The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee is threatening to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt of Congress for not turning over confidential messages from career diplomats. Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said Blinken hasn’t complied with a subpoena demanding access to so-called dissent channel cables from State Department personnel during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The dissent channel serves as a forum for diplomats to critique department policy decisions. McCaul said a State Department briefing last month on the content of those cables fell short of what the committee sought in its subpoena.
Agencies are spending record amounts on small-business contracts, but among fewer companies. The Biden administration is looking to reverse that trend and get more small businesses into federal contracting. The Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration are launching a governmentwide procurement equity tool and supplier-base dashboard to help agencies track how much of their contract spending is going to small businesses that are new or recent entrants to the federal marketplace. A record $154 billion in federal contracts went to small businesses in fiscal 2021. But the number of small firms doing business with the federal government for the first time dropped by 80% over the past 15 years.
Agencies can start planning now for the 2023 Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). The Office of Personnel Management is asking agencies to name a lead person for the governmentwide charity donation campaign, which kicks off this fall. OPM said agency executives should encourage their employees to become CFC leaders, as employees are most likely to participate in CFC if they are asked by someone they know. The planning is underway now, and this year’s Combined Federal Campaign will run from Sept. 1, 2023 through Jan. 15, 2024.
Military ground forces increased their level of readiness, while forces at sea have seen a decline, according to the Government Accountability Office. GAO blames a severe backlog in maintenance for the Navy's readiness problems, in a report that looked at the issue in the years between fiscal 2017 and 2021. Readiness of aviation and space forces increased in some areas and declined in others. GAO said DoD needs to balance rebuilding the readiness of its existing force with its desire to modernize.
Artificial intelligence isn't new for the CIA, but the intelligence agency is finally bringing all of its various efforts together in one place. CIA's Chief Information Officer La'Naia Jones, said the agency has created an Office of AI to consolidate and standardize initiatives. The CIA's new AI strategy will guide the office's current and future work across three main focus areas. These include expanding AI as a topic of importance across the CIA, aligning, integrating and synchronizing resources, and ensuring trust, transparency and accountability through the AI initiatives.
The IRS plans an initiative to improve taxpayer service on mobile devices. Harrison Smith, the director of IRS enterprise digitization, said the number of visits the agency gets from smart phones is on the rise, and that smart phones are many people's main form of computing. He said an earlier project, the digital intake program, has grown by 120 times over the past year. It ingests paper documents from taxpayers and converts them to machine-readable data. Speaking at the ACT-IAC emerging technology conference, Harrison said his office will get $1.2 billion of the extra money Congress promised under infrastructure legislation.
( - FNN Federal Newscast)
Generative artificial intelligence has taken root at several federal agencies. The State Department finds it can translate documents written by foreign nationals into English, or English into many languages. But the State Department's Chief Technology Officer Glen Johnson cautions users about putting sensitive data into an AI cloud. He said the State Department is a week away from issuing policy on the use of generative AI. The Chief Information Officer of the International Trade Administration Gerry Caron said a generative program found anomalies leading to a fraud takedown. Johnson and Caron were speakers at the ACT-IAC emerging technology conference this week in Cambridge, Maryland.
( - FNN Federal Newscast)
The Office of Personnel Management's transition to the new telecommunications contract is almost complete. Guy Cavallo, OPM's Chief Information Officer, said the agency is down to about a half a dozen systems that need to be moved off of the Networx contract and onto the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract (EIS). Cavallo said OPM has dropped all of its analog telecommunications lines and upgraded all of its circuits as part of this transition. One of the last things OPM still needs to do is complete the transition of its telecommunications services out of its data centers and into the cloud. Only six medium agencies have completed their transition to EIS as of March 31.
The American Federation of Government Employees said limited remote work is to blame for staff attrition at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The federal union is calling for more flexibility, after already starting the arbitration process with the Federal Labor Relations Authority last year. HUD leadership said its “flexiplace” program does offer telework and remote work options to eligible employees. The agency added that it’s looking for more ways to improve attrition rates and employee engagement, in part by regularly gathering feedback from HUD’s workforce.
(HUD attrition - American Federation of Government Employees )
Small businesses will at least temporarily get to keep their COVID-era progress payment rate of 95% with the Defense Department. Large businesses will revert to their pre-COVID rate of 80%. DoD said Monday that the big business rates would apply to solicitations for contracts issued on or after July 7, 2023 and resulting contracts. Existing contracts, task orders and delivery orders with large business contractors will retain the higher 90% rate for the life of the contract. The progress payments represent advance payments for contracts in progress before they are completely fulfilled.