Veterans Affairs begins new focus on network cyber controls

Also in today's Federal Newscast, does telework help or hurt diversity efforts? And was the Coast-Guard-connected couple in Hawaii in the spying business?

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  • The Department of Veterans Affairs wants to make it harder for applications to get on and stay on its network without the proper cyber controls. VA is making a cybersecurity gate a little bit higher. VA Assistant Secretary and Chief Information Officer Kurt DelBene said the agency is good at documenting the authority to operate, or ATO process, but they want to take a closer look at the systems in aggregate before granting the ATO. “We’re starting to focus on the most critical systems that we have at the VA. We are starting to look at each of them and figuring out what it would mean to be more rigorous in that approval process and we are in the early days,” DelBene said.
  • Many agencies expect to miss a looming deadline for moving to full electronic record keeping. One in three agencies thinks it will need to request an exception to the end-of-year deadline to digitize its permanent records. Another quarter of all agencies don’t know whether they’ll need an extension. The goal to go paperless by Dec. 31 was set in 2019. But officials said COVID, as well as longstanding technology and culture challenges, have gotten in the way. Now the White House and the National Archives are discussing how to adjust the goalposts for moving to full electronic records management. (Federal News Network)
  • Some Democratic lawmakers want to give federal employees more time to pay off their student loans. They’re asking President Joe Biden to extend the Public Service Loan Forgiveness waiver deadline until at least July 1, 2023. The Department of Education plans to improve and expand federal student debt relief programs, including the loan forgiveness program, but the improvements will not be in place until next July.
  • It’s been a year since an independent review commission told the Pentagon how it can better handle sexual assault prevention. Now the Defense Department is trying to implement some of the plans. Defense officials said they are working on a five-to-seven-year timeline in implementing a new culture of sexual assault prevention in the military. The roadmap includes hiring 2,000 prevention professionals, about 400 a year, to help create a culture that stops sex crimes before they escalate. Critics of the plan said the Defense Department is dragging its feet on implementing the more than 80 recommendations put forward by an independent review commission, which finished up its work last year. Organizations like Protect Our Defenders note that service members are still victimized by the crimes as DoD figures out its way ahead. (Federal News Network)
  • The Navy has announced it’s changing the name of its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, to better reflect the expanded role of the organization. Officials feel renaming it to the Office of Force Resiliency, shows how the office includes other responsibilities like survivor-centered policies, suicide prevention and leadership development. The change reflects a broader shift in the military toward more integrated mental health services.
  • A federal judge has ruled a retired Coast Guard member and his wife will need to stay behind bars while they await trial on charges that they ran a decades-long identity theft scheme. Prosecutors claim Walter Primrose and Gwynn Morrison lived under false identities for more than 30 years, and that their actions and statements are consistent with espionage. Primrose allegedly spent his entire Coast Guard career under a stolen identity, and used it to gain a secret security clearance. Their trial in Honolulu is set for Sept. 26. (Federal News Network)
  • A top OPM official said remote work could help with federal diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility efforts. The Office of Personnel Management is trying to to expand job location flexibilities, while still advancing DEIA priorities. OPM Deputy Chief of Staff Khalilah Harris shared how she’s aiming to support agencies’ efforts. “OPM is trying to provide thought leadership for agencies, in how they create structures that both allows for maximal telework, and also account for that DEI perspective of, ‘how do we make sure that this is not unintentionally causing gaps in equity?’” (Federal News Network)
  • A data policy think tank said disparities in data collection hinder access to public services and the government’s decision-making. The Center for Data Innovation has a new report recommending policymakers close what it calls the “data divide,” in other words, social and economic inequalities due to a lack of data collection about individuals or communities.
  • The Office of Personnel Management is hiring its own “hirer.” OPM is accepting applications through Aug. 26 for the “hiring experience group manager,” who will provide leadership and guidance on governmentwide strategies for federal recruitment, improved career advancement and job retention.
  • Since the launch of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program or (PIF), more than 50 agencies have benefitted from their expertise. PIF celebrated its 10th anniversary yesterday. Since 2012, agencies have hosted more than 200 technology experts providing advice on everything from artificial intelligence to creating a data strategy to product management to human-centered design. The 2022 class of PIF Fellows includes more than 50 experts serving at 20 agencies working to improve federal digital services.
  • According to the Government Accountability Office, the Interior Department’s competitive grant award process does not always work in a fair and transparent manner. The watchdog agency said grant programs across the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and U.S. Geological Survey lacked documentation to support certain award decisions and that Interior’s internal policy for competitive grants does not clearly require officials to provide documentation of award decisions. GAO recommends Interior fix these shortfalls, as the department awarded $4 billion in competitive grants between fiscal 2019 and 2021 alone.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has begun planning for the next decade of weather forecasting. The agency is focusing on improving resilience to climate change, addressing coordination challenges and how the federal government can help advance weather prediction services. NOAA put out a request for information looking for respondents who can address any or all of its focus-areas, as it embarks on its decade of planning. Interested parties have until Oct. 3 to submit comments.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency is looking to improve its support for Native American tribal nations. FEMA released its first ever national tribal strategy this month. The agency will conduct a study on tribal emergency management capacity and capabilities. FEMA will also develop tribal-specific technical assistance resources, and expand training opportunities for the 574 federally recognized tribal nations. The agency is additionally creating an internal Tribal Affairs Work Group to ensure coordination across FEMA mission areas.

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