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The Federal Safeguard Act of 2018 has been passed out of committee, meaning the House will vote on the bill clarifying the rights of agency heads to restrict employee access to certain websites in the name of cybersecurity. Rep. Gary Palmer’s (R-Ala.) bill would eliminate requirements that agencies first bargain with employees before imposing site or email bans. Palmer’s bill is aimed at allowing IT leaders to reduce threats to federal networks. Democrats are not so sure that’s the goal. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) urged fellow lawmakers to work toward protecting federal computer systems without eroding employee rights. (Meritalk.com)
Pay raise in 2019?
Appropriations legislation working its way through Congress provides different visions of whether civilian employees should get pay raises in 2019. The House has passed the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill that included no pay raise for federal employees. The Senate, which is working on similar legislation, would provide for a 1.9% pay raise, but the bill hasn’t made it to the full Senate for a vote. (House Appropriations)
Vet your applicants
New research from the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) has shown agencies that if they want to reduce hiring times, more effort should be put into properly assessing their job candidates. The MSPB said a survey of supervisors indicated that finding a qualified pool of applicants was one of their toughest workforce management challenges to tackle. MSPB said having good applicant assessments reduces the likelihood of making a bad hire and absorbing higher costs. (MSPB)
President Trump’s three nominees to sit on the MSPB are faced with a stack of casework if confirmed. After lacking a quorum to do business for the past 19 months, the incoming board faces a backlog of nearly 1,300 pending cases involving employee appeals of adverse actions. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee heard from Dennis Kirk, Julia Clark and Andrew Maunz on Thursday. Kirk told the committee he will consult career staff on innovative ways to reduce the backlog if he’s confirmed as the board’s chairman. (Federal News Radio)
DoD birds revisited
The Pentagon has suddenly reversed its position on the impact of wild birds on its operations. On Wednesday, Defense Department (DoD) officials said operation could continue without harming the protected birds. Then the Pentagon reversed itself. Defense officials said Thursday that the Pentagon does, in fact, support a provision of the Defense Authorization Act that would ban the Interior Department from using the Endangered Species Act to protect the Sage Grouse and the Western Prairie Chicken. The Pentagon said the measure could help the military avoid “readiness impacts” to its bases. (Federal News Radio)
Funding for Trump’s wall
The White House has offered its backing to a House bill reported out this week to provide $5 billion in funding for President Trump’s southern border wall project. The money was part of a larger $51 billion bill funding the Department of Homeland Security for 2019. The Senate passed its own version of the bill, but only provided $1.6 billion for the wall, setting up a potential clash in Congress over the numbers. The president expressed displeasure when the Senate figure was announced last month. He told senators he might shut down the government this fall if more money wasn’t forthcoming. (White House)
According to a New York Times report, the government-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) purchased Facebook advertising aimed at U.S. users in violation of laws meant to protect Americans from domestic propaganda. A New York Times report said a Syracuse University researcher first pointed out the ads. When brought to the attention of broadcaster’s parent organization, the Broadcasting Bureau of Governors, RFE/RL took down the ads. (New York Times)
Another Zinke probe
The Interior Department’s Inspector General (IG) notified Congress this week that it is investigating Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for potential conflict of interest. The investigation came after calls from three House Democrats that the IG look into Zinke’s actions surrounding a real estate development in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana that he was poised to benefit from financially. The Democrats cited emails that showed Zinke met with potential investors, including the chairman of energy giant Halliburton, in his Interior offices last year. Interior’s IG has already found Zinke failed to properly document his travel and is currently investigating accusations that Interior improperly reassigned a number of employees. (Politico)
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has questioned the Energy and Interior departments about their reorganization plans. Lawmakers told department officials on Thursday they wanted more information about the cost-benefit of undertaking such a massive restructuring. Lawmakers said they are especially concerned about plans to consolidate the departments’ applied energy programs and about privatizing some electricity infrastructure, including the Tennessee Valley Authority. The committee also asked questions about the administration’s plan to redraw Interior’s regional boundaries, and Secretary Zinke’s intention to relocate the Bureau of Land Management out West. (Courthouse News Service)
What is blockchain?
Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) has offered a bill to have the Commerce Department convene a working group of federal and industry stakeholders to develop a consensus-based definition for the term “blockchain.” Matsui said the term, normally associated with Bitcoin, has seen its applications grow to the point where its definition has become less clear. She said she believes a common definition will help spur further innovation and ease deployment across the public and private sectors. (Meritalk.com)
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has named Grant Schneider as the permanent Federal Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). OMB Deputy Director Margaret Weichert named Schneider, who served 18 months as acting CISO. In the role, Schneider’s responsibilities include cyber policy, strategic planning, interagency collaboration and implementation of best practices. He is also chairman of the CISO Council and senior director for cybersecurity for the National Security Council. Schneider replaces Greg Touhill, who served as the first federal CISO until the end of the Obama administration. (FCW.com)