Wilkie says Congress won’t go along with VA budget cuts

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  • Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said he’s not concerned about the president’s request to cut all agencies’ budgets by 5 percent next year. Speaking to the National Press Club on Friday, Wilkie said he thinks members of Congress will remember VA’s mission and will decide to increase the agency’s budget, not cut it. He conceded he has been “asked to offer ideas” on reductions, but declined to discuss what those ideas might look like, noting that he has yet to share them with the president. Congress allocated $209 billion to VA in fiscal 2019, a 6 percent increase over the previous year.  (Federal News Network advisory)
  • VA launched a new version of its website after collaborating with the US Digital Service to gather feedback from 5,000 veterans and stakeholders in developing a better user experience. The new version of VA.gov focuses on the top 20 tasks that 80 percent of veterans said they use most often. Veterans said VA previously had too many websites that were too confusing to navigate. (Veterans Affairs Department)
  • The Air Force said it has a new policy to let airmen selected for an extended deployment apply to receive an advance assignment up to 16 months ahead of time. The change would essentially give families earlier notice so they can plan their moves sooner, including enrolling children in schools or child care at the new duty stations. The Air Force said the change in policy will also help airmen focus on their mission while deployed. (Air Force)
  • The Pentagon’s chief management officer (CMO) has resigned after only nine months on the job. The Defense Department said John Gibson will step down at the end of this month. At least in the near-term, he’ll be replaced by Lisa Hershman, the deputy CMO. In its official statement announcing the change, DoD didn’t offer any particular reasons for the resignation. However, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has reportedly been frustrated with the pace of business reforms under Gibson’s watch. (Federal News Network)
  • One industry advocacy group is piping up after President Donald Trump hinted he may want DoD to cut back on its budget in 2020. In an open letter, the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) said DoD needs to continue investing in technology and weapons to counter threats from Iran, North Korea and an increasingly assertive China. AIA argued in its statement that the last two years of budget growth have helped DoD and industry turn things around after years of war and budget instability, but not entirely. It said potential reductions in defense investment could undermine the improvements that are just now materializing. (AIA)
  • Open season started Monday and participants in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program now have about a month to make changes to their insurance coverage. Only 6 percent of federal employees change plans in any given year, but experts said 20 to 30 percent of participants can benefit by changing plans. Most Federal Health Benefits are set to rise modestly in 2019 — an average of 1.5 percent among the 265 health plans available.  Many popular plans,  including Blue Cross Blue Shield are offering lower rates. (Federal News Network)
  • The Federal Aviation Administration is about to get a close-up examination for how it handles the growing population of drones. The Transportation Department’s office of inspector general has launched an audit of how FAA manages drone operator permits. FAA in April started phasing in an automated system to process permit applications. But assistant IG Matthew Hampton said the FAA has been challenged by the volume of requests to fly drones near airports, while the number of drone sightings is rising fast. (FAA IG)
  • The Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services have awarded a contract worth up to $1.6 billion to General Dynamics Information Technology. The contract for its Center for Clinical Standards and Quality lasts up to 10 years and tasks the contractor with developing, testing, and maintaining health care-specific measurements. General Dynamics IT said its work under the contract impacts clinical care, care coordination, and community health programs. (General Dynamics)
  • The State Department said it is gearing up for a multi-year effort to move to a hybrid cloud environment as part of its IT modernization strategy. Ken Rogers, acting deputy chief information officer for Business Management and Planning, said half of the agency’s on-premises data centers will be empty by the end of 2019. He added that the move to the cloud creates opportunities for two related goals: Leveraging data as a strategic asset, and building the IT workforce of the future. (Federal News Network)
  • The Commerce Department and the General Services Administration’s Office of Government-wide Policy are going all-in to implement a new approach to managing technology investments. Both agencies have hired a team of contractors led by REI Systems to implement Technology Business Management or TBM standards. In the fiscal 2020 budget planning guidance, OMB requires agencies to further implement TBM standards to better gather and control technology costs on their way to full implementation by 2022. (REI Systems)
  • The Small Business Administration (SBA) has proposed major changes to the Historically Underutilized Business Zone or HUBZone program. Among the areas for which the SBA is seeking comments is a proposal to eliminate the burden on HUBZone small businesses to continually demonstrate that they meet all eligibility requirements at the time of each offer and award for any HUBZone contract. Instead, the proposal would require only annual recertification. Another proposed change would let small firms continue to count employees as living in a HUBZone if they move out of the area after initial certification or if the area no longer qualifies as a HUBZone. Comments are due by Dec. 31st.  (Federal Register)

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