New regs for Wednesday: Government contractors, mentally disabled, environmental policies

Wednesday's edition of the Federal Register contains new rules for conflicts of interest by employees of government contractors, to help people with cognitive impairments live independently, environmental policies and privacy rules.

Here's what is happening:

Conflicts of interest: Three government agencies are considering a new rule that would limit employees of government contractors from engaging in conflicts of interest.

The Department of Defense, General Services Administration (GSA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced the proposed rule Tuesday, which would amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

The rule would extend existing limitations on conflicts of interest for contractor employees that would apply when contracts for their personal businesses are "closely associated" with their government position.

The public has two months to comment on the proposed rule.

Mental disability: The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) is looking to help elderly Americans with cognitive impairments live on their own and take care of themselves.

The NIDRR's Rehabilitation Engineering Research and Centers program is proposing to research the matter and determine how the government can better help people with cognitive impairments, including many elderly Americans.

"Cognitive impairments refer to significant difficulties in remembers, concentration, or making decisions resulting from physical, mental, or emotional conditions," the agency wrote.

The NIDRR estimates that more than 12 million people with cognitive impairments rely on personal assistance, but that number could double to 27 million by 2050 as society ages.

"This increase will be driven primarily by the aging of the population and the higher prevalence of disability among older individuals, but also by the increased longevity experienced by individuals with early onset disabilities," the agency wrote.

The agency's goal is to promote "independence in daily activities" for people with cognitive impairments while they are at home, around town, or at work. 

"The increasing number of Americans with cognitive impairments will present a number of pressing challenges," the agency added. "Chief among these will be the need to promote and sustain independence in daily living and to find less intrusive and more cost-effective ways of delivering the services and supports people need to remain as independent as possible."

The public has one month to comment on the proposed priority.

Privacy: The Department of Homeland Security is moving forward with a rule that would exempt the agency's forensic laboratory from certain provisions of the Privacy Act.

Homeland Security's forensic lab system of records includes paper and electronic evidence.

The rule, which was proposed last May, goes into effect immediately.

Environmental policies: The Department of Agriculture is delaying a series of environmental policies and procedures that would apply to several branches within the agency.

The Agriculture Department announced Tuesday it is extending the comment period by one month through May 7 on the rule that was proposed in February. The rule would apply to the agency's Rural Business-Cooperative Service, Rural Housing Service, Rural Utilities Service, and Farm Service Agency.

Gifts: The General Services Administration is raising the minimal value for foreign gifts to $375.

The agency updates the minimal value every three years to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index. The latest update raises the value by $25.

From 1996 to 2011, the minimal value increased to $350 from $245.

The rule goes into effect immediately.

Mining penalties: The Interior Department is raising the civil penalties for certain mining violations to keep pace with inflation. The Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement announced the changes Tuesday.

The agency is required to adjust for inflation once every four years.

The rule goes into effect in one month.