Top human resources officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs support a bill to overhaul the agency’s pay model for doctors. The VA CAREERS Act would set higher base pay caps for VA physicians, podiatrists, optometrists and dentists. Base pay for some of these specialists is capped at $400,000, the current salary of the U.S. president. Jessica Bonjorni, the head of human capital management at the Veterans Health Administration, said the agency supports the latest version of the bill. Bonjorni said the current pay caps are a constraint for the VA, especially for high-cost-of-living areas and for specialties such as cardiology, neurology and radiology. “There are physicians coming right out of school who are making well over what we’re able to offer right now to our very tenured providers," Bonjorni said.
AmeriCorps gives the grants shared service marketplace a test run. AmeriCorps is on the path to modernize its 20-year-old grant making system by the end of fiscal 2024. It chose commercial software provided by EY. But more importantly, AmeriCorps partnered with the Grants Quality Service Management Office (QSMO) to pilot the market research approach to acquire a system that will meet federal grantmaking and security standards. This is among the first tests of the Grants Marketplace market research process since it launched last fall. The Grants QSMO says the demonstration effort showed how the market research can improve the buying power and speed of agency customers.
The Army reports that all 44 of its installations have instituted the military housing tenant bill of rights. The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act mandated the tenant bill of rights for privatized military housing. Not all of the companies which owned the housing agreed to abide by the bill of rights. In 2019, the Army inspector general found Army housing lacked good maintenance, and management did not have enough oversight. In 2021, Balfour Beatty, one of the biggest providers of privatized military housing, pleaded guilty to falsifying maintenance records and paid $65 million in fines.
A leading House lawmaker pledges to conduct rigorous oversight of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency this year. Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-N.Y.) said CISA is growing fast — maybe too fast. During his first hearing as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Cybersecurity Subcommitte, Garbarino pledged tough but fair oversight of CISA’s growing budget and authorities. “We need to take a step back and allow CISA to get a handle on their new responsibilities and ask pointed, but productive, questions about its efforts,” Garbarino said. CISA is seeking $3.1 billion dollars in its fiscal 2024 budget request. The agency is also in the midst of implementing sweeping new cyber incident reporting regulations.
Although agencies have made some progress toward equity, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said there is room for improvement. More than 90% of agencies said they have posted their disability accommodation procedures in a clear spot. But less than two-thirds of agencies are complying with a recommendation to have their EEO officer directly report to the agency head. That is according to the latest federal workforce report from the EEOC. The commission said it added more workforce data to the latest version of the report, to try to pinpoint more long-term trends for the federal sector.
The White House is putting up $250 million to help make federal buildings more climate friendly. The Assisting Federal Facilities with Energy Conservation Technologies (AFFECT) program aims to help agencies meet energy- and water-related goals under the Biden administration's 2021 executive order to reach net zero emission buildings by 2045. Through AFFECT funding, agencies will identify affordable solutions, facilitate public-private partnerships and adopt best practices. Agencies can submit applications to make energy and water efficiency upgrades as part of achieving the net-zero target. The Energy Department's Federal Energy Management Program will run AFFECT, using funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
The Defense Department will start six new initiatives designed to improve the lives of military families. The programs include pre-kindergarten at all DoD Education Activity Schools, dependent care flexible spending accounts for service members and improvements to a program that helps military family members with special needs. Also included on the list are the new military parental leave benefits and programs designed to help working military spouses.
Lawmakers are taking aim at the government’s $18 billion-a-year classification system. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said he will work on bipartisan legislation to reform classification policies and programs. Agencies classify an estimated 50 million documents every year. Experts estimate between 50% and 90% of all classified materials could be made public without compromising national security. During a hearing Thursday, Peters said agencies could also use artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to better manage classified data.
The Agriculture Department is trying to encourage students to pursue career paths in food, natural resources and related sciences. USDA has extended the deadline for students to apply for the 1890 National Scholars Program. The program, managed by USDA's Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement, offers scholarships to college students interested in USDA-related job fields. The department said the scholarship program is a crucial part of its efforts to recruit the next generation of the agriculture workforce. Students now have until April 15 to apply.
Top Democrats on the House Veteran Affairs Committee introduced bills targeting the way VA does business. The Manage VA Act would require the VA to create an Under Secretary for Management position to oversee IT and acquisition decisions. The VA IT Modernization Improvement Act would require the VA to hire a contractor to provide third-party assessments of its major IT programs. Those include its Veterans Benefits Management System, Financial Management and Business Transformation program, Supply Chain Modernization program, and the rollout of its new Oracle-Cerner Electronic Health Record.