A few readers recently noticed that some of the comments posted to our story about VA's IT troubles had disappeared, giving rise to some suspicions. "Why are all of late May's and all of June's comments missing or were they removed because of the pressure the VA gave them?" asked one. "Oooops, did FCW go all VA and lose some data? Where did the most recent comments disappear to? Heat rising in the kitchen guys?" asked another.
Online Managing Editor Michael Hardy responds: The truth is much less interesting than the theories. 1105 Media's development team upgraded our content management system over the weekend, and in the process there were a number of hiccups that we've been unraveling. For one thing, many comments vanished – not just on this story. Blogger/columnist Steve Kelman emailed me to inquire why comments on his recent blog posts had disappeared, and we saw the same thing happen on other stories.
Posted by Michael Hardy on Jun 18, 2013 at 10:32 AM1 comments
As more and more cars become network-connected, they will also become vulnerable to hackers who could take enough control to do everything but steer. (Stock image)
To an FCW article outlining future cyber risks in household appliances and vehicles, a reader responded:
The potential for harm in the "internet of things" is real. However, it is a choice. Unlike the rules and laws of physics which govern air, land, sea and space, the cyber arena is defined by rules we CHOOSE to implement. So we are hung by our own petard if we complain that the gains from interconnecting things are balanced by the vulnerability we introduce to our systems. There are real and tangible effects that can be perpetrated through cyber means far beyond the investment needed to make them. So what are we choosing to connect and why? The headlong rush to connect everything seems devoid of the questioning and deliberateness of the most important word...WHY?
Posted by Frank Konkel on Jun 17, 2013 at 3:41 PM0 comments
A reader of our story on the GSA IG's report criticizing managers for intervening in contract negotiations said the IG was right, writing: The GSA IG has properly addressed a serious problem, which has nothing to do with OFPP’s excellent work in clarifying permissible communications in the presolicitation phase [in it's Myth-Busting program]. Interference in the course of negotiations by program or acquisition management not only undermines the warranted Contracting Officer responsible for the award, but will leave the offerors on the other side of the table in doubt regarding the Government’s real intentions.
Mark Rockwell responds: I found several people in the procurement community who said they slapped their foreheads in amazement at the level of detail and overall tone of the memo. Most said the IG acted rightly, but kind of harshly. It was the tone, including sharp exchanges between federal contract managers and staff, that took some by surprise. Seeing those kinds of exchanges in print, they said, tends to make everyone take a step back. In a procurement environment where the government is trying to encourage pre-solicitation interaction between private contractors and contracting personnel, it could be counterproductive.
Posted by Mark Rockwell on Jun 12, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments
In response to our story about some General Services Administration employees being put on leave over conference spending, a reader dubbed "I am GSA" wrote: Come on. Really? How about that dead horse, isn't there anything better to write about? Some people did bad things, and we are paying the price for their actions. I need three levels of approval for travel, not to a conference, not to training, but to do my job. We in the field are way past frustration. And if this is the best that FCW can do, I'm out, you have now become a fish wrapper.
Mark Rockwell responds: Acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini said in a June 4 speech at the Professional Services Council that the people most angry about the GSA conference scandal are GSA employees. That's not surprising. The actions of a few tarnished the reputations of thousands of honest, sensible and hard-working GSA employees. Tangherlini has made it a point to address the scandal head-on and to show the agency has moved past that history and is busy reinventing itself as the go-to place for federal government needs. The new revelations concerning over-the-top conference spending -- or at least the perception of lavish expenditures -- at the Internal Revenue Service have provided more perspective for GSA's past difficulties.
Posted by Mark Rockwell on Jun 06, 2013 at 12:10 PM3 comments
The government is still trying to figure out the best ways to use cloud computing, says Teresa Carlson, vice president of worldwide public sector at Amazon Web Services. (FCW photo)
An FCW reader objected to our story on Amazon Web Services' gaining FedRAMP certification, writing: Amazon did not go through the ACTUAL FedRAMP certification process. They went through an Agency ATO (Authority to Operate) process using the FedRAMP controls as a guideline. And it speaks volumes of both the tech press and federal leadership's preference for firms perceived as new-age/glamorous that neither you nor them has taken the time to correct this misconception. (Rather than shamelessly spread it.)
Executive Editor Troy K. Schneider responds: The second sentence of our story states that the authorization came via the Department of Health and Human Services, rather than the FedRAMP Joint Authorization Board. The General Services Administration's FedRAMP team has been similarly clear about the path to approval, as was Amazon itself.
Posted by Troy K. Schneider on May 29, 2013 at 12:10 PM8 comments
Improving the acquisition workforce is a key component of Better Buying Power 2.0, but a reader cautions against a compiance-based approach. (Stock image)
To our story on DOD's Better Buying initiative, a reader wrote: I think the government bureaucracy has lost the forest while looking at the trees. Contracts that used to recognize a rough order of magnitude for minutiae now require burdensome justification. (Requiring an itemized list of screws needed in a research assembly… absolutely absurd!) The contracting agent is now happy that his little checklist has all the necessary checks… while the cost of bidding is going up exponentially driven by the inflation of the paperwork!
We need government people who can think, not bean counters looking at an acquisition check-off list.
Posted by Amber Corrin on May 28, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments
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.
Posted by Adam Mazmanian on May 14, 2013 at 12:10 PM2 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.
Posted by Troy K. Schneider on May 10, 2013 at 12:10 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.
Posted by Amber Corrin on May 09, 2013 at 12:10 PM17 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 12:10 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?
Posted by Amber Corrin on Apr 25, 2013 at 12:10 PM6 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.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 24, 2013 at 12:10 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.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 22, 2013 at 12:10 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.
Posted by Troy K. Schneider on Apr 19, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 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."
Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 16, 2013 at 12:10 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.
Posted by Amber Corrin on Apr 12, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 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.
Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Apr 10, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 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.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 09, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 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 12:10 PM0 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.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 05, 2013 at 12:10 PM1 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.
Posted by Amber Corrin on Apr 04, 2013 at 12:10 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.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 03, 2013 at 12:10 PM1 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.
Posted on Apr 01, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 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.
Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Mar 29, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 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.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Mar 27, 2013 at 12:10 PM1 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.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Mar 26, 2013 at 12:10 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 email@example.com. "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 12:10 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.
Posted by Camille Tuutti on Mar 21, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 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.
Posted by Camille Tuutti on Mar 15, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 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 12:10 PM0 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 12:10 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.
Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Mar 05, 2013 at 12:10 PM5 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Michael Hardy on Mar 01, 2013 at 12:10 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 12:10 PM4 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.
Posted by Frank Konkel on Feb 26, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 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.
Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Feb 22, 2013 at 12:10 PM3 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.)
Posted by Camille Tuutti on Feb 21, 2013 at 12:10 PM1 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.
Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Feb 21, 2013 at 12:10 PM5 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 12:10 PM0 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 12:10 PM0 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 12:00 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 12:10 PM0 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 12:10 PM0 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 12:10 PM0 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.
Posted by Amber Corrin on Feb 06, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 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 12:10 PM0 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 12:10 PM0 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 12:10 PM0 comments