Federal workers could have benefits protected during future government shutdowns

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  • Two bills to protect federal employees’ health insurance benefits during future government shutdowns advanced to the full House for a vote. The House Oversight and Reform Committee cleared both pieces of legislation last week. One ensures employees who experience a major life event can immediately enroll new dependents in their government health insurance program during a shutdown. Another guarantees federal employees dental, vision and long term care insurance programs continue during a shutdown.
  • Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have put forth legislation aimed at ensuring greater transparency to federal leases. The Secure Federal LEASES Act would require identification of all individuals who partially own or benefit from properties leased by the federal government for high-security use. The bill stems from a 2017 Government Accountability Office report that found agencies were vulnerable to cyber intrusions from foreign actors with access to federal facilities. (Sen. Rob Portman)
  • A new bipartisan senate bill would set new energy and water efficiency targets for federal buildings. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) legislation would authorize the Energy Department’s Federal Energy Management Program for the first time ever, and call for energy reduction goals of 2.5% every year for federal buildings. It would also look to have agencies cut their water usage in half by 2030, compared to their usage rates in 2007. Water usage in federal government buildings makes up about 12% of the country’s total water use. (Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee)
  • New data from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy shows the popularity of prize-based challenges over the last four years. OSTP found the departments of Defense, Energy, and Health and Human Services launched 20% to 48% of the competitions during that time. The median prize for challenges in fiscal 2018 totaled $75,000, up from $50,000 the previous year. (White House)
  • There’s new guidance to help agencies develop and implement software in a secure manner. With all the excitement around cloud computing and dev-ops, the National Institute of Standards and Technology released a draft white paper on mitigating software security risks. The goal of the white paper is to highlight secure software development practices, but not prescribe exactly how to implement them. In the paper, NIST breaks down each best practice by task and implementation examples, as well as provides background references to create a new secure software development framework. Comments on the draft publication are due Aug. 5. (National Institute of Standards and Technology)
  • The Government Accountability Office said too many federal agencies are still relying on a practice known to have serious weaknesses. Knowledge-based authentication tries to verify that website users are who they claim to be by asking them questions about information in their credit file. But after multiple data breaches at government agencies and credit bureaus, that information is no longer considered much of a secret. GAO said the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Postal Service, the Social Security Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services are still using KBA, and need to quickly move on to other options. (Government Accountability Office)
  • Service members living in privatized housing can expect to receive an email survey from the Pentagon, asking for feedback on a new tenant bill of rights. The bill of rights is in response to poor conditions found in some privatized housing. The study is being conducted by CEL and Associates. The survey is completely optional, but the military services are highly encouraging their members to provide feedback. (Air Force)
  • The Defense Department Military Family Advisory Council will focus on how changes to the military health care system affect service members’ families. The council voted last week to make that issue its primary emphasis in 2020. DoD started an overhaul of its health care system in 2018 by shrinking TRICARE regions and moving military treatment facility management from the services to the Defense Health Agency.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs said it beat its mental health hiring goal by several thousand. VA wanted to hire an additional 1,000 mental health professionals back in June 2017. The department said it’s since filled 4,000 positions over the past two years. VA filled 74 of those positions at its first-ever virtual training and hiring fair. The department said it also empowered staff to develop facility-specific hiring and retention plans, and fill positions as they came up. (Department of Veterans Affairs)
  • One of the government’s many police forces has a new chief. The Capitol Police Board named Steven Sund as the new chief of the U.S. Capitol Police. He’s been the assistant chief since January 2017. He spent 25 years with the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, where he rose from patrol officer to commander of its special operations division. The Capitol Police has more than 2,000 employees, including civilians, and a budget of $450 million. He started the new job Friday.

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