News in Brief

Drone pilot training, DISA's big cyber contract, fed feedback, USASpending.gov and more

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Army, Air Force lag in training drone pilots

Fundamental training for unmanned aerial system (UAS) pilots in the Army and Air Force has lagged, according to a new study by the Government Accountability Office, even as the number of UAS has soared at the Department of Defense.

The report recommended, among other training efforts, that the Army require unit status reports to include information on the readiness levels of UAS pilots. It said the Air Force needs to step up its efforts to ensure it has enough trained UAS pilots in the field.

The study said that as of 2013, DOD had as many as 10,000 UAS, with the majority of the pilots for those systems in the Army and Air Force.

The GAO said the Army, because it doesn't require status reports on UAS training in unit status reports, doesn't know the how well its UAS pilots have been trained and whether they're ready for deployment. It said a sample of Air Force training records from seven UAS units showed that, on average, only 35 percent of the pilots in these units completed the training for all of their required missions. Additionally, it said pilots in all of the units said that they couldn't conduct training because their units were short of UAS pilots.

Although the report said the Army and Air Force were taking steps to address the training issues, neither has fully addressed it.

DISA extends deadline for $475M cyber contract

DISA has extended the due date for its $475 million multiple-award U.S. Cyber Command IDIQ contract, Washington Technology reports. The contract, which aims to make it easier for the military services and Defense Department agencies to buy cybersecurity- related products and services, now has a deadline for proposals of June 19. The original due date was to be May 30.

USAspending.gov restores keyword search after Senate pressure

After a recent redesign had made USASpending.gov harder to navigate, the Treasury Department has walked back its changes.

The department had updated its spending-transparency website, charged by law with providing details on every federal contract greater than $3,000, on March 31. As part of the redesign – called "broken" and "really screwed up" by policy analysts and journalists alike – USASpending.gov's search functionality was radically altered.

The department had taken steps almost immediately to respond to the criticisms; GCN reported in early April that a GitHub repository had been created to field and track user suggestions for fixing the site. And this week, the Washington Free Beacon reported, Treasury bowed to widespread pressure and restored the site's keyword search -- just days after a bipartisan group of senators penned a letter criticizing the severe limitations of the redesigned search.

"These search functions worked well in the previous version of the website," said the May 7 letter, which was signed by Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Thomas Carper (D-Del.), among others. "As a publicly accessible website designed precisely to promote transparency, USAspending.gov should increase its configurability and flexibility over time—not reduce them."

360-degree feedback for the rank-and-file

The Office of Personnel Management has long offered a 360-degree feedback assessment program for federal employees in Senior Executive Service development programs. Now the University of Maryland has launched a similar service for feds at the GS-12 to GS-15 levels.

Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, in collaboration with Cambria Consulting, on May 13 announced the launch of a new application to bolster leadership development.

The Federal Executive Leadership Inventory meets Office of Personnel Management Executive Core Qualifications. Assessments can be purchased, or incorporated into broader training programs that agencies can contract from the school.

"Leaders need to identify and change unhelpful habits early," Liz Barron, the Smith School's senior director executive education, said. "By the time someone reaches an SES candidate development program, it is really too late."

The new tool was developed in response to senior leaders' notably low marks in the 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. "The surveys indicate those in charge at different levels in the agency don't know what others think of them," Barron said. "They don't know where they are 'getting it wrong,' and that means they can't work to 'put it right.'"

Survey says agile development would speed cloud adoption

A survey of federal IT managers by MeriTalk showed that about two thirds of federal managers queried say more agile DevOps development techniques will fuel agencies' shift to the cloud.

"The Agile Advantage: Can DevOps Move Cloud to the Fast Lane?" was based on interviews of 150 federal IT managers and underwritten by Accenture Federal Services. The survey found that 66 percent of those managers said their agency needs to move IT services to the cloud faster to meet mission and constituent needs.

Obstacles to cloud adoption remain, however. The survey said that security and budget remained top concerns, while structural and cultural issues continue to slow federal cloud adoption. Forty-two percent of feds cite infrastructure complexity as a top challenge to adopting cloud, followed by fear of change (40 percent), inflexible practices (40 percent), and lack of clear strategy (35 percent).

Top DOD official heading to NATO

Alan Shaffer, the acting assistant secretary of Defense for research and engineering, is leaving the department to be chief scientist for NATO.

Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's top acquisition official, made the announcement on May 14. Stephen Welby, who is currently deputy assistant secretary of Defense for systems engineering, will take over for Shaffer as acting assistant secretary. Welby's nomination for the permanent position is pending Senate confirmation.

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