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News Briefs: Nov. 5

Nov. 4, 2012 - 04:21PM   |  
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Report: $1 trillion in cuts won’t hurt DoD

The Defense Department can absorb approximately $1 trillion in cuts through 2021 without imperiling national security, a liberal-leaning think tank argued in a report released last week.

The reductions are required by last year’s Budget Control Act beginning Jan. 2 unless Congress agrees on another path for long-term deficit reduction. When fully in place, they would take inflation-adjusted defense spending back to its fiscal 2006 threshold, which was close to the highest level since World War II, the Center for American Progress said in the report.

By the organization’s count, the cuts would trim DoD spending plans by about 33 percent, in line with the reduction that followed the end of the Cold War, but still leave the military dominant in “air power, sea power and ground forces deployment.”

In some cases, national security would be better served by redirecting some of the savings to international peacekeeping efforts and a global fund to fight AIDS and other diseases, the report said.

DHS to hire 600 cyber professionals

The Department of Homeland Security is following through on recommendations to hire at least 600 cybersecurity experts, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said last week.

The department is looking to hire cyber experts, analysts, information technology specialists and people who are familiar with coding, Napolitano said at a Washington Post cybersecurity forum.

In June, Napolitano directed a newly formed CyberSkills task force to develop recommendations for expanding DHS’ cyber workforce and the pipeline of cyber talent nationwide. The task force recommendations included hiring at least 600 cyber professionals.

James Lewis, senior fellow and program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, questioned why DHS has not already hired more cyber professionals under similar efforts over the past few years. One issue the report identified is that DHS has not properly identified the skills needed to defend against threats, making it difficult to hire people with those skills. To keep pace with the growing threat, DHS has relied heavily on contractors, “leaving fewer of these sought-after positions open to federal employees,” the report said.

GAO calls for standards on religious time off

The Office of Personnel Management needs to standardize and clarify the government’s rules on compensatory time off for religious observances, the Government Accountability Office said last month.

OPM’s rules say that employees can work overtime — without earning premium pay — to make up for time lost meeting religious requirements. But GAO said in its report that agencies administer these policies differently from one another. There are different rules on how quickly compensatory time off must be repaid, which forms are required to request time off, how schedules are adjusted and how unused time off must be disposed of.

The differences can be stark even within a department such as Homeland Security, GAO said. For example, Customs and Border Protection requires its employees to earn and use compensatory time off within five pay periods, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a six-pay-period cap and the Transportation Security Administration, two pay periods.

GAO urges DHS to address poor morale

The Department of Homeland Security could do a better job addressing low morale among its employees, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last week.

Job satisfaction among DHS employees was 4.5 percentage points lower than among federal employees as a whole, with those differences being more acute in agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to GAO’s summary of the Office of Personnel Management’s 2011 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

The report said DHS should:

• Strengthen its analyses of the OPM survey results to identify the root causes of poor morale.

• Identify clearly measurable goals in its action plan to improve morale.

CBP sued for blocking photographers

The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego filed a lawsuit last week against Customs and Border Protection on behalf of two photographers who say they were harassed and prevented from taking photos of land ports of entry.

One photographer was 50 yards away from the entrance on a city street when he said CBP agents emerged from the port of entry, detained him, grabbed him, threatened to smash his camera, brought him inside, handcuffed him, frisked him and deleted his photos, according to ACLU.

ACLU said in a statement that court decisions have repeatedly protected the right of people to take pictures of border crossings.

“The border is not a Constitution-free zone,” David Loy, legal director of the San Diego ACLU, said in a news release. “Border agents are not above the law, and the law guarantees our right to hold them accountable by documenting their conduct.”

EPA chooses Lockheed cloud for email

The Environmental Protection Agency expects to save about $12 million over the next four years by moving to a cloud-based email system.

EPA awarded Lockheed Martin a $9.8 million contract to move 25,000 email accounts to a Microsoft cloud by early next year, the company announced last week.

Employees will also have access to calendars, scheduling and collaboration tools in the cloud.

5-year-old privacy board holds first meeting

A board established five years ago to monitor the impact of anti-terrorism policies on privacy and civil liberties met for the first time last week.

The five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board was first created in 2004 as part of the Executive Office of the President, then reconstituted as an independent agency in 2007.

But the Senate never acted on then-President George W. Bush’s nominations to the board, and President Obama did not make any appointments until 2011, with the Senate finally confirming four members in August.

The board remains without a chairman, however, as the nomination of attorney David Medine for the job is still awaiting Senate action.

Justice alleges false claims by Iraq security contractor

The Justice Department has joined a False Claims Act lawsuit against a contractor for allegedly hiring unqualified security guards under a contract to provide security in Iraq, the department announced last week.

The company, Triple Canopy Inc. of Reston, Va., was awarded a one-year, $10 million contract in 2009 for security services at Al Asad Air Base — the second-largest air base in Iraq, according to a Justice news release.

According to the release: Triple Canopy allegedly billed the government for hundreds of foreign nationals it hired as security guards who could not meet firearms proficiency tests established by the Army and required under the contract. Triple Canopy’s manager in Iraq allegedly falsified test scorecards as a cover-up.

The government’s claims are based on a whistle-blower suit filed by a former Triple Canopy employee in 2011 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va.

IG: VA needs to improve IT workforce planning

The Veterans Affairs Department’s information technology office has “no clear roadmap” to deal with the potential retirements of more than 40 percent of its leadership and technical staff in the next five years, according to the VA inspector general.

In a newly released audit, the IG urges a “strategic” approach: Develop a leadership succession plan, determine where the office lacks employees to carry out key responsibilities and better assess the use of contractors.

The IT office has almost 7,600 employees who support VA benefits administration and health care services. Forty-three percent of the employees were age 50 or older as of April, the report said.

In a written response, Stephen Warren, VA’s principal deputy assistant secretary for IT, said the office hired a new human capital management director — Thomas Martinez — in May and is striving to address auditors’ concerns.

Postal union takes loss of drivers’ jobs to court

A federal court hearing is set for Nov. 9 on a labor union’s bid to block the U.S. Postal Service from contracting out some 840 USPS truck drivers’ jobs in California later this month.

The American Postal Workers Union filed suit last month to stop the move on the grounds that the Postal Service can’t proceed until an arbitrator decides whether it is violating contract requirements.

The Postal Service wants to give the drivers’ work to contractors because it can’t afford the $8 million cost of retrofitting USPS trucks to meet California emissions standards, according to a court filing.

Judge Yvonne Rogers for the U.S. District Court for Northern California will take arguments on the APWU’s request for a preliminary injunction. No injunction is needed because the arbitrator could reverse the Postal Service’s decision, attorneys for the agency said.

DoD to install meters to track, reduce energy use

Defense Department agencies plan to install 30,000 energy meters in thousands of facilities over the next five years, at a cost of $325 million, a DoD official said.

Once connected, the meters will inform senior Pentagon officials where they should prioritize investments in energy-efficiency upgrades, said Daryl Haegley, program manager for DoD’s Business Enterprise Integration Directorate.

“There will be a significant benefit because we’re going to try and go after 80 percent of our biggest energy consumers,” Haegley said.

However, once that energy data is aggregated in one place, the department then has to analyze it, Haegley said. “The tremendous challenge of what we do with all that big data is still in front of us,” he said last month at an AFCEA-Bethesda conference.

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