As Congress settles into its August recess, investigations into a high-profile hack of government email accounts are heating up. The House Oversight and Accountability Committee is now probing breaches of unclassified Microsoft email accounts at the Commerce Department and State Department. In letters sent yesterday, the committee requested staff briefings by Aug. 9. The breaches occurred between May and June, but came to light just last month. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has also called on several agencies to investigate Microsoft over what he called "negligent cybersecurity practices" in connection with the breach.
The IRS expects to issue faster tax refunds once it goes paperless by 2025. The IRS is planning to digitally process all the tax returns it receives by the 2025 filing season, as well as half of all paper-based correspondence. The agency will also start to digitize more than a billion archived documents, which will give taxpayers greater access to their records, and will save the agency about $40 million in annual storage costs. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the IRS will eliminate up to 200 million pieces of paper annually, cut processing times in half, and expedite tax refunds by several weeks. “This paperless processing initiative is the key that unlocks other customer service improvements,” Yellen said.
An agency CIO is on the move, heading out of the technology community. Nagesh Rao, the Bureau of Industry and Security's (BIS) chief information officer, joined another Commerce Department bureau. He started earlier this week as the deputy director of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership at National Institute of Standards and Technology. In that role, Rao will help manage the public-private partnership, which invests in innovative manufacturing efforts among companies and helps ensure U.S. competitiveness globally. He was the BIS CIO for three years, coming over from the Small Business Administration. As CIO, Rao focused on the modernization of BIS systems, including moving applications to the cloud.
The White House took the first step to change federal acquisition regulations that would require agencies to procure sustainable products and services to the maximum extent possible. A new proposed rule by the Federal Acquisition Regulations Council centers on new requirements for agencies to follow EPA’s recommendations of specifications, standards and ecolabels for federal purchasing. These standards provide recommendations across 34 purchase categories for use of 40 standards and labels, including EPA’s ENERGY STAR, Safer Choice and WaterSense programs. Comments on the proposed rule are due by Oct. 3.
Starting Sept. 10, all telework-eligible senior executives, supervisors and managers at the Interior Department will have to report in-person at least 50% of the time. The department is one of the latest agencies to announce return-to-office changes, in response to a White House memo this spring. Interior is additionally sunsetting its pilot remote work program for senior executives, senior leaders and senior technical and professional employees. At the same time, non-supervisory, telework-eligible employees will remain on their current schedule, reporting to the office at least two days per two-week pay period.
More young candidates may soon be eligible for paid internships through the Pathways Program. The Office of Personnel Management plans to revise regulations for the decades-old early-career program, which offers paid opportunities, but is often reserved for those with graduate degrees. OPM Deputy Director Rob Shriver said new proposed regulations, coming later this summer, will look to expand eligibility to those in trade schools, community colleges and more. The plans are part of larger efforts from the Biden administration to hire tens of thousands of federal interns, while offering more paid opportunities as well.
Airmen waiting to be moved back to the U.S. from overseas may finally see an end to the delays due to lack of money. The Air Force said Congress gave it additional funding for its overseas personnel moves. Airmen scheduled to move back to the U.S. between October and December will have to extend until January to March to make their moves. Service members impacted by the extension can now file a request for an exception. The Air Force announced the delays three weeks ago.
Could intelligence analysts safely use Chat GPT or other large language models? The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency aims to find out. IARPA released a request for information this week on that very question. Large language models have taken the world by storm, due to their human-like interactive abilities. But IARPA said the technology has also exhibited erroneous and potentially harmful behavior. The agency wants feedback to help characterize the vulnerabilities and threats associated with large language models. Responses are due to IARPA by Aug. 21.
A new report due out in September could end a stalemate over extending Federal Communications Commission spectrum auctions. Congressional authority to hold the auctions expired in March. The Defense Department wants to keep control of some parts of the spectrum it said it needs for national security. A study done by DoD and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is expected to clarify the security risks and capabilities of bandwidth between 3.1 and 3.45 gigahertz. Congressional leaders said they will consider extending the auction authority after the report is made public.
The State Department is elevating public health as part of its diplomatic and national security mission, as it launches a new Bureau of Global Heath Security and Diplomacy. Among its duties, the new bureau will lead U.S. efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and will build on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is appointing Ambassador-at-Large John Nkengasong to lead the bureau.