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Nearly 78% of bargaining unit employees say they’ve experienced racism while on the job at the Department of Veterans Affairs. A recent survey the American Federation of Government Employees conducted of its VA members finds nearly 1,000 employees say racism has made their jobs more difficult. The union is calling on VA to acknowledge widespread racism and discrimination at the department and meet with AFGE leadership to discuss ways they can combat it. AFGE also wants VA to withdraw proposals from their contract that ban union representatives from sitting in on equal employment opportunity interviews.
Federal employees will see a few more dental and vision insurance options next year. The Office of Personnel Management added a new slate of insurance carriers under the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program for 2021. Dental plan options are increasing from 10 to 12. Vision plans are up from four to five. Employees will have a chance to enroll or change plans during this year’s upcoming open season. Open season runs from November 9 through December 14. (Federal News Network)
The Bureau of Land Management’s new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado is official. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt formally established Grand Junction as the site of BLM’s headquarters in a memo earlier this week. BLM says most assigned headquarters staff will be working at the new office by the end of the month. The memo completes the relocation process for the BLM headquarters from Washington D.C., to Colorado. The agency didn’t respond to a request for additional information about how many BLM employees are left behind in how many vacancies it has.
Interior’s inspector general says agency officials temporarily withheld records linked to Secretary Bernhardt as part of a Freedom of Information Act request. A U.S. District Court ordered the agency to review 1,500 pages of responsive records a month as part of the FOIA lawsuit. Interior released more than 1,200 pages of records in February 2019, but released another 250 pages of records months after Bernhardt was confirmed as interior secretary. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) are calling for further agency investigation.
Amid controversy and a rushed schedule, the Census Bureau’s 2020 count moved to a new stage. Census says its army of enumerators has started knocking on the doors of an estimated 56 million addresses where people have not responded with mail or on-line. Citing a pandemic-squeezed schedule, the bureau says it will end all data collection early but add staff in the meantime. That’ll leave time for data processing so results can reach Congress by the December 31 deadline. Congress has not agreed to make it April 1.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is working on a new tool to manage emerging threats. CISA officials describe its upcoming National Critical Functions Risk Architecture as a big-data platform that will help the agency prioritize cyber threats to critical infrastructure. The framework will look at quantifying the impact of certain threats, and identifying new infrastructure in need of protection. CISA is also standing up a vulnerability disclosure platform to standardize the process for security researchers to report vulnerabilities securely throughout the federal government. (Federal News Network)
The Army released a new app that will help soldiers and their families stay informed about the communities they live in. The digital garrison app provides push notifications on installation announcements and event details. The app also provides information like gate locations and a directory of services. Soldiers will be able to use the app to buy from their local military exchange as well.
No matter if cuts due to sequestration are coming in fiscal 2021 or not, Defense Department personnel will not be impacted. The Office of Management and Budget told Congress that it was exempting all discretionary military personnel accounts, including Coast Guard military personnel accounts, from cuts. The White House says it is in the national interest to ensure military personnel do not face pay cuts. This action, however, would require a higher reduction in non-exempt accounts should sequestration be needed.
The military services are pushing back on a plan to transfer hospitals to the Defense Department. For the last few years, the military services have been handing their hospitals and clinics over to the Defense Health Agency. Now, in the face of COVID-19, the leaders of the military branches want to halt the transition. In a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the service chiefs and secretaries say the current plan isn’t viable and that DHA causes unnecessary complexity and cost. The Defense Department and Congress are urging the process to move forward as planned. (Federal News Network)
Midshipmen will return to the U.S. Naval Academy for the fall semester, but only in limited numbers. The Navy says the academy will use a combination of in-person and virtual learning on campus. Additionally, the school’s dormitories will only be filled to 90% capacity. The school is still deciding what it will do with the rest of the students, but the plan is to have them reside in the Annapolis area. The Air Force announced earlier this year that it would bring all of its cadets back to the Air Force Academy.
Zero trust has gone from a buzzword to a special publication from NIST. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is putting some specifics behind the concepts of zero trust. NIST finalized special publication 800-207 earlier this week. The document details everything from the tenets of a zero trust design to the building blocks of the architecture to possible use cases. NIST also crosswalks zero trust with existing federal policies like cloud smart and the risk management framework. Finally, NIST also worked with vendors to identify gaps in products that help agencies move to a zero trust architecture.