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One of the biggest bills of the year is now officially in the law books. President Joe Biden signed the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act into law on Monday, Dec. 27. The legislation authorizes about $770 billion for the military next year. It also gives military service members a 2.7% raise. Other highlights in the law include completely revamping how sexual assaults are prosecuted in the military and creating a basic needs allowance to help some service members who are struggling financially. This marks the 61st year in a row that the annual defense authorization act has made it into law.
Lawmakers are signaling that they want fewer retired general and admirals in DoD’s top civilian leadership positions. Part of the Defense authorization bill the president signed yesterday sets up a 10-year waiting period before those retirees can serve as Secretary of Defense. The same legislation creates a seven-year waiting period for the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force. It is unclear what the new requirement will mean in practice, since Congress waived the current seven-year waiting period for both Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin this year and former Secretary Jim Mattis in 2017.
AT&T won an up-to-10-year contract to deliver commercial phone services to DoD organizations across most of the Western Hemisphere. The Defense Information Systems Agency made the award late last week as part of its Voice Internet Service Provider program. The contract is worth up to $300 million and covers DoD organizations throughout U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Southern Command. DISA is still evaluating bids to cover three other regions of the globe.
Lawmakers are pushing back a provision forbidding the Pentagon from sourcing electronics made in certain countries. The 2022 defense authorization act delays a ban on using printed circuit boards made in China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea until 2027. The prohibition was set to take effect in 2023. Electronics are used in a range of weapons and other defense systems. The Pentagon has identified the U.S. printed circuit board industry as an area of risk, with few suppliers and a heavy reliance on China.
Congressional auditors find a few areas where the Department of Homeland Security could improve its oversight of contractor privacy practices. DHS components are mostly following requirements for protecting personally identifiable information in contractor-operated systems. But the Government Accountability Office found the Coast Guard could do a better job of evaluating contractor compliance with privacy requirements. And GAO said both the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration should make sure they are documenting new instances where PII is shared with third parties. GAO also recommends DHS headquarters improve privacy training available to contractors.
The Postal Service saw more on-time holiday deliveries, despite a surge in COVID-19 cases. USPS data shows it has delivered more than 90% of first-class mail on time so far in the first quarter of fiscal 2022. That is more than a 10% increase compared to the same period the year prior. The agency is also dealing with an uptick in COVID quarantines. The American Postal Workers Union said more than 6,500 USPS employees, as of Christmas Eve, were out of work because of COVID-19 infection or exposure. APWU said that is the highest quarantine rate for USPS since September. (Federal News Network)
One senator is getting involved in substandard military housing issues. Recent reports at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina show mold and water damage in the barracks. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) wrote to the Army secretary asking the service to look into any problems with the barracks and fix them. The military as a whole has had problems with private and service-owned housing over the past few years. Service members have reported mice, mold, lead paint and many other problems.
Agencies have until Jan. 14 to submit a report to the Office of Management and Budget, Congress and in the Federal Register, identifying all federal financial assistance programs for infrastructure that they oversee. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law by President Joe Biden on Nov. 15 requires agencies to make this data about roads, bridges, ports, water systems and many other facilities public. The report must identify all programs that do not require all of the iron, steel, manufactured products and construction materials used in the project to be produced in the United States and those that include a waiver process to using American-made products.
The IRS plans to stand up an office to oversee enterprisewide remediation of IT vulnerabilities. That is after the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found the agency did not fully track plans to resolve nearly 70% of the vulnerabilities it recently reviewed. The IRS said it identified and addressed more than 1,200 critical vulnerabilities in filing season applications in fiscal 2021. It also launched a vulnerability scanning last year that scans network devices more frequently than its previous system.
Two dozen sailors on a Navy warship have tested positive for COVID-19. The USS Milwaukee, which began deployment at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida two weeks ago, is now holding at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. It was forced to pause deployment late last week due to the outbreak. Defense officials said the number of infected sailors is, for now, remaining relatively constant. It is the first Naval ship in 2021 to have to interrupt its deployment at sea. (AP)
The Marine Corps discharged 66 Marines for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine. That brings the total number of Marines booted for vaccine refusal to 169, the highest of all U.S. Armed Forces. The Marines also have the lowest vaccination rate of all military services, with 95% having received at least one shot. The Marine Corps has denied the overwhelming majority of religious exemption requests. (AP)
A new interagency commission will recommend federal policies to prevent, mitigate and manage wildfires. The Agriculture Department, Interior Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency established the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission to deliver yearly reports to Congress with policy recommendations. The commission will also develop a strategy to meet aerial firefighting equipment needs through 2030. The effort is part of the Biden administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.