Letters to the editor

Cut Waxman some slack
In response to FCW’s editorial “Waxman at a crossroads” [Oct. 29], Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is turning over rocks, not throwing stones. We need to recognize that the agencies and Congress have not exercised effective oversight of many programs and contracts for years. We’re all paying for that now.

Credit the congressman with exposing the sorry performance of the Deepwater shipbuilders and helping to motivate the Coast Guard to strengthen oversight and ask for a refund on boats that need to be scrapped. Also credit him for illuminating the negligent State Department oversight of security contractors and helping to motivate State to make changes. And he’s tried to restrain the current General Services Administration administrator from driving away customer
There are many other examples. And even when Waxman is plainly wrong — as in charges of organizational conflicts of interest of certain Homeland Security Department contractors working on SBInet — he motivates firms to re-examine and tighten their safeguards.

As for politics being a part of his behavior, what can we expect? He’s a congressman, and that’s what they do. He must be hitting some pay dirt, though, because President Bush has complained about Congress launching too many investigations.

If you look at the Web site for the committee Waxman heads — the Oversight and Government Reform Committee — count the legislation it has proposed and add other bills sponsored by members of his large committee, his committee has outdistanced any other in proposing fixes to neglected acquisition problems. Yes, some of his proposals are over-the-top, too intrusive, redundant or burdensome. But many are quite sensible. Like most major legislation, however, hardly anything has passed so far.

You don’t see the agencies or the Office of Federal Procurement Policy offering nearly the volume of fixes. And frankly, if the agencies just applied and enforced compliance with statutes and regulations already on the books, there’d be better performance by both government and contractors. Most of what they do is OK or better, but the failures have a way of standing out and stinging, especially when school’s been out for years.

Finally, don’t ruminate too much on Waxman’s failure to sit for a full interview with Federal Computer Week; you’re in good company. I sense he has some defensible reasons for choosing more-direct channels to make the committee’s work known. And he’s probably somewhat tired of being a convenient bogeyman for a lot of stakeholders sitting on their hands.

Michael Lent
Editor and publisher
Government Services Insider

Cybersecurity actions speak louder than words
Regarding “New commission will advise next president on cybersecurity” [FCW.com, Oct. 30], how many of these groups are required to reach cybersecurity nirvana? There are many similar bodies, each of which sets out to assess what all the others are doing and then typically makes the same recommendations as all the others. The recommendations are the same because they’re fundamentally just common sense, if not common practice.

A far better reason to set up yet another cybersecurity body would be to take at least one of the recommendations made by any of the others and actually do something to implement it rather than just continue to sit in meetings ruminating on the problem.

Jaton West

Background checks have been required for years
Regarding “Court grants injunction on HSPD-12 background checks for NASA plaintiffs” [FCW.com, Oct. 31], an important factor in this case has been overlooked and apparently not argued by NASA’s attorneys: The background investigation requirement that is tied to Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 is not new.

HSPD-12’s required background investigation is the National Agency Check with Inquiries (NACI). This requirement was established by the Eisenhower (yes, Eisenhower) administration via Executive Order 10450 on April 27, 1953.

The decision to tie HSPD-12 to an existing requirement was a deliberate one. Because minimum public trust and clearance levels vary across federal agencies, there was a push to define a standard across the federal government without creating a new requirement that might mean an agency has to reinvestigate all of its employees. Very conveniently, there just happened to already be a standard.

While I sympathize with the federal employees who have never been investigated and now risk losing their jobs if their NACI is unfavorably adjudicated, this shouldn’t be painted as a new, invasive requirement from an administration that cares not for personal privacy. I think a better question in this case — and in many agencies — is why there are so many people who have never had background investigations when they’re required by an executive order that agencies had 54 years to implement.



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