Coast Guard cyber expert says ransomware attack on federal agency is more than likely

In today's Federal Newscast, the Coast Guard's Cyber Red and Blue Team Branch chief says that a ransomware attack is probably coming to a federal agency soon.

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  • The House Appropriations Committee released its draft Homeland Security funding bill. It would provide $615.8 million dollars to support the Transportation Security Administration’s pay equivalence initiative. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency may be in line for another big budget increase. The spending bill includes $2.9 billion for CISA. That’s $334 million above CISA’s 2022 budget and $417 million more than the Biden administration’s request for the agency. CISA has seen a steady increase in funding over the last several years as lawmakers respond to cyber threats to both government and the private sector. The bill will be considered in subcommittee today.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency is taking a hard look at its workforce requirements. FEMA is doing a deep dive analysis of its staffing needs so it can start to plan for what has become a nonstop operational tempo for the agency. FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell told the House Homeland Security Committee that the increase in the rate of natural disasters has put a strain on the agency’s workforce. “We are taking a look right now at taking a step back at now that we have more of this year-long operational tempo instead of the peak that we have traditionally seen during hurricane season, of what does the future staffing model need to look like,” Criswell said.
  • Funding for two agency headquarters projects are coming into focus. The House Appropriations Committee, in its proposed financial services and general government spending bill, would give the General Services Administration another $200 million to continue work on a consolidated Department of Homeland Security campus at St. Elizabeth’s in Southeast D.C. The draft bill also gives GSA $500 million to build a new FBI headquarters in suburban Maryland or Virginia.
  • The Department of  Veterans Affairs is looking to overhaul pay and hiring as part of a bill expanding veterans’ access to care. The Honoring Our PACT Act would give the VA up to $40 million a year to buy out the contracts of certain private-sector health care professionals in exchange for employment at rural VA facilities. The bill also expands merit awards and pay incentives for employees that have high-demand skills. The PACT Act also gives the VA 180 days to work with the Office of Personnel Management to establish standardized performance metrics for its human resources positions. The Senate expects a final vote on the bill later this week. (Federal News Network)
  • The IRS gets a $1 billion increase in a draft spending bill for fiscal 2023. The House Appropriations Committee, in its proposed financial services and general government spending bill, is calling for this money to largely go toward IRS enforcement and taxpayer services. This comes after Congress passed a fiscal 2022 omnibus spending deal that gave the IRS its largest spending increase in decades. The draft bill directs the IRS to maintain an employee training program focused on taxpayers’ rights, dealing courteously with taxpayers, ethics and other topics.
  • The House makes its first proposal to fund technology modernization efforts. Even with all the letters and interest from industry associations, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government isn’t convinced that it needs to fund the Technology Modernization Fund at the president’s request. The subcommittee allocated $100 million for the TMF in the draft version of its 2023 spending bill. The Biden administration requested $300 million for next year. The House and Senate zeroed out the TMF in 2022 after giving it $1 billion in the American Rescue Plan Act. The subcommittee is marking up the spending bill today.
  • House Democrats want to expand what telework means for federal employees. The Oversight and Reform Committee passed a bill, along party lines, that would include remote work under the larger umbrella of telework. Currently, remote work falls under a separate category for feds. The bill would include remote workers in its goal to improve training and management of federal telework programs. The committee also passed legislation to improve optional survey questions collecting data on LGBTQ+ individuals. And another bill looking to combat Census disinformation also passed the committee favorably.
  • Bipartisan House lawmakers want agency leaders to be more transparent in their actions. Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Chip Roy (R-Texas) introduce new bipartisan legislation. The bill would require agency heads to publicly share copies of their schedules and speeches. The Transparent Leadership Act gives agencies 30 days to publish information about meetings and events that they lead. Beyer says agency heads should be held accountable for being transparent on their actions, as they’re in a position to serve the interests of the public.
  • Nine House Republicans sent a second batch of letters to 12 agencies on Wednesday over concerns about President Joe Biden’s March 7 executive order. The Congressmen raised alarm bells about Biden’s lack of constitutional and statutory authority to enact the executive order promoting access to voting. The letter asks six questions from each agency about how they plan to implement the executive order, under what authorities and how they plan to protect employees from Hatch Act violations. The lawmakers want a response by June 29. The representatives received no response from agencies after sending the first letter on March 29 expressing similar concerns.
  • House appropriators are sticking with President Biden’s 2023 defense budget. The House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee is budgeting $761 billion for the Defense Department in 2023. That number is in line with what the Biden administration requested earlier this year. The appropriations are $32 billion more than what the subcommittee budgeted for 2022. The funds support a $15 minimum wage for contractors, $2.5 billion for investments in clean energy and additional assistance to Ukraine. Some critics are concerned that the budget is not big enough to take recent inflation rates into account and may hinder the Pentagon’s buying power.
  • The Navy has relieved five high-level officers over the past week. On Tuesday, the service took the commanding officer of the USS Preble off duty. The Navy also relieved the chief of Recruiting Training Command, the top officer and enlisted sailor of the USS Bulkeley and the commanding officer of Electronic Attack Squadron 137. The Navy has not given any further details into the staff changes except that the men were relieved due to a lack of confidence.
  • The Air Force is leading the Department of Defense in expanding its uses for artificial intelligence by training the workforce to become citizen developers with a broad understanding of AI. The citizen developers brainstorm potential ways to adapt AI to automate manually intensive processes, making them faster and more efficient. Winston Beauchamp the deputy chief information officer at the Air Force, says citizen coders have developed 12 solutions and implemented 5 of them, including using AI for weather prediction in areas lacking weather radars.
  • The Hosting and Compute Center, or HaCC, at the Defense Information Systems Agency wants to be the “provider of choice” for Defense Department organizations. Director Sharon Woods said to do that, HaCC is prioritizing the customers over the technology itself. HaCC’s customer service experience focuses on agile customer relationships, self-service support, and resiliency. Woods said that philosophy is helping HaCC keep pace with changing technology to provide solutions for warfighters. (Federal News Network)
  • The Coast Guard’s Cyber Red and Blue Team Branch chief, Kenneth Miltenberger, says that a ransomware attack is probably coming to a federal agency soon. He says that it’s important to be prepared for such an outcome following recent attacks in Costa Rica by a Russian-tied group called Conti. These attacks have disrupted many of the Costa Rican government’s essential services. Miltenberger also says that while programs like FedRAMP are good at protecting agencies from malicious actors, they do not protect against internal threats like human error when setting up automations.
  • Federal risk management remains a growing skillset in the government but just how much does it need to grow? That is the question the Association of Federal Enterprise Risk Management is asking federal employees. AFERM released its annual survey seeking agency leaders to answer questions about the current state of enterprise risk management and any emerging trends. The deadline to take the survey is July 15. AFERM will release the results from this 8th annual survey at its ERM Summit in October.

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