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The House Appropriations Committee passed the 2022 financial services and general government bill. The legislation silently endorses President Biden’s proposed 2.7% pay raise for federal employees. It boosts funding for the IRS. It provides $300 million to electrify the federal fleet. And it lifts prior restrictions on abortion services in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.
The House passes a comprehensive bill to strengthen the role of agency inspectors general. The IG Independence and Empowerment Act limits a president’s ability to remove a sitting IG excerpt for a defined set of for-cause reasons. It would also set up whistleblower training for IGs and their staff, and would give IGs subpoena authority to get testimony from contractors and former federal employees. The bill would also prevent “dual-hatted” arrangements where an agency or the president names a current agency official to serve as its acting IG.
A key House committee advanced new whistleblower protections for federal employees. The Whistleblower Protection Improvement Act gives federal employees access to a jury trial in federal district court. That’s if the Merit Systems Protection Board can’t hear those cases within six-to-eight months. The MSPB currently can’t hear most cases because it lacks a quorum. The bill would also prohibit agencies from launching retaliatory investigations against employees who blow the whistle. The legislation heads to the full House for a vote. (Federal News Network)
Affirmative action in government hiring would be prohibited under a new bill. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) introduced the bill, called the “Making Excellence Replace Identity Act,” which would bar agencies from carrying out any practice or program that uses race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin or disability as a basis for personnel action. The bill would also outlaw any entity that uses affirmative action, including contractors or subcontractors, from receiving federal funds.
The House approves plans to stand up a National Secure Data Service within the National Science Foundation. It would allow approved researchers to access sensitive government data while ensuring privacy and security of that data. It’s one of the few recommendations from the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking that Congress didn’t include in the 2019 Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) introduced the National Secure Data Service Act before lawmakers folded it into the reauthorization bill, the NSF for the Future Act.
The CMMC Accreditation Body has sent out a warning notice about organizations falsely claiming they are authorized to provide training for assessor or instructor certification exams. The accreditation body is the only entity the Defense Department has authorized to handle training or certification for assessors and instructors. This is not the first time red flags have been raised about fraudulent third-parties misrepresenting their ability to provide trainings or certifications.
A new audit finds major weaknesses in the purchase card program the military uses to buy aviation fuel at commercial airports. For example, DoD paid more than $50 million in a single year to refuel planes that don’t exist in the program’s database, making it hard to tell if those transactions were legitimate. In the same year, records show $174 million went toward gassing up planes with more fuel than their tanks can actually hold. The Pentagon’s inspector general made several recommendations to shore up the program’s integrity. Defense officials have agreed to implement most of them.
A mobile app designed to help Air Force families sublet child care spots launches this summer. The Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center plans to test the app, called Kinderspot, at eight bases after its initial pilot at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. DoD parents can create an account on the app to offer or rent child care spots on a weekly basis. Maj. Jacque Vasta, an Air Force Personnel Center headquarters section commander, spearheaded the creation of the app and received more than $1 million in funding from the Air Force.
A key U.S. cyber agency would get a big budget boost under a new House spending bill. The House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee is including $2.4 billion for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in its draft spending bill. That’s nearly a $400 million increase above last year’s budget, and $288 million more than the Biden administration’s request for CISA. Lawmakers have been clamoring to increase CISA’s budget after several high profile cyber attacks on U.S. agencies and critical infrastructure in recent months.
The top cybersecurity official in the Pentagon’s acquisition bureaucracy has been suspended from her job over allegations that she mishandled classified information. According to her attorney, Katie Arrington has been on paid leave for more than six weeks, but still hasn’t been told specifically what information she’s suspected of improperly disclosing. Arrington has played a leading role in developing the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification program, DoD’s ongoing effort to improve cyber defenses in its industrial base. (Federal News Network)
One of the six open CFO Act agency CIO positions is filled. The Department of Housing and Urban Development named Beth Niblock as its new chief information officer. Niblock replaces David Chow, who was a political appointee under the Trump administration. She comes to HUD from Detroit where she was CIO for the city for the last seven years. Before coming to Detroit, Niblock was CIO for the Louisville metro government. At HUD, she inherits a $447 million IT budget in 2021 and major programs around improving customer experience and moving to the cloud. The other agencies still missing permanent CIOs include DoD, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Health and Human Services and the Office of Personnel Management.
Matt Cornelius is bringing some much-needed technology and cyber expertise to Capitol Hill. The former director of the Office of Management and Budget’s cyber office joined the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee as a senior staff member for chairman Gary Peters. In that new role, Cornelius will focus on government operations and reform, regulatory issues, transparency and much more. Cornelius spent the previous 18 months as the executive director of the Alliance for Digital Innovation, an industry association. Cornelius also worked at the General Services Administration and Treasury before OMB.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is seeking public feedback on its latest step developing a baseline for trustworthy artificial intelligence. The agency is releasing a draft report outlining proposals for identifying and managing bias in AI. NIST said the draft special publication is a step toward its goal of developing a risk framework for using AI algorithms. It’s accepting comments on the draft report through August.
Many federal agencies are in the dark about what kind of facial recognition systems their employees are using. The Government Accountability Office is reporting 13 out of 14 agencies evaluated during a recent audit did not have complete, updated information on non-federal facial recognition tools being used by agency staff. Law enforcement officers often rely on such tools, which store millions or even billions of photos. But they also pose major privacy and accuracy-related risks, meaning agencies should be tracking their use, according to GAO.
The second largest health insurance provider for federal employees has an incentive for participants who get the COVID-19 vaccine. Certain participants in the Government Employees Health Association plan who show proof of vaccination will receive a $75 wellness credit. GEHA said federal employees can use this credit toward doctor’s visits, co-pays, prescription drugs, eye glasses and X-rays. Participants can submit proof of vaccination starting July 1. Any federal employee members who received at least the first vaccine dose before July 31 are eligible for the incentives. The program ends at the end of the year.