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The Transportation Security Administration is increasing fines for individuals who don’t follow a federal mask mandate at airports and on commercial flights. First-time offenders will get up to a $1,000 fine from the TSA. Repeat offenders could receive fines up to $3,000. TSA started enforcing the federal mask mandate in February, and will remain in effect through January 18 next year.
Agencies will stand up a program requiring vaccinations for all federal employees. But it’s more complicated for federal contractors. President Biden signed a second executive order detailing new requirements for federal contractors. The order directs agencies to amend their contracts and solicitations and embed new safety and vaccine policies as a requirement of doing business with the federal government. The order doesn’t apply to federal grants or contractors working outside the United States. (Federal News Network)
President Biden’s vaccine order for federal employees is earning a wide variety of reactions from unions, members of Congress and other groups. The American Federation of Government Employees says it expects to bargain over the new policy. The Senior Executives Association says it supports it. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association opposes it and may explore potential legal options. Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee say the new policy shows the government leading by example. But committee Republicans say the order takes away employees’ personal freedoms. (Federal News Network)
Agencies across the government are pausing to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. To name a few, the FBI posted a series of stories about how 9/11 shaped today’s agency, noting that at one point half of its agents were on the case. FEMA posts videos from administrator Deanne Criswell and from staff members who were involved on that day and beyond. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas planted a survivor tree seedling at its D.C. headquarters. And the Defense Department posted a long essay detailing the attack and its aftermath. (Federal News Network)
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ struggle to modernize its financial management system hit a new roadblock. The initial implementation of its business intelligence tool isn’t working, causing the National Cemetery Administration to have incomplete data and rely on manual spreadsheets. VA’s inspector general found NCA and other VA offices expressed concern about the system, including the business intelligence tool over the last year. NCA wrote to VA senior leaders detailing several significant system issues that were adversely impacting the agency’s financial reporting and mission. This isn’t the first audit highlighting major issues with this 10-year, $2.5 billion project. VA has failed three other times over the last 23 years to modernize its financial management system.
The Department of Veterans Affairs named 16 people to serve on its new sexual assault and harassment prevention group. The group will advise VA Secretary Denis McDonough on potential policy changes that might help VA eliminate sexual assault and harassment inside its facilities. Members include veterans, VA employees and leaders and representatives from veterans service organizations and other associations. The group will begin its work this month and will serve for a year.
The Air Force released a massive report showing racial and gender disparities in its ranks and new recommendations to fix the issues. A second report on diversity issues within the Air Force in little over a year found more gaps in how minorities are treated in the service. The review found issues for minorities with retention, opportunities, disciplinary actions and additional barriers others may not face. The Air Force says it’s initiating new tools to track adverse administrative actions, establishing diversity, equity and inclusion offices with chief diversity officers and drafting a diversity strategy to address the issues.
A government watchdog is urging the Pentagon to keep a closer eye on the revolving door. The Defense Department is considering a recommendation from the Government Accountability Office to require that contractors show their compliance with post government employment lobbying restrictions. The 2018 defense authorization bill imposed a two-year prohibition on lobbying activities for senior military and civilian officials leaving their Pentagon posts for the private sector. GAO says instituting the new contract requirement would create a shared sense of accountability between the employees and the contractors who hire them.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is delving into a new project to secure the U.S. rare earth supply chain. The program aims to design microbes to mine rare earth elements in a more environmentally friendly and efficient way compared to current mining practices. Rare earth metals are crucial elements in numerous U.S. weapon systems and critical technologies. China is the world’s top producer of rare earths, and the Pentagon has identified it as a major supply chain concern.
The Defense Department has gone dark about what the future holds for its Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) program. Now three industry associations, the IT Industry Council, the Professional Services Council and the National Defense Industrial Association want the Pentagon to publicly commit to the CMMC program and clarify where it’s heading next. In a letter to Defense senior leaders, the three associations outlined six recommendations for how to improve CMMC. These include bringing all the different cybersecurity initiatives together into a single risk management strategy and updating the draft acquisition changes that DoD issued nearly a year ago.
The Defense Department is awarding $15 million to Historically Black Colleges and Universities to establish centers of excellence in biotechnology and material science. DoD selected two academic institutions to conduct cutting-edge research in defense priority areas over a five-year period. North Carolina A&T State University will lead research on detecting and monitory biological threat, and Morgan State University will explore the use of two thermally managed photo-sensors.
The Postal Service is adopting new technology to meet its mission. USPS saw the most progress adopting data analytics and mail innovations like QR codes over the past decade, according to its inspector general. In a review of the agency’s tech portfolio, the IG found USPS could do a better job putting more of its massive data inventory to better use. USPS expects to spend more than $2 billion on technology investments within the next 10 years, as part of the agency’s reform plan.