Labor Dept uncovers more improper spending of COVID relief funds

In today's Federal Newscast: The Defense Department now has an option to reach the cloud from outside the continental United States. The Postal Service says it...

  • The Labor Department has uncovered more improper spending of COVID relief funds. The department estimates improper payments account for nearly 36% of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance spending between March 2020 and September 2021. The department stood up the program for self-employed individuals who weren’t eligible for regular unemployment benefits at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Labor Department paid out $131 billion in assistance in 2020, before it put stronger identity-verification measures in place.
    (PUA improper rate report - Labor Department)
  • The Defense Department now has an option to reach the cloud from outside the United States. Military services and defense agencies needing access to cloud services outside the continental U.S. now have an option in Hawaii. The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) initiated a test of its Stratus platform at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. DISA is also working with the DoD Chief Information Officer and the Special Operations Command to launch a second OCONUS cloud option through the Joint Operational Edge initiative. The JOE will provide platform- and infrastructure-as-a-service instances through the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability. DISA said the goal of these OCONUS cloud instances is to connect on-the-ground teams to each other, to headquarters, and to private and public cloud networks.
  • A new House bill aims to shore up the cybersecurity of government contractors. The Federal Cybersecurity Vulnerability Reduction Act of 2023 would require contractors to adopt vulnerability disclosure policies. The bill was introduced by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), chairwoman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee’s Cybersecurity, Information Technology and Government Innovation Subcommittee. Vulnerability disclosure allows outside security researchers to report computer bugs to organizations, so they can quickly address them. Agencies have been required to have vulnerability disclosure policies in place since 2020.
  • A federal union's calls for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility at the Environmental Protection Agency are getting support in Congress. A group of House lawmakers is encouraging both EPA and the American Federation of Government Employees to negotiate in good faith for their collective bargaining agreement. They are particularly focused on a newly proposed article on DEIA that could make its way into the contract. The push from Congress comes after EPA announced a partial impasse in negotiations over the proposed DEIA provision in May. In ongoing negotiations, AFGE Council 238, representing 8,000 EPA workers, is calling for DEIA training for employees and an elimination of what it says is implicit racial bias in the agency's hiring process.
    (American Federation of Government Employees - Letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan)
  • The Justice Department's latest effort to go after COVID-19 fraudsters has netted 371 defendants charged with federal crimes worth more than $836 million dollars. The total now stands at $1.4 billion dollars over the last 18 months, thanks to the efforts of the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Strike Force. Many of the cases, in more than 700 enforcement actions, involved charges related to pandemic unemployment insurance benefit fraud and fraud against the two largest pandemic Small Business Administration programs: the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans. The Justice Department also launched two new strike force teams in Colorado and New Jersey to continue the recovery effort.
  • The Air Force will begin a $1.6 billion construction and renovation project of its dormitory housing and childcare facilities at 61 installations across the country. The Dorm Response Program will fund 170 permanent dormitory projects over the next four years, prioritizing large renovations and design projects to create housing for single airmen and Guardians. The service currently has a shortage of childcare availability for its families, so the project will also include 19 new childcare development centers.
  • A healthcare facility outside of Chicago that operates for both the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs could be a test case for solving network interoperability issues that persist across the DoD. As the only facility to serve both DoD and VA patients, the Lovell Federal Health Care Center has two network systems that don’t work together. The Pentagon brought in IT specialists to solve the problem and they expect to have the networks interoperable by the end of the year. Leaders from both organizations said the improvement is critical for the roll-out of electronic health care records in the coming months.
  • The lead U.S. cyber agency is calling for artificial intelligence companies to secure their systems. In a new online post, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency officials wrote that manufacturers of AI systems must consider the security of the customers as a core business requirement. CISA officials said AI, like other software, must be secure by design. The call from the cyber agency comes as policymakers, Congress and the general public wrangle with how to ensure security as companies roll out large language models and other AI systems.
  • The Postal Service said it can account for all of its employees on the Hawaiian island of Maui, following the devastating wildfires in the town of Lahaina. USPS said several employees lost their homes, while others report their homes were damaged by the fires. USPS said one post office in downtown Lahaina was destroyed and will not reopen for the foreseeable future. USPS reopened its Main Post Office in Lahaina last weekend, but has not yet resumed retail operations.
    (Maui fires - USPS)
  • The Federal Executive Board (FEB) community is honoring a couple of its local board members. Michael Horvath from the Pittsburgh FEB is taking home the 2023 FEB Chair of the Year Award. And Marcus Forte, from San Antonio’s FEB, earned the title of 2023 FEB Executive Director of the Year. The awards are peer-nominated and organized through the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees all 28 FEBs that operate across the country. The local boards coordinate efforts to improve agencies’ emergency preparedness, host trainings and workshops, and help organize the annual Combined Federal Campaign. OPM’s Associate Director for Employee Services Veronica Hinton presented the two awards to the 2023 winners.
    (FEB Awards - Office of Personnel Management)

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