Congress gives four agencies 10 days to report on SolarWinds damage

  • Four agencies, the departments of Commerce, Energy, HHS, and the EPA, have 10 days to answer eight questions about the impact of the SolarWinds attack on their networks. A bi-partisan group of 13 House Energy and Commerce Committee members wrote to these agencies, as well as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration,  seeking more information. Among the questions they want answers to are how the SolarWinds attack impacted them and how do they assess vendor and supply-chain risks.’
  • The Agriculture Department’s National Finance Center was not a victim of the SolarWinds attack. Brandon Wales, the acting director of CISA, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told Senate lawmakers yesterday that reports of hackers stealing information from the federal payroll provider were inaccurate. He says NFC, in recent months, was not targeted in the SolarWinds attack or any other cyber campaign.
  • Congress wants one cyber belly button to push for the next attack agencies suffer. The White House is in the middle of a 60-day review of the roles and responsibilities of its new cyber director. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), however, is questioning whether that position is needed. “I’m concerned that there are new entities and there is the opportunity for duplication, confusion and leadership and the lack of accountability. I saw this in regard to SolarWinds. When it happened, there was some pointing of fingers,” Portman said. He promised to address this long-standing accountability issue in legislation such in an update to FISMA. (Federal News Network)
  • Two new pieces of legislation for making government buildings more environmentally friendly are on the table. In the upper chamber, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) reintroduced the GREEN Building Jobs Act, which requires federal agencies to only lease spaces in buildings that in the most recent year earned the Energy Star label and obtained a green building certification from GSA, with some exceptions. In the house, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) have the Federal Building Clean Jobs Act, which authorizes more than $4.7 billion in critical renovations to federal buildings across the U.S. The bills also aim to boost green energy jobs and reduce the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The IRS faces a considerable backlog of 24 million tax returns from businesses and individuals. That backlog is just the start of the IRS’s challenges. The agency must also manage new responsibilities Congress dropped in the middle of this year’s filing season. Those include provisions in the American Rescue Plan that temporarily expand child tax credits and exempt up to 10-thousand dollars in unemployment benefits from taxable income. IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig tells lawmakers he was reluctant to push the filing season deadline back to May 17, because doing so will delay how soon agency employees will be able to stand up an online portal tied to the child tax credits. (Federal News Network)
  • Veterans homelessness ticked up slightly in 2020. It’s the first time homelessness did not decline since the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs started counting in 2010. VA and HUD conducted a count of homeless veterans back in January 2020. VA Secretary Denis McDonough says the pre-pandemic numbers are extremely concerning. Leaders on the House and Senate VA committees say the data shows a need to ensure appropriated funding for veterans homelessness is going to the right places.
  • The Air Force is reminding its service members that extremist behavior will not be accepted. In a group of PowerPoint slides for Air Force commanders, the service is reminding its employees that they are accountable for the culture, good order, discipline and safety of their units. The training is in response an order from Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin that all commanders conduct a one-day stand down to address extremism in the military by April 6. The training states that it is not prohibited for airmen to belong to any group, however certain actions and advocacy, like violence or discrimination, will not be tolerated. A Defense Department report found that service members are prized targets of right-wing extremist groups.  (Federal News Network)
  • Air Force families with disabled family members have a new resource for getting information and assistance. The service’s personnel center launched a new website that will give users of the Exceptional Family Member Program important tools and information without the need for a Common Access Card. The Family Vector website also allows families to explore locations and research sites that coincide with their needs.
  • The Agriculture Department is exploring the possibility of fully-remote positions after the pandemic. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says he is launching an agency-wide review of the department’s positions. He told staff that offering fully-remote positions could be a valuable recruitment tool. He also rescinded the agency’s previous telework policy. The department is collecting employee feedback for a new telework program. But in the meantime, the agency is still in maximum telework mode during the pandemic. (Federal News Network)
  • The Postal Service is getting on-time delivery back on track after a record-breaking holiday season and severe winter storms caused delays. USPS reports it delivered more than 83% of first-class mail on time between March 6 and March 12,  and has cleared a backlog in air deliveries. But more than 50 members of Congress are now calling on President Joe Biden to fire all members of the USPS Board of Governors, citing persistent delays in their congressional districts.
  • House Democrats are making another attempt to make the Plum Book an online living document. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) introduced the Periodically Listing Updates to Management or PLUM Act. The bill would require the Office of Personnel Management to maintain a public directory of data on the president’s appointees and other senior positions. Agencies would have to submit data to OPM every month. Today OPM works with the House and Senate oversight committees to publish a roster of agency appointments every four years. In the upper chamber, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is planning to introduce a companion bill to the PLUM Act.

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