DoD takes steps to combat foreign influence in federally-funded scientific research

  • The number of days to get a security clearance hasn't changed in the last three months. On average it took 78 days to get a secret clearance and 128 days to get a top-secret clearance during the first quarter of fiscal 2023. Both are a few days more than what it took at the end of 2022. New data from the President's Management Agenda (PMA) show the Trusted Workforce 2.0 effort is still falling short of its goal of 74 days for secret clearance and 114 days for top-secret clearance. The PMA data does say, however, that the fastest 90% of the clearances took, on average, 54 days for secret and 95 days for top-secret clearance.
  • Thrift Savings Plan participants will soon see a service akin to a “pizza tracker” for pending transactions. Similar to a digital tool tracking each step of the process for ordering a pizza, TSP is drawing up plans to offer participants a better look into the step-by-step progression of loans and withdrawals. TSP’s recordkeeping contractor, Accenture Federal Services, announced the plan at the latest TSP board meeting. The effort is part of a larger goal from the contractor to make improvements to participant services. Accenture and the TSP board faced significant backlash from TSP participants due to the tumultuous rollout last summer of a major TSP update. So far, Accenture hasn’t shared a timeline to launch the new “pizza tracker” feature for TSP.
    (June 2023 monthly meeting - Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board)
  • The Defense Department is taking steps to combat foreign influence in federally-funded scientific research. A new policy identifies certain foreign actors that DoD wants to bar from participating in defense-sponsored research. The new policy is intended to limit research-and-development efforts from being used to compromise national or economic security. Moving forward, each DoD component will develop a security-review process for potential research project proposals. The review will look at all personnel associated with the project, and require them to take insider risk-awareness training.
  • A federal service used to combat identity fraud is facing some big challenges. The Government Accountability Office is now looking into potential cost overruns and steep fee increases for using the electronic Consent Based Social Security Number Verification System. The Social Security Administration built the system several years ago to provide financial institutions with a real-time social security number verification system. But those institutions are now reconsidering their use of the system, after a 22-fold increase in fees. The challenges with the system come as anti-fraud experts highlight social security number verification as a best practice for combating fraud in public benefits programs.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs is looking to improve the experience of its IT workforce. The VA’s Office of Information and Technology is developing new career progression roadmaps meant to help the employees of the IT workforce understand the next step in their careers. The VA is also deploying digital agents on employees’ computers to anticipate and address problems that might negatively impact an employee’s experience in the workplace, such as sluggish computers or worn-out laptop batteries. VA Chief Information Officer Kurt DelBene said this is part of building a new workplace culture at the department. “We want to be the best IT in the federal government, bar none, and we’re going to do that by actually changing the way we do things,” DelBene said.
  • A Florida-based small business and its owner will pay more than $7.7 million to settle allegations it violated the False Claims Act. The Justice Department said HX5 LLC and its CEO Margarita Howard of Walton Beach, Florida participated in the Small Business Administration 8(a) program from 2015 to 2021 and fraudulently obtained six 8(a) contracts. The DoJ alleged that HX5 and Howard failed to report distributions and payments to Howard’s family members and allegedly provided false information to the SBA regarding Howard’s assets. As a result of the alleged false statements, HX5 improperly maintained its status as an 8(a) program participant, and received 8(a) set-aside contracts from NASA, the Army and the Air Force.
  • In the wake of the Supreme Court striking down President Biden's student loan forgiveness program, one House lawmaker is pushing legislation to strengthen a loan program for public servants. Rep. Bobby Scott's (D-Va.) LOAN Act would shorten the time to reach full loan forgiveness for those eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The PSLF program forgives student loans for those who reach 10 years of service with federal, state, local or tribal government agencies. The LOAN Act, if enacted, would also make permanent a temporary waiver that broadens eligibility and access to the program.
    (LOAN Act - Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.))
  • The Government Accountability Office said the Defense Department needs a standardized policy for artificial intelligence. Although it has been acquiring, developing and using AI, the DoD has no department-wide guidance for how its components should approach AI acquisition. The GAO said DoD has plans to develop standards to ensure oversight and goals for AI, but those plans have yet to be defined and there is no set timeline.
  • The Postal Service continues to develop its plans for a new vehicle fleet. USPS said its preferred plan is to purchase more than 106,000 new vehicles over the next six years to replace aging vehicles still on the road. More than 60% of those vehicles will be electric. They are a combination of custom-built next-generation delivery vehicles made by Oshkosh Defense, as well as commercial off-the-shelf vehicles. USPS is holding a public comment period on July 26 to present its proposals and get feedback from the public.

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