DoD adjusts childcare fees, gives military families financial boost

In today's Federal Newscast: The Defense Department has adjusted childcare fees to give military families a financial boost. The Veterans Affairs Department is ...

  • Agencies will soon have new AI requirements. The Office of Management and Budget is in the process of putting some much-needed direction and guidance in place for how agencies should use and manage artificial intelligence. OMB is laying out about 10 requirements ranging from naming a new chief AI officer to developing a publicly released AI strategy to convening an AI governance board to putting some much need guardrails around the use of generative AI in a new draft guidance, parts of which Federal News Network obtained. OMB is expected to release the draft memo for public comment in the coming weeks.
  • IRS employees will keep working, and get paid on-time, if Congress allows a government shutdown. The IRS said it will remain fully operational, even if lawmakers cannot come up with a government spending plan by the end of the month. The agency plans to dip into nearly $60 billion it received in the Inflation Reduction Act, if a government shutdown happens. The IRS said the National Finance Center will also have enough staff working during a shutdown to ensure IRS employees get paid on time. Congress has until Sept. 30 to either pass a spending bill for fiscal 2024 or a continuing resolution that keeps the government temporarily funded at current spending levels.
  • Agencies have a new deadline to ask for higher salaries for hard-to-fill positions. The Office of Personnel Management has opened its annual call for agencies to request special salary rates. The call comes ahead of a pending, but not yet final, federal pay raise for 2024. OPM can authorize higher-than-standard pay rates for certain positions. But some workforce experts say budget uncertainty could cause agencies to hesitate. For example, OPM most recently approved a higher pay rate this year for some cyber and IT positions. But so far, only one agency, the Department of Veterans Affairs, is actually planning to implement it. Any new special salary rate requests have to go to OPM by Oct. 13.
    (Agencies have a chance to propose new special salary rates, but budget uncertainty can cause hesitation - Federal News Network)
  • The National Security Agency will soon kick off a new innovation effort. The NSA is launching an innovation pipeline called “Red Ventures,” that will be focused on the China challenge. David Frederick, the NSA’s assistant deputy director for China, said Red Ventures should be up and running within the coming months. “That's meant to reach out to industry and also internally to our workforce, to look for a whole range of solutions to our hardest problems,” Frederick said at an Intelligence and National Security Alliance event this week. Frederick said the NSA is concerned about the technology competition with China, as well as cyber attacks on the U.S. defense industry and critical infrastructure.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs is looking at next summer to resume its rollout of a new Electronic Health Record (EHR). The VA put an indefinite pause on the project in April in order to address persistent outages and low ratings from employees. Lawmakers are frustrated with the delays and said the VA has little to show for the project, after five years and billions of dollars going into it. Neil Evans, the acting program executive director of VA’s EHR Modernization Integration Office, said there is currently no timeline of when or where the VA would resume its EHR rollout. “There's still more work to be done before we will be ready to publish a new schedule,” Evans said.
  • Some employees at the Labor Department are being called back to the office. Political appointees, Senior Executive Service members and other senior-level feds will have to report in person at least five days per two-week pay period. That change will take effect Oct. 22. Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su is also asking agency managers and supervisors to be more "intentional" about in-office work for employees. Su said, for example, that team leads should start scheduling more in-person trainings and meetings.
  • The Energy Department is putting funding behind efforts to shore up cybersecurity in renewable energy systems. DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response this week announced $39 million for nine new cyber projects at the department’s national labs. The goal is to advance the cybersecurity of distributed energy resources. The technologies include utility-scale solar and wind energy, energy storage systems, and electric-vehicle chargers.
  • The Defense Department has adjusted childcare fees to give military families a financial boost. Servicemembers can expect reduced childcare costs and expanded eligibility for flexible spending accounts in 2024. The White House directed DoD to improve childcare affordability on military installations in a June executive order. Under new calculations, the monthly childcare fee assistance provider rate cap increases $100 per child, and servicemembers can contribute up to $5,000 dollars per household for eligible dependent care. Enrollment in the flexible spending accounts begins in mid-November and takes effect on Jan. 1.
  • The Veterans Affairs Department is ready to spruce up its delivery of digital services. The agency released the draft solicitation for its Secure, Performant, Reliable and User-Centered Experiences (SPRUCE) multiple-award contract for service disabled veteran-owned small businesses. VA is seeking contractors to provide services across five functional areas, including software development, user research and data analytics. Market research experts estimate the ceiling on the contract could be as much as $2.7 billion. Comments on the draft Request for Proposal are due by September 21.
  • Applications are now open for the 2024 class of Presidential Management Fellows. The PMF program brings in graduate-level students on a two-year fellowship to work in specific areas over a four-to-six month timeframe. They also are given developmental training. Fellows generally are at the GS-9 to GS-12 level, and have an opportunity to take on rotational assignments. The 2023 class received 10,000 applications and 243 fellows earned appointments. Applications for the 2024 class will be open through Sept. 25 and the new class of fellows will be announced in February 2024.

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