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The group that hacked into the networks of at least nine federal agencies last year is back at it again. Microsoft said the Russian intelligence group behind SolarWinds is now orchestrating a campaign to compromise cloud computing services to spy on governments, think tanks and companies. The attackers are using spear phishing, password spraying and other techniques. The White House urged cloud companies to adopt baseline cybersecurity practices, including multi-factor authentication.
Auditors are recommending the Federal Emergency Management Agency update its flood maps. FEMA’s flood hazard maps don’t reflect the best available climate science. That’s according to a Government Accountability Office review of select FEMA maps, which help guide the National Flood Insurance Program and community efforts to protect against floods nationwide. GAO said FEMA’s maps also don’t include info on flooding hazards, such as how heavy rainfall could overwhelm a storm drainage system. GAO said it could take years for FEMA’s flood mapping program to address the issues.
According to new documents from the House Oversight and Reform Committee, 60 Customs and Border Protection employees committed a form of misconduct for making inappropriate and offensive posts on a Facebook group in recent years. The committee said CBP fired two employees and suspended 43 others without pay over their social media posts. 12 received letters of reprimand. 10 retired from federal service before receiving a punishment. 14 employees received other forms of punishment. Committee documents show CBP employees often received lesser punishments than what the agency initially proposed. CBP couldn’t substantiate misconduct for 54 employees.
The Air Force embraced telework during the COVID-19 pandemic; now one of its biggest commands is formalizing it in policy. Air Force Materiel Command jumped on the telework bandwagon as soon as the pandemic hit. The command’s chief Gen. Arnold Bunch said things will never go back to the old days in the office. He made good on that promise by signing out new policy that gives service members guidelines on telework, like how to go about requesting those permissions. It also clarifies the difference between remote work and telework, the former being when someone is rarely on installation grounds. The policy addresses how the command can lessen its physical office footprint as well.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is now offering booster shots from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson to veterans and its employees. This comes after the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization for the Moderna and J&J boosters last week. The department said it will prioritize booster shots for veterans enrolled in VA care and its employees first. Secretary Denis McDonough said VA has given at least 228,000 booster shots to veterans so far as of last week.
10 agencies used special hiring authorities to quickly bring on a few-thousand new hires to respond to the pandemic. The Veterans Health Administration took advantage of special COVID hiring authorities more than any other agency. VHA hired 5,100 employees using special hiring authorities. The Small Business Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services also hired a few hundred new employees each for the pandemic. The Government Accountability Office said agencies could use more guidance on which hiring authorities are most helpful.
The Defense Department is continuing to see unacceptable numbers of military suicides. Now a group of senators has introduced the Save Our Service Members Act. It would direct the Pentagon to evaluate the effectiveness of its suicide prevention efforts and improve its data collection. DoD saw a 15% rise in suicides last year.
The Pentagon still hasn’t fully implemented a series of military housing reforms Congress ordered two years ago. Out of 18 items in the new military tenant bill of rights, only 14 are actually available to service members and their families. DoD also hasn’t implemented a central database of complaints about housing conditions, and hasn’t come up with legal guidelines to revise the military’s contracts with private housing providers that’d be needed to enforce Congress’s reforms. The IG said now’s the time for DoD to develop a plan of action to fully implement the changes. The department did not provide an official response to the IG report.
The State Department and the General Services Administration’s partnership to build the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center in Blackstone, Virginia consolidated multiple training offices, and came in on-time and on budget. Now the Project Management Institute named the collaboration its project of the year. PMI said the Project of the Year award recognizes large and complex projects around the globe that deliver superior performance of project management practices, superior organization results and positive impacts to society. GSA and State beat out two other finalists. The FASTC is a 1,300 acre campus that features 500,000 square feet of space across 18 buildings supporting classrooms and offices; 19 hard-skills training venues including driving courses, firing ranges, and tactical training facilities; and support facilities like a vehicle maintenance shop.
Moving to the cloud may get a little easier with FedRAMP’s updated playbook. Agencies have already authorized more than 1,400 cloud services under the FedRAMP program. FedRAMP’s program office released an updated agency authorization playbook outlining recent best practices and the latest templates to make the process go smoother and faster. The playbook also addresses how the FedRAMP Liaison program can help promote reuse of authorizations and details new requirements around collaborative continuous monitoring. The program management office hadn’t updated the playbook since 2017. FedRAMP said the use of cloud services spiked in 2020 with 60 new authorizations and a 55% increase in the reuse of authorizations.
The Small Business Administration is seeking feedback from the public on the goals it’s setting through fiscal 2026. SBA’s draft strategic plan and enterprise learning agenda focuses on supporting the Biden administration’s effort to improve equity in government services, as well as improving customer service and modernizing technology. SBA is also looking at how it can partner with the private sector to help small businesses take full advantage of its services. The agency is accepting comments through Nov. 19.
The Food and Drug Administration is taking a hands-on approach to upskill its workforce on data skills. The FDA is launching a data modernization action plan that means less of an emphasis on traditional classrooms and coursework for its workforce. FDA Chief Data Officer Ram Iyer said 70% of data skills training will come from hands-on projects, and about 20% will come from peer mentoring and coaching on specialized skills. The remaining 10% will come from classroom or virtual lessons. Iyer said FDA employees reported feeling less intimidated by data science after attending a lunch and learn event on the topic last month. (Federal News Network)