News in Brief

Fixing VA tech, touting tourism data and upgrading from GPS

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NVTC offers free help to VA

The Northern Virginia Technology Council is offering to help the Veterans Affairs Department fix its IT problems on a pro bono basis, and a bipartisan group of nine senators is urging the administration to accept the offer.

In a June 5 letter to President Barack Obama, the senators -- Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) – pointed to a previous volunteer effort to fix the data records system of Arlington National Cemetery, and urged Obama “to work with us to implement a similar cost-effective, private sector initiative so we can begin restoring the trust of our veterans and the American public” in the VA.

Commerce data gives leg up to tourism industry

Tourism is poised to be the next private-sector industry to benefit from the unleashing of government data.

To help local businesses and tourism offices, the Commerce Department released its 2013 report on international visitation to the United States, which included five important data sets: total international arrivals, top overseas regions, top 50 markets, comparison of pleasure to business visitors and top ports-of-entry.

The travel and tourism industry has grown exponentially from 55 million international visitors in 2009 to 70 million in 2013, according to a Commerce Department blog post. President Barack Obama recently announced his goal to increase that number to 100 million visitors annually by the end of 2021.

The data will help local businesses and tourism officials determine what kind of travelers visit their state, and where those tourists are coming from.

“Understanding what types of tourists visit your state can help you tailor your marketing techniques to those groups of people,” the post said. It also pointed to opening up data as a means to create job growth.

DoD looks to reduce GPS dependence

Defense-contracting giant Northrop Grumman will develop a navigation system for the Defense Department that the firm said could reduce dependence on GPS and other external signals. The contract for the “miniaturized navigation grade inertial system” has an initial value of $648,000 but a “potential value” of $13.4 million, Northrop Grumman said in a June 5 statement that left that value difference unexplained.

The technology falls under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program that seeks to combine “micro-electro-mechanical system and atomic inertial guidance technologies into a single inertial measurement unit,” Northrop Grumman said. The Falls Church, Va.-based firm added that it plans to use acoustic wave and nuclear magnetic resonance technologies to develop the inertial measurement unit.

“This microsystem has the potential to significantly reduce the size, weight, power requirement and cost of precision navigation systems," Charles Volk, vice president for Northrop Grumman’s Advanced Navigation Systems business unit, said in a statement.

The U. S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center awarded the contract.

Report: AWS to host some functions

Will run on Amazon's cloud?

Efforts to revamp the site continue, and key functions -- like the ability to automate payments to insurers -- must still be deployed. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration is "scrapping significant parts of the federal health-insurance marketplace in an effort to avoid the problems that plagued the site's launch last fall," and is turning to Amazon Web Services to host certain components for the health insurance marketplace. has been hosted primarily by Verizon Terremark, and was thought to be moving to an HP cloud later this year.

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