GSA’s Polaris contract pulled back into protest vortex

In today's Federal Newscast: The Securities and Exchange Commission is planning to update its workforce strategies. A CIA technology leader is headed to the pri...

  • GSA's Polaris contract has been pulled back into the protest vortex. The General Services Administration's small business governmentwide acquisition contract, known as Polaris, faces a new complaint. VCH Partners filed a pre-award protest with the Government Accountability Office on January 12. VCH is challenging the limitations on the scope of proposal revisions offerors may provide in response to two modifications GSA made to the solicitation under the service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) pool. GSA issued an amendment and answers to questions on December 26, the details of which are behind a firewall. Polaris has faced several protests over the last year, including two earlier this fall that GAO still must decide. GAO has until April 22 to decide on VCH's protest.
  • The Veterans Health Administration is giving its human resources staff a pay raise. HR specialists and assistants working at VHA are about to see a 15% pay increase, thanks to a Special Salary Rate the agency approved at the end of last year. About 8,000 HR employees are eligible to receive the pay raise. The Special Salary Rate is meant to attract new hires and encourage current HR personnel to stay. VHA recently estimated it will need to hire about 1,000 HR professionals each year to keep up with its workload.
  • Congress is considering legislation to make the Cyber Safety Review Board, which investigates major cybersecurity incidents, a permanent fixture at the Department of Homeland Security. The board was created by executive order nearly three years ago, with the idea based on the National Transportation Safety Board. But experts said the cyber board may have too much industry participation today to be truly independent. DHS is also asking for the board to get subpoena power to aid its investigations. Lawmakers on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee are considering how to reform the board in the coming year.
  • For agencies looking to improve their human resources departments, one challenge is bigger than all the rest. Limited resources are the single greatest barrier to bringing HR innovations to scale, according to the Office of Personnel Management. After interviewing HR leaders governmentwide, OPM has found that many struggle to improve recruitment and retention without enough staffing, resources or structure. Agency leaders are also looking for more guidance on how to use human capital data to adjust their long-term workforce planning. OPM said it is looking to create a community of practice to try to address the challenge.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission is planning to update its workforce strategies. The agency's plans come in response to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office. GAO said the SEC needs to improve its skills on staff to better address the growing risks of cryptocurrency. The SEC already has some good workforce practices, GAO said, like regular assessments of its hiring and training needs. But an updated strategic plan overall will help the agency manage challenges in the cryptocurrency industry for the long-term.
  • The Justice Department and 15 other agencies are trying to figure out how best to balance the excitement over artificial intelligence and the requirements to maintain citizens' civil rights. The interagency group is looking for ways to share resources to address discrimination or other adverse situations that may arise through the use of AI and other advanced technologies. Several agencies already have ongoing efforts to safeguard civil rights through enforcement, policy initiatives and ongoing education and outreach. The interagency meeting builds on the Justice Department's May 2022 guidance helping public and private sector organizations guard against discrimination in hiring because of AI tools, as well as President Joe Biden's October AI executive order.
  • The Postal Service faces fewer legal challenges over plans for its next-generation delivery vehicle fleet. The Natural Resources Defense Council and the United Auto Workers are dropping their lawsuit against USPS. The groups filed a lawsuit in 2022, in a push to get the agency to buy more electric vehicles. At the time, USPS planned to purchase mostly gas-powered delivery trucks. But the agency is now making electric vehicles a majority of its new fleet, by using billions of dollars in the Inflation Reduction Act.
    (NRDC v. DeJoy - U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York)
  • Task Force 59, the Navy’s first task force driven by artificial intelligence, launched a new task group with a focus on unmanned operations. The task group will explore the operational deployment of unmanned systems to improve situational awareness and bolster security in the Middle East region. Sailors will leverage the task force's capabilities to advance manned and unmanned teaming concepts. Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, the commander of the 5th Fleet, said that Task Force 59 recently reached its full operational capability. Since its establishment, the task force has tested and operated more than 23 different unmanned systems.
  • One of the Central Intelligence Agency’s technology leaders is leaving. Jennifer Ewbank, deputy director of the CIA for digital innovation, will head to the private sector in the coming weeks. She has led the CIA’s digital efforts since October 2019. Ewbank previously held leadership positions in the agency’s directorate of operations and also served as a foreign service officer at the State Department.
  • A new classification policy has rewritten a decades-old document, in an effort to remove legacy classification barriers that hinder the Defense Department’s daily operations. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks signed the new policy at the end of last year, with the goal of reducing overclassification of all things related to space. DoD Assistant Secretary for Space Policy John Plumb said that they are assigning minimum classifications to things, which in turn will allow services to examine their own programs. The details of the policy are unclear since the document is classified, but Plumb said that DoD’s main challenge is overuse of its Special Access Programs.

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