Senators press White House for plan of action on ransomware attacks

In today's Federal Newscast, the Biden administration is being pressed for answers on its strategy to combat ransomware.

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  • The Pentagon is returning $2.2 billion to military construction projects that were defunded to pay for former President Donald Trump’s border wall. The money is being restored to 66 projects in 11 states, three territories and 16 countries. The $2.2 billion represents the unobligated portion of $3.6 billion in military construction repurposed by Trump to finance the wall. The remaining $1.4 billion has already been obligated or spent, and cannot be returned. Earlier this spring, the Biden administration began cancelling border barrier construction projects. (Federal News Network)
  • The Army and DoD’s top auditor have a disagreement about whether military officials let hundreds of millions of dollars in congressional relief funds go to waste. The inspector general said it found “pervasive” problems with DoD officials failing to request reimbursement for coronavirus relief missions that were supposed to be funded by FEMA. The IG said DoD used its own funds instead, and left more than $220-million sitting unused in FEMA accounts. Army and National Guard officials agree they need to improve their processes, but disagree that they lost the use of those funds.
  • The Biden administration has picked Carlos Del Toro to be its first Navy secretary. The White House is picking a technology solutions company CEO and former destroyer captain to lead the Navy. Carlos Del Toro was born in Cuba and has decades of experience working with the Pentagon. If confirmed, Del Toro will inherit a Navy that has had issues over the past few years. A handful of ship accidents led to reviews of the service’s safety protocols and modernization priorities are conflicting with flat budgets. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Del Toro is well equipped to lead the Navy.
  • The Air Force is further revising its hair standards for women after adding new acceptable hairstyles while in uniform. Later this month, women will have more flexibility on how hair buns, ponytails and braids can extend from the head. The Air Force says it is continually looking at its policies to ensure the best solutions for its airmen.
  • The Biden administration is making equity in government services a key focus of its regulatory agenda. The Department of Health and Human Services is preparing to strengthen protections against discrimination in health programs, and the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs is working on regulations to secure equal access to its programs. The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is also working on regulations to address climate change, pollution, and protecting small businesses.
  • President Biden’s Made in America office has kicked into high gear by detailing plans for how it will create a more rigorous waiver process for agencies who say they can’t follow domestic sourcing laws, including the Buy American Act. It also outlines plans for a new public-facing website listing these waivers, and the data agencies will need to report to the office on a semi and annual basis. The Office of Management and Budget issued this memo to implement President Joe Biden’s January executive order requiring a series of actions to ensure agencies buy American made products and services.
  • NIST releases new data standards that will make securing cloud services easier. You don’t really need to know what the OSCAL stands for — Open Security Controls Assessment Language if you care — but what agencies and contractors do need to know is that because NIST released version one of OSCAL, preparing, authorizing and reusing cloud services will require less time and resources. By using the standards, vendors will be able to create their System Security Plans more rapidly and accurately, validating much of their content before submitting to the government for review. NIST has been working on version one of OSCAL since 2017.
  • Members of Congress are pressing the White House for answers on its strategy to combat ransomware. Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) want to know what agencies are doing to thwart attacks like the one that shut down Colonial Pipeline last month. The chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee are also seeking suggestions as they draft legislation to address the threat of ransomware. In a letter to the White House, the pair of senators asked for responses within 30 days.
  • A Biden administration task force to spur artificial intelligence breakthroughs comes into focus. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is working with the National Science Foundation to lead a new National AI Research Resource Task Force. Under the 2020 National AI Initiative Act, the task force will look at how to expand access to AI education and other critical resources. The task force includes members from NIST, the Energy Department and top universities.
  • Leaders within the FBI are pledging to get more serious about sexual harassment within its ranks. It’s introducing a 24/7 tip line to report abuse and also creating a working group of senior executives to review polices and procedures on harassment and victim support. Officials say they want to be faster when investigating allegations and dishing out punishments for those who are found to have committed such acts. (Federal News Network)
  • Medical research at the Veterans Affairs Department won’t be going to the dogs, or the cats. VA has made public a report it submitted to Congress in December. It details the department’s five-year strategy for eliminating where possible, or otherwise reducing, use of dogs, cats and monkeys in medical research. Congress mandated the reduction as part of an appropriations bill last year. But it’s not necessarily the end of animal testing. VA does state it’s able to substitute using rodents or agricultural critters. (White Coat Waste)
  • Another sign things are slowly getting back to normal: the Transportation Security Administration said it is now screening more than two million people per day at airports. This is the highest volume of passengers since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and the first time it’s reached that number since March of 2020. Just to show how bleak things got, the lowest number of daily passengers was just over 87,000 back in April 2020.

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