Contracting community asks Congress for more tech funding — again

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  • Government contractors are pressing House and Senate leaders to include more funding for federal technology and cybersecurity in the infrastructure package. The Professional Services Council wrote to House and Senate leadership saying the recent cyber attacks against Colonial Pipeline and SolarWinds call for further investments. PSC also praised four other areas of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure proposal including investments in research and development and securing the supply chain through Buy American provisions. PSC’s letter is the second to House and Senate lawmakers in the last week urging for more cyber and technology funding.
  • GSA tried to avoid mistakes of its past with a new federal acquisition portal. The new SAM.gov portal launched yesterday with a goal of creating a common look and feel across the six acquisition systems under the Integrated Acquisition Environment. The General Services Administration hopes this roll out goes better than the previous Beta.Sam.gov integration with the old FedBizOpps site in November 2019, which struggled and frustrated users. In preparation for the new SAM.gov, GSA received more than 35,000 pieces of user feedback and went through at least 50 iterations of the landing page. GSA developed the new site on a platform that is flexible and easily updated. (Federal News Network)
  • A former official of a non-governmental organization receives 40 months in prison for a bid rigging scheme related to contracts funded in part by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Justice Department said Ernest Halilov of Turkmenistan paid bribes to learn sensitive procurement information about the contracts between 2011 and 2016.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs stepped in 117 times to help state and local governments during the first 11 months of the pandemic. VA helped 38 states, four tribes and one territory. It provided in-patient care to non-veterans and deployed resources to civilian facilities as part of its fourth mission. State and local governments made requests for VA assistance through FEMA. The Government Accountability Office said these assignments cost $270 million. VA provided the most assistance in New Jersey. Its most expensive missions were in New York.
  • The Agriculture Department cranked up its apparatus for helping out certain farmers and ranchers. The American Rescue Plan authorized USDA to give payments to socially disadvantaged agriculture establishments, including co-ops, that took out federal farm loans. That includes farms and ranches owned by Native Americans and people of color. In fact, under Section 1005, the Plan lets USDA pay farmers for 120% of the loan balances. This week USDA publishes the notice of funding and begins accepting applications. It’ll issue payments starting in June.
  • Two Maryland senators are looking for more clarity on what federal agencies can and should bargain over. Biden urged agencies to bargain over permissive subjects in a January executive order. But Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said agencies are interpreting this portion of a key Biden executive order in different ways. For example, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing said this bargaining requirement doesn’t apply during emergencies. Cardin and Van Hollen are looking to the Office of Personnel Management for its analysis.
  • Agency inspectors general can’t question former federal employees, but a Senate bill seeks to change that. Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced the Inspector General Testimonial Subpoena Authority Act. The bill would give IGs the power to subpoena former feds, contractors and grantees for in-person testimony. If passed, the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, together with the attorney general, would draft guidance on how IG offices should use this new authority.
  • More than 40 advocacy groups want Congress and the Biden administration to use the drawdown in Afghanistan as an opportunity to decrease the Defense Budget. The White House is proposing to spend more than $750 billion on defense related programs in 2022. The groups say the government should take the money from the war and redirect it to domestic programs. U.S. troops are supposed to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September eleventh.
  • The Coast Guard is standing up its first cyber red team as part of a larger restructuring. The Coast Guard is transforming its cyber “blue team” into a more comprehensive Cyber Operational Assessments Branch. The Coast Guard’s new red team later this summer will operate out of this branch as well. The red team serves as a cyber adversary emulation and penetration testing enterprise. Lt. Kenneth Miltenberger, the cyber blue team branch chief, said the blue team will continue to provide endpoint scanning and other services. “We’re excited to see that kind of fusion – of cooperative assessments, plus [the] red team for some kind of holistic assessments.” (Federal News Network)
  • The Air Force has a serious problem with its child care capacity. The Air Force said its demand for child care is far exceeding what it can offer its airmen. As of February, there were more than 5,000 children waiting to be placed in on-base child care. The average wait time to be put in a facility is more than 150 days. The Air Force said the COVID-19 pandemic made the situation worse by keeping some centers closed. The service is investing $20 million into expanding existing child care centers, and another $11 million on building new ones. Members of Congress are urging the Air Force to increase its budget for more facilities. (Federal News Network)
  • Another sign that military life is getting back to normal: The Navy said the pandemic is no longer a reason to cut back on random drug testing. The service has eliminated a temporary policy that let local commands suspend urinalysis to slow the spread of COVID-19. Officials said it’s time to return to normal drug screening operations, including for sailors who’ve been allowed to telework.

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