The Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs is strengthening its ability to investigate and remedy employment discrimination allegations filed against federal contractors. Labor finalized an update to its 2020 rule around performing pre-enforcement and conciliation procedures. Labor says the updates promote efficiency in resolving cases and strengthens enforcement. The December 2020 rule constrained Labor’s broad enforcement discretion and limited its ability to remove barriers to equal employment opportunity. The updated rule makes several other changes including rescinding the evidentiary standards and other requirements that are necessary to issue a predetermination notice or notice of violation. It also returns the time contractors have to respond to a predetermination notice to 15 days from 30 days.

The future success of the largest federal payroll provider is at risk. The Department of Agriculture’s National Finance Center is suffering from years of inadequate investment in its people, both leadership and staff, technology, physical facilities and financial support. A new nine-month study by the National Academy of Public Administration says NFC must take immediate action or face a loss of viability to provide payroll services to 170 agencies and 600,000 employees. NAPA says NFC must improve its technology infrastructure, its customer and employee experiences and gain support for consistent and increased funding. NFC recently laid out a new five-year vision, called stabilize, modernize and grow, to begin to address many of these challenges.

(NAPA report on National Finance Center modernization assessment – National Academy of Public Administration)

The Senior Executive Service has recently gotten a little more diverse, but federal associations want agencies to take it up another notch. Adding more diversity to interview panels, and considering more internal candidates for SES positions are just a couple of ideas from leaders at the Senior Executives Association and the African American Federal Executive Association. Still, changes to SES demographics can start with something even simpler, says SEA President Marcus Hill. “The first thing that agencies can do is acknowledge that this is a problem. That’s why it’s so critically important that we have that diversity around the table.”

(Interview with Senior Executives Association and African American Federal Executive Association – Federal News Network)

The Biden administration is bringing agencies together to maximize the public’s benefit from financial assistance programs. The Office of Management and Budget is creating a Council on Federal Financial Assistance to reduce the administrative burden on program applicants, and ensure agencies deliver payments in an efficient, effective, and equitable manner. OMB Deputy Director for Management Jason Miller will serve as the council’s chairman.

White House officials are looking for ideas to help address the challenges of widely used software code. The Office of the National Cyber Director released a request for information today on addressing systemic risks in open-source software. Officials are looking at ways the government can foster the long-term sustainability of open-source communities, as well as ways to integrate potential security solutions into the software. The White House is accepting comments through Oct. 9.

The National Science Foundation is finalizing some requirements for its CyberCorps Scholarship for Service Program. The program offers scholarships to college students pursuing degrees in cybersecurity, AI and related fields. The trade-off is that scholarship recipients, after receiving their degree, have to work for a federal agency, in a cyber-related position, for the length of that scholarship. But it doesn’t always work out — and NSF has just issued a final rule clarifying that scholarship recipients who don’t fulfill those requirements will have to pay back the scholarship money. But, NSF added, students can still submit waiver or deferral requests, in cases when it would present an extreme hardship for them to repay the funds.

(CyberCorps SFS final rule – National Science Foundation)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working with major artificial intelligence companies on a new project. DARPA is launching its Artificial Intelligence Cyber Challenge this week, with the involvement of of leading AI companies Anthropic, Google, Microsoft and OpenAI. Teams will compete to develop novel AI systems that can identify and patch vulnerabilities in critical software systems. DARPA will award a total of $18.5 million in prizes throughout the competition. The challenge will culminate in a final competition to be hosted at the DEF CON 2025 conference.

The Defense Department needs to do a better job of screening service members to find out if they have experienced sexual harassment or assault. The Government Accountability Office found both active duty service members and veterans frequently suffer from chronic metal health problems resulting from unwanted sexual behavior. Service members can get non-medical counseling through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Long-term and psychiatric care requires a referral including information sharing with DoD that some patients may be reluctant to get. The GAO recommends better screening and improving access to mental health care for victims.

Lawmakers are pressing the Department of Veterans Affairs for answers over website issues, just hours before a critical deadline for benefits. The VA says some veterans and their survivors received an error message when applying for benefits under the toxic-exposure PACT Act. Aug. 9 marked the deadline for applicants looking to receive backdated benefits, retroactive to when the bill was signed into law a year ago. Senate VA Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is asking the VA what steps it’s taking to ensure veterans that their claims were received by the deadline. House VA Committee Ranking Member Mark Takano (D-Cali.) is urging the VA to use IT funding in the legislation to ensure that these types of incidents don’t happen again.

The Senate version of the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act has a new vehicle to get funds for innovation. The advanced defense capabilities pilot program would fund companies in the defense industrial base and establish public-private partnerships. The fund would start with $20 million for the pilot and it would need to invest in at least 10 businesses. No company would get more than 20% of its total investment. The idea is to give DoD a tool to help scale new technology with the help of public-private partnerships.

(NDAA offers new innovation fund pilot – Federal News Network)