News in Brief

OPM widens online degree program, TSA tightens up, Sandia signs deal and more

OPM unveils new online degree program for feds

The Office of Personnel Management announced on April 20 that it has partnered with Champlain College to create the truED alliance, which provides civilian federal employees and their dependents with affordable post-secondary education opportunities online.

"We see OPM really driving the culture of learning across government," said Sydney Smith-Heimbrock, OPM's chief learning officer, in a press call to discuss the new partnership. Prospective agency employees should know that "when they choose the federal government as their employer, they're going to get access to this kind of lifelong-learning resource."

Champlain College will offer 60 online certificate, bachelor's and master's degree programs to federal participants at a tuition discount of as much as 70 percent. OPM has identified cybersecurity specialists, economists, acquisition officers, human resources professionals and auditors as the government's five most critical skills gaps.

The agency decided to partner with Champlain College largely because of how the school's curriculum matched federal needs. The college has been designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education. And online learning means "we can reach every civilian employee regardless of their duty station," Smith-Heimbrock said.

OPM's first partner for such education offerings was University of Maryland University College. Smith-Heimbrock said more than 1,200 federal employees and dependents have enrolled in that pilot program during the first year, but "we don't have specific targets" for enrollment.

TSA tightens up on internal security

After a three-month review by its Aviation Security Advisory Committee, the Transportation Security Administration is instituting extra data-screening procedures for airport-based employees to bolster defenses against insider threats.

TSA’s additional steps include performing "real-time concurrent" criminal history background checks for all aviation workers and requiring fingerprint-based criminal history records checks every two years for all airport employees who hold Security Identification Display Area badges. The agency will also conduct randomized screenings of aviation employees.

In an April 20 statement, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he ordered the review after law enforcement officials broke up a gun-smuggling operation at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which "raised questions about potential vulnerabilities regarding the screening and vetting of all airport-based employees."

Airline employees had been sneaking firearms onto aircraft because at the time, they did not have to pass through security screening, which allowed them to use their clearances to get dozens of weapons past security checkpoints and onto aircraft.

Immediately after the activity was discovered, Johnson said, TSA increased random and unpredictable screening of aviation workers at various airport access points to mitigate security vulnerabilities.

Sandia and Purdue sign research deal

Sandia National Laboratories and Purdue University signed an extensive, five-year memorandum of understanding that will establish a strategic alliance for solving big national technical problems.

The MOU will allow Purdue to send students and information to Sandia to speed research on common technical frontiers, such as trusted systems and communications, cyber-systems resiliency, power on demand, and the science and engineering of quantum information systems.

Sandia and Purdue are currently doing joint work on next-generation memory systems, exascale computing and better wind turbines.

Special Operations Command seeks to lock down BlackBerries

The U.S. Special Operations Command is looking for a way to secure BlackBerry 10 devices so that they can always function in a trusted state, reject unauthorized software and detect any signs of tampering, Defense Systems reports.

The command is soliciting white papers on what it calls an integrity agent that provides “integrity verification and tamper detection” for BlackBerry 10.

Note: This article was updated on April 20 to clarify that OPM's truEd alliance refers only to the partnership with Champlain College.  The program with University of Maryland University College serves a near-identical purpose, but does not operate under the truEd name. 

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