EPA changing onboarding process due to pandemic’s effect on the workplace

In today's Federal Newscast, the Environmental Protection Agency is revising its onboarding process to reflect the pandemic's effects on the workplace.

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  • The Environmental Protection Agency is revising its onboarding process to reflect the pandemic’s effects on the workplace. Rhonda Jones, a human resources director at EPA, said the onboarding will last for the entire first year of employment. After 30 days on the job, new workers can attend employee engagement sessions to help them acclimate to the job. HR will also host meetings and raise awareness of employee councils and affinity groups. The agency regularly adjusts onboarding processes by surveying new hires.
  • The IRS is putting its new direct hiring authority to good use. IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said the agency plans to use the direct hire authority it gained last month to bring 10,000 employees on board. Rettig said the IRS plans to hire 5,000 employees over the coming months, and the rest next year. “With directing hiring authority, Congress rescued us.” But the agency is still running into financial challenges. Rettig said IRS operation support is $100 million short of where it needs to be, and may need to transfer funds from other parts of the agency to make up this shortfall. (Federal News Network)
  • Federal firefighters may see shorter processing times for compensation claims. The Labor Department’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs has established a special unit for that group. The unit will use specially trained staff to help streamline the claims process. Federal firefighters often face challenges when filing occupational illness claims, OWCP said, but they’re also at higher risk for certain diseases. The new processing unit dovetails House legislation to support those workers. The Education and Labor Committee advanced the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act last month.
  • The Pentagon’s top official for industrial base issues has left the job. It’s unclear exactly when or why Jesse Salazar departed government service, but DoD’s official website now lists Deborah Rosenblum as performing the duties of the assistant secretary of Defense for industrial base policy. Defense One was first to report Salazar’s departure. He’d been serving in the post since early last year, when Congress created the assistant secretary position.
  • The Army is making sweeping changes to its policies for pregnant soldiers, parents and service members who are postpartum. Soldiers who lose a child in utero will now be able to take time off to recover and grieve from their loss. That’s just one of the many new policies the Army is implementing to improve the lives of parents, pregnancy soldiers and those who are recovering from pregnancy. Other reforms include deferring training or required education for new parents and allowing women to continue to wear maternity uniforms for a year after giving birth. The Army said the new directives will help retain soldiers in the long run. (Federal News Network)
  • The Air Force Research Laboratory opened its Skywave Lab for space operations in New Mexico. The new facility covers 72 acres of land allowing for testing. The building itself is 3,500 square feet and will hold workshops, test platforms and support spaces. The $3.5 million facility will hold employees who test, develop and deploy radio and optical diagnostics of the near-earth space environment.
  • The Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit has opened up its latest outpost. The new Chicago office is meant to cover a dozen states in the midwestern U.S., adding to DIU’s existing offices in D.C., Silicon Valley, Boston and Austin. Energy technologies will be among the new office’s first focus areas. (Federal News Network)
  • The General Services Administration is looking for ways artificial intelligence can help the government provide better public services. GSA’s Technology Transformation Service is seeking white papers on how AI can help agencies with pandemic preparedness, promote equity, improve public infrastructure or provide predictive analytics about the climate. GSA is offering $50,000 in cash submission to up to 16 finalists. The agency will accept submissions through May 16.
  • Agencies would have to get ready for a post-quantum world under a new bill in the House. The ‘‘Quantum Computing Cybersecurity Preparedness Act’’ was introduced by several lawmakers, including Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Virg.). The bill would have the White House prioritize plans for migrating federal IT systems to post-quantum cryptography. That work would have to begin no later than one year from when the National Institute of Standards and Technology issues post-quantum cryptography standards. Experts widely believe quantum computing will be able to break current encryption measures, putting data and networks at risk.
  • Agencies look to bring together their data and cybersecurity efforts. Federal chief data officers are working hand-in-hand with their information security counterparts under the White House’s zero trust strategy. Categorizing and tagging data is a key effort under the zero trust approach. It’s also something CDOs, like Kshemendra Paul from the Department of Veterans Affairs, have been prioritizing. “Sharing and safeguarding have always been two sides of the same coin. And you can always do more sharing if you build in place better safeguards.” CDOs and CISOs are now working together to develop a zero trust data security guide. (Federal News Network)
  • The National Security Agency’s second go at its massive cloud computing contracts ends up with a similar result. NSA once again chose Amazon Web Services to provide classified cloud computing services under a new contract known as Wild and Stormy. NSA confirmed that it chose AWS over Microsoft for this vehicle potentially worth up to $10 billion. This decision comes after Microsoft successfully protested NSA’s initial award to AWS last summer. NSA said it made the new award in February. Wild and Stormy is a continuation of NSA’s Hybrid Compute Initiative to modernize and address the robust processing and analytical requirements.
  • Agencies reported violating the anti-deficiency act 17 times as part of their annual review of their spending. The biggest offender of spending money it didn’t have was the Department of Homeland Security with six reports of violations. The Government Accountability Office said these violations didn’t all happen in last year, but are reported for the first time in its fiscal 2021 report to Congress. DHS said one violation included 42 contract actions and 104 other transaction agreement violations between 2010 and 2016 with a value of more than $316 million. Along with DHS, the Defense Department submitted three reports while eight others revealed one violation each.
  • Veterans with PTSD in select locations may be eligible to train dogs as part of their treatment. Five Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers located in Alaska, North Carolina, California, Texas and Florida will participate. VA Secretary Denis McDonough said that the department is looking at service dog training as an adjunct to the options veterans have in treating post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterans who participate in the pilot program will be allowed to adopt the dog that they train at the conclusion of the program if their doctor signs off on it. This program comes after Congress passed the PAWS Act, which was signed into law in August 2021.

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