Microsoft Federal is looking for a new leader. Rick Wagner, who led the Redmond, Washington company's federal business for three years, decided to leave the company to pursue new opportunities. It is unclear who will take Wagner's place, even in the interim. During his tenure as head of Microsoft Federal, Wagner led the company through the Defense Department's Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability (JWCC) procurement, as well as the expansion of cloud services to agencies throughout the pandemic. Wagner came to Microsoft in 2020 from ManTech and previously worked at TASC, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.
A new bill would make a temporary pay raise permanent for federal firefighters. The Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act, introduced Wednesday, would codify a base pay raise for those frontline responders. A temporary raise for firefighters, currently funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, will run out in September. The two-year pay boost was the lower of either $20,000 or a 50% boost to base salary. The newly introduced bill to make that raise permanent comes after months of urgent calls from the National Federation of Federal Employees and other advocacy groups.
There is bi-partisan support to overhaul the legislation that governs federal cybersecurity. For the first time since 2014, House and Senate lawmakers are coming together to modernize the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Reps. James Comer (R-Ky.), Jaime Raskin (D-Md.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) yesterday introduced companion bills, called the Federal Information Security Modernization Act. Among the updates are a new requirement for agencies to report all cyber attacks to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and continue to report major incidents to Congress. The bill would require the Office of Management and Budget to develop guidance for agencies to more efficiently allocate the cyber resources needed to protect their networks.
The Department of Veterans Affairs said a bill to fast-track firing won’t help it get rid of poor performers. VA leaders said the Restore VA Accountability Act wouldn’t allow it to fire employees more quickly if they’re underperforming or accused of misconduct. The VA told members of the House VA Committee that the bill would meet a similar fate to a 2017 law that had the same goals. Federal judges and the Merit Systems Protection Board ruled in recent years that the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act only applies to a small fraction of the VA’s workforce. VA leaders said this latest bill would result in similar legal challenges that won’t fall in their favor.
At least one agency had its email accounts breached, but there may be a silver lining to yesterday’s cybersecurity news. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the FBI confirmed advanced hackers breached the unclassified Microsoft Outlook email accounts of at least one government agency and several other organizations last month. Microsoft pointed the finger at a China-backed group. The State Department is reported to be among the victims of what officials said was a targeted breach. CISA and the FBI said the breach was detected because the federal agency in question had access to enhanced network logs. And a CISA official said it is close to an agreement with Microsoft about making more network logging capabilities available to customers without charging premium license fees.
Members on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee advanced a range of bills in their latest markup, and several of them would bring changes to the federal IT workforce. For one, a bipartisan bill would let agencies hire any cyber professional qualified for a job, even if he or she doesn't have a college degree. Another bipartisan and bicameral bill from committee members would add more AI training for federal employees. But Republican committee members also advanced several more bills along party lines, including one to create a single portal for agencies to post guidance documents, and another that would block federal contracts from requiring reports on greenhouse gas emissions.
The Government Accountability Office is giving agencies a roadmap on how to make evidence-based decisions. GAO outlined 13 best practices on how to gather and use evidence for decision-making, based on a 2020 survey of more than 4,000 federal managers. GAO’s best practices build off the 2018 Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, which required agencies to name chief data and chief evaluation officers, and to use data to make policy decisions.
The Pentagon’s first deputy with the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office for Enterprise Capabilities is moving on to the private sector. Greg Little, who started with the office last summer, confirmed he has taken a job with the software company Palantir. The Defense Department's Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office was created in February 2022 to accelerate the adoption of data, analytics and AI to generate what they call "decision advantage" from the boardroom to the battlefield, by bringing together multiple technology specialists in one program.
The musical chairs continue at top Homeland Security positions. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced this week that Mary Ellen Callahan will be appointed as assistant secretary of the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office. Since 2021, Callahan has served as Chief of Staff to outgoing Deputy Secretary John Tien. And Gary Rasicot, the current acting assistant secretary of the CWMD office, is moving over to the Coast Guard to serve as deputy for personnel readiness to the deputy commandant for mission support.
The Defense Department may be taking another shot at hiring a chief management officer. The Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act calls for reinstating the position. Congress cut the role in 2021, three years after it was created. Critics of the decision said the role never had enough authority to be effective. The new version of the position would include a charter to give the role more authority in the Pentagon, which supporters said will solve past problems.