A few comments regarding reader comments

rejected stamp

At a time when most websites' comment threads are filled with spam, trolls and off-topic attacks, FCW's commenters consistently show themselves to be a thoughtful and well-informed bunch.  We do, however, get the occasional mudslinger, or offers of GREAT DEALS on [insert product here]!!!  And since all comments are moderated before publication, we do our best to keep those comments out of the otherwise-insightful mix. 

What follows here is a refresher on the types of comments that will tempt the moderating editor (usually yours truly) to hit "delete" rather than "publish." 

Obvious spam or self-promotion. We want you to express your opinions; we don't want you to use our comment space to sell your products, promote your blog or company, or entice our users to click on links to who knows where.

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Posted by Troy K. Schneider on Jul 09, 2014 at 6:52 AM1 comments


How to pick a Rising Star

Rising Star 2013

Nominations for he 2014 Rising Star awards are now being accepted -- and we need your input to be sure we find the best possible candidates for our judges to consider.

The Rising Star awards spotlight women and men who -- even in the early stages of their federal IT careers -- are having an impact far above their pay grade, and who show clear signs of being leaders in the community in the years to come. Nominees can come from government, the private sector, academia or the non-profit world -- the only restrictions are that be actively involved in the community, and in the first 10 years of their federal IT careers. So while many nominees are in their 20s and 30s, age is not the issue -- a 50-year-old veteran who's embarked on a second career is every bit as eligible.

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Posted by Troy K. Schneider on May 07, 2014 at 1:23 PM0 comments


Help us find this year's rising stars

Rising Star 2013

UPDATE: Rising Star award nominations are now open.

This is not in response to one comment in particular, but rather to several scattered across the site in recent weeks -- and to the increasing number of inquiries landing in FCW editors' inboxes: We are almost ready for Rising Stars.

In just a few days, FCW will open the nomination period for the 2014 Rising Star awards. And we will need your input to be sure we find the best possible candidates for our judges to consider.

The Rising Star awards spotlight women and men who -- even in the early stages of their federal IT careers -- are having an impact far above their pay grade, and who show clear signs of being leaders in the community in the years to come. Nominees can come from government, the private sector, academia or the non-profit world -- the only restrictions are that be actively involved in the community, and in the first 10 years of their federal IT careers. So while many nominees are in their 20s and 30s, age is not the issue -- a 50-year-old veteran who's embarked on a second career is every bit as eligible.

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Posted by Troy K. Schneider on May 05, 2014 at 1:26 PM0 comments


What 'continuous monitoring' means in the clearance context

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FCW recently reported on plans by the administration to use continuous monitoring for security clearances for feds and contractors.

One reader wondered how this would work in practice:

"Will this eliminate the need for the [five- and 10-year] re-evaluations for [top secret and secret] clearances? What criteria will be used for this collection of data? Traffic stops, speeding tickets, arrests, credit scores, late payments?"

Adam Mazmanian responds:

As with any policy, the devil is in the details. The Security Clearance Reform Act, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), would include financial credit history, currency transactions, court records, traffic violations, arrests, and foreign travel as areas to be examined.. This would require access to a mix of consumer databases and records of local and state law enforcement, as well as federal financial regulators. That tracks with other proposals made by experts in congressional testimony and those coming from the administration.

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Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Mar 31, 2014 at 10:05 AM1 comments


Readers take on telework

Videoconference

In a recent FCW article, readers voiced opposition to telework as an effective tool for federal workers.

One reader wrote:

"100,000+ Feds emailing their contractors at all hours to do more work so the Feds look good."

Another said:

"So FEMA employees could save over $2M in transit costs. As long as they buy $4 million in BYOD devices. If telework is playing a large role in retaining existing employee talent, we're all doomed. Last week there was a telework day. Tried to have a teleconference. No luck. Folks 'balancing' their work/life weren't available. Played hooky with no managers checking in on them. The managers were also likely 'balancing' their work/life. Sad. And emerging countries (like China) are more than happy to actually work 6-7 days a week to out-compete us. America needs to learn how to work again. Getting up and coming to work forces discipline and appreciation for compensation. Some may see this as gloomy, but we'd better stop taking our position in the world for granted. We didn't get to be the best just by having more ability to balance work/life. We got to be the best by working our butts off, not by playing hooky and touting it as a positive thing. We are a rich nation and we can afford this for some time, but when the time comes for us to once again really work, we won't remember how. "

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Mar 07, 2014 at 8:19 AM6 comments


Does CBP’s Tombe expect too much from the cloud?

Wolf Tombe, Customs and Border Protection (Photo: Flickr/GTRA)

Readers critical of CBP CTO Wolfe Tombe suggested he was overly demanding of cloud service providers.

Readers were divided over comments made by Customs and Border Protection CTO Wolf Tombe in a Jan. 29 FCW article headlined “Moving to the cloud? Learn from CPB’s mistakes.” To some readers, Tombe came off as overly demanding of cloud service providers, while others said his comments should be a “must read” for federal CIOs.

One reader wrote:            

"Tombe said agencies should demand 99.999 percent -- sometimes called the five nines -- and should subsequently demand not to pay extra for it. Really??? How does that work? Each "9" is an order of magnitude more effort to deliver, and that entails additional cost. Someone's gotta pay for it. Why not just demand ten 9s?”

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Feb 11, 2014 at 6:27 AM2 comments


Behind clearance reform, a struggle in data collection

fingerprint

Our Jan. 29 story, “Security clearance reform: more questions than answers,” drew responses that reiterated the central point made in the piece. Some readers wrote in with their own experience with the clearance process, while others raised the issue of Edward Snowden's cleared access that ultimately led to his leaking a trove of classified materials. The most common sentiment, however, centered on just how difficult it is to find the right information to begin with.

Ray W. wrote: I have a friend who is an investigator for one of the private firms. He was complaining that he gets investigations that are months old, sometimes close to a year, and is expected to complete the background in a week or two. This often requires travel to many states (and out west there is a LOT of distance between Montana and Texas) which cuts into the investigation time. ... The mentioned sharing of data is good for security, but that does not obviate the need to walk around asking references about the person and finding other people that are not references to go find out more and to get away from coached answers (for my first clearance in 1970, I was told that the investigator only asked my references who else I knew, and then went and asked those other people questions).

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Posted by Amber Corrin on Feb 03, 2014 at 12:27 PM1 comments


Should risky employees be allowed to hang around?

Soda Spill - Shutterstock Image

In response to an FCW article published Jan. 28 headlines “What feds can learn from Coca-Cola’s data breach,” a reader opined that government employee terminations could get ugly if they follow industry’s course regarding IT security. The reader wrote:

"So one of the big lessons is the terminated employee should have his/her rights terminated immediately as well. In private industry, an employee might be sitting at his/her desk and security walks up and says, 'your services are no longer needed' and the employee is given 10 minutes to gather his/her personal belongings and is escorted out of the building. This is where this recommendation will lead in the [government]."

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Jan 30, 2014 at 8:00 AM2 comments


'Great servers, unhappy administrators'

workers

In response to a Dec. 13 FCW article on a report that said the government is decisively losing the battle for IT talent, a reader wrote:

"In a ploy to appease the masses, the government has decided to cut corners, and one of the simplest ones to cut is IT. And what's been cut the deepest is how they treat the people in IT, especially the people who do the work. So many will talk about how much is being spent in IT, but they balk at talking about the things they're doing to attract and keep IT workers. You end up with great servers being run by many unhappy administrators."

Reid Davenport responds: That comment demonstrates how difficult it is to clear the smoke of ambivalence and pinpoint how to refill the talent pipeline. Even though the report identifies compensation disparity as a major hindrance to employee recruitment and retention, its reasoning is backed by employee perception rather than concrete numbers.

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Posted by Reid Davenport on Jan 10, 2014 at 6:02 AM2 comments


Big data, Big Brother and you

abstract head representing big data

Responding to a Nov. 20 article about big data and privacy, a reader commented:

“Big Brother is a usual product of Big Government. ObamaCare is a prime example of an expanded government trying to run all aspects of people's lives - and it is made possible by Big Data. That is not to say that Big Data is bad, but it is a tool that can be used for bad as well as good purposes. As such, it is reasonable for people to be suspicious of any big data project that is controlled by politicians. The IRS database has been recently abused for political purposes and many believe that the ObamaCare site will become a prime target for future abuses. There are several other big databases that are also being proposed that can also be used politically against the people they are supposed to be helping. Many believe that the intentions of some supporters of these proposed databases is for these databases to be used for unethical political advancement - and they have plenty of evidence to support that theory. As such, until there are strong enough limitations on the government, Big Data will be seen as a threat to many law abiding people who do not bow down to and follow the political elite.”

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Posted on Dec 02, 2013 at 10:04 AM1 comments


Feds sound off on morale

When the partial government shutdown ended in mid-October, FCW published a piece looking at the possible consequences on the morale of federal workers, and questioned whether retirement-eligible federal workers and younger workers with long careers ahead would leave federal service. The article drew a lot of comments from federal workers worried about pay freezes, job security and being demonized in the media.

One reader asked:

"What will it take to get workers to stay? 1. Restoration of COLAs and adjustments to be closer to private sector pay. 2. Restoration of bonus pools (now down 80%). 3. Restoration of the ability to travel to conduct the nation's business. 4. Restoration of the ability to attend, participate in, co-sponsor and hold technical and training conferences to interact with stakeholder and to sharpen job skills. But, most of all, start treating us like the assets we are, instead of costs to avoid."

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Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Nov 12, 2013 at 1:41 PM5 comments


Are IT certs really a measure of talent?

cybersecurity concept

In FCW's Oct. 28 story on IT certifications, a couple of readers disagreed with the contention that the credentials are the be-all, end-all to security hiring – or even necessarily the right answer.

Madwhitehatterwrote:

I'd rather see companies hire people who've been going to hacker conventions for the last decade than someone who did a 40-hour boot camp and got a brain dump. The government will stay behind when they don't have people who know the subject doing the hiring.

Amber Corrin responds:

The big problem there is recruiting the people attending hacker conventions. There may be a few talented individuals here and there who are willing to take on civil employment or working for someone else in a corporation, but by and large, you're talking about people whose very nature skews away from that type of work.

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Posted by Amber Corrin on Nov 04, 2013 at 11:04 AM2 comments


Are cyber workforce woes actually all about the money?

dollar signs

FCW's October feature on federal cybersecurity personnel -- "Is there a cybersecurity workforce crisis?" -- took a critical look at the requirements the government faces in securing essential IT networks and operations. But some readers thought it was not critical enough, particularly when it comes to the reasons why workers take government jobs rather than higher-paying private-sector roles.

An anonymous reader commented:

In order to appeal to a sense of "duty" or "country" and/or a "love of technology," the appeal has to be followed through with actual empowerment. As a contractor, I have heard this sales pitch more times than I can count, and I have never seen it realized. Also, the idea that compensation is not a primary motivator is horribly skewed. Many young cyber professionals recruited by federal agencies leave for contractors because they can be paid sometimes two to three times the federal salary for doing the exact same work, with the exact same fulfillment of "duty" and "country." If the federal agencies want to recruit and retain cyber professionals as federal employees, they are going to need to minimize bureaucracy, empower the workforce to effect change, and realign their overhead to provide compensation competitive enough for federal workers to live next door to contractors -- experience and education being equal -- in areas where the cost of living is so high (D.C. metro area is a good example).

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Posted by Amber Corrin on Oct 23, 2013 at 10:32 AM0 comments


What's so special about federal fellows?

young people working

In response to an Oct. 11 article about furloughed federal fellows, a reader commented:

Should one infer, from the article's exclusive focus on "federal fellows," that rank and file civil servants are not similarly disheartened and frustrated by federal furloughs?

Reid Davenport responds:

Not at all. FCW has done a number of stories on the shutdown's many ramifications for  federal employees of all stripes.

For example, Amber Corrin wrote on Oct. 9 that, "A week into the partial government shutdown, the ripple effects are becoming clearer. Cybersecurity is in jeopardy while deliverables are at a standstill, and some agencies are hollowed out. But at the center of the shutdown's impact are people."

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Posted by Reid Davenport on Oct 16, 2013 at 6:35 AM0 comments


It's about more than where you sit

gsa atrium

The atrium of GSA's headquarters building. (GSA photo)

Readers offered some strong commentary on sources quoted in a Sept. 25 FCW article that outlined contractor concerns about GSA's new headquarters renovation and telework policy.

One reader wrote: Did our genius friends that polled a "handful" of contractors give any thought to logical reasons behind a longer lead time for communications or modifications? Moving from VA to DC does not happen overnight and it takes a few days to pack up for the move. Unpacking is just as time consuming. I'm not sure I care about the perceptions of nameless contractors.

Another said: Why are we concerned with what contractors think about government employees' seating arrangements? We are still available via telephone and email as before. Our administrator has been accomplishing what he had been tasked with by the White House. Yes, I am a GSA employee and we do a fine job for the taxpayers!

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Posted by Mark Rockwell on Sep 30, 2013 at 8:59 AM1 comments


Readers rankled over NOAA satellites

NOAA storm imagery

NOAA satellite data provides essential information for tracking storms and forecasting weather. (NOAA image)

Readers were critical of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's management of two major weather satellite acquisitions following a Sept. 19 article.

One reader wrote: NOAA has clearly proven with this debacle that they should never have been permitted to manage a satellite program in the first place. All satellites should be under NASA's jurisdiction and the incompetent and redundant NOAA satellite program should be shut down.

And another commented: NOAA has a problem with priorities! Let's get the priests of global warming out of the organization and get back on track with the real important issues... like weather satellites!

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Sep 24, 2013 at 7:42 AM3 comments


Crafting a winning Fed 100 nomination

Fed 100 Logo

Nominations for the 2013 Federal 100 awards will be opening soon. If experience is any guide, many of our readers will have questions, such as:

"How are the winners decided?"

"Who is eligible?"

"What's required in a nomination?"

"What are the deadlines?"

In anticipation, then, here's a quick guide to how it works and how nominators can make the strongest possible case for their nominees.

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.

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Posted by Troy K. Schneider on Sep 16, 2013 at 11:08 AM0 comments


How deep does NSA incursion at NIST go?

keyhole digital

FCW published an article Sept. 6 in which sources questioned the integrity and trustworthiness of the National Institute of Standards and Technology following the release of  top-secret documents showing the National Security Agency weakened a set of encryption standards adopted for worldwide use in 2006.

Readers expressed concern at the news, questioning whether the NSA's intervention was a one-time event or a frequent occurrence.

So if our computer security standards are open to, let's call it "tweaking", I wonder what other standards that NIST regulates are "tweaked?" remarked one reader.

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Sep 11, 2013 at 9:33 AM1 comments


More than one path for FedRAMP

FedRAMP logo -- GSA image

In an Aug. 30 FCW article about a ninth vendor receiving approval through the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), reader Peter Stark questioned whether companies were skirting the FedRAMP process by earning agency authorities to operate (ATOs) rather than certification through the FedRAMP’ Joint Authorization Board (JAB): The article states that Akamai is the 9th vendor to receive FedRAMP approval, then lists only five others. The other three are characterized as receiving "agency authority to operate," implying it's not the same as FedRAMP ATO (presumably being issued by an individual agency for its own enterprise). Then it concludes by stating that one of those three is the only federal agency to achieve FedRAMP approval. It doesn't seem like all those statements can be true. Does an agency ATO somehow equate to FedRAMP approval?

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Sep 05, 2013 at 8:09 AM0 comments


Can a foreign firm safeguard American privacy?

cloud concept with man in suit

Responding to an Aug. 28 FCW article outlining the government's Federal Cloud Credential Exchange, a reader questioned the logic of having a foreign company design an American credentialing system, writing:  I'd like to see the background of how we decided having a foreign country be the epicenter of our credentialing system makes good sense. I'm sure logic was used in that decision, I'm just not seeing it.

Frank Konkel responds:

SecureKey Technologies Chief Marketing Officer Andre Boysen suggests that American citizens shouldn't worry about their information getting used outside the borders through FCCX.  

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Sep 04, 2013 at 8:12 AM2 comments


Sourcing restrictions: prudent or punitive?

china cyber

Responding to an Aug. 20 article in FCW on how NASA is enforcing rules governing the acquisition of China-sourced IT gear and software in a new government-wide procurement vehicle, a reader commented:

This is just calling for tit [for] tat protectionism all the way around. Let's hope Beijing is not as petty.

Adam Mazmanian responds:

The provision referred to in the original article requires four agencies – NASA, Commerce, Justice and the National Science Foundation – to obtain special approval when acquiring technology systems that are sourced to companies with ties to the Chinese government. Industry groups have opposed the measure, contained in the continuing resolution currently funding the government, in part because as the reader suggests, it invites retaliation. An April letter from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other trade groups to Congressional leaders opposing the measure noted that, "The Chinese government may choose to retaliate against U.S. based IT vendors by enacting a similar policy for screening IT system purchases in China."

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Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Aug 29, 2013 at 7:11 AM1 comments


Sequester not to blame for lack of innovation

compass innovation

Responding to an Aug. 22 article in FCW about procurement hindering innovation in the government, a reader wrote:

Another killer of innovation has been sequestration. We are technologically losing ground to adversaries. The reason is the way sequestration was executed was first to protect all employees, then recap budgets and if anything was left it funded technology development. Guess what - in most agency cases there are no technology innovation dollars left. In a commercial environment a budget cut would have involved 10% layoffs, 20% reduction in recap (servers will last another year), and left money for innovation, otherwise you lose competitiveness. Why can't government be run like this?

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Aug 27, 2013 at 10:10 AM0 comments


If not Clapper, then who?

surveillance camera

It seems the confusion surrounding the review of surveillance activities ordered last week by President Barack Obama goes beyond just the head-scratching over whether Director of National Intelligence James Clapper will lead the review group. There is a sense of uncertainty not only over who should lead, but who should be involved, as evidenced by an email message from an anonymous reader:

I can see why Clapper leading the intelligence review would be a conflict of interest. But shouldn't the people involved in the review be pretty familiar with how things work in the intelligence community? By its very nature the community and activities under review are secretive, so I would think only certain people -- those who know how things work on the inside -- would be able to determine if current methods and technologies are effective. How would real outsiders know such things?

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Posted by Amber Corrin on Aug 16, 2013 at 9:46 AM0 comments


Readers divided about VA theory on stolen laptops

Image of file folders

Readers responded to an Aug. 8 FCW article on data breaches at the Department of Veterans Affairs with a mixture of criticism and praise for Acting Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology Stephen Warren, as well as a few questions.

One reader wrote: Stephen Warren said "people tend to steal laptops indiscriminately for their street value rather than in hopes of profiting from veterans' private information." I guess he's basing this statement on anecdotal evidence and personal supposition? Or empirical evidence gleaned from interviews with the thieves?

Another wrote: Based on the June 4 hearing, it really doesn't matter what VA, [or] Stephen Warren in particular, says about security or whether or not the breaches were high, moderate or low risk. Once you’ve been caught deceiving Congress, veterans and the general public, you forfeit your credibility. Still waiting on what the VA is going to do about the hacking and general penetration of the VA network. As a vet, I’ve yet to receive anything in the mail like the letter sent out in 2006. At some point, offering free credit monitoring is a moot point.

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Aug 15, 2013 at 10:55 AM2 comments


Reader: Government is ready for videoconferencing

Videoconference

In response to an Aug. 5 FCW article detailing possible hurdles for videoconferencing legislation, a reader wrote:

Government agencies have been building the infrastructure for videoconferencing for over a decade. I know, because I have been using it for over a decade. Add to the fact that if these agencies still do not have it completed, most likely they can easily complete it with savings from reduced travel costs. So if people are still complaining, it sounds to me like they have another agenda - one that they will not state because they know that it is not a positive agenda. I think most of us can come up with a few guesses as to what those real reasons are to not cut travel that they do not want to provide.

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Aug 09, 2013 at 5:50 AM0 comments


Why data centers are hard to count

data center

In response to a July 24 FCW article highlighting the severe underestimate of the number of federal data centers, a reader who identifies himself as Peter Marshall writes:

It has been my experience in the field that not only each federal agency, but offices within each agency, and even down to the Division level have different definitions for the "Data Centers" proper. Many will define small data processing and IT equipment rooms ranging from 500 square feet to 3,000 square feet as data centers when the dynamics of the facility's primary systems and spaces allocated to data processing do not have the characteristics of a "Data Center" as the industry defines it. Therefore, OMB in conjunction with all Federal Agencies and IT components need to first gather consensus around definitions and categories of data processing spaces, rooms, and facilities prior to the development of a fed-wide inventory of "Data Centers". The biggest challenge is getting past senior management who think they are IT savvy and the IT authority within their sphere of control, when in fact their technical experience and understanding of data processing systems, facilities and strategies are limited. It is my guess that once you define the Data Center you will find that the actual numbers of Data Centers (proper) will be down and the number of other IT and data processing spaces/rooms will be up. But until then there will continue to be a disconnect between the truly IT savvy technical engineer and the upper level manager.

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Aug 06, 2013 at 3:32 PM1 comments


Readers complain about 'brass creep'

navy ranks

Navy ranks are shown here, but the Navy is not the only service implicated in 'brass creep.'

FCW's July 31 story on the Pentagon's bleak response to a sweeping department-wide review drew multiple criticisms of Defense Department management. Readers called for members of Congress to be held accountable, for DOD to start from scratch and build a more enterprise-focused organization and for an overhaul in leadership structure. Some of the proposed solutions are more likely than others to be acted on, particularly the ones referring to changes in higher-level management.

An anonymous reader commented: You know they need to … quit having so many chiefs and supervisors. A supervisor should have at least 10 people under him, no different than a squad leader in the service. Too many head honchos and not enough worker bees. Need to look at all the agencies around the government and minimize top-heavy agencies.

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Posted by Amber Corrin on Aug 05, 2013 at 3:43 PM0 comments


How to get your comments rejected

rejected stamp

As the editor who most often moderates submitted reader comments, I'm sensitive to allegations that FCW is censoring certain points of view. In fact, while I have not done a close count, I think that probably 85 percent or more of the comments I evaluate end up on the site. The few that don't have some easily identified characteristics that earn a click of the "delete" button.

It may be helpful, therefore, for me to tell you a little a bit about the things that will make me reject a comment.

Obvious spam or self-promotion. We want you to express your opinions; we don't want you to use our comment space to sell your products, promote your blog or company, or entice our users to click on links to who knows where.

Foul language. Come on, your momma raised you better. If you can't express your opinion without using dialog from a Quentin Tarantino script, you can't express it here.

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Posted by Michael Hardy on Jul 31, 2013 at 11:21 AM1 comments


Did the State Department's William Lay deserve IG criticism?

William Lay

Does the State Department's William Lay deserve the criitcism leveled at him in a recent IG report? Some readers say no. (File photo)

Several readers reacted strongly to an article FCW published July 19 covering a State Department Inspector General report on the Bureau of Information Resource Management, Office of Information Assurance (IRM/IA).

Some readers were critical of FCW’s reporting on the IG’s findings, which included criticism against Chief Information Security Officer William Lay, who heads the Bureau.

One reader wrote: This article and the report are totally unfair to the CISO. Mr. Lay just arrived only months before this inspection, and inherited decisions from other people already departed. I am glad there are some positive things in this, but this seems to be placing a lot of blame on the CISO, without even letting him settle in and sort out the pieces left behind.

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Jul 24, 2013 at 12:03 PM11 comments


Should Steve Kelman stay quiet on reverse auctions?

auctioneer

After Steve Kelman posted an entry to his FCW blog, The Lectern, on reverse auctions, several readers were critical. Kelman, as he disclosed, is on the board of FedBid, a provider of reverse auction services. The General Services Administration's new reverse auction platform competes with FedBid, some readers argued, making it hard for someone with an interest in FedBid to be objective.

I believe Professor Kelman continues to be out of line in commenting on reverse auctions in any form, wrote one. He is biased toward FedBid....no question about it. The fact that he admits he's a paid employee of FedBid doesn't eliminate his bias ... He is painting a false picture by comparing GSA with FedBid, and he's doing it intentionally to cast doubt on GSA.

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Posted by Steve Kelman on Jul 19, 2013 at 12:00 PM3 comments


Data center holdup: A question of funding?

data center cages

In commenting on a recent FCW article regarding Congress’ requests for answers from the secretaries of the Department of Energy and the Office of Management and Budget regarding a hold on a data center energy savings performance contract, a reader wrote:

I thought this administration was all about "efficiency"; be it energy and/or operational. Could this be an issue on who's providing the financing? Personally, I would rather see private financing help make the federal infrastructure more efficient than my tax dollars continuing to operate the costly, less efficient, federal data centers and IT infrastructure. The ESPC program could definitely help the federal agencies finance their [data-center consolidation] plans.

Frank Konkel responds: Many sources have told me one potential reason for the initial OMB hold on the $70 million deal that would optimize two of DOE’s data centers – paid for by efficiency savings over six years – is that financing for the deals does indeed come from private companies, not from taxpayer dollars allocated at OMB’s discretion. Thus, OMB loses budgetary control and power.

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Jul 17, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments


The ripple effect of furloughs

image of worried man

Defense Department civilian employees have begin taking the long expected -- and feared -- furlough days. (Stock image)

FCW's stories on the ongoing saga of Defense Department furloughs have all attracted attention and comments, many from those on the receiving end of the mandatory pay cuts and time off. Our latest report, DOD furloughs begin as Pentagon looks to 2014, was no exception. Readers chimed in to share their experiences and viewpoints – and yes, rant a bit about the powers that be and their disconnect with the people most affected.

Reader RayW wrote:

I wonder how much this furlough will cost the taxpayers? I know that our contractors have three days every two weeks in which they cannot work since we are not here to have the building open, so they sit in another building wasting eight hours per person per day doing personal stuff since they have no contract work that can be performed there. I personally am being told that even though I have a [25 percent to 30 percent] cut in hours I still have to meet deadlines ...

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Posted by Amber Corrin on Jul 12, 2013 at 2:08 PM9 comments


Contractor compensation: Just a giveaway?

To our article "Deconstructing the contractor compensation debate," a reader commented: How can this be a democratic government when we have corrupt policies like this giving top executives money so they can keep doing business with the government. We are no better than the next guy down the road. You know, you get paid for the work you do and if you do not do it then that is it, go somewhere else to get that money. ... You would have some of the small companies be able to compete if they would stop giving away money to corporations. ... Think of the billions of dollars they would save if they would quit giving these top executives money. Someone's is in somebody's back pocket, think about it.

Mark Rockwell responds: It has to be difficult for agencies to find the right balance here, enough reimbursement to keep companies interested in the federal market, but not so much that it turns into a corporate giveaway. This issue feels akin to the difficulties federal agencies encounter in adopting public company management practices to operate in a more business-savvy way. While some of those practices--like making inspirational videos, or hosting expensive events—may not raise executive eyebrows at some private-sector companies, the same things can result in congressional hearings, resignations or even indictments if federal agencies indulge in them. Practical business management habits and practices common inside corporations, like cost-savings programs and more efficient bulk buying platforms, that have been embraced by federal agencies obviously aren’t as controversial.

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Posted by Mark Rockwell on Jul 10, 2013 at 9:36 AM0 comments


What's wrong with cyber training? Apparently, a lot.

Navy person using keyboard

Why are trained cybersecurity professionals hard for the government to hire?

Our recent story headlined What’s wrong with cyber training? provoked quite the reaction.

Some readers agreed that there is too much focus on paper credentials and not enough on real-world know-how. Others argued that without those certifications, landing a job is next to impossible.

As commenter rb CA put it: (1) In most professions, you have book learning and you learn how to really work after you are hired. No one comes out of college (or the one-week course) ready to design the next gen CPU for Intel. They work their way up after years of effort. (2) We want them cyber ready but their 4 year degree is worthless if they don't have A+, SEC+, and/or CISSP.

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Posted by Amber Corrin on Jul 02, 2013 at 2:30 PM2 comments


Feds and the Fifth Amendment

Mo Brooks

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) introduced a bill to make it a firing offense for federal employees to refuse to testify.

News that Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) introduced a bill that would mandate the firing of federal workers who invoked their Fifth Amendment rights in Congressional hearings sparked a lot of spirited discussion. A few commentators suggested that the bill might do some good. One wrote, "If you are not willing to disclose information about your conduct in your official capacity you should be fired." Another wrote, "The Fifth Amendment--which protects against self-incrimination -- applies to all Americans. That includes federal employees."

Adam Mazmanian responds: The bill was proposed amid anger on the Republican side in the House Oversight and Government Reform committee against Lois Lerner, the Internal Revenue Service's director of tax-exempt organizations. She's a key figure in the ongoing scandal about the alleged targeting of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status for special scrutiny.

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Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Jul 01, 2013 at 1:29 PM3 comments


Can agencies reward workers without money?

stylized professionals

A recent FCW article detailing the findings and recommendations of a report on performance-based advancement in the federal government struck a nerve among several commenters. One wrote that, The suggestions regarding upper management pats on the back are laughable. Another asked, As my generation retires, how are we going to recruit good people to do the public's work when the pay is lacking and the working conditions poor?

Adam Mazmanian responds: The intent of the report from the Partnership for Public Service was to make suggestions for managers that are possible under current budgetary constraints."There are lots of things that can be done that do not require money," Max Stier, CEO of the Partnership, told me in an interview. While "pats on the back" may seem facile, as the commenter suggests, there is some logic to asking managers to get to know their employees better, and tailoring non-monetary awards and career path advice to fit the needs and expectations of individual employees.

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Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Jun 28, 2013 at 2:54 PM5 comments


Can big data really save billions?

bar chart made of $100 

In a recent FCW article highlighting a survey claiming big data could save the federal government up to $500 billion, a reader wrote:

Let us not forget history. Usually, when the government declares that they have a way to save lots of money, implemented costs usually go up not down. Obamacare is the most recent example. When there is savings from some program, it is almost always much smaller than projected. So, at best, all should be very skeptical about any claims of cost savings from Big Data.

Frank Konkel responds:

I want to be clear that the government is not claiming $500 billion in savings from big data as a technology. That number was extrapolated based on what 150 federal IT executives said their respective agencies could save through leveraging big data – a new technology that allows agencies to use the large amounts of data they produce for beneficial purposes. Those executives were surveyed by a company named Meritalk.

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Jun 20, 2013 at 10:50 AM0 comments


Where did the VA comments go?

wounded veteran

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.

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Posted by Michael Hardy on Jun 18, 2013 at 10:32 AM2 comments


Who needs an Internet-connected fridge?

cars

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?

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Jun 17, 2013 at 3:41 PM0 comments


Did the GSA IG put communications at risk?

government industry dialog

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


GSA conference probe: No big deal?

money drain

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.

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Posted by Mark Rockwell on Jun 06, 2013 at 12:10 PM3 comments


Did Amazon short-cut FedRAMP?

Teresa Carlson

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.

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Posted by Troy K. Schneider on May 29, 2013 at 12:10 PM8 comments


The dangers of checklists

workers

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.

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Posted by Amber Corrin on May 28, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments


Why do officials really conduct business on personal e-mail?

E-mail circling the globe

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.

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Posted by Adam Mazmanian on May 14, 2013 at 12:10 PM2 comments


Parsing the VA debate

wounded veteran

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.

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Posted by Troy K. Schneider on May 10, 2013 at 12:10 PM6 comments


DOD furlough delay prompts anger

Chuck Hagel at budget hearing

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.

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Posted by Amber Corrin on May 09, 2013 at 12:10 PM17 comments


Enhancing social-media security

computer and network

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


Who makes how much at DOD?

Furloughs

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?

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Posted by Amber Corrin on Apr 25, 2013 at 12:10 PM6 comments


... but there IS an 'i' in 'data scientist'

gears on diagram

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.

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 24, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments


Defining big data

Big Data

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.

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 22, 2013 at 12:10 PM1 comments


What it takes to make the Fed 100

Fed 100 Logo

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.

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Posted by Troy K. Schneider on Apr 19, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments


Why NOAA-17 was put to sleep

polar orbit diagram

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."

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 16, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments


Well, what ARE the Air Force's cyber weapons?

futuristic cyberwar

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.

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Posted by Amber Corrin on Apr 12, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments


Reader skeptical of Congress's Twitter-friendliness

computer and network

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.

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Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Apr 10, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments


Data scientists: Top talent for government pay?

gears on diagram

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.

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 09, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments


Defending 'tombstone thinking'

Bob Woods

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


Misunderstand Yoda, you should not

Yoda

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.

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 05, 2013 at 12:10 PM1 comments


More questions on global cyber war

world map

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.

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Posted by Amber Corrin on Apr 04, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments


What's the story with Richard Spires?

Richard Spires

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.

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Apr 03, 2013 at 12:10 PM1 comments


Just what is a 'data center,' anyway?

Kirit Amin

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.

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Posted on Apr 01, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments


Congressional telework pros and cons

Rep. Steve Pearce

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.

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Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Mar 29, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments


Big data, big deficits at USPS

yellow mailbox

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.

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Mar 27, 2013 at 12:10 PM1 comments


Shining light on the CIA

shadowy cloud

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.

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Mar 26, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments


Reporting telework foot-draggers

man working late

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 info@mobileworkexchange.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


Can the government have too much transparency?

Angela Canterbury

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.

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Posted by Camille Tuutti on Mar 21, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments


Fairly reporting the sequester

Eleanor Holmes Norton

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.

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Posted by Camille Tuutti on Mar 15, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments


Making websites accessible

Guide dog

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


Is Obama sincere about transparency?

image of obama on phone

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


Could a furlough cost you your clearance?

man_on_dollar

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.

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Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Mar 05, 2013 at 12:10 PM5 comments


How does sequestration look to you?

capitol dome and bills

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 tschneider@fcw.com.

Posted by Michael Hardy on Mar 01, 2013 at 12:10 PM7 comments


Is sequestration just media hype?

worried man finances

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


How best to measure social media?

Justin Herman

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.

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Posted by Frank Konkel on Feb 26, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments


Where do numbers come from for salary comparisons?

Ron DeSantis

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.

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Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Feb 22, 2013 at 12:10 PM3 comments


How will sequester affect congressional staff?

Ron DeSantis

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.

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Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Feb 21, 2013 at 12:10 PM5 comments


Responsible reporting on cybersecurity

cyber attack button

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.)

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Posted by Camille Tuutti on Feb 21, 2013 at 12:10 PM1 comments


Why does NOAA launch satellites?

NPOESS weather satellite

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


Parsing Silver's meaning

Nate Silver

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


What will measure the success of RFP-EZ?

RFP-EZ Components

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


What does transparency really mean?

Lisa Jackson

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 9:03 AM0 comments


A question of word choice

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


How to do Hadoop

DNA strand

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


What's up with FedRAMP certification?

FedRAMP logo -- GSA image

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


How to legislate cybersecurity right

Jay Rockefeller

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.

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Posted by Amber Corrin on Feb 06, 2013 at 12:10 PM0 comments


How can one nominate Fed 100 contenders?

Fed 100 logo

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


Nailing down a date

key showing accessibility symbol

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


TheConversation

  • rejected stamp

    A few comments regarding reader comments

    FCW's editor explains how to make sure your voice is heard. Read More

    Comments: 1