In rare move, members of Congress want White House to request more money for one particular agency

In today's Federal Newscast, two Senators are asking the White House to make a larger budget request for the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

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  • Federal employees and onsite contractors must attest their vaccination status or face weekly testing. The policy from the Biden administration applies to visitors at federal facilities too. Agencies will ask employees, contractors and visitors to honestly attest their vaccination status. Federal employee unions say they have some lingering questions about the new policy. Guidance from the Biden administration doesn’t explain exactly how agencies should collect attestations from employees and contractors. And there are no timelines associated with the new policy. (Federal News Network)
  • The House passed a package of seven spending bills for 2022. The vote was 219 to 208. The minibus includes a silent endorsement of the president’s proposed 2.7% pay raise for federal employees. It also boosts funding for the IRS, Office of Personnel Management and dozens of other civilian agencies. It includes $300 million to electrify the federal fleet and $50 million for the Technology Modernization Fund. The spending package heads to the Senate. Senate appropriators haven’t yet introduced their own versions of 2022 spending bills this year. (Federal News Network)
  • Here’s one you don’t see too often. Two lawmakers telling the White House to request more funding for an agency. In this case, it’s the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and it’s for cybersecurity initiatives. Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the chairwoman and ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, wrote to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo emphasizing the need for more money. The lawmakers say President Joe Biden’s request for NIST in fiscal 2022 is flat and needs to be increased to address a host of cyber challenges around the supply chain, the workforce and new or emerging technologies.
  • The Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center says it’s testing a new process to make sure the technology it buys and develops lines up with DoD’s ethical principles. JAIC officials say they’ll pilot the new process in partnership with the nonprofit Responsible Artificial Intelligence Institute. They say it’s meant to create a “holistic” approach to future procurements, but one of the main goals is to set clear ethics guidelines for vendors who want to market their AI technology to the military.
  • The National Science Foundation is expanding its footprint of National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes across the county. NSF is standing up 11 new centers, in addition to the original seven it created last year. The agency is standing up these hubs with the departments and Agriculture and Homeland Security, as well as private-sector tech companies, to accelerate AI research. NSF is committing $220 million dollars to explore AI’s role in cybersecurity, augmented learning and agricultural innovation.
  • The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is close to opening the doors on a new Joint Cyber Planning Office. CISA says the imminent launch of the planning office will involve multiple private sector companies, as well as other agencies. Officials say the office will start as a pilot project and scale up. It’s intended to be a hub where the agency quarterbacks civilian cyber defenses, including planning, exercises and operations. Congress directed CISA to set up the planning office as part of last year’s defense policy bill.
  • The Navy now thinks it knows who started last year’s devastating fire onboard the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard. Officials say they’ve charged one of the amphibious assault ship’s crew members with arson and willfully hazarding a vessel. The multibillion dollar ship burned for more than four days in San Diego Bay after the fire started last June. The Navy eventually declared the vessel a total loss. (Associated Press)
  • The Social Security Administration is struggling to keep up with mail amid the pandemic. Some program service centers have major backlogs of unprocessed original documents, applications and benefit checks. That’s according to an interim report from the Office of Inspector General. The report also noted that some program service centers had large quantities of returned mail, and stored original documents in unsecured locations. Nearly 50% of field office managers reported they are overwhelmed by mail duties. The IG will release the final report by the end of the year.
  • A White House gambit to slow immigration from originating at the source has turned into a State Department program. It’s called the U.S. Strategy for Addressing the Root Causes of Migration. At least to the United States, that is. The strategy blames corruption, violence, trafficking and poverty in central American countries, and says prevention must go beyond economic aid. The strategy lays out five pillars, each with objectives and lines of effort on items like workforce development and rule of law. State officials say they have commitments to help from Mexico, Japan and Korea.
  • For the first time ever, the Department of Health and Human Services posted a challenge available in both English and Spanish. The Office of Minority Health is partnering with the Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy to find the best community engagement strategies to the stigma of HIV. Projects must use innovative approaches to reach ethnic and racial minorities, who have disproportionately higher rates of HIV infections. HHS will award a total of $760,000 to winners in three separate phases. Winners will receive the awards starting in October through July 2022.
  • A Biden administration task force is trying to better understand inequality in government services. The Equitable Data Working Group is studying gaps in how the federal government collects data. Notable omissions include datasets that don’t mention race, disability or veteran status. The task force is looking at how access to this data would provide new insights into who receives unemployment benefits, who is most impacted by climate change and who has received COVID-19 stimulus funds. The task force is also working with the Census Bureau to include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time in its Household Pulse Survey.
  • The Department of Homeland Security would have to set up a task force for tackling deepfakes under new legislation in the Senate. Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) say deepfakes are a national security problem. The task force would come up with a plan for exploring how a new digital content standard could reduce the proliferation of the deceptive media. DHS has already been charged with conducting an annual study on deepfakes and similar content.
  • The first ever multiple-award contract where price wasn’t a major factor has been awarded. Hundreds of vendors earned a spot on the ASTRO contract, which is the first attempt by the General Services Administration to use the Section 876 authority, where price is not a major evaluation factor. GSA awarded anywhere from 25-to-45 spots for each of the 10 functional areas or pools, such as for development and systems integration or space services and support for manned, unmanned and optionally manned systems, robotics and platforms. In the 2019 Defense authorization bill, Congress gave GSA the authority to focus on price at the order or task level and not at the master contract level.

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