New options for VBA appeals processing set for Feb. 19

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  • Sexual assault incidents in US military academies rose slightly this past school year, according to the Pentagon, with 117 reported incidents. An anonymous DoD survey estimated more than six times that number went unreported. Army Secretary Mark Esper said he is troubled and disappointed by the findings. He said those who do not intervene and stop sexual assualt or harassment violate the nation’s trust. (Army)
  • A new appeals modernization program from the Veterans Benefits Administration will be ready Feb. 19. Veterans will be able to choose one of a few different options to process their claim. The Department of Veterans Affairs is also setting up two new appeals processing centers in Saint Petersburg, Florida, and Seattle, Washington, to help handle additional claims. VBA Undersecretary Paul Lawrence said the agency hired 605 additional employees to help process appeals. (YouTube)
  • A majority of formerly furloughed federal employees responding to a Federal News Network survey, sought some kind of financial assistance during the partial government shutdown. Of the more than 500 furloughed respondents, 33 percent applied for unemployment benefit, while 21 percent applied for loans to pay for debts. Another 44 percent said they got a break from creditors on rent, mortgages and utility bills.  (Federal News Network)
  • The National Treasury Employees Union is not withdrawing its lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Antideficiency Act but it did withdraw its motion for preliminary injunction after President Donald Trump announced his support for a temporary continuing resolution. It can still renew the motion if the government closes again after Feb. 15. NTEU has another lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims that challenges the legality of excepted employees working without pay.
  • The Government Accountability Office urged the IRS to improve its protections for sensitive taxpayer data. GAO found the IRS has not consistently enforced password expirations, installed critical security patches, or replaced outdated software, though it did make greater use of encryption. GAO made five new recommendations with which the IRS agreed. But since 2017, the agency has faced more than 100 outstanding recommendations. (Government Accountability Office)
  • The House Veterans Affairs technology modernization subcommittee has new leadership. Representative Susie Lee (D-Nev.) will be the subcommittee’s new chairwoman. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) will continue to have a leadership role on the subcommittee, this time as ranking member. It was initially unclear if the House VA committee would continue the technology modernization subcommittee in the 116th Congress. The subcommittee formed late last year and briefly examined VA’s evolving plans to adopt a new commercial electronic health record. (House Veterans Affairs Committee)
  • The Pentagon’s independent testing office said the Defense Department needs to pull back on one of its most important cyber defense programs. In its annual report on Thursday, the director of Operational Test and Evaluation said DoD’s Joint Regional Security Stacks are neither operationally effective nor operationally suitable. It’s the second time in two years it’s reached that conclusion, and the DOT&E said DoD needs to stop JRSS deployments until it can fix the problems. The report said testing teams managed to penetrate the network defenses without much trouble, partly because of training shortfalls among the personnel who operate the security stacks. (Director of Operational Test and Evaluation)
  • Airmen in all occupations and in ranks of lieutenant colonel and below can now use the talent marketplace. It will give them more transparency into how the Air Force places service members into assignments. The program lets airmen show off special skills and enables commanders to sort through listings of people with specialized talents to find the best occupational fit for their needs. Air Force Personnel Command is looking into ways to expand the talent marketplace to enlisted airmen as well. (Air Force Personnel Command)
  • A new executive order expands the requirement to use American made products. The Trump administration is pushing agencies to apply stricter Buy American requirements to more than $45 billion dollars in spending for infrastructure and construction projects. The president signed an executive order yesterday strongly encouraging agencies to promote and endorse the use of American-made steel, iron, aluminum, concrete and other building and manufactured materials. This is the second Buy American executive order the president signed. The White House says the first one from April 2017 resulted in agencies decreasing its spending on foreign goods to the lowest point in a decade. (Federal News Network)
  • Add another big acquisition in the federal contractor community. CACI is buying LGS Innovations for $750 million. LGS provides advanced communications and signals intelligence technologies mainly to both offensive and defensive cybersecurity operations for DoD and the intelligence community. Additionally, CACI is buying Mastodon Design, which focuses on the rapid design and manufacturing of rugged signals intelligence, electronic warfare and cyber operations products and solutions. The total price of both acquisitions is $975 million. (CACI)
  • Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue filled three senior positions. He named Mindy Brashears as deputy under secretary for Food Safety, Naomi Earp as deputy assistant secretary for Civil Rights, and Scott Hutchins as deputy under secretary for Research, Education, and Economics. The positions do not need Senate confirmation and were all nominated without the deputy title, but the Senate didn’t act last year. Meanwhile, the White House sent all three names up for re-nomination.

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