Secret Service lending a hand in nabbing COVID relief fraudsters

In today's Federal Newscast, the Secret Service is wielding its investigative powers to take on COVID related financial fraud.

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  • A Pennsylvania congressman and senator are trying again to raise salaries for hourly earners in the federal wage grade system. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Penn.) are reintroducing legislation that would limit the number of wage areas within a certain locality pay region. Locality pay regions are based on metropolitan markets. But the regions for wage-grade employees are based on military installation placements from the 1950s. Members of Congress say their bill would bring more pay parity to General Schedule employees and hourly wage earners who work in the same region. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) are cosponsors of the Senate bill.
  • The White House gives agencies new marching orders to secure their data and networks. Agencies have a series of new deadlines to shore up their networks and data, starting with creating a plan to move to a zero trust architecture in 60 days and encrypting data at rest and data in transit in the next six months. President Joe Biden mandated dozens of new steps to address long-standing cybersecurity challenges in a new executive order signed Wednesday. A senior administration official says the White House picked five specific things that they believe will make life significantly harder for a hacker to hack. (Federal News Network)
  • Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) remains concerned about security problems in the Zoom for Government platform almost a year after his first request for information. He wrote a second letter to the General Services Administration asking for more details about the certification the FedRAMP program authorized for Zoom in April 2019 for governmentwide use. Wyden first asked for the documents in June 2020 and GSA denied his request.
  • A slew of cybersecurity bills passes the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The Cyber Response and Recovery Act would stand up a fund for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The fund would help organizations in and out of government recover from major cyber attacks. The Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program Act would give federal employees an opportunity to lend their cyber expertise to other agencies. The Civilian Cyber Security Reserve Act would stand up a program that would make former feds and armed services personnel available to assist as needed in agency cybersecurity protection.
  • A National Secure Data Service would give researchers greater access to federal data, but would otherwise keep that data private. That’s what Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is proposing with his National Secure Data Service Act. The bill would require the National Science Foundation to launch the service. The Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking first proposed standing up this organization in 2017. Many of its other recommendations Congress included in the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act that became law in 2019
  • The Secret Service is wielding its investigative powers to take on COVID related financial fraud. The agency has played a critical role in helping the Small Business Administration and the departments of Justice and Labor recover $2 billion in fraudulently obtained relief funds. The service said it has opened over 1,400 investigations and seized at least $640 million. The agency’s Global Investigative Operations Center continues to work with the nationwide network of Cyber Fraud Task Forces and private sector organizations against bad actors defrauding taxpayer funded relief.
  • A new audit shows the Defense Department is still struggling with improper payments. The department’s latest financial reports estimate only a little more than 1% of its payments were higher or lower than they should have been in 2020. But the DoD inspector general said it’s hard to know whether those figures are accurate. Out of the 11 areas DoD uses to estimate improper payments, the IG said seven are using unreliable data.
  • The Army reaches a major milestone related to COVID-19. It has now administered one million coronavirus vaccines at military medical treatment facilities. The service has been providing shots around the world to service members, military family members, civilians and contractors at 80 different locations. To date, nearly 360,000 soldiers have received their first vaccine and about 280,000 are fully vaccinated. The military as a whole is still battling misinformation and skepticism about the vaccines. The Defense Department estimates that about a third of service members are declining or waiting to get the shot.
  • The Air Force is getting back to normal when it comes to physical fitness this summer. Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass said the service will not delay the start of regular fitness tests on July 1. The Air Force previously pushed back fitness testing numerous times due to COVID-19. The Air Force relied on airmen to remain physically fit during the pandemic and encouraged them to stay ready for possible deployments.
  • The Veterans Benefits Administration said the disability claims backlog may get worse before it gets better. VA has almost 192,000 disability claims in its backlog today. The number will grow over the summer. But VA said it has plans to bring the backlog down to pre-pandemic levels by 2022. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is the chairman of the Senate VA Committee. “I am concerned, however, that next year isn’t soon enough for disabled veterans weathering the storm of this pandemic. I’m also concerned that as VBA concentrates on speed it sacrifices quality.” (Federal News Network)
  • The Agriculture Department is still trying to quickly hire and fill positions left open by the Kansas City relocation at two of its major research bureaus. The relocation cut the workforces at the Economic Research Bureau and National Institute of Food and Agriculture by 40-60%. USDA said it’s filled 179 positions at NIFA and 96 at ERS since October 2019. The department plans to hire 50 people each at ERS and NIFA by the end of this fiscal year. Both agencies have roughly 100 positions open today. USDA said it plans to hire from all across the country to fill these vacancies.
  • The Postal Service is filling its leadership ranks. USPS named Chief Human Capital Officer Doug Tulino to serve as deputy postmaster general, a position left vacant for a full year. Tulino will still hold onto his old HR job and responsibilities while serving under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. The Senate also confirmed a new member to serve on the USPS Board of Governors. Former Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stroman will serve on the board until December 2028. (Federal News Network)
  • The paperless age may come one day, but in the meantime agencies still have to put ink on paper. Now the Government Publishing Office renews a contract to help agencies get it done. The re-compete of GPO’s Express program goes to the long-standing incumbent, FedEx. The company operates a national chain of some two thousand walk-in or mail-in printing-and-binding centers that can produce documents in a variety of physical formats from bound books to signage. GPO cited the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Interior and Transportation among the users of GPO Express.

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    Secret Service lending a hand in nabbing COVID relief fraudsters

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    U.S. Secret Service police officers stand guard on the roof in front of the the American flag as it files at half-staff above the White House in Washington, Friday, April 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

    Secret Service lending a hand in nabbing COVID relief fraudsters

    Read more