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The Defense Department is beginning to see some of its bases easing COVID-19 restrictions. Eighty-three percent of military bases have lifted their coronavirus-based travel restrictions. It’s a 15% improvement from last week and means that 190 of the military’s 230 bases no longer have rules clamping down on service member travel. DoD started the travel restrictions last year as a means of slowing the spread of COVID-19. To lift the rules, bases must have a two-week declining trend in coronavirus cases, have enough healthcare capacity to handle a surge in cases, and get approval from their military service. (Federal News Network)
Sixty percent of Transportation Security Administration employees have their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. And 40% are fully vaccinated. TSA said it’s continuing to staff up for what it expects will be a busy travel season this summer. The agency said it hired 2,500 TSA officers since January. It’s planning to hire 1,600 more in the next eight weeks. TSA set a goal of hiring 6,000 TSOs for the summer travel season. (House Appropriations Committee)
There’s bipartisan consensus that transportation security officers are underpaid. But no agreement on how best to raise their salaries. Democrats said moving TSOs into the General Schedule is the best way to pay them more. House Democrats have a bill that would move TSOs into the Title 5 personnel system. The move would give them full collective bargaining and due process rights. But Republicans said Congress should just set aside more funding for TSO salaries. TSA already has its own authorities to set pay. But it hasn’t often used them. (Federal News Network)
The Army will spend the next month on a major push to recruit new soldiers entirely online. The service said it will hold hundreds of virtual career fairs that target 11 different hard-to-fill occupations. New enlistees who make a service commitment during one of the fairs will get a $2,000 bonus on top of any signing bonuses the Army offers for their specialty.
The head of the National Guard has said he wants all guardsmen to have free health care coverage. Currently, guardsmen and reservists are eligible for the same medical coverage as active-duty troops when they are activated for a month or more. However, when not on duty, guardsmen must pay for their own care. National Guard Chief General Daniel Hokanson said his troops are doing the same work as active duty service members, but are treated differently when it comes to health care.
The Pentagon has expanded its program of using external hackers to probe systems for cybersecurity vulnerability. The bug bounty and vulnerability disclosure programs, launched in 2016, were confined to publicly facing Defense web sites. As of Tuesday, they cover all publicly-accessible DoD information systems. That includes networks, radio communications, even industrial control systems. Officials said the limited program left too many vulnerabilities undiscovered. Cyber Crime Center Chief Kris Johnson said, “If it is a system they can get to basically from their home, or from a public space, everything’s pretty much in the game.” But no jumping the fence at Fort Meade.
The Department of Homeland Security is ramping up cyber hires. “We intend to execute the most significant hiring initiative that the Department of Homeland Security has undertaken in its history” — DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that’s the goal of the agency’s cyber workforce sprint, which launches this week. He said the sprint will address recruitment with a focus on improving diversity, equity, and inclusion. It will also look at building out the future pipeline for cyber talent. (Federal News Network)
Contractors located in HUBZones will get an extra 18 months before they have to recertify. The Small Business Administration finalized a rule that freezes the HUBZone map through June 30, 2023. By freezing the current HUBZone designations, SBA can analyze new data from the 2020 Census to determine which areas are underserved and provide notice to the small business community. Congress approved the suspension of changes to the current HUBZone map through June 2023 in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.
Agencies have about eight months to develop equity action plans and help is on the way. The Office of Management and Budget took the first step to gather information from public and private sector experts about how best to assess whether agency policies and actions equitably serve individuals and communities, particularly those that are currently and historically underserved. OMB released a request for information that seeks to gather suggestions for approaches and tools to measure equity in federal programs. OMB will consider the usability, applicability, and rigor of the ideas as it gathers resources to support agencies as they conduct internal assessments of their policies, programs, services, processes, and operations. Responses to the RFI are due by July 6.
The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy launched AI.gov, a one-stop shop to look up the federal government’s work on trustworthy artificial intelligence. The site provides information on policy documents and strategies, as well as news from agencies and federal advisory committees. The National AI Initiative Office, created by Congress earlier this year, is leading the administration’s efforts on trustworthy AI and its impact on the workforce.
The Postal Service reached a licensing deal with Nike to sell a line of USPS-inspired sneakers. USPS said Nike released images of the USPS inspired shoes it planned to sell earlier this year, without seeking permission from the agency. It’s not the agency’s first brush with fashion. USPS signed a deal with Forever 21 in 2019 to sell agency-branded t-shirts, tank tops, and hoodies.
Army officials said they expect to finish a major expansion of Arlington National Cemetery by 2027. A pair of projects that would extend the cemetery’s boundaries to the south would cost about $420 million. Congress has allocated about two-thirds of that amount so far. The Army said the southern expansion would add 37 acres of space, enough for about 80,000 burial plots. But cemetery officials said even with the added real estate, Arlington will run out of room again in the mid-2060s. Because of that, they’re seeking new rules that would tighten the guidelines on who can be buried there.