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The Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and other federal facilities would get some attention under President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan. The president wants to set aside $18 billion to repair and modernize VA facilities. Biden’s plan would also invest $10 billion in other federal buildings. It calls for the creation of a Federal Capital Revolving Fund to help agencies buy, renovate or modernize their buildings. The Trump administration recommended a similar fund. VA hospitals on average are 58 years old. The department is already in the middle of a congressionally-mandated facility review that’s similar to the base realignment and closure process.
The Biden administration is doubling down on federal research in artificial intelligence and other emerging tech. Its $2 trillion infrastructure plan calls for giving the National Science Foundation an additional $50 billion, and directs the agency to create a technology directorate to coordinate interagency research. The spending plan also calls for $40 billion in upgrading labs at federal research agencies such as the Energy Department.
Federal employees could see a bigger pay raise in 2022. The Biden administration is planning to propose a 2.7% pay raise for most civilian federal employees next year. That’s well above the 1% pay bump they got for 2021. The administration is supposed to preview its 2020 budget request in the coming days. But it’s unclear whether the federal pay proposal will make the first round or come out later this spring with the president’s full budget request to Congress. (Federal News Network)
Small businesses should have an eventful spring as GSA is preparing to take major steps with two mega small business-focused governmentwide contracts. GSA said it expects to award the 8(a) STARS III G-WAC before the summer. The agency released the solicitation for the third version of this contract in July. Additionally, GSA said the Polaris small business G-WAC request for proposals also should be out this summer at the earliest, and another draft RFP before then is possible. In fiscal 2020, agencies spent more than $2.6 billion on small business G-WACs.
The Postal Service’s persistent mail delays threaten the ability to vote by mail in state and local elections this year. That’s according to the groups leading a federal lawsuit against USPS. The plaintiffs are calling on the court to issue a preliminary injunction that would force the Postal Service to prioritize ballot delivery in this year’s special elections. USPS implemented extraordinary measures to expedite ballot delivery in last year’s elections.
The Department of Homeland Security laid outs its cyber priorities under the Biden administration. DHS is rolling out a series of 60-day cybersecurity-focused sprints as part of the Biden administration’s broader response to cyber threats. That includes sprints on ransomware, the cyber workforce, and election security. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the sprints are meant to break interagency roadblocks in cyber response. “DHS must lead by example. We must have our own house in order before we can expect others to heed our advice,” Mayorkas said. (Federal News Network)
Agency cybersecurity leaders have new marching orders from DHS to address a recent incident. Agency chief information officers have two new deadlines to meet to protect their networks and systems from the Microsoft Exchange vulnerability. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency expands its emergency directive from last month to require agencies by April 5 to run the current version of Microsoft Safety Scanner in Full Scan mode and report the results to CISA. Then CIOs must ensure they download the most current version of the tool and run a scan each week for the next month. Additionally, CISA said by June 28 agencies must take seven steps to further harden all Microsoft Exchange Servers.
Transgender service members can once again serve openly in the military and receive medical care and assistance regarding gender dysphoria. The new policy is in stark contrast to the Trump administration guidance that largely banned transgender people from the military. The ban threatened readiness and jeopardized the jobs of doctors, pilots and other highly-needed occupations. The new policy comes after a two-month review to develop new guidelines. (Federal News Network)
Many more sexual assault survivors are coming forward in recent years; however, that hasn’t precluded them from retaliation in the military. A new report from the RAND Corporation found that retaliation for talking about one’s sexual assault in the military is high, even if it’s not reported through official channels. Fifty-four percent of military women who had been assaulted and filed an official complaint experienced either social or professional retaliation. Seventeen percent of women who only told friends or family faced retaliation. RAND said the high stigma is a serious problem in the military because it keeps assault victims from reporting assaults. RAND recommended working with military leaders to intervene and respond to retaliatory actions.
The Army signed a 10-year, up to $22 billion deal with Microsoft to outfit soldiers with futuristic headsets. The devices go far beyond the capabilities of previous generations of night vision goggles, adding augmented reality capabilities. Although the new contract is large, the Army’s link-up with Microsoft isn’t new. The two entities started working on the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS, in 2018 under a smaller rapid prototyping contract. The agreement is good for at least five years. The full $22 billion value would come into play if the Army exercises all of its contract options for another five years. (Federal News Network)
A former intelligence analyst and airman pled guilty to illegally disclosing classified information to the press. The Justice Department said Daniel Hale sent six highly classified documents to a reporter while working as a contractor, doing work for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. The contents of those documents were later published by the reporter’s news outlet. Hale faces up to 10 years in prison.
While they check you in for a COVID-19 vaccination shot, they might also ask you to put your cell phone on the table. Fifty Transportation Security Administration employees volunteer to help FEMA administer vaccines. They’re part of a department-wide call for Homeland Security’s Surge Capacity Force. Volunteers can spend up to 45 days helping FEMA deal with disaster response wherever needed. The latest surge squad had to go to Texas for training, before assignment throughout the country. The Surge Capacity Force was last activated in 2012 for Hurricane Sandy.