Delta variant has forced some agencies to adjust return-to-work plans

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  • The delta variant is pushing back return-to-work timelines for some federal employees. The Agriculture Department said political appointees and senior executives will begin to return to the office starting in December. The rest of the USDA workforce won’t start returning to the office until January or later. Employees will return in phases. The department anticipates having the vast majority of employees back and working in-person by mid March. USDA previously gave employees an Oct. 1 start date to begin returning to the office.
  • When it came to securing networks for mass telework during the pandemic, agencies mostly rose to the challenge. But a recent Government Accountability Office report said  some need to get better at documenting network security policies and IT enhancements. GAO cites the Social Security Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission and 10 other agencies in its report. GAO warned that if SSA and SEC, in particular, don’t consistently document their network cybersecurity controls, officials at those agencies won’t have enough information to make credible, risk-based decisions about their cybersecurity. (Federal News Network)
  • For the fourth time since August, agencies have new cyber marching orders. Agency CIOs have 120 days to assess their current ability to protect network end points and how well they detect and respond to threats. Under a new policy from the Office of Management and Budget, this assessment should identify gaps in their end-point detection and response tools and determine how the agency will coordinate with CISA to improve these EDR capabilities. Meanwhile in 90 days, agencies can expect CISA and the CIO Council to deliver an EDR technical reference architecture and provide OMB with recommendations to accelerate the deployment of EDR capabilities. This memo is the fourth from OMB to implement President Joe Biden’s May cyber executive order.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology is seeking industry’s help on a new project with implications for zero trust security. NIST’s National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence is now accepting letters of interest for its data-centric security management project. The goal of the effort is to find technology solutions that can protect data wherever it resides. NIST said data-centric standards and requirements are needed to advance zero trust security architectures.
  • The Biden administration’s new climate plans have implications for supply chain management. How will rising sea levels and other changes in the climate affect global supply chains? The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency aims to find out. The Department of Homeland Security’s new climate action plan said CISA’s national risk assessment program will evaluate potential climate impacts on the interconnected global commerce system. CISA will also come up with “adaptation strategies” to secure supplies of food, medicine, energy and other important resources.
  • Retired Army Gen. Ray Odierno died this weekend at age 67. A statement from his family said he passed away on Saturday after a battle with cancer. Odierno served as the Army chief of staff from 2011 to 2015, and before that, the top American commander in Iraq. He also led a major Defense Department reorganization when he served as the final commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command, before JFCOM’s dissolution in 2012. (Federal News Network)
  • One of the more comprehensive looks at children of service members is out and it has some mixed news. The Defense Department will be happy to hear that two-thirds of military teens want to follow their parents into service. However, there are some more troubling issues arising from the survey conducted by Bloom, a military teen group and the National Military Family Association. More than 42% of kids from 13-to-19 reported emotional distress. One-third of teens experienced food insecurity and 11% said they experienced domestic abuse at home.
  • The Defense Department’s ability to use the direct hire authority for specific positions would be extended under new bill. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) introduced the DoD Improved Hiring Act to make permanent the direct hire authority for domestic defense industrial base facilities, the Major Range and Test Facilities Base and the Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation. The current set of authorities expire between 2021 and 2025. Lankford said the temporary authority has enabled military installations to fill critical operational needs where qualified candidates are otherwise not available, when projects are on a limited timeframe, or for assignments where the extensive formal hiring process is impractical.
  • The Pentagon took in about $750 billion in 2021. Defense budgets have continued to increase over the years. However, a new study from the Congressional Budget Office said it’s possible to reduce that spending by about $1 trillion over the next 10 years. The study offered three different options for the savings, including changing the military’s approach to world politics, reducing the size of the military and putting less emphasis on ground forces.
  • A Navy employee and his wife are in custody after allegedly trying to sell nuclear secrets to a foreign government. Federal charging documents don’t name the nation involved but they say Jonathan Toebbe tried to make contact with foreign officials last year. The FBI intercepted the messages and posed as that country’s representatives. Prosecutors said agents watched as he left dead drops on memory sticks that contained designs for the nuclear reactor on the Navy’s Virginia Class submarine. (Federal News Network)
  • The Office of Management and Budget plans to add new sources of federal data to the Treasury Department’s Do Not Pay system. OMB proposes giving Treasury access to state death records collected by the National Association of Public Health Statistics and Information Systems. OMB expects access to this data will save the federal government nearly $500 million over the next 10 years. OMB will give the public 30 days to comment on the proposal, once published in the Federal Register next week.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs will begin a new independent cost estimate for its massive electronic health record modernization program later this month. VA contracted with the Institute of Defense Analyses for this work. The entire review will take about a year. VA said the goal is to get a better understanding of the total lifecycle costs for the project and decide how it will account for the IT and physical infrastructure costs needed to support the new health record. VA previously underreported those costs to Congress by at least $5 billion. (Federal News Network)
  • Attorneys general are urging the Postal Service’s regulator to review its entire 10-year reform plan. A group of 19 states and the District of Columbia are calling on the Postal Regulatory Commission to hold a public hearing and issue an advisory opinion on the USPS strategy. The commission recently issued two non-binding opinions for a key element of the plan. Those opinions weighed in USPS slowing delivery for nearly 40% of first-class mail and nearly a third of its first-class package service volume. But states argue those opinions only represent a fraction of the overall plan. (Federal News Network)

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