VA OIG highlights continuing IT security issues with the agency

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  • IT security controls continue to be a material weakness for the financial management systems at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The agency’s inspector general released the latest report showing continued problems that have been going on for more than a decade. Auditors say legacy systems, some running COBOL, are a main reason why VA’s security controls are lacking. The IG says among the biggest areas of concern are significant technical weaknesses in databases, servers and network devices that support transmitting financial and sensitive information between VA’s medical centers, regional offices and data centers. (Department of Veterans Affairs)
  • The government’s go-to place for website and digital best practices is showing how agencies can meet the 21st Century IDEA Act. The portal launched a new website, focused on users needs, ensuring links are trusted, and embracing accessibility. The General Services Administration says the new site makes it easier to find and use training tools, join communities of practice and can measure user interest in topics across the site.
  • The cloud security program known as FedRAMP is getting ahead of a possible Congressional mandate to improve. The Federal Risk Authorization and Management Program or FedRAMP released a draft new standard to promote the automation of security controls. FedRAMP worked closely with NIST and industry to develop the Open Security Controls Assessment Language. OSCAL is a standard that cloud providers and other can use to automate security controls. FedRAMP is seeking feedback on version 2 of OSCAL. At the same time, the House Oversight and Reform Committee approved the FedRAMP Authorization Act last week. In that bill, lawmakers called on FedRAMP to develop an automated approach to assessing cloud providers so they can earn their security certifications more quickly. (FedRAMP)
  • Joseph Kennedy, the Office of Personnel Management’s longtime leader of its fee-for-service human resources shop, is retiring as OPM’s associate director for HR Solutions. He held several positions at OPM and worked on hiring reform, governmentwide veterans employment and leadership policies. Kennedy led HR Solutions since 2013. OPM says his leadership in 2019 played a big role in HR Solutions having its best sales year in five years. (Federal News Network)
  • After more than a year, the Environmental Protection Agency has gotten its next permanent agency watchdog. The Senate confirmed Sean O’Donnell to serve as the EPA’s next inspector general. The previous IG, Arthur Elkins, stepped down in October 2018. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said O’Donnell has what it takes to root out fraud, waste and abuse at the EPA.
  • Over 70 House members say they have very strong concerns about the Department of Veterans Affairs’ plans to implement the president’s workforce executive orders. The department announced back in November it would force employee unions to either pay rent or leave VA owned office space. House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and dozens of other members say VA is breaking labor law and harming employee rights. It declared an impasse in its bargaining negotiations with unions. But lawmakers are urging VA to return to the bargaining table. (American Federation of Government Employees)
  • The number of troops living in the United States who are eligible for cost of living adjustment stipends continues to drop. Only 12,300 troops will get the monthly payment in 2020. That’s down from 15,000 in 2019. Last year 46% percent of eligible troops lost their COLA benefits. The Defense Department will pay out about $20.2 million in COLA costs. That’s a decrease of $1.9 million compared to 2019. San Francisco and Oakland, California, along with Staten Island, New York, receive the highest COLA at 6%. Nationwide payments range from $32 to $60 a month for members with dependents and $22 to $45 per month for those without dependents. (Federal News Network)
  • The Defense Department has decided where it will invest $32 million in manufacturing and engineering education. Seven industry and educational awardees have been picked to use the money over the next three years. In return, they will establish or expand opportunities for people to acquire manufacturing skills related to defense. Awardees include MIT, to develop a virtual manufacturing lab, and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers to develop online manufacturing curriculum that can be delivered by virtual reality. (Department of Defense)
  • Saying costs of more regulation would outweigh the benefits, the Energy Department ended further standards-setting for incandescent light bulbs. Energy determined that requiring more efficiency than regular light bulbs now have, would raise prices 300%. Secretary Dan Brouillette says Americans will continue to have choice when it comes to illuminating their homes. Energy proposed the determination in September, and made it final Friday. The determination required 175 pages of documentation. (Department of Energy)
  • In the months leading up to the start of the 2020 population count, the Census Bureau and its partners have doubled down on combating misinformation online. For instance, Facebook has updated its policies to ban posts and ads which would mislead users about when and how to participate in the census, or the consequences of participating in the count. Meanwhile, the Census Bureau has launched a trust and safety team to help combat misinformation online.

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