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Could we see self driving mail trucks in the future? The U.S. Postal Service put out a request for information on trucks that can follow an assigned route while a letter carrier sorts mail for delivery. It also wants to know if it’s possible to retrofit existing vehicles with autonomous technology. Vendors have until April 5 to respond. (FedBizOpps)
A new public-private task force will develop criteria to determine the threats and risks from technology products and services. The Department of Homeland Security’s Information and Communications Technology Supply Chain Risk Task Force laid out this and three other focus areas to reduce cyber risks. It will have 60 members and include government and industry experts. (Department of Homeland Security)
It’s been a long time coming, but the Pentagon said it’s ramping up a program designed to address a shortfall of cyber experts in its civilian workforce. Defense officials told Congress they’re dedicating more staff to the implementation of the Cyber Excepted Service, and may want to expand it to include other positions like data scientists and artificial intelligence experts. Congress created the CES more than three years ago, letting DoD set up streamlined hiring processes and new pay scales for cyber experts. DoD officials acknowledge they’ve been slow to use those authorities. They’ve only placed about 500 jobs into the new system so far. (Federal News Network)
Aileen Black, Google’s head of public sector cloud — a major federal cloud provider — left her post. Black told Federal News Network that after two-and-a-half years it was time to go as she needed to spend more time with sick family members. During her tenure, Black led Google’s efforts to bring the cloud to DoD’s artificial intelligence initiatives. She also oversaw the decision for Google to not bid on the $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud program. Black said she has no immediate plans, but may serve on company boards of directors and help women running high-tech companies. (Federal News Network)
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie announced a big change to the way the department processes veterans benefits. VA will now give priority to disability benefits claims from combat veterans who have received a Purple Heart medal. Wilkie said the Veterans Benefits Administration will change its priority processing categories to include Purple Heart recipients starting April 1. The announcement came shortly after VA began implementing the new appeals modernization program last week. (Department of Veterans Affairs)
Expect a heated debate over funding for a new program at VA this year. Democratic appropriators are skeptical of the department’s plans to implement a new, consolidated community care program authorized under the VA MISSION Act. They said VA’s plans will send more veterans to community doctors for care, a practice which is typically more expensive than VA provided care. The VA MISSION Act moved the agency’s community care program from mandatory, to discretionary funding last summer. That means Congress must find a way to pay for the program using domestic discretionary spending caps for all of government. (Federal News Network)
Owning stock in marijuana companies could hurt your chances of getting a security clearance. The Defense Department said owning pot stocks, even if they are in a mutual fund, is considered involvement with drugs. DoD said ownership of the stocks must be reported. Marijuana stocks have gotten a big buzz on Wall Street as the companies are signing billion-dollar deals with alcohol and cigarette corporations. (Federal News Network)
Another defense leader came out against using DoD funds for a wall on the southern border. U.S. Northern Command Chief Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy said the White House should not take money from the Pentagon’s drug interdiction funds for a border wall. He told Congress the fund has less than $100 million, much less than the $2.5 billion the White House wants for a border wall. DoD may have to find money from other areas in the budget to make up for the loss.
The Small Business Administration seems to have recovered time lost due to the partial government shutdown. William Magner from the Office of Capital Access told lawmakers, despite losing 20 lending days, the agency has approved more than 7,900 loans and $3.7 billion since it reopened on Jan. 28. SBA did not accept new loans during the shutdown, and since it reopened, Magner said there’s been an uptick in small businesses applying for loans. (Federal News Network)
Agencies award hundreds of billions of dollars each year in grants, but officials remain uncertain about whether those funds get results. An annual survey sponsored by REI Systems and partners, found 43 percent of federal respondents couldn’t measure grant performance last year, or didn’t know if performance improved. Only 32 percent of respondents said they have a centralized system for grants reporting. The survey received about 440 responses from federal, state and local grants professionals. (REI Systems)
The House passed a one-time, one-year term extension for the lone member of the Merit Systems Protection Board. The MSPB Temporary Term Extension Act, would prevent the agency from having no members in the coming days. The holdover term for MSPB acting Chairman Mark Robbins expires Thursday. Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee said it’s unclear if the Senate will consider the bill. (House Oversight and Reform Committee)