News in Brief

SEC data, federal pay raise, broadband proposals and more

House bill rolls back SEC's open-data plan

The House passed a financial regulation bill Jan. 14 that includes a provision that would exempt some publicly held companies from filing reports in machine-readable form.

The 271-154 vote would put the brakes on an evolving Securities and Exchange Commission policy to require companies to file the financial information on their quarterly and annual reports using XBRL, a business version of the machine-readable XML language that simplifies the process of extracting and analyzing financial data.

The measure was originally proposed as a stand-alone bill by Reps. Robert Hurt (R-Va.) and Terri Sewell (D-Ala.). The bill would exempt companies with annual revenues below $250 million from complying with the requirement.

The exemption is opposed by open-government groups, including the Data Transparency Coalition. Hudson Hollister, the group's executive director, said the SEC was in part to blame for the setback because it required companies to file financial reports in both XBRL and document form rather than in a single format.

"Congress should be directing the SEC to fix these problems -- not simply eliminating data reporting altogether for most companies," Hollister said in an emailed statement.

Connolly calls for 3.8% fed pay raise

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) is hoping to give federal employees a raise by reviving a measure that did not advance in the Republican-controlled House in 2014 and likely faces the same fate in 2015.

The bill has 31 Democratic co-sponsors and has won praise from leaders of government employee unions.

"This bill is a down payment on trying to help restore some of the losses that have been incurred by federal employees," Connolly said in a statement. "They have endured a three-year wage freeze, four years without locality pay, higher retirement contributions for certain employees, wage-reducing work furloughs, cuts from sequestration, and a government shutdown."

Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) are introducing a companion bill in the Senate.

Obama wants local governments to offer broadband

In a speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa -- home to an ultra-fast one-gigabit municipal broadband service -- President Barack Obama urged states to repeal legal barriers to government-run Internet services and asked the Federal Communications Commission to use its authority to regulate competition to allow cities and towns to get into the broadband business.

The two Republican FCC commissioners released statements in advance of the speech opposing the FCC's intervention in state laws.

Municipal broadband is popular policy among grassroots technology activists, who cite greater speeds, wide availability and lower costs as reasons for the government to get into the business of providing Internet service. However, governments in many states are prohibited by law from offering such services.

Lab releases biodetection app

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory released an app earlier this month to help first responders choose and buy biodetection technologies. The free app is available on iTunes.

PNNL officials said an online version of the lab's updated guide to commercially available, hand-portable biodetection technologies has been downloaded more than 10,000 times, but first responders don't always have immediate access to a computer. The mobile version helps solve that issue.

The release of the mobile app is part of a larger effort at PNNL to assess hand-portable, commercial biodetection technologies. Officials said they are evaluating a range of tools, including general protein tests for biological material and agent-specific tests such as immunoassays and polymerase chain reaction assays.

OPM glitch exposes retiree info

The Office of Personnel Management disabled a Web service for federal retirees on Jan. 12 to resolve a "technical malfunction" that might have exposed some retirees' personal information to others using the service, NBC's News4 reported.

The OPM service appeared to be functioning normally again the morning of Jan. 13, according to a report by Federal News Radio. Both news outlets cited an OPM statement saying the agency was investigating how the glitch happened.

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