A bi-partisan group of lawmakers is taking aim at changing how agencies buy software. Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) are trying again to get agencies to deal with the long-standing challenge of buying duplicative software. For a second Congress in a row, Peters, the Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Cassidy reintroduced the Strengthening Agency Management and Oversight of Software Assets Act. The legislation would require agencies to send an independent, comprehensive assessment of their software purchasing practices to Congress, the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration. The findings from these reviews would help agency chief information officers better manage how their agencies buy IT products. The bill passed out of Peters' committee last year and had a House companion bill that never made it to the floor for a vote.
The Environmental Protection Agency is asking Congress for an expanded budget of $12 billion dollars for fiscal 2024. If approved, that would be a 19% increase over EPA’s enacted budget for 2023. Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said a budget boost for EPA would help with recent concerns about agency understaffing. “EPA’s current number of staff is about 15,000, well below the range of 16,000 to 18,000, that the agency had from 1990 through 2012," said Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). Unions representing EPA employees said the large budget request is especially welcome given the increased workload under the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. But Republicans on the Senate committee raised concerns about the proposed increase, saying EPA is not effectively using the resources it already has.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting on Wednesday, service leaders listed ways to improve recruiting. The Navy plans to start a future sailor prep course to help potential recruits improve academic and physical fitness scores. It follows the Army's Future Soldier Program that started last year with promising results. When considering both academic and physical standards, only 23% of American 17 to 24 years old are currently eligible to serve.
The Commerce Department wants to put guardrails around billions of dollars in federal investments under the CHIPS Act. The Biden administration is moving to restrict microelectronics firms that receive CHIPS Act funding from expanding operations in countries of concern, like China and Russia. Proposed Commerce Department rules would also put tight restrictions around certain legacy chips that are important to military systems and other national security needs. Commerce officials said it can claw back Chips Act funding, if recipients are found to violate the proposed rules. The agency is seeking public comment on rules by late May.
The General Services Administration is targeting underutilized property, but agencies aren’t giving up office space just yet. The Biden administration sees a major opportunity to sell office space the federal government no longer needs, now that much of the federal workforce has adapted to working from home. So do members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Its subcommittee on economic development, public buildings and emergency management said federal occupancy rates are still about half of what they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. Nina Albert, the commissioner of the General Services Administration's Public Buildings Service, told the subcommittee some agencies are leading office space consolidation efforts, “because they are more confident in what their plans are.”
Agencies are putting forward new cybersecurity recommendations aimed at avoiding the next Colonial Pipeline. The National Security Agency and other federal partners this week released recommended best practices for identity and access management. The guide is intended to ensure users only gain access to data when they have the appropriate credentials. The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack happened because of a leaked password, an inactive VPN account, and a lack of multifactor authentication. The NSA said good identity management would have avoided those vulnerabilities.
Boasting a new partnership, the Defense Department will make improvements to land that surrounds its bases for outdoor recreation and preservation of cultural heritage sites. DoD and the Interior Department started an initiative, along with the National Park Service, to provide $40 million in funding toward protecting natural areas and water resources, cultural heritage sites and providing recreation opportunities for the public. The partnership will fund projects to enhance access to conserved land for local communities and military families, while ensuring the resilience of military installations across the country.
Looking to strengthen federal defenses against cyber attacks, Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) reintroduced the Civilian Cybersecurity Reserve Act. The bill would let the departments of Defense and Homeland Security recruit civilian cyber workers as reserve staff, who could then be activated during large-scale cyber attacks. Agencies are experiencing a shortage of qualified cyber personnel, as competition with the private sector increases to fill those jobs.
The Biden administration is looking to honor federal employees going above and beyond to meet its green government goals. The White House is launching the Presidential Federal Sustainability Awards. The program will recognize agencies and employees who are making progress toward the administration’s goal of reaching net-zero emissions across all federal operations by 2050. The Biden administration said agencies in 2022 bought five times as many light-duty electric vehicles than in the year prior. The White House is accepting nominations through May 19.