Two powerful chairmen criticize White House for ‘dragging its feet’ on defense spending

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  • Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said the committee will delay the markup of the 2022 defense authorization act until July. Reed said the reason for the delay is because the White House has been so slow in releasing more details on next year’s defense budget. The committee usually completes the markup by late spring or early summer. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) has also been critical of the Biden administration for dragging its feet on the budget.
  • The Navy appears to be struggling to improve the quality of the privately-owned housing on its bases. According to the latest survey of residents conducted by a private contractor, sailors’ satisfaction rates for family housing slipped in the past year. Scores on both the quality of their housing and the service they got from private housing providers were down several points from the previous year. The Navy believes COVID-19 played a significant role in the decline. And although the Navy’s satisfaction index slipped over the past year, its scores are still several points ahead of a similar survey of Army housing during the same timeframe.
  • A Navy plan to cut military doctors and medical staff may get reexamined. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said the Navy needs to take a hard look at the Pentagon’s plan to cut 18,000 medical staff positions. The proposal has been in the works for two years. The Defense Department says those billets would be better served making the military more lethal. Gilday said the coronavirus pandemic showed some of the flaws in the Pentagon’s plan. The Navy had to divert some of its medical staff to civilian operations and put elective surgeries on hold. (Federal News Network)
  • The Postal Service saw a 9% drop in total mail volume last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government Accountability Office said the agency saw a temporary spike in mail volume in September and October from mail-in ballots. GAO also said a 32 percent increase in its package business led to an increase in USPS annual revenue, but did not offset the agency’s higher expenses from the pandemic. GAO reported that a 32% increase in USPS package business led to an increase in its annual revenue , but did not offset the agency’s higher expenses from the pandemic.
  • The Agriculture Department has deployed over 1, 200 employees to date to help with COVID-19 vaccination efforts. 413 USDA employees are currently deployed and the Forest Service is coordinating the deployment of 439 interagency employees and contractors. USDA said its employees have administered over a million vaccines so far throughout the country.
  • The Biden administration is formally opening up its COVID-19 emergency paid leave program for federal employees. Employees can request emergency paid leave to recover from COVID-19 or care for children or older family members at home. Full time employees can ask for up to 15 weeks of paid leave. Agencies will grant the leave on a conditional basis and then request reimbursement from the Office of Personnel Management. The program expires September 30 or whenever the $570-million-dollar emergency leave fund runs out of cash. (Federal News Network)
  • Veterans have a new central spot online to access information about their benefits. The Department of Veterans Affairs worked with the US Digital Service to streamline and update VA.gov. Veterans previously had to go to multiple sites for information, including the E-Benefits portal. Now they can access everything in one place and log into their benefits manager using two-factor authentication. VA says it will keep the old E-Benefits portal live through next March to give veterans enough time to make the transition.
  • The National Science Foundation has $22 million to give out under its Convergence Accelerator program to multi-disciplinary teams seeking to solve problems in two major areas. The first is called the networked blue economy, which focuses research on ocean innovation, exploration, and sustainable utilization. The second is around trust and authenticity in communications systems. Letters of intent to participate in the program are due May 5. NSF plans to make up to 15 awards for each topic area under phase one, which includes $750,000.
  • GSA’s next great IT products contract got the greenlight. The 2nd Generation Information Technology, or 2GIT, blanket purchase agreement is open for business. The General Services Administration won the remaining bid protests before the Court of Federal Claims in March and is moving forward with the governmentwide contract. Under the five-year BPA , that has a ceiling of $5.5 billion, agencies can place task orders for an assortment of IT products, including laptops and desktops, as well as software licenses and maintenance services. GSA says one of the big benefits of 2GIT is the Vendor Risk Assessment Program to help address supply chain threats.
  • A bipartisan bill that requires federal contractors to disclose cyber threats is coming into focus.. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said, “We need to focus on, can we create a structure that would allow some limited mandatory reporting for government contractors and critical infrastructure.” Warner, the chairman of the intelligence committee, said the committee is working on bipartisan legislation that would do just that. He said the voluntary reporting structure under the 2015 Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act doesn’t do enough in response to threats like the SolarWinds breach. Warner said the committee is working closely with the intelligence community and Anne Neuberger,  the White House’s deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology. (Federal News Network)

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