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- Agencies spent more on contracts in fiscal 2020 than at any time over the past five years. New analysis from Bloomberg Government found agencies spent almost $700 billion on procurement last year, which is a 43% increase since 2016. No surprise that the biggest areas of growth was in medical services and supplies, research and development and professional services. BGov said spending on technology grew by more than $5.5 billion.
- The IRS looks back on 2020 as a year full of challenges. IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said the agency doubled its new hires in fiscal 2020, compared to the year before, and has eliminated its hiring backlog. But he said the IRS workforce is still recovering from budget cuts over the past decade that have led to the agency losing more than 30,000 full-time employees. Rettig said the agency has expanded its uses of data, analytics and artificial intelligence to flag tax noncompliance issues in its enforcement area.
- The Justice Department revealed more about the impact of the SolarWinds breach on its networks. Hackers breached only about 3% of the Justice Department’s 100,000 email accounts as part of the SolarWinds cyber incident but no classified systems. For the first time, DOJ released details of the cyber incident, which it says it characterized as major. Justice along with the other cabinet and major agencies have until Jan. 19 to submit new post incident status reports to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS. CISA released an updated emergency directive yesterday requiring additional details in order to gain a better understanding of how the breach impacted agency networks.
- The president signed a massive, catch-all bill into law that will extend and expand certain housing, education and other benefits for veterans during the pandemic. The legislation also creates a permanent women’s health office within VA. It requires VA to create a new anti-harassment policy and expand the number of providers specializing in women’s healthcare. The bill is named after the retired House VA Committee Ranking Member Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and former Senate committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).
- Nearly half of federal employees say they’d telework permanently after the pandemic if they could. A Federal News Network survey of federal employees and contractors found 48% would choose to work remotely full-time if given the option. Another 35% said they’d telework three or four days a week. Yet federal employees are cautiously optimistic their agencies will support more regular telework arrangements once the pandemic ends. And 56% said they shouldn’t return to the office until the vast majority of the workforce has received a COVID-19 vaccine. (Federal News Network)
- The National Science Foundation created a predictive model to flag potential improper payments in its grants process. NSF’s Payments and Analytics Branch created the model using single audit data from the Federal Audit Clearinghouse, and it has accurately predicted whether a grantee had a question cost of their audit report 87% of the time. NSF won the Association of Government Accountants’ 2020 Innovation Challenge for developing the statistical model. (Federal News Network)
- The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency launches a multi-year research effort called the Space-based Machine Automated Recognition Technique or SMART. The program will automate searches of satellite imagery to characterize and detect things like heavy construction and crop growth. The intelligence community hopes the program will allow for the timely discovery and monitoring of natural and man-made change on a global scale.
- The Air Force said it’s taking more steps to address toxic work environments. The new directive applies to every commander in the Air Force. Commands that score below 50% on workforce surveys dealing with matters of diversity and inclusion will need to address the problems right away. If they get a negative score on those surveys, commanders will have 60 days to submit a detailed action plan on how they’ll improve their command climate. Among the issues the Air Force is specifically targeting are racism, sexism, sexual harassment and workplace hostility.