A union is calling on the Biden administration to investigate racial inequities in the workforce for Maximus, a large federal call center contractor. The Communications Workers of America reports that Black and Latina women make up nearly half of the contractor's lowest-ranking workers, and just 5% of its top executives. A recent union-conducted survey found that the call center employees often face barriers to career advancement, and unclear career paths overall. Maximus officials took issue with the union's claims, and said the company is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Some federal firefighters are seeing a more streamlined process for workers' compensation claims. The Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs has updated its program to process claims of federal firefighters diagnosed with certain diseases. Prior to the policy change, firefighters' claims were only accepted about 29% of the time. But as of February 2023, more than 90% of processed claims have been accepted. The update comes after a provision in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act let federal firefighters start receiving workers’ compensation for cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer and other infectious diseases. The diseases are all common for federal firefighters after years on the job.
The Veterans Benefits Administration is ramping up its hiring efforts. VBA is making 1,100 new hires to process a record number of benefits claims this year under the PACT Act. The agency held its first round of PACT Act job fairs across the country in late February and early March. VBA said it is making 80% of its hires within 80 days. But Aaron Lee, the executive director of VBA’s Office of Human Capital Services, said the agency cut its onboarding time in half for hires made during the job fair. “We're really able to shave off quite a substantial amount of time, because we're able to condense that process in one place at one time," Lee said.
Agencies looking to modernize their human resources technology are getting some help. A new agreement between the HR line of business (LOB) and the General Services Administration will provide agencies with more specific market research. The Office of Personnel Management's HR LOB will offer agency customers this free service as part of their consulting efforts. Through GSA's market research-as-a-service initiative, the HR LOB will help identify potential IT providers in the public and private sectors for agencies to buy technology services from. The market research service is part of how the HR LOB is standing its shared services marketplace over the coming year.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is coming up with a plan for the most vulnerable critical infrastructure. CISA plans to identify, by this September, an initial list of systemically important entities. That is according to Jen Easterly, director of CISA. She told the Cybersecurity Advisory Committee that CISA will come up with a plan to engage more closely with those organizations on cyber and other threats. The advisory committee had recommended CISA identify the infrastructure that if taken down could have cascading impacts on the economy, national security, or public health and safety. Easterly said CISA is also setting up a systematically important entities office to lead its work in that area.
The Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General has launched an Environmental Justice Initiative to work toward safe HUD-assisted housing, free of environmental hazards. HUD IG Rae Oliver Davis said she wants to reverse environmental inequities in underserved low-income communities, for those families who rely heavily on HUD’s housing assistance programs. Among other things, the initiative will focus on eliminating unsanitary conditions, housing in disrepair, and lead exposure. In a new three minute Public Service Announcement, the IG unveiled a telephone hotline. "If you see these types of violations that threaten the health and safety of our communities, we ask that you please report them," Oliver Davis said.
The largest federal employee union warns the Department of Veterans Affairs is not doing enough to recruit and retain employees. In a survey of more than 2,000 VA employees represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, about 77% of respondents said their workplaces have vacant positions where there is no recruitment taking place. Nearly all survey respondents working in the Veterans Health Administration said they agreed that their facilities need more front-line clinical staff. AFGE is releasing its survey results at a time when the VA is reporting a record rate of hiring across its health care and benefits workforce.
Agencies will soon have access to new and innovative green products through the General Services Administration schedule program. GSA will begin using the information captured by the Defense Department’s Sustainable Technology Evaluation and Demonstration (STED) Program to bring sustainable products onto the schedule's contract. Through the STED Program, DoD coordinates with military installations to prove the performance of the sustainable alternatives. Once the STED Program confirms the product meets or exceeds DoD requirements, GSA will then provide assistance to vendors to help them get on the schedule.
The Space Force will put out a request for information early next year to expand its unified data library. The service wants the library to allow guardians to input and access data in real time. The library’s capacity is currently limited in how data is accessed and how it can be managed. Observation data from the space fence radar system is now directly available in the library. The RFI looks to make the library easier to use and allows guardians to process and validate the information on an as-needed basis.
Teams at 61 academic institutions will get funding for basic research projects from the Defense Department. The Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) will award an average of $7 million per team over a five-year period. DoD looks for the teams to come up with scientific breakthroughs for defense applications. The initiative complements the department’s single-investigator basic research grants. For the fiscal 2023 competition, the Pentagon solicited proposals in 24 topic areas of strategic importance to the department and chose from an initial pool of 259 white papers.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has some new security guidance for critical infrastructure groups. CISA released updated Cybersecurity Performance Goals (CPGs) this week. The CPGs are voluntary practices that businesses and critical infrastructure owners can take to protect themselves against cyber threats. CISA said the updated goals are more closely aligned with the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework. The goals are intended to cut across critical infrastructure sectors ranging from energy and water to defense and healthcare.