At a rally in the nation's capital, federal employees voiced support for a larger pay raise next year. The American Federation of Government Employees led a union rally to endorse the FAIR Act. The recently reintroduced legislation would give federal employees an 8.7% average pay raise in 2024. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) spoke to federal employees at the rally. "When we organize, we win. And for the government workers that do some of the most essential jobs, from inspecting our agricultural products to keeping us safe on our airline, the government workers must have 8.7%," Booker said.
The Air National Guard is providing humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in Turkey. Utilizing flights from Dover Air Force Base, airmen from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron helped transport search-and-rescue teams, rescue dogs, doctors and structural engineers. Cargo included rescue equipment, medical supplies, tents and water. The Dover contingent is one of two search-and-rescue teams in the country that respond on behalf of the U.S. government.
With about half of its workforce eligible to retire in the next five years, the Government Publishing Office is launching a new effort to bring in the next generation of workers. The agency is restarting and expanding its apprenticeship program. Under this effort, GPO is initially bringing in proofreader apprentices for a three-year training program. But it plans to expand to other trades and production areas later this year. This is the second program aimed at recruiting and training the new employees. Last year, GPO restarted its recent-graduate program that develops employees for an assortment of positions across the agency.
Background investigations are getting faster and cheaper for agencies. The fastest 90% of secret-level clearance investigations took an average of 76 days in the last quarter of fiscal 2022. The average was 127 days for top-secret cases. Those are some of the lowest numbers in recent years. And the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) is also reducing the rates it charges for background investigations by 18% next year. DCSA officials credit security clearance reforms and the move to replace periodic reinvestigations with continuous vetting.
Lawmakers renew a push to prevent a future version of the Trump administration’s Schedule F executive order. The Saving the Civil Service Act would block presidential administrations from reclassifying feds without congressional consent. The bill's reintroduction marks the third time lawmakers have pushed to pass the bill. The legislation has bipartisan co-sponsors, Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), in the House. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced the companion bill. Although similar legislation to prevent Schedule F was included in the House's version of the National Defense Authorization Act last year, it was left out of the final NDAA.
The $50 billion IT services contract from NIH faces a new set of challenges. The CIO-SP4 governmentwide acquisition contract is being buried under protests, yet again. The National Institutes of Health IT Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC) is facing 17 new protests after letting vendors know last week who made it to the second round of evaluations. The Government Accountability Office has until mid-May to decide the cases. GAO's protest docket shows vendors have filed 155 total protests against CIO-SP4 since March 2022. Of those, 133 have been dismissed because NITAAC took corrective action, and only two have been fully denied by GAO.
The Biden administration is calling on chief data officers to help meet equity goals. The White House is developing a progress report on how agencies are making equity-based improvements in their data. That is part of the administration’s focus on determining whether public-facing programs are benefiting underserved communities. U.S. Chief Data Scientist Denice Ross said agency chief data officers play a key role in tapping into underutilized federal data that has a public benefit. “This is not just data for data’s sake, it’s about turning data into action that results in more equitable outcomes for the American people," Ross said.
The Department of Homeland Security topped half a billion dollars in noncompetitive contracts and grants last year. A new audit from the DHS inspector general reviewed grants and contracts awarded by means other than full-and-open competition in fiscal 2022. The totals include 30 noncompetitive grants worth about $31 million and 419 noncompetitive contracts worth about $518 million. The audit concluded DHS followed relevant laws and policies in awarding those deals.
The Defense Department has announced the first successful test flights of F-16s flown with artificial intelligence. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) collaborated with the Air Force Research Laboratory and several other public and private groups for the three-year project. The program, called Air Combat Evolution (ACE), started by controlling simulated F-16s flying aerial dogfights on computer screens. Last December, it graduated to controlling an actual F-16 in flight.
The Census Bureau is tinkering with new ways to produce income and poverty statistics. The bureau is releasing its first set of statistics through what it calls, "National Experimental Wellbeing Statistics" (NEWS), a new tool to calculate income and poverty estimates. NEWS uses a broader set of data sources than what the bureau previously used and relies on different types of statistical analysis. The bureau is providing new income and poverty statistics for 2018, as a proof of concept for its new data product.