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The Army issued a new strategy for straightening up the nation’s flagpole in the Arctic. It’s called regaining arctic dominance, and it refreshes the U.S. response to widening activity up there by rival nations. Army Chief of Staff General James McConville also said it supports the general DoD strategy put forth in 2019. The strategy calls for a two-star operational headquarters and troops with cold weather expertise, and special training for mountains and high altitudes. It promises to improve the quality of life for soldiers, family members and civilian Army employees stationed in the Arctic.
Some agencies are moving faster than others to roll back the Trump administration’s 2018 executive orders. The National Treasury Employees Union said the Patent and Trademark Office restored official time and reversed other policies that complied with the Trump orders. The Environmental Protection Agency will meet with the union later this month and is reviewing NTEU’s request to revisit the old contract. NTEU said it hasn’t heard from the Department of Health and Human Services at all. It wrote to acting HHS leadership twice since President Joe Biden repealed the previous administration’s workforce policies. (Federal News Network)
Congress is also making a push to boost collective bargaining rights for Veterans Affairs’ healthcare professionals. House VA Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) are reintroducing the VA Employee Fairness Act. They said the bill would equalize bargaining rights for VA healthcare workers with the rights that most other federal employees already have. The American Federation of Government endorsed the legislation.
A bipartisan group of senators want to keep better tabs on the growing list of IT projects at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Senate VA Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) introduced the VA IT Reform Act. The bill requires VA to list all IT projects of a certain size and report on their anticipated scope, schedule and cost. It also calls on VA to rank and prioritize unfunded IT projects. Senators said the bill will help them better understand VA’s IT priorities. (Federal News Network)
House and Senate Democrats call for a $12 billion increase in foreign affairs spending. “We have fewer American diplomats abroad than we have members of U.S. military bands.” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said that captures the disparity between defense and diplomatic spending. He joins Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ami Bera (D-Calif.), in proposing a $12 billion increase in the international affairs budget for 2022. Part of the funding would help the State Department bring on 1,200 new Foreign Service officers.
The Navy and Marine Corps are taking steps to make drones a more integral part of the services. The branches released a new unmanned campaign framework for ramping up the use of drones in missions. The framework focuses on building a digital infrastructure that incorporates and adopts drone capabilities. It states that the services need to advance manned and unmanned teams within operations and incentivize rapid development and test cycles for the products.
The telework platform that most of the Defense Department has relied on during the pandemic is going away in June, and Navy officials are reminding their workforce that they can’t simply switch to another one when that happens. DoD’s initial implementation of Microsoft Teams was certified to transport and store sensitive but unclassified data. But that sort of data isn’t allowed on personal devices or commercial cloud platforms that haven’t gotten DoD’s blessing. The Navy plans to support Teams over the long run via a new implementation of Microsoft 365, but hasn’t yet announced how that transition will work.
The Coast Guard is joining other military services addressing extremism in their ranks. The Coast Guard is drawing a line in the sand to ensure its members know the difference between political thought and extremist ideology. Rear Admiral Andrew Sugimoto, the Coast Guard’s chief of intelligence, says the service is conducting training so Coasties know where that line is and what it means not to take it too far. The Coast Guard’s effort is one of several going on across the government. DoD told commanding officers and supervisors in early February to select a date within the next 60 days to conduct a one-day “stand-down” to discuss extremism in the ranks with their personnel.
The Department of Homeland Security brought on a former employee to serve as its chief privacy and Freedom of Information Act officer. DHS picked Lynn Parker Dupree, who served as Deputy Associate Counsel for Presidential Personnel during the Obama administration, after holding several special assistant jobs at DHS. Dupree also held several jobs on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
Two members of the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification Advisory Board are resigning after 15 months. The CMMC-AB announced Nicole Dean and Ben Tchoubineh, chairman of the training committee, are voluntarily stepping back from their board roles to focus on their full-time careers. Both Dean and Tchoubineh will stay with the board until their successors are trained. In the meantime, the CMMC-AB plans to hire professional staff members to provide support and let other AB members work in a more traditional advisory role.
The new Housing and Urban Development secretary promised more communication and safety protocols for employees. HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said she’ll communicate more with employees on how the department is managing the pandemic inside and outside the agency. She’s also looking for more input from employees. “I am eager to hear your thoughts on how we can improve the department, restore sound management, and rebuild trust. Your ideas and suggestions will always be carefully considered as we drive forward our vital work to increase equitable access to housing for millions of families.”
Military members will need to go through an extra step to log into DoD’s online payroll system starting next month. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service started testing two-factor authentication on its MyPay system last fall. DFAS said it’ll become mandatory sometime in April. Besides their usual login credentials, users will be asked to enter a one-time passcode that’ll be sent either by text message or email.
Seven airmen just made history by becoming pilots in only seven months. The Air Force graduated its first Accelerated Path to Wings students, giving young pilots an opportunity to get in the cockpit faster. The students completed an undergraduate curriculum utilizing the T-1 Jayhawk airframe. Traditionally pilots go through a yearlong program instead of seven months. The new program may help the Air Force with its pilot shortage issues. At last count the service was down about 2,000 pilots. It has been trying to increase the training pipeline and even resorted to opening positions to retired pilots.
The State Department would lead an international conversation on 5G under a bill led by a top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Promoting US International Leadership in 5G Act would require the department to develop a diplomatic strategy to increase engagement on 5G with allies and international standards organizations. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said the bill would also counter cybersecurity risks from China. The bill passed the House in the last session of Congress.