NASA’s chief scientist announces departure

The Federal Headlines is a daily compilation of the stories you hear discussed on Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

  • NASA’s chief scientist has announced her departure from the agency. In an interview on NASA’s Tumblr page, Ellen Stofan said she is leaving for new adventures. She’s held the position since August  2013. In the interview, Stofan said the thing she is most proud of is creating a way for NASA to collect voluntary demographic data on all of its grant proposals to counter unconscious bias. (NASA)
  • President-elect Donald Trump is reported to be considering privatizing the Veterans Affairs Department. According to the Wall Street Journal, a transition official told reporters it was one of the potential options Trump is considering for reforming the VA. He is also said to be considering creation of an advisory council to assist in making changes at the department. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Applications are being accepted for the Homeland Security Department’s Cyber Student Volunteer Initiative. DHS is looking for current undergraduate and graduate students to support the DHS cyber mission at department field offices all over the country. Potential applicants can visit DHS.gov for more information. (Department of Homeland Security)
  • A new report shows the White House’s online “We the People” petition platform has not brought much change to federal policy. A Pew Research Center study said only three out of the hundreds of thousands of petitions produced federal actions. Only 2 percent of them have reached the required signature requirement to receive a response since the threshold was bumped up to 100,000. (Pew Research Center)
  • President Barack Obama has made it official. Federal civilian employees will receive a 2.1 percent pay raise next year. Obama signed an executive order authorizing the raise. Federal employees can find adjusted salary information and locality pay tables on the Office of Personnel Management’s website. (Federal News Radio)
  • Future Federal Employee Viewpoint Surveys will be drastically shortened, but not immediately. The Office of Personnel Management published a final rule on HR policy, cutting the number of mandatory questions on the survey from 45 to 16. Agencies can add their own questions specific to their organization on any given year. Acting OPM Director Beth Cobert said the 2017 survey will not reflect most of the changes though. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Air Force has announced the  implemention of  a new civilian evaluation system this spring. Employees should expect to be rated on a three-tiered system and to have more meetings with their supervisors. The system is part of a larger Defense Department initiative to create more communication between employees and supervisors. The first annual appraisals under the new system will start in 2018. (Federal News Radio)
  • A Florida company has agreed to pay $4.5 million for defrauding the Air Force in a major IT project at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. The Justice Department said the company, Advanced C4 Solutions, was hired to build local and wide-area networking systems at Andrews. But prosecutors allege the firm routinely billed the government for hours its employees never worked, and many of its employees didn’t have the credentials the military demanded in its contract with the company. In addition to the financial settlement, two company officials agreed to plead guilty to violating the False Claims Act. A third official is scheduled for trial in late January. (Department of Justice)
  • As part of a year-end flurry of activity, the Justice Department decided not to prosecute a company that operates red-light cameras for state and local government, including the District of Columbia. The former CEO of Redflex Traffic Systems, a lobbyist, and a Chicago transportation official have already been convicted in a bribes-for-contracts scheme. Justice cited the company’s cooperation with federal investigators and its management reforms. (Department of Justice)
  • An Army colonel has received 12 years in prison for receiving and distributing child pornography. Col. Robert Rice led the Army’s strategic war gaming division. The sentence was made concurrent with a four-year term he received in October after pleading guilty to three pornography counts during a military court-martial. He will also have to pay a $5,100 fine and be under supervised release for 10 years. (Department of Justice)
  • Health care systems have become a popular target for malicious hackers, according to Trap-X Security. The company reported a 63-percent increase in cyber-attacks against health care institutions in 2016. The number of major attacks reached 93. Banner Health sustained the biggest breach of the year, losing 3.6 million records. Health care providers are required to report breaches to the Department of Health and Human Services. Trap-X warned providers to button up security of medical devices. (Trap-X Security)
  • The Small Business Administration said it is accepting nominations for the 2017 Small Business Awards. Nominations are due Jan. 10. Last year’s Small Business Person of the Year award went to the owners of Equator Coffees. (Small Business Administration)