Sen. Grassley puts hold on Biden’s pick to oversee VA benefits

  • The Defense Department is asking Congress for funds to help build its brand. It’s a response to the severe recruiting challenges all branches of the military services are facing. Officials said the $40 million program would be run through DoD’s Joint Advertising, Market Research & Studies program. They said it’s not meant to be a substitute for military recruiting ad campaigns, and that it’s more about building general awareness about the benefits of military service.
    (Testimony - U.S. Senate )
  • Increasing the speed of acquisition programs is at the center of the Air Force's next ask of Congress. The Air Force doesn't want to wait for Congress to pass its budget before getting started on critical future programs. Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall is developing a legislative proposal that would let his service begin doing some planning before lawmakers give their blessing. "Without making any long term commitment, let us get started and do some of the early stage analysis, requirements definition, preliminary design, conceptual definition, which is relatively inexpensive and reduces lead time substantially," Kendall said. In addition, Kendall said he has been talking about this idea for years, as a way to deal with an assortment of challenges.
  • President Biden’s pick for Archivist of the United States is one step closer to confirmation. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 8-4 Wednesday to favorably report Colleen Shogan’s nomination to the full Senate. Shogan is a White House historian who would become the first woman to lead the National Archives if confirmed. Her nomination failed to get out of committee in the last session of Congress after Republicans criticized her over alleged partisan tweets. But with Democrats holding a narrow majority in the Senate, Shogan now has a clearer path to confirmation.
  • Law enforcement or security guards? The Postal Service is sparring with one union over the role of postal police officers. USPS and the Postal Police Officers Association have been locked in a years-long legal battle to determine what jurisdiction postal police officers have beyond USPS facilities. The union filed a federal lawsuit this week, calling on USPS to comply with a third-party arbitrator's recent decision to throw out an August 2020 memo that limited postal police to only carry out their duties on USPS property. This dispute is happening at a time when USPS is seeing a spike in mail theft and letter carriers being robbed. In light of these mail thefts, USPS is telling customers to avoid dropping mail off in blue collection boxes on holidays and Sundays, when letter carriers aren't working to collect the mail.
  • The Army is well on its way to meeting its goal of a fully electric non-tactical vehicle fleet by 2035. An Army spokesman said the department met 148% of its zero emission vehicle goals for fiscal 2022, and is on target to meet its 2023 goals. The department also plans to use hybrid fuel in combat vehicles like the Bradley fighting vehicle. And also as part of its climate strategy, the Army started adding alternative power sources like solar panels to bases that are vulnerable to extreme weather patterns.
    (14th Annual “FY2024 Defense Programs” Conference - McAleese and Christine Wormuth)
  • The U.S. Access Board's 25-member governing board has new leadership. The board elected Gregory Fehribach as its new chairman and GSA Deputy Administrator Katy Kale as its new vice chairwoman. Fehribach is counsel to the Indianapolis law firm Tuohy, Bailey and Moore and served as the board's vice chairman for the last year. He succeeds Taryn Williams, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy, and Kale succeeds Fehribach as vice chairman. The U.S. Access Board governing body includes 12 members from federal agencies and 13 who are members of the public and appointed by the President.
  • Confirmation of a permanent leader to oversee benefits at the Department of Veterans Affairs has hit a roadblock. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is putting a hold on Joshua Jacobs, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as Undersecretary for Benefits. Grassley said the VA has not been forthcoming on answers to the letters he has sent over the past two years, describing alleged whistleblower retaliation. Grassley says he is placing a hold because Jacobs didn’t provide satisfactory answers to his questions about the alleged whistleblower retaliation.
    (Nomination of Joshua Jacobs - Congressional Record)
  • As the Navy moves toward using more unmanned technologies, it is increasing its use of artificial intelligence and robotics. Starting this year, the department will open a new career rating for sailors with a specialty in robotics. Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday said sailors in the new specialty will work with other branches like explosive ordnance demolition and manned-unmanned teaming in the aviation community. Gilday said the Navy is still learning how to best use its unmanned technologies and it is not yet ready for forward deployment in areas like the South China Sea.
  • The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is looking for feedback by April 17, on a key security approach for agencies. CISA released a draft Hybrid Identity Solutions Architecture this week. The guidance is intended to help agencies manage their identity services in both the cloud and in on-premises networks. Identity-management vulnerabilities have played a key role in high-profile cyber incidents like the SolarWinds hack. Agencies are required to use strong identity, credentialing and access management as part of the federal zero-trust strategy.

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