IG: Veterans Affairs put millions of vets and service members at risk of identity theft

In today's Federal Newscast, the Veterans Benefits Administration, under pressure, reverses an Obama-era policy that resulted in Privacy Act violations.

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  • The Veterans Benefits Administration reversed an Obama-era policy that resulted in Privacy Act violations. The 2016 policy was aimed at reducing the backlog of veterans’ requests for their records. The backlog resulted from the need to redact third-party information, such as social security numbers, that might be on the records. Redaction took time, so VBA stopped doing it. The VA inspector general found many instances of restricted, third-party information getting out. It asked VBA to resume redactions, which it did, starting Oct. 1. (Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General)
  • The search is on for a new postmaster general at a time when the Postal Service just marked its 13th straight year of net financial losses. The agency’s board of governors has hired a consulting firm to help them find a new agency head. The current postmaster general, Megan Brennan, will step down at the end of January, after more than a 30-year career at the agency. USPS has reported an $8.8 billion net loss for fiscal 2019, an increase of nearly $5 billion from the previous year. (Federal News Network)
  • Dan Brouillette, the Deputy Energy Secretary set to replace outgoing Secretary Rick Perry, was in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee yesterday. During the hearing he stressed the department’s research work from supercomputers to quantum science. The largely cordial hearing seem to indicate an easy confirmation process for Brouillette. (Associated Press)
  • The House Modernization Committee got another year to continue its operations. The rule that created the committee was set to expire in February, but the House voted to keep it running through the end of the 116th Congress. The committee has introduced two sets of recommendations, and a bill that would put some of them into practice, on the House floor. Lawmakers on the committee have held hearings on budget process reform and congressional workforce retention. (House Modernization Committee)
  • A new bill in the senate would be a win for privacy advocates. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced legislation to require federal law enforcement to obtain a court order before using facial recognition technology when conducting targeted ongoing public surveillance. Coons says there is a lack of uniformity when it comes to how, when and where federal agencies deploy facial recognition technology. He’s says this bill would set clear rules around federal use of it and strikes a balance with privacy rights. (Sen. Chris Coons)
  • Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), chairwoman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, is urging the president’s top science and technology advisers to make artificial intelligence ethics a top priority. Johnson has called on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology Policy to take a closer look at AI ethics and prevent bias. In a letter to Kelvin Droegemeier, the director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, she said the council should look at ways to prevent bias in AI systems. (House Science, Space, and Technology Committee)
  • NASA will soon let its employees order robots. NASA shared service center plans to launch a new offering that will help the agency automate menial or transactional tasks much faster. Ken Newton, the director of the service delivery at NASA’s shared services center, said robotics process automation as a service should be available for other NASA centers to purchase in the second quarter of fiscal 2020. NASA’s shared service center currently is using 41 bots and is adding five or six new ones a month. Newton says he expects the other NASA centers to have a lot of interest in using RPA to address low-value work.
  • The State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service has a new facility. It will now work out of its Foreign Affairs Security Training Center, located next to a Virginia Army National Guard installation near Richmond, Virginia. The center has high-speed driving tracks, explosives ranges and a mock embassy compound to train more than 10,000 security personnel each year. The center combines training facilities that used to be located in 11 different sites across the country. (Department of State)
  • The Pentagon’s JEDI Cloud contract has been mired in litigation for more than a year, and it’s about to face some more. Amazon Web Services says it plans to sue the Pentagon in the Court of Federal Claims, challenging last month’s award to Microsoft. Amazon says it’s the most qualified vendor, but that it also wants to challenge what it sees as “political influence” in the JEDI contract. That appears to be a reference to previous statements by President Trump. Before the award, the president suggested the contract was rigged in ways that favored AWS. (Federal News Network)
  • The Air Force needs to change the way it manages its workload for airmen and do a better job at promoting programs to help airmen and their families according to a new report from the RAND Corporation. The report says the top challenges airmen face revolve around military practices and culture, work-life balance and their own well-being. Only 10% of airmen and 8% of spouses reported no life problems in the past year. (RAND Corporation)
  • The Defense Department and the Texas A&M University System hosted a Drone Venture Day. It gave manufacturers of drone and counter-drone technologies an opportunity to meet with trusted investors. The hope is to create an ecosystem of companies and investors loyal to the U.S., so the Pentagon can limit foreign access to drone technologies. DoD plans to hold similar events in the future focused on key technological areas. (Department of Defense)
  • Lawmakers say they’re concerned the Department of Veterans Affairs has too many IT modernization projects that are hindering the agency’s ability to better respond to cybersecurity challenges. But VA’s still relatively new chief information security officer says he sees some signs of progress. The number of reported cyber incidents at VA went down by nearly 1,000 in 2018. The department recently finished a four-year effort to implement a key tool needed for the continuous diagnostics and monitoring program. The number of reported cyber incidents at VA went down by nearly 1,000 in 2018. (Federal News Network)
  • President Donald Trump has chosen 129 members of the Senior Executive Service for this year’s Presidential Rank Awards. Distinguished award winners will receive cash bonuses worth 35% of their base salaries. Meritorious award winners will get a bonus worth 20% of their base salaries. The Senior Executives Associations will honor award winners at a daylong conference and ceremony in Washington on Dec. 17. (Office of Personnel Management)

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