Federal union has some ideas on how to address Pentagon workforce shortages

In today's Federal Newscast, the largest federal employee union has some ideas of how to address the Defense Department's skill gaps.

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  • The biggest union of government employees said the Defense Department needs to reduce its attempts to bypass traditional hiring measures, and better apply existing personnel tools. In a letter to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, the American Federation of Government Employees said DoD’s skill gaps in areas like cyber and space were caused by the misuse of hiring authorities and personnel caps. AFGE President Everett Kelley said expanding federal cyber scholarship programs is a better way of finding the talent the Pentagon needs.
  • The Army is taking new steps to better handle sexual assault by adding civilians to the criminal investigation process. The branch is hiring a civilian to lead its criminal investigations division along with the current commanding general, who is already in charge of the organization. The Army said the move will bring more continuity to the investigations process. The service is also staffing more civilian investigators and making it easier for sexual assault victims to get protective orders. The changes stem from an independent review of Fort Hood in Texas, which was conducted after the sexual harassment and murder of Specialist Vanessa Guillén. (Federal News Network)
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs is looking for nominees to serve on a new sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention and response working group. A 2020 law requires VA to create this group. It will write an action plan for VA to reduce sexual harassment and assault at all levels of the department. VA Secretary Denis McDonough said it’s one of several steps the department is taking to create a safer working environment for employees and veterans. McDonough will appoint working group members to serve a one-year term.
  • Congress and employees said they welcome the new tone from the top at the Department of Veterans Affairs on diversity and inclusion. Employees said they’re looking for VA to put words into action and create lasting change. Especially at the local facilities where mid-level managers sometimes resist change. “No matter what administration is in charge of the executive branch, no matter who is the secretary, Congress expects the department to prioritize workforce diversity, equity and inclusion for all workers,” said House VA Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.).  (Federal News Network)
  • House Republicans want to know how the National Archives and Records Administration plans to address a backlog of more than 500,000 outstanding requests. The backlog has been building at the National Personnel Records Center since employees began working from home at the start of the pandemic. Veterans are struggling to access burial service and other health benefits without access to their military records. House Republicans want to know how long it’ll take to resolve the records request backlog and what exactly NARA will do to resolve it.
  • Congress has been telling the military to track domestic abuse cases in a centralized database for more than 20 years, but it still hasn’t happened. A new review by the Government Accountability Office found that even though DoD sees domestic violence as a military readiness problem, the department still doesn’t have a clear picture of how serious the problem is. GAO said the department has been reminded several times to build the database Congress first ordered in 1999. A partial data collection effort DoD started in 2015 records some cases, but not all. Based on those statistics, there were more than 8,000 incidents that met DoD’s criteria for domestic abuse in 2019.
  • Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee told the Office of Management and Budget to issue guidance to agencies on implementing the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act. Congress passed the bill in 2018, but agency progress meeting its benchmarks is mixed. The lawmakers are giving OMB 45 days to release the guidance, which they said is sorely needed to modernize agencies’ digital services. The proposed guidance would accelerate the use of e-signatures, website modernization and digitizing forms.
  • The Postal Service is getting ahead of missing packages by using artificial intelligence. USPS is rolling out AI tools across nearly 200 of its processing centers to give the agency greater visibility into the terabytes of data it already captures from incoming packages each day. The agency uses the algorithms to categorize packages and to troubleshoot anomalies with packages in its delivery network. AI algorithms can also cut the time to locate missing packages down from several days to a few hours. USPS is also looking at using AI to automatically check packages for sufficient postage and to read damaged barcodes. (Federal News Network)
  • 8(a) small business contractors should be receiving some news about whether they made the cut for the $50 billion STARS 3 governmentwide acquisition contract. The General Services Administration said it notified the first set of offerors who were in the competitive range and plans to make final awards in June. 8(a) firms who didn’t make this initial cut will have an opportunity to revise their bids and resubmit them to GSA. The agency said it will make a second set of awards later this calendar year.
  • Another financial management modernization effort is in trouble. The Commerce Department’s inspector general is sounding the alarm bells over the agency’s Business Applications Solution program. Commerce awarded a $341 million contract to Accenture to implement new financial management, procurement and property management systems. The IG issued a management alert after finding that the agency is missing two foundational pieces to make this project successful, a business process reengineering plan and a proven process improvement methodology. Additionally, the IG said the program hasn’t documented existing processes, which puts the modernization effort a further risk of failure.
  • A federal judge has blocked an attempt by the Defense Department to label a company as controlled by the Chinese military. Reuters reported that U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras said DoD’s designation process was flawed, as many of the contracts it said Luokung Technology Corps had with the Chinese government never came to fruition. More than 40 companies were added to the list of Chinese-military controlled companies in the last days of the Trump administration. Contreras issued a similar order in March in favor of Beijing-based smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp.

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