Another senior DoD official stepping down

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  • Another senior Pentagon official is resigning. Katie Wheelbarger, the acting assistant secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs submitted her letter of resignation on Wednesday, according to Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Wheelbarger had been up for a promotion to deputy undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, but the administration withdrew her nomination. Administration officials told the Reuters news agency she was seen as insufficiently loyal to President Donald Trump, because she had previously worked as a staffer to the late Sen. John McCain. (Department of Defense)
  • The Senate confirmed Trump’s permanent pick to lead the National Science Foundation. Sethuraman Panchanathan will lead the agency after serving as the chief research and innovation officer at Arizona State University. Panchanathan will take over for the last permanent Director France Córdova, who stepped down after her six-year term expired.
  • The Postal Service continues to add new leadership to its top ranks. The Senate confirmed Donald Lee Moak and Bill Zollars to serve on the Postal Service’s Board of Governors. They will restore the quorum the board lost earlier this month when Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stroman stepped down. Both are new to the agency. Moak served as president of the Air Line Pilots Association, and Zollars is the former chairman of the logistics company YRC Worldwide. Last week logistics executive Louis DeJoy took over as postmaster general.
  • The National Security Agency is working a pilot program that may help defense companies cut off malware. The Secure DNS program is a commercially-managed service provider that gives companies a secure domain name system. Anne Neuberger, head of the NSA cybersecurity directorate, said she hopes small- and mid-sized defense companies will take advantage of the program. The next step is to document and standardize the service and allow more companies to participate.
  • The Intelligence Community’s IT modernization effort continues to shift away from a one-size fits all approach. The guiding principle behind the Intelligence Community’s ongoing initiative to upgrade and revamp its underlying technology is not the Field of Dreams mantra, built it and they will come. Rather, the IC is now relying on a vision centered on collaboration and coordination. The IC is using a reference architecture framework to detail standards, broad-based approaches and how to share and reuse code or capabilities. The RAF proved its value when the IC rolled out a unified chat platform across all 17 intelligence agencies during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • A former Defense Intelligence Agency employee was sentenced to 30 months in jail for leaking classified information to journalists. The Justice Department announced Henry Frese, who was employed by DIA as a counterterrorism analyst from February 2018 to October 2019, will serve time for providing information about foreign countries’ weapons systems to reporters. DoJ said Frese conducted at least 30 separate searches on classified systems and discussed what he found with two different reporters and one consultant.
  • Federal employee health and safety challenges also top the list of concerns from the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. Of the facilities owned or leased by the General Services Administration, 963 have reported positive or presumed cases of COVID-19 since May 7. Inspectors general said many agencies are having trouble finding personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies for their employees. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is having trouble gathering reliable data to ensure meat processing plants are completing safety verification tasks. (House Oversight and Reform Committee)
  • Eighty-five percent of teleworking federal employees say they’re very or slightly uncomfortable with the prospect of returning to the office during the pandemic. A Federal News Network survey of nearly 1,900 federal employees and contractors shows some discomfort among those who are at work too. Thirty percent of nonteleworkers said they’re very uncomfortable with their coworkers returning to the office. But another 26% said they’re very comfortable with having their co-workers join them at the office. Federal employees were split in their views about when it makes sense to return to the office. A quarter of employees said they don’t want to return until there’s a coronavirus vaccine.
  • The American Federation of Government Employees said the Department of Veterans Affairs is violating their contract by failing to bargain during the pandemic. The union said VA issued blanket guidance to labor management officials earlier this month instructing them not to bargain during the pandemic. AFGE locals have issued several demands to bargain with VA throughout the course of the pandemic. But the union said those demands have been ignored. AFGE issued a national grievance calling on VA to reverse course.
  • The Social Security Administration has joined the customer experience improvement phenom. Calling it the first of several steps to improve, SSA launched a redesigned portal for retirement benefits. It guides visitors through what their benefits are, and how to apply for, or manage them. There’s also a list of frequently-asked questions. Commissioner Andrew Saul calls the overhauled site more user friendly and easier to navigate. Although optimized for mobile devices, the desktop browser version seems to feature some of the largest type sizes in government.
  • After a few hiccups from the coronavirus pandemic, the Census Bureau completed its delivery of 2020 census forms to nearly every household in the country. The bureau sent forms to 6.8 million addresses, and more than 61% of recipients have responded to the population count. The bureau began sending out materials in mid-March, but stopped just a few days later because of the pandemic. Delivery of some forms resumed in early May as part of a phased restart of census operations. Households have until Aug. 11 before enumerators follow up in-person with those who haven’t filled out a questionnaire.
  • The Defense Department announced a set of initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion in its ranks. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he’s founding a review board to develop concrete and actionable recommendations to address discrimination, race and inequality in the military. The board will deliver its suggestions to Esper in six months. Additionally, DoD is setting up an external advisory board to continually monitor and critique the military’s policies and actions on race. Esper also directed civilian and military leadership to present actionable items that the department can begin implementing now. (Federal News Network)