Beam me down

It was not as hot a headline as the Michael Jackson verdict, but June 14 — the day after the eccentric celebrity was acquitted — another first happened. An astronaut testified before Congress while he was in space.

The House Science Committee's Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee held a hearing via live satellite with astronaut John Phillips, who is aboard the International Space Station.

The video communication link lasted about 15 minutes. Phillips answered questions about the space station's challenges and accomplishments. Witness testimony focused on the station's role in preparing people for long-term missions to the moon, Mars and other planets.

Needless to say, the TV ratings were not nearly as high as they were for the Jackson coverage. Millions of people tuned in to hear the verdict in the case.

Oops, a data mix-up

The numbers of data-loss cases in recent weeks are starting to add up. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, sent an urgent e-mail message last week to more than 400 hospitals, notifying them that they had received the wrong data from a contractor and asking them to destroy it.

The contractor, the Iowa Foundation for Medical Care of West Des Moines, Iowa, forwarded individual validation results for hospitals to check their quality-data submissions for the third quarter of this year. But a mix-up caused more than 400 hospitals to receive the wrong information.

"Apparently [the foundation] did not properly code the run, and it pulled the wrong information for about 400 hospitals on the East Coast," said Peter Ashkenaz, the centers' spokesman. "We discovered the error and the run was discontinued."

All hospitals involved were notified. They were asked to destroy the files they had received and verify that they had done so, Ashkenaz said. No beneficiary information was compromised, he said.

All the president's gossip

Attendees of the Gartner Information Technology Security Summit this month knew before they arrived that Bob Woodward — yes, the journalist of Watergate fame — would be moderating a panel that included two former federal cybersecurity chiefs. But with the revelation the week before that former FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt was Watergate uber-source Deep Throat, Woodward gave the IT security types in the audience something extra — his e-mail address.

"That's," he repeated, for anyone with Deep Throat II career aspirations.

Woodward got a windfall, too — several thousand spellbound listeners who could potentially buy his upcoming book. Unlike Watergate, this time it won't be hard for him to follow the money.

Reorg in the works at VA

Jim Nicholson, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, has a proposal on his desk to overhaul the agency's IT structure and is contemplating his next step, according to our sources.

The VA's chief information officer, Robert McFarland, hired an outside consultant to study the agency's IT structure and make recommendations. Nicholson should decide soon because Congress may pass legislation that would give the CIO total authority over IT spending.

The changes come not a moment too soon, given the VA's recent failure with CoreFLS, a financial management system. The agency terminated CoreFLS after millions of dollars were spent on it. Congress also is raising questions about how much money it would take to modernize the VA's electronic health record system.

From Russia, with love

"Hello, we're here to do business with you," Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, told his Russian counterparts last week.

Miller was in St. Petersburg, Russia, to give a speech and meet with his IT counterparts. He flew there on a Lufthansa-operated plane equipped with Internet access.

He spoke about global sourcing, the challenges that Russia might face and the possibility of holding the World Congress on IT in the country in 2010.

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