Fed Pay Raises Rise From the Dead and Congress Says “Meh” to Trump’s Election Security Order

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It was a whirlwind week on the Hill. Here’s the Nextgov rundown.

Government employees might get a pay raise next year after all.

Lawmakers on Friday included a provision that would raise feds’ salaries by 1.9 percent in the conference report for the Defense, Labor, Education and Health and Human Services departments funding bill.

Though the “minibus” bill would only include funding for raises at those four agencies, it shows Congress is willing to overrule President Trump’s proposed pay freeze for government employees.

It marks the second of three minibus appropriations bills to make it through conference committee.

The provision would only go into effect if Congress authorized an across-the-board pay raise, which would likely come in the third and final spending package.

Nukes, National Labs and...Government Transparency

The first minibus spending bill, which Congress approved Monday, provided nearly $150 billion for the Veterans Affairs and Energy departments, military construction and the legislative branch.

The bill would provide additional funding for extending the lives of nuclear weapons and provides for new infrastructure at national laboratories. It also allocates $740 million in fossil fuel research and development.

A one-line provision in the bill would also require Senate candidates to file campaign spending reports electronically, a measure government transparency advocates have been trying to pass for more than 15 years.

Too Little, Too Late on Election Meddling Order

Congressional Democrats and some Republicans gave a lukewarm reception to President Donald Trump’s executive order Wednesday outlining a sanctions process for nations, organizations and individuals that meddle in U.S. elections.

Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who introduced a bill that would impose automatic sanctions on election meddlers, said the order “does not go far enough” and warned that: “We must make sure Vladimir Putin’s Russia, or any other foreign actor, understands that we will respond decisively and impose punishing consequences against those who interfere in our democracy.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, pointed to the president’s unusually conciliatory meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Helsinki Summit in July and warned that “an executive order that inevitably leaves the President broad discretion to decide whether to impose tough sanctions against those who attack our democracy is insufficient.”

By contrast, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., praised the order and called it a “positive step in recognizing Russian tactics and in protecting our sovereignty.”

Rolling in the Deep Fakes

Fake news is bad, but lawmakers want to read up on a type of misinformation that might be even more dangerous.

House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., asked the Intelligence Community Thursday to draft a report on deep fake technology, an advanced machine-learning tool that can create convincing images and videos of people doing and saying things they never did or said. Schiff and other lawmakers have expressed concern that Russia or other adversary nations could use the technology to sow discord in the U.S.

“As deep fake technology becomes more advanced and accessible, it could pose a threat to United States public discourse and national security,” Schiff wrote. He specifically requested information on the use of deep fakes by foreign powers and measures government and industry can take to counter and deter the use of the tools.

Congress Might Actually Mandate a DHS Bug Bounty

The House Homeland Security Committee forwarded two bills Thursday that would invite ethical hackers to spot vulnerabilities in Homeland Security Department websites.

One bill, which already passed the Senate, would institute a full-fledged bug bounty, in which hackers win cash rewards for the computer vulnerabilities they find. A second bill would simply require Homeland Security to give ethical hackers instructions about where to submit vulnerability reports and how the agency would respond.

A full-fledged bug bounty can cost a lot of money and resources, experts have warned. Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., acknowledged those concerns during the vote, but said he’s tired of waiting for Homeland Security to take action on its own.

“Isn’t it better to listen when someone is trying to tell you about a security vulnerability than to cover your ears and hope it goes away?” Langevin asked.

The State of Cyber at State

A bipartisan quintet of senators sounded an alarm Wednesday about poor cybersecurity marks at the State Department.

The senators point to two recent reports. One report from the General Services Administration, found that State had only deployed multi-factor authentication across 11 percent of agency devices. Another from State’s inspector general found only one-third of overseas missions were conducting basic cybersecurity checks.

The letter from Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., among others, asks for a response by Oct. 12 stating what actions State has taken to instate multi-factor authentication. The senators also request a tally of cyber actions targeting U.S. embassies, consulates and other overseas missions.

McCaskill Goes for Two, Scores

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., won over an unusual supporter Thursday for two of her bills that would defend against supply chain and drone threats: the NFL.

During a Senate hearing, the league’s senior vice president for security came out in favor of a bill that would give the Homeland Security and Justice departments broader authority to counter threats posed by unmanned aircraft at large public events, like the Super Bowl.

She also endorsed legislation that would require federal agencies to consider national security threats when buying new IT products.

Coming Up

It’s a pretty light tech and cyber week on the hill. The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing on financial technology at 10 a.m. Tuesday and that’s about it.