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The Defense Department is one step closer to getting new authority to help servicemembers meet child care needs, increase their basic-needs allowance and increase amounts for certain special pay rates. These provisions are part of the thousands passed by the House yesterday as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). House lawmakers approved the bill 350-80. The bill now goes to the Senate for a final vote on its way toward passing Congress for a 62nd consecutive year.
The Department of Homeland Security will soon receive some suggestions for how it could improve customer experience. The Homeland Security Advisory Committee is recommending DHS set up a CX office to drive culture change and collaboration across the department. It also recommends several major components at DHS establish CX offices to bring human-centered design to the products and services at those agencies. The components include the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Customs and Border Protection. Those agencies are considered high-impact service providers by the Biden administration.
As part of its ongoing effort to improve the SAM.gov platform, the General Services Administration is recruiting volunteer testers. GSA said it’s looking for both usability testing and user-acceptance testing. Usability testing will take 30 minutes or less to work with GSA staffers so they can understand how real people respond to the site. User-acceptance testing will take about 10 minutes and focus on a specific feature or function as part of GSA’s effort to launch new code.
A bill to cut down on jargon from federal agencies is one step closer to becoming law. The Senate passed the Clear and Concise Content Act, which now heads to the House for final approval. The bill expands the 2010 Plain Writing Act to cover nearly all guidance, instructions and other public material coming from agencies. It also requires all new and existing agency websites meet the plain writing requirement within one year. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Sen. Jim Lankford (R-Okla.) introduced the bill.
The Office of Personnel Management’s website is due for an overhaul. The agency’s main website, OPM.gov, won’t just get a few updates, but a complete redo. “We’re not going to migrate it. We’re going to rebuild it from scratch around several core themes,” OPM’s Chief Information Officer Guy Cavallo said. Those themes include listing information more clearly for employees’ health benefits options and better information for prospective employees. Cavallo said the new website will streamline information and put relevant topics in the same sections to make it a better experience for end users. OPM will use funding from the Technology Modernization Fund to work on the project.
A dozen organizations ranging from industry associations to good-government groups are pushing House and Senate leaders to pass the bill to improve how agencies manage software licenses. The groups said, because the Strengthening Agency Management and Oversight of Software Assets Act has bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, it should be a common-sense piece of must-pass legislation. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed the bill unanimously this fall. The groups said the bill would save between $500 million and $750 million dollars annually by helping agencies avoid vendor lock-in and ensure more meaningful competition.
Environmental Protection Agency employees are calling for higher wages and more opportunities for promotion. More than 600 EPA employees, represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, are calling on the agency to extend the career-ladder pay scale and merit promotions for lawyers, inspectors and engineers. The letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan said federal pay for STEM positions is far outpaced by the private sector and that there are fewer opportunities for advancement. The employees said about 25% of EPA’s job offers to prospective hires are rejected and that the agency needs to do more to recruit under the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Two agencies are teaming up to improve SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Social Security Administration, along with the Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutrition Service, have renegotiated a five-year memorandum of understanding. The new MOU includes piloting ways to move away from a paper-based application system for SNAP. It will include more use of electronic applications and signatures via telephone, to help recipients more easily apply for the program and get their benefits.
The Air Force wants to make its computers work better, and it is expanding a program to diagnose and improve its users’ experience. Air Force Chief Experience Officer Colt Whittall said the department put monitoring programs on computers at 35 bases to provide data on how computers are functioning. He said the plan is to expand the program to 100 bases next year. The department is also replacing older personal computers with new ones, and conducting weekly surveys to find out how satisfied users are with their computers.
Lawmakers want the Department of Homeland Security to take a close look at who’s-in-charge-of-what in cyber space. The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act would require DHS to review the federal roles and responsibilities for responding to a cyber incident. The review would include the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and examine how it coordinates across government when responding to a cyber event.