with Section 203(k) of the National Housing Act, FHA has been protecting lenders with fully-insured mortgage loans even as renovations are underway. In turn, the program opens access to much-needed renovation capital for borrowers.

As with any program, there are parameters, but this one isn’t confined to repairs. It allows for actual home improvements to complement contemporary lifestyles. And these days, that means renovation choices brought on by the coronavirus and the remote economy.        

“Since many people work from home – and plan to be home more now since COVID – I’m seeing both purchases and refinances with homebuyers and homeowners, who are planning projects to add more square footage to the existing structure of homes in their desired location, but not enough room to convert into space,” said Patrice Watkins, vice president of Renovation Lending at Guaranteed Rate.

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