News in Brief

OPM breach, de facto debarment, system on a chip and more

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Report: OPM database breached by Chinese hackers

Computer systems at the Office of Personnel Management were attacked by hackers in China who were apparently seeking information on security clearance applicants, the New York Times reports. The breach took place in March, and was not made public, because officials have not identified the loss of personally identifiable information.

According to the article, authorities detected the intrusion and blocked the intruder. A Department of Homeland Security said that personnel were assigned, "to assess and mitigate any risks identified." In late May, OPM posted a Federal Register notice announcing it was streamlining access to OPM databases with an eye to putting more security around the contents of clearance applications and investigations. Back then, OPM did not shed light on whether the move was simple IT housekeeping or prompted by other security concerns.

Contractors object to 'de facto debarment' amendment

A group of industry associations is objecting to an amendment to the House energy and water appropriations bill that they said would impose "de facto debarment of federal contractors" if enacted.

"This amendment acts as an automatic, de facto debarment of federal contractors while entirely circumventing long-standing and proven suspension and debarment procedures included in the Federal Acquisition Regulation," the letter said.

The provision's author, Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, wrote in a July 9 op-ed that the aim of the provision is "to stop federal contractors who steal from their employees from receiving federal contracts," by which he meant failing to pay wages as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act. The amendment was added to the energy and water bill July 10 by voice vote. A similar provision was added to the Defense spending bill last month.

The group's letter argued that "even the most well-intentioned contractors can be the subject of an investigation resulting in a single finding of fault and liability and under this provision would be automatically debarred."

According to a statement from the Professional Services Council, one of 10 associations that signed the letter, the FAR provides federal agency suspension and debarment officials with broad authority to undertake suspension and debarment actions in the cases outlined by the amendment. It also requires that certain processes be followed that take into account the seriousness of the contractor's acts or omissions and any remedial measures or mitigating factors. "These factors would be ignored if this amendment were adopted," the statement said.

The other associations that signed the letter were the Aerospace Industries Association, American Council of Engineering Companies, Associated General Contractors of America, Coalition for Government Procurement, the Financial Executives International, IT Alliance for Public Sector, National Defense Industrial Association, TechAmerica and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

SEC urges better structured-data compliance

A Securities and Exchange Commission review found that some firms are not submitting financial reports to the EDGAR database using the eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), a markup language that structures business data using a common taxonomy of tags to denote information like profit, loss, earnings and other elements of a financial statement. A 2009 SEC rule requires submissions in the XBRL format.

"Our rules also require that you include calculation relationships for certain contributing line item elements for your financial statements and related footnotes. Through our selective review, we have noticed that your filing does not include all required calculation relationships," the SEC's Division of Corporate Finance stated in a July letter to company CFOs.

This reminder was accompanied by a July 7 staff report that pointed out an uptick in the use of custom tags, as opposed to standard tags, by small filers, even as the use of custom tags declined among larger users of the SEC's EDGAR system. This is attributed to the use of software and professional services. A footnote to the staff observation reminds filers that "companies who rely on a third-party provider to create their XBRL exhibits are responsible for the exhibits' accuracy and compliance with the filing requirements."

The XBRL format is seen as a likely choice for the publication of federal spending data by government agencies once the Data Act is implemented.

Pentagon biometric system ready for next test

An upgrade to the Defense Department's biometric system for identifying terrorists, criminals and other persons of interest has passed one round of tests and is ready for an operational test that will determine whether it's fit for the field, Defense Systems reports.

The operational for version 1.2 of the Automated Biometric Identification Systems will take place this fall.

DARPA 'system on a chip' to broaden connectivity of troops

Researchers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency recently demonstrated a "system on a chip," an all-silicon, microchip-sized wireless transmitter that military experts say will ultimately provide connectivity faster to more troops and at lower cost, GCN reports.

Researchers at DARPA's Efficient Linearized All-Silicon Transmitter ICs program were able to demonstrate performance of the chip at 94 GHz, the first time an all-silicon chip has achieved such a high frequency, according to DARPA.

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