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The big six veterans service organizations are calling on President Trump to immediately fire his VA secretary. Veterans service organizations said they’ve lost all trust or confidence in VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. Calls for his resignation stem from a recent VA inspector general report. The IG says Wilkie worked to discredit a veteran and congressional staffer who reported sexual harassment at a VA medical center. Wilkie has denied the allegations. But the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and four others say they don’t believe Wilkie is capable of doing his job.
The Office of Personnel Management wants to change the way agencies choose who should stay and who should go during a reduction in force. OPM said agencies should prioritize an employee’s performance over their service time when retaining employees during a RIF. OPM proposed new RIF retention rules to reflect the priority. The changes comply with President Trump’s 2018 executive order on employee firings and accountability. (Federal News Network)
Newly published research reveals more about mysterious illnesses of U.S. embassy employees in Cuba and China. The symptoms, intensity and duration varied among State Department workers. But the National Academy of Sciences panel found that the health manifestations were consistent with directed, pulsed radio frequency energy, and said that was the most plausible cause of the 2016 and 2017 incidents of headaches, dizziness, nausea and strange sounds. The committee urged State to do more data gathering, and have a plan for future attacks on its people.
The Postal Service is seeing high absenteeism during its peak holiday operations. The National Association of Letter Carriers said 14,000 postal employees are currently under quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19. More than 5,000 of those employees have tested positive for the virus. Over the course of the pandemic, 66,000 employees have previously quarantined and returned to work. 105 postal employees have died from COVID. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said high rates of absenteeism have had an impact on local and national service performance.
Nearly half of the occupations that the Air Force gave reenlistment bonuses to in 2020 will not get the same benefits next year. The service cut the number of jobs that receive bonuses from 72 to 37. The bonuses are used as a means of keeping talented airmen in the force. However, the service is seeing high retention rates and now needs to start losing airmen before it is overstaffed. (Federal News Network)
If you’re worried about robots replacing your job, military pilots now have to worry about the same thing. The Air Force conducted its first flight with artificial intelligence as a working aircrew member onboard a military aircraft this week. The program is trained to execute specific in-flight tasks that would otherwise be done by a pilot. Those included using sensors and navigation. The pilot and AI program flew a recon mission during a simulated missile strike. The Air Force said the flight is the culmination of years of concentrated effort to apply cutting edge technology to military operations.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency said it increased the number of teleworking employees from 300 to nearly 8,000 during the height of the pandemic. NGA leadership is discussing how it can reimagine the way its employees work well after the pandemic. It asked the NGA workforce to brainstorm ideas. NGA’s operations director says many employees found ways to split their time and finish more work from home on unclassified networks than they previously imagined.
The Veterans Affairs Department has yet to overcome many of the same cyber weaknesses auditors have been highlighting for more than a decade. These shortcomings around configuration management, access controls and contingency planning are leaving financial systems at higher risk of breach. The inspector general said VA made some progress in 2020, but IT security controls remain a material weakness. Among the improvements VA made include better system monitoring and logging, centralization of some control functions and conducting predictive scanning of its networks to more quickly identify vulnerabilities.
The head of the Justice Department’s commercial litigation branch is putting contractors on notice about cybersecurity related fraud. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michael Granston told the ABA Civil False Claims Act and Qui Tam Enforcement Institute that Justice expects to focus more of its resources looking into whether vendors knowingly failed to protect federal systems and data. He says this could give rise to liability under the False Claims Act. This is one of several new focus areas under the law for DoJ. Since fiscal 2017, Justice recovered about $11.4 billion under the False Claims Act.
The Defense Department has work to do when it comes to a key “buy American” law. The Berry Amendment generally requires the military to buy items that are grown, reprocessed, reused, or produced in the U.S. But a new DoD inspector general’s audit found contracting officers are sometimes omitting those requirements. Nine of the 74 contracts the IG reviewed left the contract clauses out without a valid reason. The IG also found the Defense Contract Management Agency isn’t doing enough to monitor compliance with the Berry Amendment.
The Government Accountability Office finds agencies have come a long way getting a handle on their data. It found the Agriculture Department has named 19 assistant chief data officers at its component agencies, while the National Science Foundation has created a data road map to meet its goals under the Federal Data Strategy. GAO did find some gaps. The Commerce Department and HUD didn’t meet deadlines to assess data maturity, and most of the agencies surveyed didn’t identify opportunities to increase data skills for their staff.