One of the biggest federal agencies has created a chief artificial intelligence officer position. Department of Homeland Security Chief Information Officer Eric Hysen has been designated as the department’s first ever chief AI officer. Hysen will be responsible for promoting AI innovation and safety throughout the department. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last month signed out a new policy on DHS’ acquisition and use of AI and machine learning technologies. The directive says DHS must master the technology, while ensuring its use is responsible and trustworthy.
Lawmakers on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee have taken an even deeper dive into the telework policies at four agencies. The Department of Homeland Security, the National Science Foundation, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and NASA laid out their telework data from the past few years and their upcoming plans to change office requirements. The agencies said a blend of both in-person and virtual work helps productivity and improves recruitment and retention. But a few Republican members are calling for an increase to in-office work, after what they say is a lack of data on telework's impact on agency performance. Oversight committee leaders have pressured agencies for months to share more detailed telework information. The committee plans to hold another hearing in the coming weeks with several agencies who they say did not meet their data expectations.
Department of Veterans Affairs employees feel burnt out using a new electronic health record (EHR). VA just completed its first wave of fixes to its Oracle-Cerner EHR, after hitting pause on the project this spring. But VA sites already using the system are seeing lower levels of productivity, even after adding more staff. Meredith Arensman, Chief of Staff at a VA medical facility in Columbus, Ohio, said medical providers there are feeling burnout and that the system is making it harder to care for veterans. “We understand we can’t flip the switch and go back to the legacy system, although there are days that would be our preference," Arensman said.
Across the military services, recruiting numbers are down – but retention is still very high. That has put some unexpected pressure on personnel budgets, because junior paygrades are understaffed and more people are serving in senior grades. Both the Army and Air Force have asked Congress for permission to reshuffle their 2023 budgets to account for those changes, along with factors like inflation-driven higher-than-expected food costs. The Army said its expected personnel costs have risen by about $700 million.
Military recruiting has been a tough business for the past couple of years. So far, the Air Force has been able to weather the storm, but officials now say this year’s recruiting goals are down significantly. The active duty Air Force will fall short of its goal by about 10%, and the reserve components will miss theirs by about 30%. Officials said they have been able to ease the challenge with a handful of policy changes that make it easier for recruits to join, but they still face strong headwinds in 2024.
Up to $135 billion stolen. That is one government watchdog’s estimate of how much money from COVID-19 unemployment-insurance payments went to fraudsters. The Government Accountability Office estimates that is about 15% of all pandemic-era spending on unemployment benefits. The Labor Department warns GAO may be overestimating the level of fraud, but GAO defends its methodology and said it may never fully know the full extent of pandemic fraud.
The Department of Homeland Security is adopting new safeguards around its use of facial recognition technologies. In a September 11 directive, DHS issued an enterprise policy for the use of face recognition and face-capture technologies. It pledged that DHS components will only use technologies that have been thoroughly tested for accuracy and biases. It also mandated that face recognition cannot be used as the sole basis for law or civil enforcement actions. DHS is also requiring its components to allow U.S. citizens to opt-out of face recognition for any non-law enforcement uses.
Federal employees can now donate unused time off to other feds impacted by Hurricane Idalia. The Office of Personnel Management has created a new emergency leave transfer program for government employees working in the disaster areas in Florida and South Carolina. Through OPM's program, feds can transfer their time off to those who may need additional leave hours during emergencies. The idea is to help feds in an emergency event avoid dipping into their own paid leave. The Hurricane Idalia program is now the seventh emergency leave transfer program OPM has established in 2023.