- The Trump administration’s budget proposal unveiled March 11 drew a lot of attention to the $8.6 billion request to complete a southern border wall. It also asked for $72 million to fund stronger enforcement of immigration laws and the reduction of the nation’s backlog of asylum cases. The additional money would allow the Justice Department to hire more than 100 new immigration judges and support staff. Officials said in the budget request that the goal would be to have 659 immigration judges in place by sometime in 2020. There are currently 412 immigration judges. At the beginning of fiscal 2019, there were nearly 790,000 cases still pending in immigration courts nationwide. (Justice Department)
- The Defense Department said it is looking for a place to house up to 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children, following a request for space by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Tens of thousands of families cross the border illegally every month, and officials predict the problem will grow as the weather improves. The Pentagon last summer approved the use of Goodfellow Air Force Base near San Anjelo, Texas, for an HHS request to accommodate up to 20,000 children. That space was never used. (Federal News Network)
- DoD said the 2020 White House budget proposal would mean hiring more civilians across most of the military. The Army is the only exception: It expects a modest reduction in civilian employment. But overall, DoD’s budget called for 6,000 new civilian employees, despite plans to reduce the size of its headquarters organizations. Officials said most of the new positions will be directly connected to warfighting and readiness needs. And in future years, up to 15,000 military health care positions could be converted to civilian ones. (Federal News Network)
- DoD also said it’s looking to use artificial intelligence to improve its business process. The director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, Lt. Gen. John Shanahan, said he intends to set up an office specifically devoted to improving business processes through robotic process automation. He told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities that finances will be the first target for business process automation. (Federal News Network)
- The United States Marine Corps said it will be getting rid of its minimum time in service requirement to become eligible for tuition assistance. The new policy would allow marines who are awaiting training status to use their tuition assistance benefits. Previously, they had to wait 18 months before assistance was available to them. (U.S. Marine Corps)
- The 2020 budget proposal also included $220 billion in spending for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The proposal would mean a six percent funding increase, the fifth consecutive year VA would see a budget boost. Veterans medical care could go up to $80 billion next year, but some lawmakers worry it’s not enough. Republicans on the House VA committee said recently the agency’s focus on electronic health record modernization has diverted resources away from VA’s already stretched IT shop. (Federal News Network)
- Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced more than 135 parties in 35 states have expressed interest in hosting the USDA’s Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Perdue didn’t name any favorites for the selections, but indicated a preference for moving the agencies away from Washington and closer to stakeholders. Perdue said it’s his intention for USDA to become the most customer-focused agency in the government. (Agriculture Department)
- Cybersecurity is no longer a material weakness at the VA. After 19 years in a row of earning that distinction, the VA inspector general told the agency in the annual Federal Information Security Management Act report that while there are significant concerns, they do not rise to previous levels. The IG did make 28 recommendations, including many that auditors made previously. Among them is the need to fix ineffective enforcement of an agency-wide information security risk management program. The IG also said VA continues to use weak passwords for major databases, applications and networking devices. (Department of Veterans Affairs)
- The Government Accountability Office said most agencies estimated that one-in-five IT jobs aren’t actually doing IT work. GAO said agencies are likely miscategorizing the IT work that their employees are performing. The agency warned that inaccurate and incomplete work coding means agencies are missing out on valuable workplace planning. (Government Accountability Office)
- The head of a troubled Interior Department bureau has vowed to fix the problems that landed it on Congress’s high risk list. Rear Adm. Michael Weahkee told members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that the Indian Health Service (IHS) has already made progress on conditions cited by the GAO. Weakhee said a new Office of Quality aims to improve health care. He also said he’s hired an independent contractor to discover how a pedophile doctor remained with the IHS for 30 years. (U.S. Senate)
- The Trump administration named Ned Sharpless to serve as acting chief of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when current commissioner Scott Gottlieb steps down. Sharpless is currently director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Gottlieb abruptly announced his plans to step down last week, raising questions about whether the agency will pursue some of the ambitious proposals he introduced, including many aimed at curbing youth “vaping” and the use of e-cigarettes. (The Hill)
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