Group charter extended

The Commerce Department has extended the life of a federal advisory committee charged with developing a new standard for the government's use of public-key security products.

Commerce extended the charter of the Technical Advisory Committee to Develop a Federal Information Processing Standard for the Federal Key Management Infrastructure for Requirements for Key Recovery Products (TAC) to Dec. 31. The group's original charter expired at the end of July. However, TAC encountered what it described as "significant technical problems" that prevented it from developing a standard. TAC noted that the time and effort it had spent on developing a standard were not sufficient to develop an adequate set of technical requirements for a federal standard.

Key-recovery technology provides a mechanism for users who have lost a decryption key or the ability to decrypt scrambled data.


NIST picks new encryption candidates to replace DES

The National Institute of Standards and Technology this month announced it had accepted 15 coding formulas as candidates to replace the aging federal Data Encryption Standard that agencies now use to protect all sensitive but unclassified data.

Researchers from 12 countries worked on developing the formulas, which will now be publicly available for the world's cryptographic research community. That community will test the strength of the formulas by attempting to break the codes. The group of codes will be narrowed to five or fewer finalists by the end of summer 1999. The new standard will be called the Advanced Encryption Standard.

For a list of the names of the algorithms that NIST picked, go to and click on Federal Computer Week.


Ex-OMB chief criticizes plans to move FMSS into FSS

A former director of the Office of Management and Budget has joined the fight against plans to bring the Financial Management System Schedule (FMSS) into the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Schedule (FSS).

Jim Miller, who was OMB director under President Reagan, wrote a letter this month urging Congress to investigate GSA's plans to move the FMSS from the Federal Technology Service to the general information technology schedule held by the FSS.

"Without input from Congress and without even so much as conducting an analysis of the cost or risk, government officials, in one fell swoop, are proposing to eliminate a program that has for the first time enabled federal agencies to achieve clean audits and account for the taxpayer dollars they spend," Miller wrote in the letter. Miller wrote the letter as a member of the Coalition for Federal Financial Accountability, a group of vendors and public interest groups who want the government to maintain the current FMSS form.

That schedule was scheduled to expire in September, but GSA announced this month that it would extend the deadline to September 1999 so that a decision can be fully researched. In the past, users and vendors have complained that the program is inefficient and requires far too extensive testing and certification.


FBI waits for NICS funding

How the FBI will fund a system to run background checks on gun buyers remains in limbo until Congress returns from break.

FBI officials testified in June before the House Subcommittee on Crime that they need to charge fees to gun dealers to cover the costs of processing a portion of the background checks using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The fees could run as high as $16 per transaction.

Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) has introduced a bill (H.R. 3949) that would prohibit the fees and also prevent federal officials from keeping a database on those who are approved for gun purchases.

The Justice Department appropriations bill passed in July by the Senate (S. 2260), however, includes an amendment that would prohibit the fees and require the FBI to destroy records on those gun buyers who are approved. The House version of the appropriations bill does not address FBI funding for the system, so the issue of how to fund NICS will likely be hammered out in a House/Senate conference committee.

NICS is required under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons and others who are categorized as dangerous.


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