Circuit

'Memogate'

Some companies are starting to see a business opportunity in the political maelstrom surrounding Republicans' access to thousands of Democratic memos from the Senate Judiciary Committee. The task? To prevent another "Memogate" by making sure that policy and technology — rather than people — determine who has access to politically sensitive information.

Officials at Massachusetts-based Netegrity Inc. have been marketing the company's identity and access management solutions to interested House members such as Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.).

According to Netegrity's chief executive officer, Barry Bycoff, the key to preventing future incidents of alleged hacking is to tailor systems so that "the right staff has the right access to the right information," regardless of rapid staff turnover in congressional offices.

But as the Justice Department embarks on a criminal investigation into whether Senate Republican staffers illegally accessed Democratic memos, raising awareness of the need for a technology overhaul is the immediate challenge for companies looking for government business.

Getting better all the time

Federal agency leaders are getting better at being prepared to ensure employees' safety in an emergency.

In the second governmentwide Emergency Preparedness Survey, Office of Personnel Management officials found that most government agencies are heading in the right direction to meet the minimum safety criteria for employees.

The survey states that 65 percent of agencies reported they have designated emergency personnel for mission continuity, and 63 percent have conducted threat assessments — nearly a 50 percent increase from the previous year. In addition, more than 70 percent of agencies reported ensuring the protection of employees with special needs — a 65 percent increase from 2003.

Nevertheless, agencies need to deal with some major issues. For example, less than half have practiced shelter and evacuation fire drills regularly, and only 43 percent have a policy regarding telecommuting during an emergency.

Bad news buyout

About 100 employees at the National Institute of Standards and Technology could lose their jobs soon as a result of the agency's $20 million budget shortfall.

The deadline for employees to accept $25,000 buyouts was May 7. But NIST spokesman Michael Newman said it would be several weeks before it is clear how many employees will be laid off. It is also too early to know how the agency's information technology programs might be affected by the job cuts, he said. "Very few groups will be untouched."

Bureaucracy at its finest

State and county officials are working as quickly as they can to upgrade voting systems under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, but federal officials are complicating that effort in many ways.

For example, how are poll workers supposed to identify and then verify people who come in to vote?

Under the act, many states are using driver's license numbers and the last four digits of Social Security numbers as authentication mechanisms. Those are fairly common factors for any authentication in the public and private sectors, but local officials are running into a problem when they try to search the Social Security Administration's database to confirm those four digits, Bob Terwilliger, auditor for Snohomish County, Wash., said at the midyear conference for the National Association of State Chief Information Officers in Chicago last week.

SSA's database keeps Social Security numbers in their entirety and can't narrow those searches in any way. So when local officials run a search for four digits, they usually get back about 40,000 matches, Terwilliger said. What is a state to do?

Keeping medical records private

The Department of Veterans Affairs' Health Administration Center in Denver got top grades for implementing Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act standards for electronic transactions.

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Care Consulting Practice states that the health care industry has been delaying its adoption of the act's transaction standards, and many medical facilities are struggling with implementation. But the VA's Denver facility "is on par with the leading health-plan organizations as well as ahead of many others," according to the report.

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