Quick Hits

*** The head of the Department of Veterans Affairs told a congressional panel March 26 that moving IT operations to the cloud is a top priority, and the agency has "8,000 employees who are dedicated simply to that transition." VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that the move is necessary to prevent future IT failures. VA has taken hits in recent months for critical problems with applications designed to supply housing benefits under the Forever GI Act.

"VA systems were not capable of handling the changes that Congress mandated," Wilkie said.

*** Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced a bill that would allow senators and staff to tap the cybersecurity resources of the Senate Sergeant at Arms to protect personal accounts and devices. Currently, SAA's position is that it is prevented from using appropriated funds to provide cybersecurity assistance on non-governmental accounts.

"Hackers don't differentiate between the official and personal devices of elected officials and their staff," Wyden said in a statement. "The Senate doesn't have the luxury of ignoring the changing landscape of cyberattacks. No one should play politics when the future of U.S. democracy is on the line."

Wyden and Cotton recently teamed up on a letter to the SSA head seeking more information on hacks and attempted hacks aimed at senators and staffers.

*** Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) are renewing a push to pay back federal contractors for shutdown losses, as well as stake their opposition to the administration's proposed cuts to federal retirement.

The lawmakers offered four amendments to the fiscal year 2020 budget resolution, three aimed at protecting federal workers. One amendment would prevent increased retirement contribution to offset other, unrelated costs. Another two would protect current federal employees' retirement benefits, and would strike the Senate Budget Committee's draft resolution to cut benefits by at least $15 billion. A fourth creates a deficit-neutral reserve fund to provide back pay to contractors affected by the 35-day shutdown.

"As we look at next year's budget, my priority is to ensure that we're protecting federal workers against pay cuts, preserving their retirement security, and trying to secure back pay for the service contractors impacted by government shutdowns," said Kaine.

***At a House hearing March 27, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that telecom providers, "find it lucrative to deal with Chinese businesses and put Huawei or ZTE equipment inside their infrastructure or networks."

Pompeo is leading the charge to pressure European allies on behalf of the administration to kill 5G deals involving Huawei and ZTE.

"We've done our best to share with those businesses and the countries in which they reside the threat that we see from engaging in that… When you have telecommunications that are deeply connected to state owned enterprises inside of China, we don't see that there's a technical mitigation of the risk possible." The efforts to dissuade allies from working with Chinese telecoms on 5G have not been as successful as the White House hoped, despite threats to end intelligence information sharing if they include Chinese gear in their 5G networks Pompeo said the U.S. continues to share information with allies on the threat and expressed hope "that the Europeans will begin to move further in our direction in the understanding of those risks."

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