DHS may finally get a permanent secretary

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  • A key Senate committee advanced Chad Wolf’s nomination to be permanent Homeland Security secretary. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 6-3 to advance Wolf’s nomination. It’s unclear when the full Senate will vote to confirm him. His role has been subject to numerous legal challenges in recent months.
  • Happy fiscal new year, the government remains open. The Senate passed and President Donald Trump signed the continuing resolution last night to keep the government funded through December 11. Included in the CR is the extension of the 3610 authority to reimburse contractors who can’t work during the pandemic. The bill also included a new fee structure for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which should help resolve its financial challenges, and $1.5 billion for the 2020 Census. (Federal News Network)
  • A bill that codifies the General Services Administration’s Centers of Excellence Program has passed the House. Since 2017, GSA has partnered with agencies to accelerate modernization around key areas, such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, and customer experience. The bill’s sponsor, Congressman Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), says keeping the Centers of Excellence program around would improve agency services. “We want our federal government to be user friendly. We want our federal government to use all the tools of technology to be competitive.”
  • House Democrats say the Trump administration is “hyperventilating” over agency diversity and inclusion training. Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee are seeking documents that explain the president’s recent executive order. The EO bans certain kinds of diversity and inclusion training the administration deems as anti-American propaganda. Democrats say the agency diversity and inclusion training helps employees and contractors better understand the history of race and racism in the United States. They say banning such training undermines decades of equal employment efforts.
  • One of DHS’s major cybersecurity information sharing programs continues to struggle. More agencies and private sector organizations are receiving cyber threat information from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency than ever before. But the Automated Indicator Sharing, or AIS program, isn’t providing enough value for these organizations. A new report from the DHS inspector general found 11 of 17 organizations said the threat information lacked contextual or background data. That made it hard to determine how best to mitigate threats against their networks. The IG also says CISA needs to hire more staff to help with training and technical issues.
  • You might have guessed cybersecurity is getting worse. Now one of the tech giants has put some numbers on it. New annual research from Microsoft details how bad actors have used the pandemic to go after government services, particularly health care. Ransomware topped the list of attacks in the nine month period ending in July. Microsoft researchers note a leap in attack sophistication, especially among organized criminals. Nation-states rely on reconnaissance, credential harvesting and virtual private network exploits. A big user danger: Social engineering pleas that prey on collective anxiety.
  • Twentynine Palms in California becomes the first Marine Corps base to adopt MHS GENESIS. The system is the Defense Department’s new electronic health record structure. Officials at the base say the program is already working and the biggest issue is getting used to the new way of doing things. The program replaces DoD’s legacy health systems which date as far back as 1988. GENESIS also comes with a patient portal for exchanging messages with providers and making appointments.
  • The Pentagon’s finished writing its first-ever departmentwide data strategy. DoD’s chief information officer, Dana Deasy, says the new strategy should be ready for public release within the next 30 days. It’s the department’s first attempt to apply a coherent data governance framework to all the military services and Defense agencies. Once that’s accomplished, officials believe it will be much easier to enable emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. That’s because algorithms will be able to be trained with data the department already has instead of starting AI projects from scratch. (Federal News Network)
  • Despite COVID-19, military spouses will still have a big opportunity for employment this month. The Defense Department is going ahead with its third military spouses hiring fair. The event, scheduled for October 14, will partner spouses with more than 100 different corporate nonprofit and federal employers. In April, DoD held a virtual spouse symposium, which saw a 125% increase in attendance compared to last year. Military spouses have a higher unemployment rate than the broader United States because they often travel with their service member and move away from their jobs. DoD has make spousal employment a priority in recent years.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t have community care wait time standards. That means veterans can’t compare whether they’ll get faster care in the community or the VA. Congress cited VA internal data that shows veterans are often waiting longer for community care. Veterans waited an average of 42 days in recent months for a community care appointment. VA’s bureaucratic scheduling and referral process eats up nearly half of that time. The department says it doesn’t need standard wait time metrics. But it is making improvements to the referral process.
  • Veteran Affairs’s inspector general pointed out the Veterans Benefits Administration could do a better job keeping track of how consistent its claims processors are across the country. The IG says VBA missed opportunities to ensure nationwide uniformity in claims processing and recommends it find a way to make sure more processors participate in consistency studies.
  • The Presidential Management Fellowship is now accepting applications for its 2021 class. Applications are open through October 14 at 12pm. The program is geared toward advanced degree candidates looking for an entry into federal service. Over 4,900 people applied to the 2020 PMF class. The fellowship accepted 402 finalists. These finalists receive professional development training and get placed into temporary positions at agencies.
  • The Justice Department won an almost a $2 million settlement from the Industries for the Blind and Visually Impaired Inc. of West Allis, Wisconsin. DoJ says the company agreed to pay the money to settle allegations that it violated False Claims Act and Anti-Kickback Act laws. Justice says IBI allegedly misrepresented to the U.S. AbilityOne Commission when requesting set-aside contracts for furniture design and installation services that it would maintain a 3 to 1 blind-to-sighted ratio of employees. The company also is alleged to have given furniture designers and sales representatives impermissible payments and gifts from manufacturers on certain contracts.
  • NASA is going to need to re-award a contract worth close to $652 million for ground systems and operations services at the Marshall Space Flight Center. The Government Accountability Office sustained a bid protest that alleged a NASA worker had a personal relationship with the awardee, COLSA Corporation.
  • The National Archives and Records Administration is rethinking its role on social media. The agency is releasing a five-year strategy focused on increasing public engagement and participation with its social media. The agency maintains 139 social media account across 14 platforms, and gets millions of views each year. NARA officials say the goals of the strategy is even more important during the coronavirus pandemic, which has closed the National Archives building and many of the surrounding Smithsonian museums.

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