USDA looking to stop the next pandemic before it begins

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  • Federal employees will get administrative leave to accompany family members receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. The Biden administration said employees should get no more than four hours per dose of the vaccine, and up to 12 hours for three doses. Employees must get permission from their supervisors first before taking leave. The administration said the flexibilities are part of an effort to help as many people as possible to get the vaccine. Federal employees can also take leave to get the vaccine themselves and will receive up to two days to recover from any symptoms.
  • For military service members, mandatory COVID-19 vaccination is now official DoD policy. In a memo yesterday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the military services to start vaccinating their members “immediately.” He didn’t impose a formal deadline to vaccinate the full uniformed force, but said the services need to impose “ambitious timelines” and report on their progress. About 800,000 troops are currently unvaccinated, according to DoD data. (Federal News Network)
  • The Agriculture Department is investing $300 million to build an early warning system against the next pandemic. USDA is using funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to study the virus that causes COVID-19 and other emerging and zoonotic diseases in susceptible animals. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is leading this effort and released a strategic framework for public comment. The document outlines how the agency will focus its efforts to prevent, detect, investigate and respond to current and future threats.
  • The National Archives and Records Administration is setting workforce diversity goals as part of its strategic plan. NARA plans to increase the diversity of its workforce starting at the GS-12 level, to closely reflect the demographics of the rest of the country. By 2026, NARA will increase the frequency of coaching agency employees receive by 50%. Chief Records Officer Laurence Brewer said this will help improve the performance and retention of its workforce. “We’re trying to engender a NARA workforce that is built upon civil interaction, equity [and] inclusiveness.” (Federal News Network)
  • The Defense Department is losing a key technology leader. Joe Evans announced that he stepped down from his role as DoD’s principal director for fifth-generation wireless technology last week. The Pentagon has yet to identify a replacement. Evans had led DoD’s 5G development efforts since 2019. The department is in the midst of building and deploying 5G testbeds at more than 15 military bases across the country. DoD is testing out various ways to use the speedy wireless technology, including for “smart” warehouse logistics, virtual reality training, and distributed command-and-control stations.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology will team up with industry on a new tech security initiative. Microsoft, Google and IBM are among those pledging to work with NIST on developing a new framework to improve the security and integrity of the technology supply chain. The commitment from those companies is among several announced after President Biden and top cabinet officials met with tech industry leaders at the White House yesterday to discuss cybersecurity challenges. The administration also said its Industrial Control Systems Cybersecurity Initiative will expand to the natural gas pipeline sector. The initiative started with the electricity sector earlier this year. The new commitments come as the Biden administration and Congress weigh potential cybersecurity requirements for the private sector.
  • The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee is awarding a two-year contract to the technology firm Excella to oversee more than $5 trillion in COVID-19 pandemic spending. The vendor will provide the PRAC with artificial intelligence tools to help audit loans distributed by agencies such as the Small Business Administration and the departments of Treasury and Health and Human Services. Excella said the contract award will help the PRAC flag fraud, waste and abuse in pandemic spending.
  • The IG Council is on the hunt for new data tools. The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) wants to bring a common set of data analytics and visualization tools to the IG community. To that end, CIGIE’s technology committee released a request for information seeking industry input around seven technology categories. These include specialized auditing, investigative analytics and data ingestion and cleaning. Responses to the RFI are due September 19. The council will hold a virtual industry day on October 20 where some vendors will demonstrate their tools.
  • Republicans want to know whether the acting Social Security Commissioner is serving legally under the Federal Vacancies and Reform Act. Three senators and two House Republicans are asking the Government Accountability Office to look into acting SSA Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi’s appointment. They also want to know what authorities she has as acting commissioner. President Biden named Kijakazi acting SSA commissioner after firing Andrew Saul earlier this summer. Republicans on the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees say Saul’s firing is unlawful and potentially creates uncertainty for Social Security beneficiaries.
  • The Department of Homeland Security at last has more details on how its new cyber talent management system will work. DHS will hire the first employees of its new cybersecurity service into the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the department’s Office of the Chief Information Officer. Cybersecurity service employees will have different career paths, salaries and other benefits compared to federal workers on the traditional General Schedule. They’ll also be eligible for special time-off or monetary awards, student loan relief and paid training and professional development opportunities.

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