Do officials use personal e-mail to hide unethical behavior? One reader thinks they might. (Stock image)
To our article on the use of personal e-mail accounts, a reader wrote: The big problem for some with using personal accounts is that it is much easier to hide unethical behavior by some of these high level officials. I doubt that the problem with e-mail is that it really "just sucks up time" but actually pins down exact discussions of issues that could be used against those who want to keep things vague and touchy-feely so they can spin things in whatever fashion for political purposes. Just look at most of the people involved in avoiding official e-mail and you can probably figure out why they do not like it.
Adam Mazmanian responds: It's probably difficult to imagine, especially for digital natives, but for a lot of executives in and out of government e-mail might just be a time suck. For a senior executive like Department of Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, who is on the record as a non-user of e-mail, it might just be easier to get information in staff briefings and dictate notes on official memos and documents, rather than try to stay ahead of a busy, ever-changing e-mail in-box.
Lisa Jackson, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said that she created an alias account under the name Richard Windsor as a workaround to the flood of messages she received at her official, published e-mail address. While her motives were a matter of dispute, Jackson said that the Richard Windsor e-mails were archived according to federal rules.
Government records experts I consulted for the original article said that important notes on document drafts and minutes of meetings by agency heads are considered government records, and are supposed to be archived along with visitor logs, phone logs, and other material that gives an accounting of the movements, contacts and activities of high ranking officials. Of course, this process is subject to human error and deliberate omission. An automatically archived e-mail system of the type provided for in the November 2011 presidential memorandum on records management would provide a more complete record, and presumably wouldn't accommodate any less-than-assiduous records management on the part of senior officials.
Posted by Adam Mazmanian on May 14, 2013 at 10:42 AM2 comments
More than 150 people, so far, have commented on our article about IT problems and leadership changes at VA. (Stock image)
FCW's story on IT troubles at the Department of Veterans Affairs has sparked a passionate reader discussion to rival the article itself. More than 150 individuals, including former CIO Roger Baker, have weighed in with everything from -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- "Amen!" to "You couldn't possibly be more wrong."
We have deliberately not pulled any of the comments for response in the Conversation Blog -- it would be impossible to pick in an even-handed way, and readers conducting quite a discussion on their own. But there are a few broader points worth making.
1. FCW moderates comments before publication, and will not post those that are abusive or off-topic.
By and large, FCW commenters are a thoughtful and respectful bunch -- a nice change from the "trolls" that dominate many comment threads across the web. But when a story touches a nerve in the way this article has, sometimes the strong opinions get worded... strongly.
We have taken a hand-off approach as much as possible, but a few comments have been rejected and deleted. Criticizing one party or another for their actions or attitudes is fair game, particularly when one has a suggestion for what should be done differently. Simply labeling someone a "weirdo," on the other hand, adds nothing to the discussion.
So please, critique constructively. And remember that, however much you may disagree with the other side, it's unlikely that anyone has chosen public service for the express purpose of making things worse.
2. Be careful when naming names.
That's not a call for anonymity -- despite what some commenters have suggested, we very much prefer to have sources identified and on the record whenever possible. But when bringing new names into the conversation, as several readers have done, it's very important not to misconstrue or misstate.
In one comment, for example, a Senior Executive Service official is paired with Stephen Warren and criticized for poor leadership. In another, that same invidual is labeled as Baker's "personal secretary."
That SES official's title is executive director for quality performance and oversight. Reasonable people may disagree on her management skills -- I have not met her, and she was not a subject of this story -- but it's unlikely that she is both an abusive overlord and a personal assistant.
3. Comments can be on the record too.
Baker, to his credit, added a clearly identified comment almost immediately after the story was published. There are good reasons, of course, why others might hesitate to publish their full names -- but comments that give at least some sense of the author's role and perspective add valuable context to the points being made.
Also, commenters should be aware that the optional email address field is NEVER published. But if you are raising an issue that you'd like FCW to explore in more detail, including an email allows us to follow up directly.
Finally, there was one comment that does warrant a reply. On May 5, an anonymous reader wrote:
I find it funny that FCW spent most of the last four years singing the praises of Roger Baker and Steph Warren (even awarding one Fed 100 Award [to] each). Then once Baker exits stage right and FCW no longer has much of a need for him -- his tenure as VA CIO is an utter failure. Interesting
It is a legitimate question as to whether our Fed 100 judges took an overly top-down perspective in honoring Baker and Warren for their work at VA, or whether our article discounted change management efforts that deserve more credit. I don't think we described Baker's tenure as an utter failure, however, and I'm certain that FCW's "need" for either Baker or Warren did not factor into our reporting. (By that logic, we would have conspired to blame Baker and "protect" Warren.)
In fact, I would frame it very differently. Baker has long been an important and well-respected member of the federal IT community -- FCW has covered him frequently and relied on him as a source, and will need to do so again in the future. But when our reporting pointed to problems at VA that needed public attention, we pursued the story wherever it took us -- including to individuals we have long presented (and seen) as among the "good guys."
And for the record: I still see Baker as one of the good guys. But even the good guys can fail to solve longstanding problems -- or allow new ones to develop.
Posted by Troy K. Schneider on May 10, 2013 at 3:52 PM6 comments
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to reach a decision soon on the number of furlough days DOD employees will have to take. (File photo)
Our latest report about impending furloughs for Defense Department civilian employees provoked several readers to express frustration.
Wrote one reader: So while the employees of the government get punished for the lack of fiscal responsibility of this government, tell me if Mr. Hagel will himself get a furlough. Bet not!!
Amber Corrin responds: While Hagel might not face an actual work furlough – many would probably object to the Defense Secretary skipping out on his national security duties – a pay cut still is a possibility. In April Hagel publicly said that he would forfeit part of his salary, even though as a presidential appointee he is exempt from furlough.
Another reader wrote: I question the legality of forcing the services that have the money to meet payroll to furlough their civilians instead, just to show consistency and fairness with the services whose budgets are running short. Is money typically transferred or shifted between [the Navy, Army and Air Force departments] for other purposes? I also agree with others who have noted that by taking so much time to decide, DOD leadership is forcing employees into a 2-day furlough per pay period situation. An earlier decision and earlier execution of the furloughs could have reduced the pain by limiting furloughs to 1-day per pay period. By trying to find the money (from where?) to continue reducing furlough days, it is my household budget they are gambling with!
Amber Corrin responds: It is not clear if the services would be forced to furlough civilian employees if they do not need to do so to meet sequestration budget cut requirements. DOD Comptroller Robert Hale in a press conference did say that the preference would be for decisions to be uniform across the services, but stopped short of any specific requirements for furlough regardless of financial arrangements.
"We would like to see consistency and fairness, because if we're going to have to jump into this pool, we'd like to jump together," Hale said in an April 11 congressional hearing.
In general, money typically is not transferred between departments. At DOD they like to refer to buckets of funding as "colors of money" and historically speaking, rarely do these colors cross each other. If there is leftover money of one color left in a "pot" – which Pentagon officials and program managers try very hard to avoid – it gets returned to the Treasury Department. Like a lot of decision-making today, there remains a lot of uncertainty, and increasingly leaders are allowing for more wiggle room in priorities. So it is always possible that this could change.
As for the number of furlough days per pay period, the original plan, when the number of furlough days was pegged at 22, was to furlough DOD civilians two days per pay period. Although the number of furlough days has been reduced to 14 – and could still be further reduced – it was, from the beginning, planned that employees would be forced to take one unpaid day of leave per week for the last 22 weeks of the fiscal year. DOD officials so far have declined FCW requests for comment on how this may change with fewer furlough days.
Posted by Amber Corrin on May 09, 2013 at 2:09 PM16 comments
To our recent article on the government's response to social media security
, a reader wrote: Agencies should use social media platforms that have proven security. For instance, at a bare minimum, use two-step verification beyond username and password to better protect account access.
Frank Konkel responds: Federal agencies currently use more than 60 different social media platforms in their dialog with the public, and usually those platforms are used following "fed-friendly" terms of service agreements in place. The General Services Administration usually facilitates those agreements, and while they are beneficial in reducing duplication and the time agencies would otherwise spend negotiating these deals, social media security isn't something that can be negotiated in them.
This is why GSA's recent guidelines telling agencies to shore up their social media accounts were important. Twitter, for instance, is internally exploring two-step verification (also called multifactor or two-factor authentication) beyond a user name and password. Various reports suggest Twitter's multifactor verification would require a user to use a password, plus have access to a device – likely a smart phone – through which a randomly generated code is sent that must also be keyed in.
It sounds promising, but Twitter has not rolled out anything publicly yet. That means for the time being, some of the government's largest social media accounts – many have millions of followers or "likes" on Facebook – are secured by the same methodology as the teen down the street.
Because of the high-profile social media hacks over the past few months, including the hack of Associated Press' Twitter account that briefly caused the Dow to dip, it is likely that federal agencies will be among the first customers to climb aboard the multifactor authentication train. Until then, though, common sense guidelines are agency's best bets at making sure someone doesn't take control of their social media accounts.
Posted on May 07, 2013 at 2:04 PM0 comments
Several readers had thoughts on our story, "Uncertainty persists with DOD furloughs."
I would agree reducing salaries of people making below $35,000 a year would be unfair and counterproductive, wrote one. Does anyone have a quantitative distribution chart or table on what DOD employees make? My suspicion is that many make more than $100,000.
Another reader said: DOD employees do not make close to $100,000. It all depends on the pay system the employee is in, but in the D.C. area, the six-figure salary is reserved for senior leadership in most cases, or those with advanced master's or doctoral degrees. Many staff make as low as $33K/year. I do not believe this is dissimilar to the civilian sector. Also, I believe there can be a sequestration without a furlough. Spending cuts, yes... but at the expense of your loyal employees?
Amber Corrin's response: Like more than 70 percent of the federal government, Defense Department salaries are mostly based on the General Schedule pay scale. The majority of government employees fall between GS levels 11 and 14. That means that a majority, or 36 percent, make between roughly $50,000 at the low end and $107,000 at the high end. Within that band, about 5 percent are at the GS-14 level, which has a range of $85,000 to $107,000. The GS schedule goes up to level 15, a category in which about 3 percent fell in 2008, according to Monster.com figures that break down the data.
On the flip side, GS levels 1 through 5 all top out under or around $35,000 a year. Together the sum of government employees on GS schedules 5 or below, as of 2008, was just over 10 percent.
As for whether DOD can implement sequestration without furloughs, that is a question Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has convened a review to answer. So far Hagel has cut the number of proposed furlough days to 14, down from 22. He has publicly expressed reservations about furloughing employees, so it is possible a way could still be found to avoid furloughs altogether once a comprehensive review due at the end of May is completed.
Posted by Amber Corrin on Apr 25, 2013 at 7:49 AM6 comments
In a recent FCW article on growing demand for data scientists a reader wrote:
This goes in the 'duh' column. It was a team of talented (some greatly so, some not so great because we are all humans) that got us to the moon and all returned safely. The problem always has been those at the top trying to make a name for themselves don't understand the concept of a team effort. Too much TV where one guy (The Mentalist) solves the problem and all around him are his minions. No understanding of team at all.
Frank Konkel responds: As a profession, data scientists are relatively new in the IT world. As the profession develops, it’s likely we’ll see more talented, curious individuals coming up with insightful ways to approach the massive stacks of data already piling up in government and private sector, and it is highly likely they’ll be integral members of teams. We’ve already seen successes from these teams – the Central Intelligence Agency, for example – yet don’t doubt the importance of sometimes singularly insightful individuals.
I’m not saying some Albert Einstein-like data ninja who eats stovepipes of data for breakfast and spits out revolutionary tidbits that save mankind is going to come along, but given the relative newness of this field, isn’t it possible that a few unique individuals might make major impacts in either results or policy-driven initiatives? Kirit Amin, deputy chief information officer and chief technology officer of the U.S. Department of Commerce, said as much recently, suggesting a few “big data Yodas” in government might blaze a big data path for the rest of the sector to follow
Teams are great, but don’t forget, individuals can be too.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 24, 2013 at 12:41 PM0 comments
In a comment on FCW's April 15 article, "Sketching the big picture on big data," a reader offered a definition of the term: An easily scalable system of unstructured data with accompanying tools that can efficiently pull structured datasets.
Frank Konkel responds: While I do not disagree with your definition, I believe some people might add or subtract bits to it. Your definition wisely includes "easily scalable," which actually answers one question that some big data definitions seem to (conveniently?) leave out: How big the big data actually is. The phrase "easily scalable" tells the user that there really isn't a limit on size here – if it is scalable, we'll get there.
However, I'm not sure I agree that big data has to be unstructured. For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, uses pools of structured data from different sources (including satellites and ground-based observatories) in its climate modeling and weather forecasting. These data troves are large – terabytes and bigger – and in some cases, like weather prediction, high-end computers spit out storm models in real-time on the order of several times per day. Is that big data? Depending on who you ask, it might be.
What about at the United States Postal Service? USPS' supercomputing facilities in Minnesota process and detect fraud on 6,100 mail pieces per second, or about 528 million each day. The time it takes to scan one piece at a post office and compare the data against a database of 400 billion objects? Less than 100 milliseconds. Is that big data? Again, it might depend on who you ask.
In addition, while I agree it's nice to pull structured datasets from unstructured data, I feel like one thing missing from most big data definitions is the "why" factor. You're structuring this data – hopefully – for a purpose: to develop actionable insights. Why else would be doing big data, right? Yet only some definitions seem to include the "value" aspect, one of the "v" words that also include volume, veracity, variety and velocity.
Teradata's Bill Franks, who recently authored a book on big data, argues that value is the single most important factor in all of big data. Is it not reasonable to think that aspect might be outlined in any big data definition?
Because big data is relatively new on the IT scene, I suspect ambiguity regarding its definition and uses for a while. But just like cloud computing, its definition, along with its practical uses, will be cemented in the years to come.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 22, 2013 at 12:42 PM1 comments
In the weeks since the gala to honor the 2012 Federal 100 winners, the same four questions keep popping up in emails, voice-mail messages and face-to-face conversations:
"How are the winners decided?"
"Who is eligible?"
"What's required in a nomination?"
"When can I nominate someone for next year?"
Nominations for the 2013 Federal 100 won't be accepted until the fall -- the award is for accomplishments in this calendar year, after all -- but here's how it works and what can be done to make the strongest possible case when the time comes.
The ground rules
First of all, anyone who is part of the federal IT community is eligible for a Federal 100 award. Generally, that means agency employees and select members of the federal contracting sector, but past winners have included members of Congress, academics, independent watchdogs and even a journalist or two.
Second, anyone can submit a nomination. Floating oneself is a bad idea, and nominations that are clearly driven by commercial interests are rarely effective, but a broad pool allows the judges to make better picks.
Third, an individual can win multiple Federal 100 awards over the years, so long as he or she has a new accomplishment that merits the recognition. Eagle award winners, however -- the one government and one private-sector winner selected from each year's Federal 100 as the best of the best -- have their number retired and are not eligible for future Federal 100s.
Nominations must be submitted via an online form on FCW.com. There is no "save this for later" option, so be sure to have the nomination drafted and ready before starting to submit.
Basic contact information for both the nominee and nominators is required, but five short "essay questions" form the heart of the nomination. Winning nominations tell a compelling story about:
- The nominee's job. What he or she is tasked with doing in the federal IT space.
- The nominated work. What was accomplished this year that is noteworthy.
- The nominee's impact. Hard work without results might be noble, but it is not award-worthy. What did this person get done? .
- The nominee's effort. Federal 100 awards are not given for just doing one's job, however important it might be. What did he or she do that went above and beyond? .
- The nominee's background. What enabled the nominee to step up and make a difference? Federal 100 awards are given for specific accomplishments, not lifetime achievement, but the work of 2013 can be put into a larger context.
Note that these are not long essay questions -- character-count limits allow roughly 200 words for each.
In short, the community nominates, FCW picks the judges, and the judges decide. The timeline, give or take a few days, looks like this:
- Oct. 1 - The nomination form is published, and 2013 nominations are accepted.
- Dec. 23 - Final deadline for nominations; the form is taken off-line.Jan. 3 - All nominations are compiled into print binders and electronic dossiers and delivered to the judges for review.
- Mid-January - Judges gather for a daylong selection meeting; 100 winners and a handful of alternates are chosen.
- Late January - Winners are verified, and any questions raised during judging are addressed.
- Jan. 31 - Federal 100 winners are announced.
- February/March - Profiles of Federal 100 winners are written; Eagle award judges vote on industry and government winners.
- Mid-March - Federal 100 awards gala.
The Federal 100 judging is a subjective process, one that draws heavily on the expertise of the IT leaders who volunteer their time to read and assess the hundreds of nominations. There are, however, some basic do’s and don'ts, which FCW Editor-in-Chief Anne Armstrong outlined in last year's call for nominations:
- Focus on an individual’s accomplishment. This is an All-Star Team, not the Hall of Fame award, so don’t dwell on long and faithful service. Be specific about what the project encompassed and what the person did that was extraordinary.
- It is the accomplishment and not the job title that counts, so describe the person’s contribution and show why the project is important to the community at large.
- We know teams are important, but this is an individual award. Save your team nominations for the GCN Awards.
- The Federal 100 award is for work done this year. If the nominee is a previous Federal 100 winner, the accomplishment behind this nomination should be substantially different from the work that was recognized in an earlier year.
- This is not a popularity contest. Nominate people who have had a significant impact, even if they are not universally liked.
- Ask before you add someone’s name as a supporting nominator. Every year we have at least one judge who is stunned to find his or her name on a nomination he or she knew nothing about. It almost never has a positive effect on the discussion.
- If you are nominating an industry person for work done at a government agency, it helps to have government corroboration. If ethical considerations make it difficult to enlist an agency employee as a supporting nominator, try to get third-party substantiation.
Many have asked if FCW could share a "good nomination." Unfortunately for those seeking a case study or recipe, the submitted nominations -- like the judging discussions and even the identities of the nominators -- are treated as confidential.
That does not, however, prevent nominators from sharing their own submissions. And Christopher Dorobek -- former FCW editor-in-chief and a Federal 100 winner himself -- did just that a few years ago. As someone who has covered the community closely and been in the room for multiple Federal 100 judging sessions, Dorobek knows that it takes, so the 2008 nominations he shared (see here, here and here) and his general advice on the Federal 100 are all worth reading.
Other Federal 100 veterans are often willing to share their insights as well. Look at last year's list, and ask around.
Between now and October
Details matter, so start taking notes now. Identify colleagues who deserve the recognition, round up others who will sign on as supporting nominators (a single nomination can have up to five nominators), and gather stats and anecdotes to show what makes this person great.
In the judging process, nominations that come in on "opening day" are not given any advantage over those that are submitted in the final hours of Dec. 23. But those that are written and polished in advance almost always do better than those that were slapped together to beat the deadline -- and would-be nominators who come asking about a late submission in January or February (!) are out of luck till next year. So start early, and spare everyone the holiday stress.
And finally, don't wait until October to let FCW know about good people doing great work. We're always on the lookout for good stories -- and if FCW does choose to cover a successful project or individual, that visibility can only help when the judges are reviewing nominations next January.
Posted by Troy K. Schneider on Apr 19, 2013 at 10:49 AM0 comments
If NOAA-17 will remain in orbit for centuries to come, why pull the plug now? NASA brochure.)
A reader questioned what led to the retirement of one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s longest-serving satellites that FCW covered on April 12. The reader wrote: "There was nothing in the article as to why NOAA-17 was actually retired. Yes it is old and beyond its life expectancy, but was it still providing reliable and useful data? It appeared that it would stay in its orbit for many more decades, so if it was still operational one has to wonder why they retired it. I would like to see that addressed in the article."
Frank Konkel responds: NOAA-17 operated for far longer than satellites like it are supposed to live, but it was no longer working properly when the agency began to deactivate it on Feb. 18. At the time, its sister polar-orbiting satellites -- NOAA-15, NOAA-16, NOAA-18, NOAA-19 and the newest, Suomi NPP -- were all still collecting and sending vital weather information back to computers on land that help NOAA forecast the weather. NOAA-17 was not, which is why NOAA officials made the decision to “pull the plug.”
Rest assured, though, that NOAA is doing all it can to keep its existing polar-orbiting satellites operating as long as possible, and not only to make the most of past investments. The agency faces a huge risk if other satellites fail before 2017, when the newest of the next-generation polar-orbiting satellites under the Joint Polar Satellite System program is finally launched. Every satellite that dies before the JPSS-1 launch brings the agency charged with forecasting the weather one step closer to a gap in weather data.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 16, 2013 at 1:04 PM0 comments
An anonymous reader thought we omitted some key information in our story about the Air Force designating cyber weapons. The reader wrote: So what are the six cyber tools that are considered weapons? I can't understand how this article, or others reporting similar information, have failed to provide this important detail.
Amber Corrin responds: We did not name the tools because the Air Force has not revealed what they are -- as our story stated. This is a move that is in keeping with many details of the military's cyber capabilities, particularly on the offensive side of things.
For example, it was recently reported – as it has been for close to a year now – that the Pentagon's rules of engagement for cyber operations are close to completion. But we will not necessarily know when they are done, because they will remain classified. It is possible Defense Department officials may divulge that they are in fact being implemented once they are actually finished, but don't expect much more than that in the way of public announcements.
Still, the military in recent months has been more open about DOD in cyberspace than in the past. For example, Air Force officials have noted their struggles to define operations in the domain, something that was reiterated last week along with the cyber-weapons announcement. Gen. Keith Alexander, commander at U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, also has discussed CyberCom's plans to create 13 offensive operations teams as well as other teams focused on cyber threats.
Posted by Amber Corrin on Apr 12, 2013 at 10:01 AM0 comments
After a reading our article suggesting that some members of Congress could give agencies Twitter tips, an unidentified reader commented: But agencies don't dare go on Twitter because these same Republican congressmen will ding us for using it, and call up their buddies at FOX and Drudge and Daily Caller or Politico to have them help demagogue their attacks.
Adam Mazmanian responds: Perhaps the opening of my article overstated the case a bit – plenty of federal agencies are using Twitter to communicate their efforts and engage with interested citizens. Back in September, FCW compiled this handy list of the most-followed federal accounts on Twitter. NASA tweets out pictures of planets and news of space probes to an audience of more than 3.8 million followers. He's nowhere near as popular, but FEMA administrator Craig Fugate is a one-stop shop for news about cataclysms of every stripe. USAID coordinator Raj Shah is a prolific Twitter user, sharing news about his travels as head of a foreign assistance and development agency.
So the reader's point is perhaps best taken with a grain of salt. High-profile government officials who are in the partisan crosshairs do make inviting social media targets. Attorney General Eric Holder, for instance, is parodied in several fake Twitter accounts. But personal attacks like these don't typically attract a lot of attention, even if their subjects find them irritating. And they don't appear to have stopped agencies from starting Twitter accounts.
Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Apr 10, 2013 at 9:13 AM0 comments
People who can turn big data into useful information are in growing demand in the private sector; is government keeping up with the trend?
After our story on the importance of data scientists, “IT Dude” commented: If the government wants to recruit talented Data Scientists, the government is going to have to make a lot of changes in the way it treats its existing employees. Why would anyone choose to work for an employer that consistently denigrates its workers publicly and pays less than the average market wage?
Frank Konkel responds: In attending many recent forums on big data and the federal IT landscape in general, I can say your comments echo the grumblings I’ve heard from many in this community. Data scientists in the private sector are highly compensated and recognized for their efforts, but I believe that is at least partly because private sector companies, driven by the profit motive, were ahead of the curve in recognizing the importance of data scientists. Private sector companies also like to market themselves and their talent, the government doesn’t do that as much.
As the largest collector of data in the world, the United States government is beginning to recognize that technology is not the alpha and the omega in terms of putting that data to use. Recently, we’ve seen well-known feds like Kirit Amin, deputy CIO and CTO of the U.S. Department of Commerce, call for an increase in these visionary types of data scientists – he called them Yodas after the "Star Wars" character – that might help agencies drag insights from big data. But perhaps more important in the grand scheme of things is how the government crafts policies that govern data, as they will directly determine the importance of the data itself and those who sift through it. The message is clear: it’s not just technology, it’s the people you have running it.
We know these people – whether you call them data scientists or not – are important, but how much they are worth and how much they will be in demand really will depend on what the government determines their value is, and that determination really hasn’t happened yet. But rest assured, this is an issue that only gets bigger ever y day with each new mountain of data that gets created.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 09, 2013 at 9:51 AM0 comments
Bob Woods wrote a recent column for FCW
on the value of leading with an eye toward legacy.
Bob Woods provoked some sharp disagreement with at least one reader with his column, "The value of tombstone thinking," which encourages leaders to think about how a given project or course of action will look as part of their legacy.
A reader identified as Tim wrote: Actually, I will strongly disagree with the sentiment of this article. Tombstone management encourages discontinuity and has a net negative impact on organizational performance. If you are at a level in which you are considering tombstone management then you are at a very senior level of the organization. This means that you had a predecessor and will have a successor. Tombstone management requires you to abandon everything your predecessor did because all of that will be on his or her tombstone, not yours.
It will also require your successor to abandon everything that you are doing because that will be on your tombstone, not his or hers. Thus the net impact is that the staff will have whiplash because every two years when we have some new campaign. A lot of what goes on in federal IT requires a sustained effort. This approach, tombstone management, causes us to abandon horses that are winning the race and causes me to lose confidence in a leader whose ego is more important than good and effective government. I say tombstone management is a good thing if you want everything that you do to be ripped out by your successor. It has no staying power because you can never get sustained leadership.
Bob Woods responds: I am happy to get the feedback and always enjoy a debate. I don’t think I implied that what’s on your tombstone started and stopped on your watch. The point is that you should shoot for achievements that are real, that are understandable and not bureaucratic babble. Nowhere do I say or imply that you rip out what you find and start over. In fact when you come into and organization you will find things worth keeping and things that should be stopped.
It’s important to know the difference. Things worth keeping and new initiatives started will constitute what you and your organization are known for. As for whether leaders are simply making change to fulfill their ego, we have a lot of leaders who hide behind programs and processes and are unwilling to get the job done and be held accountable. If you work in an organization with all winning horses you are rare indeed. That’s not been my experience and leaders who think they have years to sort out the good from the bad and sow the seeds for the next generation should simply research how their predecessors fared.
Posted by Bob Woods on Apr 08, 2013 at 7:52 AM0 comments
On Twitter, @rsoper72 (Randy Soper) wrote in response to our article suggesting 'Yodas' for big data: @FcwNow, what a bizarre thing for DCIO (Deputy CIO & CTO) Commerce to suggest. Isn't the idea to use tech to solve the data problem? If it's not there...
Frank Konkel responds: Misinterpreted the DCIO's remarks, you may have.
The overwhelming theme from Carahsoft's Government Big Data Forum and its several panel discussions was that technology is growing faster than our ability to harness, manage and glean insights from the data we're creating. It's also outpaced our ability to put together data-sharing policies that enhance information sharing between agencies that developed in an era where siloed data was the norm. I believe Kirit Amin, the DCIO of the U.S. Department of Commerce, was essentially saying that all the technology in the world doesn't do a bit of good if it isn't managed and operated intelligently.
Regarding big data, think of it this way: If a few visionary data ninjas – or Yodas -- across the public sector could champion big-data initiatives and publicize the benefits of say, combining Treasury department data with Census Bureau records, it might help educate agencies on the potentials out there and it might help drive policy changes, too.
(We recently answered another question from Soper. Read it here.)
A note from Online Managing Editor Michael Hardy: Some readers may be wondering why an article that so prominently referred to a popular pop-culture character didn't include a picture of that character, say, holding a light-saber or levitating Luke Skywalker's sunken X-Wing. The reason is that LucasFilm, now owned by Disney, controls the legal use of images from its films, and while pictures of Yoda are plentiful all over the Internet, we chose not to risk the empire striking back.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 05, 2013 at 11:46 AM1 comments
A NATO document seeks to establish a global framework for cyberwar. (Stock image)
Regarding our article on the effects of international law on cybersecurity, Randy Soper commented via Twitter: Interesting questions are how "neutrality" will be defined and "civilian"; e.g., is a "zombie" botnet member a legit mil target?
Amber Corrin responds: According to the Tallinn Manual, neutrality – which applies only during international armed conflict, cyber or otherwise – refers to neutral cyber infrastructure, public or private, that is located in neutral territory or owned by a neutral state and is located outside belligerent territory.
"The global distributions of cyber assets and activities, as well as global dependency on cyber infrastructure, means that cyber operations of the parties to a conflict can easily affect private or public neutral cyber infrastructure. Accordingly, neutrality is particularly relevant in modern armed conflict," the manual states.
Logistically, that means something like this: Hackers and other hostile parties frequently route attacks through servers located in various countries throughout the world. Neutrality means that those countries aren't considered combatants if they have nothing to do with the attacks other than their servers being, for all intents and purposes, hijacked to conduct hostile activities.
Speaking of combatants, the manual is clear – as were its backers who spoke at the Atlantic Council event in the original story – on the role of civilians in cyber warfare. There are no laws against civilians taking part in combat, but so long as they do, they do not receive the protections afforded to civilians under international humanitarian laws.
A "zombie" botnet member would, therefore, be a legitimate military target if what they are doing is deemed an act of war (which is also addressed in the manual) – if it is more than disruptive and actually destructive and causes harm or damage to people or cyber assets. In that case, even if the botnet operator is a civilian, they are engaging in cyber warfare activities and thus forfeiting their civilian protections. As things currently stand, the operations of botnets typically are not what would be deemed acts of war; they tend to be more on the disruptive side of the coin – think distributed denial of service attacks and the like.
Posted by Amber Corrin on Apr 04, 2013 at 2:23 PM0 comments
Richard Spires, CIO of DHS. (FCW photo)
To our story on Department of Homeland Security CIO Richard Spires taking leave, an anonymous reader asked, When did FCW morph into a gossip column?
Frank Konkel responds: I find the comment ironic, because what we did in that article is the opposite of a gossip column.
The story started when another publication posted a story early on April 1 that Spires was “Put on immediate ‘on leave’ status” by DHS. Quickly, the rumor mill fired up – on Facebook and Twitter, not to mention many reporters’ e-mail inboxes – and the story took on legs of its own.
We set out to determine what was rumor and what was true. We found that while the details of Spires’ leave remain murky – DHS officials cannot comment on personnel matters and Spires hasn’t responded to our attempts to make contact – many possibilities exist.
So we reported what we knew to be true: That Spires was on elected – not forced -- leave, that DHS Deputy CIO Margie Graves was installed as acting CIO and that Spires’ leave had nothing to do with congressional testimony Spires missed in March, as some people had speculated.
Because the rumors were flying, we thought it appropriate to outline potential scenarios where a CIO might take leave that go beyond a simple vacation. We also explained the differences between elected leave and administrative leave, an important distinction that many people seemed to be missing.
That isn’t gossiping. That is clearing up rumors with facts and explaining to a large federal IT community what actually was happening to the best of our ability.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 03, 2013 at 9:00 AM1 comments
Kirit Amin, deputy CIO and chief technology officer at the Commerce Department, says data center consolidation is 'a tall order for us.'
On our story "Challenge and opportunity await in data center consolidation" piece, an anonymous reader commented: There seem to be multiple definitions of what a data center is. If you think really small, then our group had a data center that was a few small servers. For us, consolidation consisted of moving the servers to the main computer room on our campus and having them managed by the IT group. This required a major change in mindset since we had to give up direct control of our equipment, but after much discussion (argument), [we] felt that it would be to our benefit. This has worked out well for us since the IT group does a much better job than we could ever hope to do. So you might say that our small "data center" is closed even though that was not our primary goal, and we accidentally found ourselves ahead of the "closing" curve. I wish good luck and success to all who find themselves it this situation.
Frank Konkel responds: Your comment echoes similar sentiments from many feds at the forefront of data center consolidation. In November, I wrote a piece based on comments made by Mark Forman, formerly of the Office of Manage and Budget, (click here to read our article), who argued that "it is hard to convince agencies that own the systems and applications that performance will not suffer under consolidation."
In your case, it seems your data center equipment was better managed by the agency’s IT staff, despite the aforementioned conflict that occurred prior to its relocation. It can be a tricky situation, and "giving up" control over a server of application or even a virtual environment can be a very difficult thing to do. In addition, I completely agree with you about your statements regarding the definition of data centers.
Even federal agencies have differed in their opinions on what exactly constitutes a data center – some believe any old server laying around represents a data center, others feel proper metrics should define a data center by physical size (IE: 4 feet by 2 feet). More guidance on that subject may come as agencies present initial progress updates on their data center consolidation updates, which will now be unveiled in the next PortfolioStat update, expected soon.
Posted on Apr 01, 2013 at 8:58 AM0 comments
Rep. Steve Pearce would like to see members of Congress working from their home districts more, Washington less.
A commenter who dubbed him- or herself "earth" had some thoughts on the question of whether Congress and congressional staff members could do their jobs from their home districts. Earth wrote: It might get some research and development done on telepresence, but the security involved in ensuring [that] 400+ home offices haven't been taped, lines are secure, etc. seems daunting.
With everyone in the same room, the Chinese have a somewhat more difficult problem and security has a significantly less work. So committees, particularly those related to "national interests", are either less secure or much more costly.
If they map out each and every workflow and work out the full costs involved so an actual cost cost/benefit analysis can be examined, then a reasonable solution could be found. (Including full security controls.) Want to bet that is part of the bill? Want to bet they have even identified every workflow in Congress? I suspect Capitol Hill is a monument to ad hoc processes.
Adam Mazmanian responds: It's not just the elected Members who would be affected -- a virtual Congress would dramatically alter the way the legislative branch functions because of the effect on staffers. To go by the text of his resolution, Rep. Steve Pearce seems to think that staffers don't spend enough time in their home districts.
It's probably safe to say that few staffers would agree. Congress is kept running by legions of largely anonymous, poorly-paid young staffers who are building careers in government and legislative affairs, and may not have much if any attachment to the home districts of the representatives and senators who employ them. These staffers write legislation, interact with officials in the federal bureaucracy, assist key oversight duties, in addition to responding to constituent concerns.
Mapping these functions to district offices would completely change the way business is done on Capitol Hill. It also might make government service a less appealing career option for young people who view Washington, D.C. as the white-hot center of political universe.
Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Mar 29, 2013 at 7:57 AM0 comments
Is the Postal Service's use of big data a praiseworthy innovation, or an expensive indulgence? (Stock image)
Our recent story on the suprising places big data is being used prompted one reader to comment:
"Ummm... I wouldn't hold the USPS up as a paragon of 'success.' However, I think that you might have identified one of the reasons that USPS is failing. Why do they need a network of supercomputers whose capability exceeds that of NOAA's weather forecast centers? Didn't the mail get delivered back when there were no ZIP codes or barcodes? USPS needs to take a step backwards, away from big data and focus on getting 'back to basics.'"
Frank Konkel responds: Admittedly, delivering the mail does not seem as inherently cool as tracking weather events like Hurricane Sandy or using complex, voluminous data sets to make reasonable climate predictions, but as this follow-up story explains USPS is using big data to reduce overall costs and detect fraud. The technology is complex -- the data from each scanned mail piece is compared to a database of about 400 billion records in real-time through an impressive 16-terabyte in-memory computing environment -- but the payoff is huge, and it's an important one because operational expenses incurred by the USPS are not funded through tax dollars. That means lost revenue through fraud might cost billions without this kind of system in place.
In addition, while "snail mail" might seem outdated, USPS sent out 160 billion pieces of mail in 2012, and people are still receiving their packages and mail in a few days despite paying only 46 cents per sent item. Were it not for efficiency increases and improved fraud detection through big data and supercomputing, it's likely USPS wouldn't be able to get mail out as fast as it done, and it is a near certainty that it would cost more to send out each letter or package from grandma.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Mar 27, 2013 at 8:36 AM1 comments
Several readers commented on our story about the CIA contracting with Amazon for cloud services.
Reader James Woods wrote: Why is there even a need for the CIA to study the American public, since America is a free society?
Frank Konkel responds: The CIA’s mission is twofold: It gives accurate and timely intelligence on foreign threats to national security, and it conducts counterintelligence or other special activities relating to foreign intelligence and national security when the president asks it to do so.
While I can’t speak to information the CIA obtains about American citizens, the agency has made an enormous effort to collect mammoth caches of information – data from social media, data from sensors (like what might be produced from drones), and smart machines. Humans, connected to the Internet via cell phones, mobile devices and laptops, are information producers in their own right, and right now, the CIA is getting to the point where it can store this kind of information and compare it to other data sets. Many of those data sets would be unstructured data, but with the advent of big-data technologies and growing computational power, predictive insights are now possible based on a wealth of disparate information.
The CIA would probably not comment on your question, but my guess is if they did, they’d say something like "Look, America is a free society, and if we want it to stay that way, we’re going to have to adapt to evolving technology out there because everybody else will."
ITM noted that the CIA declined to comment because it "does not usually disclose details of our contracts, the identities of our contractors, the contract values, or the scope of work." ITM commented: Q: ...because? A: "Shut up, slave."
Frank Konkel responds: While "no comment" responses are never what a journalist wants to hear, in this case, it is fully expected. The CIA has a duty to protect national security. You don’t go talking about something on the record that, if publicized, could even remotely put a target on your back, so to speak.
An anonymous commenter wrote: And the simple solution, cutting down the number of overlapping intelligence agencies, never occurred to them?
Frank Konkel responds: The members of the intelligence community, a collection of 17 agencies including the CIA, are all charged with unique missions. With regards to evolving information technologies, different agencies lead the way in different facets, as per the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise strategy. For instance, the CIA and NSA are spearheading where the IC goes with cloud computing – other agencies have different specialties, if you will. While agencies can do frequently do work together, each has a very specific mission that many would argue is important to the nation’s well-being.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Mar 26, 2013 at 12:05 PM0 comments
Feds who would rather work from home than doze off at their desks after a long day might encounter managers who are still slow to allow the telework option. To whom do you report such situations? (Stock image)
A reader digging deep through FCW's archives found the 2010 article "Telework bill finally on president’s desk," and wrote in an e-mail: My question is: Whom would someone appeal to if their agency refused to allow their employees to telework and are saying they don’t have the technology to allow their employees to telework?
Camille Tuutti responds: I asked Cindy Auten, general manager at Mobile Work Exchange, for some insight into this question. She said the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 requires agencies to set up official telework programs for eligible employees, basically establishing the groundwork. In terms of providing technology support, the Office of Management and Budget issued a memorandum after the passage of the law that requires CIOs to "develop or update policies on purchasing computing technologies and services to enable and promotes continued adoption of telework." Essentially, agencies are required to focus on buying telework-enabling IT. The Digital Government Strategy released in 2012 also support telework and purchasing needed equipment. However, if employees find their agencies are not in compliance, they can e-mail Mobile Work Exchange -- which is a public-private partnership -- at firstname.lastname@example.org. "We can escalate the issue to the acting telework managing officer and CIO in the agency, as appropriate," Auten said. "Any issues will be reported anonymously."
Posted by Camille Tuutti on Mar 25, 2013 at 12:45 PM0 comments
Angela Canterbury, director of public policy at the Project On Government Oversight, shown testifying March 13 to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. (Committee photo)
To the story "Legislators claim culture of secrecy threatens open government," reader Walter of Washington D.C. writes: Part of the problem with too much transparency is that anything Congress has access to is on TV five minutes later, and the Internet two minutes after that. Congress is asking for information from the executive branch they won't provide to the public themselves. I want to see my congressman's appointment calendar so I can see whom he spends his time listening to, what lobbyists visit how often and so on. I am not holding my breath waiting for any of this to change that situation.
Camille Tuutti responds: Is there such a thing as "too much transparency," unless we are talking about legitimately classified information? With the proliferation of the Internet and social media, information gets spread at break-neck speeds. A double-edged sword for sure, but I am positive it contributes to more transparency in government. As for your idea on making public the calendars of members of Congress, that is certainly an interesting idea! I have no doubt it would provide interesting insight into the visitors and topics discussed at the Senate and House buildings. But I agree with you: I don't see that happening anytime soon.
Posted by Camille Tuutti on Mar 21, 2013 at 9:03 AM0 comments
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.)
To a story reporting on Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) blaming conservatives for the sequester in a speech, an anonymous commenter writes: This is one of the most blatantly one-sided political hack articles that I have had the misfortune to read. I understand that Ms. Norton wants to blame her political opposition. But where is the corresponding article laying out the Republican, Tea Party and conservative positions? Why isn't FCW reminding readers that the initial proposal for a sequester came from the Obama White House, not the House or Senate. Where is the outrage over the fact that the Democrat-controlled Senate has failed to address a national budget for over 4 years? These are some of the issues that you should be addressing.
Camille Tuutti responds: As a publication focused on the people, power and policies that influence federal IT, we are not interested in pushing any type of agenda ... other than the federal IT agenda! Jokes aside, this brief article was about an event and focused on her words as a keynote speaker. It was not an attempt to definitively evaluate the reasons that the sequester is happening, or to determine to whom blame should be ascribed.
The speech took place just days after the sequester took effect and reflects her perspective as D.C.'s non-voting congressional delegate, clearly frustrated with the situation. She was speaking to an audience of federal managers and employees at risk of being furloughed, so that surely played into her rhetoric and topic of discussion.
Posted by Camille Tuutti on Mar 15, 2013 at 10:12 AM0 comments
After reading the article "Increasing social media accessibility," a reader pointed out a weakness on FCW's comment system, writing: Isn't using an inaccessible CAPTCHA ironic and discriminatory? This site doesn't fall under Section 508 but if you're going to talk about accessibility, your website, including the option to submit comments, should be fully accessible.
Online Managing Editor Michael Hardy responds: You make a good point, and one that we're already aware of. While I can't promise when, we are working on a better solution. We want FCW.com to be as user-friendly as possible and making it as accessible as we can to people with disabilities is certainly part of that.
Posted by Michael Hardy on Mar 12, 2013 at 8:38 AM0 comments
On a story reporting the Obama administration's mixed record for transparency, an anonymous commenter writes: Lack of progress in government transparency is due to the example set at the very top. Based on the actions done ... it is obvious that the actual call for it from this president was all political for obtaining power and not for any improvement in the government.
Camille Tuutti responds: The Center for Effective Government does point out in its report, and so did Gavin Baker in his interview with me, that Obama has taken several strides to make the government more open -- and it does not appear to be just a power grab. For example, one of the first things he did as president was to create a searchable website of logs of White House visitors. It was the first time ever that type of information was made available. Also, during the first two years of the first term, several senior White House staffers worked on transparency reforms. "To its credit, the administration has taken some steps to ensure its transparency policies are enacted," the report summed up. There is no lack of White House-directed policies concerning openness; it is in implementation that shortcomings show. Clearly, more work remains to be done -- and not just by Obama. The recommendations in this report are directed not just at the president, but also to those at the top of the org chart at agencies, as well as legislators.
Posted by Camille Tuutti on Mar 11, 2013 at 12:36 PM2 comments
In response to an article about growing criticism of the then-future sequester, Bob Christian wrote: Since many of us federal workers live from paycheck to paycheck, will it affect our security clearance if we let the bank repossess some of our property, such as vehicles, due to the 20-percent cut in our weekly salary?
Matthew Weigelt responds: Don’t stress yourself about it, Bob, at least that’s what John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service, says. Financial difficulty due to furloughs, even if it results in the repossession of a vehicle, is not automatically grounds for loss of a security clearance, he said.
Agencies often do checks every five years. If officials uncover some information about repossession, they would evaluate information and its context of what was happening at the time. They will then determine whether it indicates an employee has a personal problem, such as a gambling compulsion or a drinking problem, for example. Something like that might indeed be grounds for a revocation.
But "if the financial difficulty is due to an unpaid furlough, that could well be a mitigating factor and the security clearance would be retained," Palguta said.
He also suggested warning a higher-up about what is happening so it doesn’t appear that there was something hidden. Being upfront about financial troubles, especially those brought on by circumstances beyond your control, can help protect your security clearance.
Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Mar 05, 2013 at 7:44 AM5 comments
We've been reporting on sequestration for some time now, but we're interested to know what you're seeing in your own agencies. Now that the deadline for a deal has passed, have you been given new policies? Any announcements of furloughs or other workforce measures? Are projects being canceled or scaled down?
The information our readers provide may help us cover the unfolding of the sequester more thoroughly, so let us know what's happening. You can tell us in the comments below, or if you'd prefer to be less public, e-mail Executive Editor Troy Schneider at email@example.com.
Posted by Michael Hardy on Mar 01, 2013 at 12:24 PM7 comments
After reading about federal employees worried about the threat of sequestration to their personal finances, Reader "Mike" commented: Sequestration... please!! Three cents on the dollar, really? This media hype is all theater. The best thing for government to start doing a good job is the threat of losing their jobs. In fact, I think we should clear out a good chunk of those who forgot what it was like to work for a living. I have worked as a contractor in a few agencies, and I have to say, I’ve never seen so much clock watching.
Camille Tuutti responds: There will always be those who complain about the government not doing its job accordingly or “clock watching” employees (I, myself, wrote about so-called turkey farms where low- and nonperforming feds congregate). However, the sequestration threat is hardly hype or theater, as you suggest. More than a million feds – 800,000 DOD civilians alone -- are facing furloughs, reduced pay and further fiscal uncertainty – this on top of the already-ongoing federal pay freeze. And don’t forget the possibility of a government shutdown after March 27, when the current continuing resolution expires. I don’t think the threat of job loss would serve as the best motivator – quite the opposite. Who can truly focus on doing a good job with all that added stress?
Posted by Camille Tuutti on Feb 28, 2013 at 11:58 AM4 comments
Justin Herman, new media manager at the GSA's Center for Excellence in Digital Government, shown speaking earlier this month at GSA's Social Government Summit. (FCW photo by Frank Konkel)
Responding to a story on social-media metrics, a reader dubbed Sam Ok wondered if measuring the use of social tools has any bearing on real performance. I would like not to see a metric on how much someone uses social media but what is their productivity, the reader wrote. We seem to assume that using social media makes people more productive but I agree with the person above [another commenter who had suggested that productivity and social-media use are not related] until you can develop a metric that shows otherwise.
Frank Konkel responds: The recommendations rolled out last week by the GSA-led interagency working group have to do helping agencies improve their digital outreach. The recommendations are designed to help agencies track how information they release is disseminated through their audience on social media – an audience that continues to grow compared to those who browse agency websites for information or announcements.
If you browse online, you can read through many surveys and studies that suggest that while social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter may be distracting to some – college and high school students, for example – it’s become standard operating procedure for many employed in the private and public sectors. Indeed, nearly every federal agency has a presence on at least one social media platform, while many have tens or even hundreds. NASA, for instance, manages 480 social media accounts, used for everything from disseminating press releases to chatting with astronauts onboard the International Space Station.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Feb 26, 2013 at 8:18 AM0 comments
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) introduced a bill to cancel a planned federal pay raise.
In a story about a bill to cancel a federal pay raise, an anonymous reader took issue with Rep. Darrell Issa's comparison of government and private-sector pay, asking, Where do they come up with these numbers? The average government worker has an increase of $3,328 and private sector $1,404?
Matthew Weigelt responds: The Office of Personnel Management provided the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee with data about federal employee pay. Based on that, the committee found the median federal employee pay increased by $3,164 during the pay freeze. It went from $69,550 in September 2010 to $72,714 in September 2012. The number increases to $3,328 when the committee includes seasonal and temporary employees like Census enumerators, some firefighters, or seasonal park service employees.
For the private sector's increase, the Congressional Research Service gave the committee the figures. Click here for a fact sheet from the oversight committee. The fact sheet includes some data a 2012 Congressional Budget Office report on comparisons between the two sectors. It may be useful as you think about the whole issue.
Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Feb 22, 2013 at 7:44 AM3 comments
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla) introduced a bill to overturn an Executive Order granting a federal pay raise.
To a story about a bill that would kill a federal pay raise, a reader asked: I wonder if all of the congressional office staff are continuously awarded "merit" pay raises since they aren't getting [cost-of-living allowances]. Someone review how much their office staff pay is compared to the average American. Are they going to sequester 8 percent of their office budgets?
Matthew Weigelt responds: First, congressional staff members do not receive merit pay raises. In addition, they are going through sequestration too. Their office budgets may be hit by as much as 10 percent.
Do congressional staff members make more than private-sector workers based in Washington? It all depends on your job on the Hill. The Sunlight Foundation has some good data on 2009 salary numbers. A congressional chief of staff in the House of Representatives makes roughly $136,920 while a company chief executive makes $189,790. A legislative director earns $85,912 while a general manager at a company earns $128,300. Who makes more varies from there down to the lowest rung of the House member's office staff.
You can read the Sunlight Foundation's full report here.
Commenting on the same article, another reader suggested some civil disobedience: I think every civil servant across the country should call in sick on the exact same day and then Congress will see what a true government shutdown is all about. It would spur contractors not being able to go to work, federal buildings being closed, no border security, no food inspectors, no air transportation, etc. Then maybe they will put a little more stock in what we really contribute to this country.
Matthew Weigelt responds: That's an interesting take, although I can't advocate every fed calling in sick. Some advice though, if you do it: Make sure your sick day proves your job cannot be done without you there.
Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Feb 21, 2013 at 8:22 AM5 comments
A couple of readers raised objections to the story "GAO finds Census Bureau vulnerable to cyberattack."
One reader wondered: Is this responsible reporting? Should these vulnerabilities be broadcast where anyone could read them?
Camille Tuutti responds: All GAO reports are publicly available and frequently covered by FCW and other news outlets. It would be irresponsible if reporters did not call attention to shortcomings and covered only positive news. Also, I would be surprised if some of these problems have not been solved already; according to the report, the Commerce Department, under which Census falls, said it would find the best way to address the issues. (In total, GAO made 13 recommendations to the Census Bureau to enhance its information security program and in a separate report with limited distribution, an additional 102 recommendations.)
Another commenter wrote: This article lacks specifics or context. It looks like Ms. Tuutti is saying that the Census Bureau does not have any IT security in place at all. That is not what the GAO report actually says. I think this story needs to be clarified with actual facts and less hyperbole.
Camille Tuutti responds: I would not call it hyperbole. What I wrote and concluded is the gist of the GAO report: That Census needs to address these weaknesses or it will continue being vulnerable to intrusion, data loss, etc. Although GAO said Census has made some progress, it still struggles with having adequate security in place. The main problem that GAO found, and which I pointed out, is that the bureau does not have a comprehensive information security program to ensure controls are effectively set and maintained. The lack of such a program has led to various problems, including who or what has access to the bureau's systems. Census did not adequately control connectivity to key network devices and servers or identify and authenticate users. The bureau also failed to encrypt data, monitor systems and network or ensure appropriate physical security controls were implemented. These were not the only problems, however. What I did not include in my story is that GAO also found the bureau only partially satisfied requirements for contingency planning. According to GAO, "without an effective and complete contingency plan, an agency's likelihood of recovering its information and systems in a timely manner is diminished."
Posted by Camille Tuutti on Feb 21, 2013 at 8:19 AM1 comments
To a report of the possibility that we could be without weather satellite coverage for more than a year, a reader asked: Why does NOAA have anything to do with the launching of satellites? If NOAA needs a satellite they should just tell NASA what they need, and let the experts build and fly it. We don't need multiple agencies trying to build their own little empires of satellite operations.
Frank Konkel responds: NOAA works with NASA on the JPSS (Joint Polar Satellite System), but prior to that partnership, those two agencies worked with DOD on a program called the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) that was supposed to replace polar-orbiting satellites: It failed miserably due to mismanagement and overshot budgets. The government, then, decided the current system would be better than the tri-agency partnership, although there is no shortage of criticism.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Feb 20, 2013 at 8:19 AM0 comments
Analytics expert Nate Silver addresses the Adobe Government Assembly. (FCW photo by Camille Tuutti)
Reflecting on comments from Nate Silver (Analytics guru Nate Silver offers advice for agencies), a reader commented: I like the comment [in the article] : "As a tool, big data can unlock all kinds of insights from massive amounts of data, but small changes in the way we approach humongous data sets can drastically change outcomes. Seemingly minor details should never be overlooked," Silver said. As any expert in charts can tell you, "The way you look at data all depends on what you want the data to say.'" (Yes, I know that was not [Silver's] intent, but it is true none the less.)
Frank Konkel responds: I think Silver was speaking about input variables rather than actual output data. As a summary, when the design parameters we derive results from big data sets change just a little, the end result can yield a wildly different outcome. Therefore, his statement to "sweat the small stuff in big data" applies.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Feb 14, 2013 at 8:20 AM0 comments
RFP-EZ is a creation of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program
After reading about RFP-EZ, a creation of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, reader sanchezjb wondered, What are the key performance indicators or measures focused on outcomes that will determine if RFP-EZ is successful?
Matthew Weigelt responds: It's an important point. To determine whether RFP-EZ is a success, officials will evaluate how much competition it generates and if RFP-EZ decreases the time for a federal employee to write a statement of work and for companies to develop offers. Finally, they will want to know if people like the system. The pilot runs through May 1. Get more details here.
Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Feb 08, 2013 at 11:52 AM0 comments
Lisa Jackson, under scrutiny for apparently using a phony e-mail i.d for some official business, causes a reader to wonder about the government's commitment to transparency.
On a story about EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's use of a phony e-mail identity, under investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, a reader identifying himself as "Johnny" writes: How disappointing. If this story is found to be true, it shows a sly and cynical approach to transparency. Will this be our future government? Issue a proclamation about transparency, but practice a lack of it when it involves management or cabinet-level officers?
Camille Tuutti responds: I think, and hope, citizens will continue to really push for a more open government. The public wants insight into where tax dollars go, and knowledge of how government carries out its functions. Several members of Congress, including those on oversight committees, also play a key role in ensuring there is enough sunlight on federal operations and hold officials accountable -- all of them, at every level.
Posted by Camille Tuutti on Feb 08, 2013 at 8:21 AM0 comments
Responding to the story, "Cavalry not coming for the acquisition workforce" – part of our Outlook 2013 feature package -- an anonymous commenter wrote: I disagree with Ms. [Lisa] Mascolo's comment that, 'Much of the expertise those retirees take away is obsolete anyway.' In the 1102 Contracting job series, our expertise is not allowed to become obsolete. We are required to continually update our knowledge and skills. And in this ever-changing environment, that is quite a task.
Camille Tuutti responds: "Obsolete" was not necessarily the best word in this case -- "irrelevant" would have been closer to conveying what Mascolo meant. I also reached out to her to get further clarification. Her response: "For those folks who have been there for an extended period of time, what the government really needs to do is mine those skills and knowledge and figure out a way to transfer that to the younger generation of procurement officers. The skills that they have aren't necessarily as relevant as today as they used to be, but certainly [they're not] obsolete. My point is that in some of these newer technologies, there's a real need -- and most procurement officers would agree-- for ongoing training for contracting and procurement officers."
Posted by Camille Tuutti on Feb 08, 2013 at 8:20 AM0 comments
Genome research is one of several areas where the big-data tool Hadoop is proving itself. (Stock image)
An anonymous reader suggested that the headline "How agencies can put Hadoop to work" may have promised too much: Not to be too critical, but there is NOT ONE example listed here of how a government agency can/should practically apply Hadoop. I'm disappointed. To be clear, any rigorous conversation on this topic should tackle how Hadoop aligns with "Cloud First." Ready? Go!
Frank Konkel responds: The purpose of the article was to touch on a few potential ways agencies could use Hadoop in the near future, not necessarily what they are using it for now, with added focus on layering applications with Hadoop to produce real-time answers to problems. You make a great point for future stories on Hadoop, and that is something I will pursue.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Feb 08, 2013 at 8:21 AM0 comments
To an article about FedRAMP, reader Ramana asked: I would like to know more details about certification.
Matthew Weigelt responds: FedRAMP offers a security assessment process using a standardized set of requirements; the ability for federal agencies to view security authorization packages in the FedRAMP repository; and ongoing assessment and authorization to ensure that authorized offerings remain compliant in the months and years to come.
There's too much to explain here, but the General Services Administration has plenty of details about its certification process and everything that goes with it. For the information you need, and for anyone else who has similar questions, this web site is all things FedRAMP: http://www.gsa.gov/portal/category/102371.
Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Feb 06, 2013 at 8:21 AM0 comments
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, one of the Senate's advocates of cybersecurity legislation.
Responding to an article on the Senate's renewed cybersecurity effort, reader Paul Misner wrote: [The] Senate walks a fine line here. If the bill is too weak, it will have no value as all. Too rigid, and it will result in agencies and companies being forced to implement out of date processes, hardware, software, and procedures that will increasingly become less valuable. What is needed is a strong, but balanced framework which is easy to understand, and dynamic to meet a dynamic set of adversaries. I think this type of legislation should be enforced with a carrot, rather than a stick, but providing protection from penalties for entities that follow it's guidelines, rather than punishment for those agencies who fail to make an effort to enforce.
Amber Corrin responds: That seems to be the consensus. A number of sources have warned against FISMA-like, "check-the-box" regulations that do not allow for the agility necessary to keep up with constantly evolving cyber threats. This, as well as the carrot-over-stick argument, was a top concern for Fortune 500 companies who responded to a cybersecurity questionnaire from Sen. Jay Rockefeller, as FCW reported earlier this month.
Posted by Amber Corrin on Feb 06, 2013 at 8:19 AM0 comments
A reader asked a common question about FCW's Federal 100 awards: How does a person get nominated for the FED 100? Is there an application to fill out? Id like to nominate someone next time around.
Troy Schneider responds: FCW accepts Federal 100 nominations the last several weeks of the year. The window for nominations for the 2013 Federal 100 opened on Nov. 1, 2012 -- and next year's process will start around that same point in the fall. Anyone can make a nomination -- there is an online form (now closed), and some general guidelines here. Self-nominations are unlikely to get much traction, however.
Posted by Troy K. Schneider on Feb 04, 2013 at 8:22 AM0 comments
An anonymous commenter noted a timing discrepancy in the story "CIOs told to improve Section 508 standards," writing: 508 Standards were added in 1998, not '86.
Michael Hardy responds: In fact, both dates are correct. Section 508 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and was first added in 1986. However, the original version did not work very well, and Congress replaced it in 1998 with new language. We've updated the story to clarify this.
Posted by Michael Hardy on Jan 30, 2013 at 11:52 AM0 comments