Federal Bytes

FUZZY LOGIC. The popularity of Furbys, the Gremlin-like toys that feature an evolving vocabulary and interpersonal skills, has had unexpected ramifications in the federal market.

The National Security Agency this month banned Furbys from its premises because of security concerns. NSA was worried that the toys, sitting on desks in NSA offices, might record sensitive conversations, only to play them back outside the office and betray national secrets.

But Furbys do not actually record conversations but instead develop language skills according to a preset program. However, NSA seems to believe that unscrupulous individuals might take advantage of the Furby's electronic component to turn it into a recording device and lure the unsuspecting toy into a life of crime and subterfuge.

Furthermore, CBS News reported last week that the Federal Aviation Administration was considering banning the use of Furbys during take-off and landing, just as it does other electronic devices.

Funny, this never happened with Tickle Me Elmo.


AUDIENCE OF ONE.What is the sound of one congressman clapping? President Clinton found out last week during his State of the Union speech when he asserted that we must "be ready for the 21st century from its very first moment by solving the so-called Y2K computer problem." Apparently, only one member of Congress (we're not sure who it was) applauded. Clinton then guessed that only one person applauded at home too. "But remember, this is a big, big problem, and we've been working hard on it," he said.

We hope the lackluster reaction from Congress is no indication of how well it is doing in solving the problem.


TALKING TO A WALL.GSA believes Wall Street can learn a thing or two from the federal IT community, at least in regard to the Year 2000 problem. The agency's Office of Governmentwide Policy said this month it will sponsor a booth at the "IT for Wall Street '99" conference in New York, Feb. 23-25. The office will promote the Federal Y2K Commercial Off-The-Shelf Products Database and demonstrate the multiple World Wide Web sites developed by the federal government for the benefit of public and private sectors.


SHARE-IN-SAVINGS, YO-HO-HO! At a conference to explain the share-in-savings acquisition concept, in which vendors put up the money for IT investments and then take their payment from the savings produced by their systems, former congressional staff member Mark Brasher said the first instance of the government using this type of contracting came during the Revolutionary War.

The colonies asked privateers to attack British ships in return for money when the colonies won the war.

Of course, those privateers were mostly pirates. Then again, maybe not much has changed, Brasher said.


  • Congress
    Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) at the Hack the Capitol conference Sept. 20, 2018

    Jim Langevin's view from the Hill

    As chairman of of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committe and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin is one of the most influential voices on cybersecurity in Congress.

  • Comment
    Pilot Class. The author and Barbie Flowers are first row third and second from right, respectively.

    How VA is disrupting tech delivery

    A former Digital Service specialist at the Department of Veterans Affairs explains efforts to transition government from a legacy "project" approach to a more user-centered "product" method.

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