Though the worst is over, CISA wants agencies on guard after SolarWinds breach

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  • The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency wants to make sure agencies don’t let down their guard on Russian cyber threats. CISA joined with the FBI, the National Security Agency and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre. They released a new joint advisory, the third so far, covering the TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) used by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. And they released a fact sheet summarizing the Russian agency’s doings in the legendary SolarWinds compromise. The fact sheet includes a link to advice for what network defenders ought to do.
  • The Navy has gone a long way toward boosting the staffing levels at its publicly-owned shipyards. The service now has 38,000 civilian maintenance workers on its payroll. That’s 1,000 people above the hiring goal officials set when they received new shipyard funding in 2017, and 10,000 more than a decade ago. Officials said they’ve also implemented new processes to train those new hires more quickly, including virtual learning tools and apprenticeship programs.
  • The Marine Corps is changing its leave policy so that new mothers can take more time off to adjust. Marine Corps Commandant David Berger put out a new policy that encourages commanders to allow new mothers to use up to 60 days of sick leave after their maternity leave is exhausted. The change would allow women to take up to five months off. Berger has advocated offering a full year of maternity leave in the past. (Federal News Network)
  • Service members might have a way to use tax-free funds for child care if a new bill makes it into law. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), along with Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) are introducing a bill that would allow military families to reserve pre-tax dollars for out-of-pocket childcare expenses. The plan would work much like a health savings account. The bill also takes aim at military spouse unemployment, an issue that has grown worse during the pandemic. The legislation amends the tax code to incentivize businesses to hire military spouses. The tax credit would be similar to the one already in place to entice companies to hire veterans.
  • A new watchdog report found the Defense Department’s oversight and governance office for intelligence and security issues faces some serious challenges. The Government Accountability Office said the undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security is staffed almost entirely by temporary employees. More than half of them are contractors. GAO said the office also hasn’t set clear expectations for the components it oversees.
  • Agencies have more time now to develop skills-based assessments to screen and vet potential job candidates. They were initially supposed to develop a strategy for using skills-based assessments per a 2020 executive order from the previous administration. The Office of Personnel Management said it’s evaluating its options for the order. OPM said agencies have expressed some concern about the EO’s implementation. Agencies now have until the end of the year to develop new hiring assessments. OPM will provide hiring tools for agencies to use in the meantime.
  • Federal employees now have more educational and training options at a lower price. The Office of Personnel Management added six new colleges and universities to the Federal Academic Alliance. The agreements allow federal employees to earn a degree at reduced tuition rates. Some programs offer scholarships. And some extend those benefits to employees’ spouses and legal dependents. The programs focus on human resources, IT, acquisition and other STEM fields, all mission critical skills gaps in government. Twenty-three institutions are now part of the Federal Academic Alliance.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs spent about half of the nearly $20 billion it received through last year’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The vast majority paid for community care health services. Twenty percent went toward staff overtime and employee bonuses and awards. VA’s IT shop used $1 billion to add more bandwidth and expand its telework and telehealth capabilities. VA said it will use the remaining funds for COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution. The department received another $17 billion back in March through the American Rescue Plan. (Government Accountability Office)
  • The Department of Health and Human Services will be looking for a new CIO for the second time in nine months. Perryn Ashmore, the chief information officer at HHS, is retiring at the end of May after more than 30 years of federal service. Multiple sources confirmed Ashmore made the announcement Thursday and that Janet Vogel, the HHS chief information security officer, will be acting CIO until the agency names a permanent technology leader. Ashmore has been serving in the CIO’s role at HHS since August when Jose Arrieta left. HHS named him as the permanent CIO in December. Along with working at HHS, Ashmore worked at the Federal Communications Commission and at the General Services Administration, and served in the Air Force. (Federal News Network)
  • The long-anticipated solicitation for the CIO-SP4 governmentwide acquisition contract is one step away from release. NITAAC said it expects to obtain the final signature from the HHS senior procurement executive this week and then release the request for proposals. NITAAC expected to issue the RFP for this $40 billion GWAC in March, but an assortment of reasons including the pandemic caused the delay.

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