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FCW Insider: Feb. 19

A two-year campaign that prompted the Department of Homeland Security to issue its first-ever emergency directive to agencies to shore up cyber defenses appears in part to have been an attempt to spy on U.S. government internet traffic. Derek B. Johnson has the story.

The Section 809 report offers an opportunity to reflect on the future of federal agency tech leaders, but in this FCW commentary, Dave Wennergren argues that reports on the impending demise of CIOs at DOD may be exaggerated.

Although the Technology Modernization Fund recently named a seventh awardee and has pledged nearly $90 million of its initial $100 million in funding, the money is slow to go out the door. Mark Rockwell has more.

After days of waiting and after a lengthy Rose Garden speech, President Donald Trump signed a funding bill to avert a second government shutdown and keep agencies funded for the balance of fiscal year 2019. Troy K. Schneider reports.

Quick Hits

*** The Office of Government Ethics is looking to make it easier for federal employees to take second jobs or earn outside income in the event of a government shutdown. In new guidance issued Feb. 15, OGE Director Emory Rounds instructed agencies to make available resources to their employees regarding any limitations or strictures on outside employment so that feds can make informed decisions about seeking work during a shutdown. In the event, federal employees are instructed to report their outside employment to an ethics officer and discuss any possible ramifications.

Additionally, Rounds told feds they were eligible to accept discounts and freebies offered to federal employees on furlough or working without pay, provided these were generally available and not being provided by a prohibited source – such as a vendor or prospective vendor or lobbyist or representative of a regulated industry.

The guidance suggests however that crowdsourced funding efforts are a potential minefield of conflict. While OGE didn't implement an outright ban on GoFundMe and similar fundraising efforts for feds in non-pay status, the guidance does state that a federal employee cannot use an agency's title or even standing as a fed to solicit crowdsourced funds, and that any such campaign would have to have a way of identifying and rejecting funds offered from prohibited sources.

"Given the number of potential ethical pitfalls, OGE strongly encourages employees to consult an ethics official before any such campaign begins," the guidance states.

*** Two senior Democrats offered legislation last week to extend the term of the lone member of the Merit Systems Protection Board by one year. The bill from Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), would allow Mark Robbins to continue to serve at MSPB for one year, provided he does not hold another federal government position concurrently. (This provision would necessitate Robbins to quit as general counsel of the Office of Personnel Management; last December, Robbins received a presidential dispensation to hold that post while serving at MSPB.)

The move might smooth the path for Senate confirmation of two prospective board members. The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee recently approved the nominations of Republican Dennis Kirk as MSPB chairman and Democrat Julia Clark as a board member. However, the panel rejected the nomination of a second Republican pick. HSGAC Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) has declined to forward the nominations for full Senate vote until a second Republican is nominated

The bill from Cummings and Connolly would allow Robbins, a Republican appointee who has served on the board since 2012, to continue thus giving the board the one-vote partisan slant tilted in favor of the GOP, perhaps inducing Johnson to advance the other two picks.

The push for a working quorum at MSBP is urgent because the agency hasn't been able to do business since Jan. 2017. If Robbins' term is allowed to expire without any member approved to take his place, the agency will be in "uncharted territory," Connolly said in a statement.

The MSPB backlog of cases awaiting board action topped 1,500 in September 2018, and the number is growing.

*** On Feb. 14, the Federal Aviation Administration extended the application period for unmanned aerial system suppliers to participate in its Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). The system, which completed its initial roll out last fall at airports nationwide, provides near-real-time processing of airspace authorizations for drone operators, as well as a more detailed traffic picture of the controlled space. The services are based on a public-private partnership between the agency and industry service suppliers.

LAANC, under the agency's UAS Data Exchange umbrella, was created to address the mounting numbers of private drones. Agency regulations require unmanned system operators flying aircraft at lower altitudes -- below 400 feet -- in airspace managed by an FAA air traffic control facility to get formal permission before such operations.

The agency also expanded temporary drone restrictions over 41 Defense Department installations and Justice Department correctional facilities. The 41 facilities include correctional institutions and detention centers as well as Army ammunition plants and a number of bases in the eastern U.S. as well as the Pearl Harbor Naval Defense Sea Area in Honolulu.

Posted on Feb 19, 2019 at 12:30 AM


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