"Continuous vetting" is no longer just for employees in national security positions. More federal employees, many of whom are in policymaking, public safety and health and law enforcement roles, will soon be subject to background checks at any given time. The Office of Personnel Management is directing all agencies to start making preparations to change vetting procedures for what are called “non-sensitive public trust positions.” The goal is to enroll all feds in both high-and moderate-risk categories into the government's continuous vetting program by next October.
The Department of Homeland Security has set it sights on new customer service goals. DHS wants to eliminate 10 million burden hours over this next year. Those hours are the time the public spends filling out forms and going through other DHS processes. The department said it reduced more than 20 million burden hours on the public last year. And DHS is also aiming to redesign 75% of the internal forms used at headquarters, which is in line with the goals of the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act.
The Agriculture Department is out with the first two of three major cloud solicitations. USDA is taking the first steps toward creating a set of enterprisewide cloud contracts, having released the solicitations for Pool 2 and Pool 3 under its Stratus program. Under Pool 2, USDA plans to create a 10-year basic ordering agreement (BOA) for integration and development services. Under Pool 3, USDA will also create a 10-year BOA for software-as-a-service providers. USDA did not say when it would release the solicitation for Pool 1, which is for hyperscale cloud service providers. Proposals for Pool 2 are due Oct. 16 and for Pool 3 are due by Oct. 27.
The General Services Administration (GSA) is rethinking public outreach for government services. If you are expecting a package from the Postal Service or a passport from the State Department, you might someday get a text message telling you it is on its way. That is the idea behind U.S. Notify, a digital notification service under development as a pilot program at the GSA. The platform would allow agencies to send customized text messages to customers to keep them updated on the status of certain benefits and services. GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan said U.S. Notify builds on similar concepts launched in the the United Kingdom and Canada. "It’s really just a perfect example of where you don’t have to just keep reinventing the wheel," Carnahan said.
With the threat of a government shutdown still very much real, two Democratic senators are looking out for government contractors in the service industry. Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine's Fair Pay for Federal Contractors Act would guarantee back pay for contractors providing food service, janitorial services and security services, if a lapse in appropriations occurs. The bill would cover costs associated with back pay for workers in an amount equal to their weekly compensation up to $1,400, which is 250% of the federal poverty level for a family of four. The legislation, though, is unlikely to become law before the next possible government shutdown in November.
Veterans seeking reproductive health services from the Department of Veterans Affairs are generally able to get them. That includes access to abortion at VA facilities, even in states that have made it illegal in some cases, according to a recent VA inspector general report. About half of the 600,000 women veterans seeking health care from the VA are of childbearing age.
Federal corrections officers could soon see some big pay bonuses. The Justice Department got approval in late September to start paying 25% retention bonuses to some Bureau of Prisons workers, at eight prison facilities across the country. The federal government struggles with a 40% shortage of corrections officers. The American Federation of Government Employees said the announcement is a positive step and hopes it will help address persistent understaffing.
Legislation aimed at reducing educational requirements for federal cyber employees has taken a big step forward. This week, the House passed the Modernizing the Acquisition of Cybersecurity Experts Act. Proponents of the bill said it would force agencies to focus more on cyber skills rather than college degrees. The legislation would also require the Office of Personnel Management to publish annual progress reports on reforms to education-based qualifications for cyber positions.
The Army is planning a major overhaul to the way it recruits soldiers, as its continues to fall short of its goals. The service finished fiscal year 2023 with 55,000 new recruits, about 10,000 short of what it needed. The Army now plans to stand up a bigger dedicated workforce to serve as recruiters throughout their time in uniform. Army Recruiting Command will also get a boost in the service’s organizational chart. From now on, it will be led by a lieutenant general. That three-star general, will serve in the position for four years.