Thousands of non-feds would be eligible to join the Thrift Savings Plan under a new bill. The Parity for Tribal Educators Act would offer federal pensions and TSP accounts to about 10,000 non-federal teachers who work at tribally-controlled schools. Rep. Gabe Vasquez (D-N.M.) introduced the bill. He said it would bring these educators in line with federally employed teachers at tribal schools run by the Interior Department. The non-federal tribal employees became eligible for the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program in 2020. Vasquez said adding retirement benefits would further support these tribal individuals nationwide. The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which runs the TSP, has no objections to the legislation. But the board said if it is enacted, it might be challenging to transfer in the potential new participants, since the schools are geographically dispersed and fairly remote.
Federal agencies are getting better at finding and fixing cyber vulnerabilities. Agencies have remediated more than 12 million known exploited vulnerabilities during the past two years, including seven million so far in 2023. Those types of computer bugs are known to be taken advantage of by hackers. “We are seeing major progress in really key areas, but certainly more work to do," Eric Goldstein, executive assistant director for cyber at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said during a House Homeland Security Committee yesterday. And CISA is also launching a Federal Attack Surface Management program this year to help agencies find vulnerabilities in their systems.
The Army's overhaul of how it buys software will accelerate in 2024. The Army is taking the lessons learned over the past few years from its 11 software pathway pilots and turning them into new policies. Gabe Camarillo, the undersecretary of the Army, said a new set of software development and acquisition polices will rely more on its new authorities and turn to a continuous integration, continuous delivery approach. "We're looking at bringing in, for example, a team of experts that would red team or peer review many of the RFPs for complex software development to enable us to have a more informed approach moving forward," Camarillo said.
(Gabe Camarillo, Undersecretary of the Army - Federal News Network)
The Postal Service’s law enforcement division is staffing up to handle a surge in mail theft cases. The United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) made more than 600 arrests since May, as part of a multi-pronged effort to crack down on mail theft and robberies of mail carriers. Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale said the agency is looking to hire more postal inspectors and is accepting applications through November 1. “We do plan to get to full complement very quickly," Barksdale said. The USPS Office of Inspector General found the USPIS is operating at 88% of its authorized staffing level. The IG recently cited staffing as a top challenge to address mail theft cases.
Agencies must award at least 13% of all their prime contracts to small disadvantaged businesses (SDBs) this fiscal year. The Office of Management and Budget established this governmentwide goal yesterday, as part of the administration's plan to increase prime contracts going to SDBs to15% by the end of 2025. The 13% goal is 1% higher than what agencies faced in 2023. The accomplishments for last fiscal year are not final yet, but in 2022, 11.5% of all contracts went to SDBs.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is making good use of its new retention and recruitment tools. And more are coming soon. VA Secretary Denis McDonough said the VA is offering critical skills incentive payments to about 5,000 employees with in-demand skills to keep them at the department. The VA gained that authority under the toxic exposure PACT Act. McDonough said the VA is looking at additional workforce incentives. “We have more tools that we’ll be announcing soon on this, because this is a profoundly important issue,” McDonough said.
The first-ever defense industrial strategy, set to come out in early December, will focus on four key areas: resilient supply chains, workforce readiness, flexible acquisition and economic deterrence. Justin McFarlin, deputy assistant secretary of defense for industrial base development and international engagement, said that the supply chain and the workforce are issues also affecting industry that government wants to address. The Defense Department also wants to deliver at speed, scale and at a reasonable cost, while keeping an eye on foreign investment activity.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is looking for researchers and vendors for its Open Price Exploration for National Security program, known as OPEN. DARPA is holding a proposer’s day on November 13 in Arlington, Virginia and online for registered participants. At the event, DARPA will discuss the OPEN program, which aims to increase transparency in the critical materials market. OPEN seeks to create technology to improve price transparency and increase the accuracy and precision of supply and demand forecasts by using artificial intelligence and quantitative economic modeling. Advanced registration is required.
Agencies are working to reduce cyber threats to hospitals and other healthcare organizations. The Department of Health and Human Services, along with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, released a new cybersecurity toolkit for the healthcare and public health sector this week. The development comes amid a rising tide of cyber attacks targeting hospitals and other healthcare groups. Among other things, the kit includes CISA’s vulnerability scanning service and a cybersecurity best practices guide from HHS.
Survivors of civilian federal employees killed in the line of duty are a step closer to receiving greater death benefits. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee cleared legislation yesterday to increase the dollar amount of death gratuities and funeral coverages for civilian feds. If enacted, the benefit amounts would increase tenfold for frontline employees, like law enforcement officers or federal firefighters, who are killed while on duty. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), who reintroduced the bill, said it would bring those benefits in line with what Foreign Service and military members already receive.