Senate bill calls for enhancing AI expertise in the federal workforce

In today's Federal Newscast, Senators Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced bipartisan legislation to help the government remain competitive ...

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  • Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced bipartisan legislation to help the government remain competitive in employing artificial intelligence talent. The AI Scholarship-for-Service Act would provide scholarships to college students studying AI and related fields in exchange for service in the public sector. Peters, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the U.S. needs to be better prepared to compete with countries like China that are prioritizing investments in AI. He said this bill also will strengthen national security and ensure this technology is used ethically.
  • The Government Accountability Office has concerns about the Homeland Security Department’s Inspector General office. A new GAO report says the OIG has operated without a strategic plan for four out of the last six years. GAO also found that quality assurance has been a concern for years. The OIG has failed to implement recommendations intended to correct those concerns. And the OIG has taken longer to complete projects each year for the past four years.
  • One House Republican wants to know how many federal employees have volunteered to take on temporary details at the southern border. The request comes from Government Operations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jody Hice (R-Ga.). He’s asking the Office of Personnel Management about the impact of these details on the federal workforce. OPM announced the volunteer opportunities last month. The agency said employees would help care for and place unaccompanied children who arrive at the southern border.
  • A House committee said it’s time to improve the accountability office at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Members agree the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection is under-performing. But they can’t yet agree on what they should do to improve it. Congressmen are debating two bills. One strives to give the VA accountability office more independence. Another would give the Office of Special Counsel direct authority to investigate whistleblower retaliation. Oversight groups said Congress should adopt both sets of ideas, because the office isn’t meeting whistleblowers’ needs. (Federal News Network)
  • The Pentagon is one step closer to filling out its ranks of top political appointees. Colin Kahl, the president’s nominee to serve as undersecretary of Defense for policy narrowly cleared a procedural vote in the Senate yesterday. Vice President Kamala Harris had to cast the tiebreaking vote. Kahl still needs a final confirmation vote before he’s confirmed to the post.
  • A former leader of one of the Air Force’s most prestigious research institutions facing criminal charges will now go before a general court-martial. After an investigation by the Air Force, Major General William Cooley is facing a sexual assault charge under the uniform code of military justice. That charge will now go before a general court-martial. Cooley was removed as leader of the Air Force Research Laboratory in January 2020. The charge stems from a 2018 incident in which Cooley allegedly kissed and touched a female victim during an off-duty encounter. No date has been set for the trial.
  • The Defense Department is sending more doses of the Moderna vaccine to overseas troops to make up for the FDA-ordered pause in administering the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The latest shift means 80% of servicemembers stationed outside the country should get their first dose by June 1. The Defense Health Agency said almost 3 million doses have been administered to military members and other TRICARE beneficiaries both in and outside of the U.S. so far.
  • The Space Force is rethinking how it will organize its components for the future. The service is broken up into three branches, one of which is the Space Systems Command. That command oversees research and development issues, but does not have authority over the Space Rapid Capabilities Office and similar shops. The Space Force said it wants to work with Congress to realign some of its offices to fit under the command. (Federal News Network)
  • Buying federal contractors remains a hot commodity as two more major acquisitions came to light yesterday. First, Tyler Technologies completed its purchase of NIC for $2.3 billion. This gives Tyler, a software and services vendor, a bigger piece of the digital services and payment software market for federal, state and local citizen services. Meanwhile, Maximus announced it is buying Veterans Evaluation Services for $1.4 billion. VES provides medical disability examinations to determine veterans’ eligibility for compensation and pension benefits for the VA.
  • The Office of Federal Procurement Policy is looking for some EPIC ideas. Twenty-three suggestions to improve federal acquisition across four major Biden administration focus areas is just the start of a new competition from OFPP. The federal procurement office is seeking ideas from experts around sustainability, supply chain diversity, workforce and general operations. OFPP said it created the EPIC challenge to bring together a bunch of smaller ideas that could create innovations to transform parts of the federal procurement process. The most popular idea so far is to digitize data to support market research so it can be shared more easily.
  • Medical insurance provider Humana should repay the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services nearly $200 million. That’s the opinion of Health and Human Services’ inspector general. The IG found problems with Humana’s diagnosis codes that it submitted to CMS for the Medicare Advantage program. This led to the agency overpaying the company $197.7 million.
  • The Interior Department is for the birds. Literally. Interior will make grants totaling $78 million to fix up a half million acres of wetlands and surrounding areas that shelter birds. Funds will funnel through the Fish and Wildlife Service, and state and local organizations with grant money of their own. Last year the Trump administration approved $120 million for conservation projects. Additional money from so-called duck stamps, required for annual hunting licenses, will help conserve two thousand national wildlife refuges. The enabling legislation dates back to 1989.

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