News in Brief flaws, DARPA drones, OSTP prizes and the Datanauts' debut

stethoscope on keyboard

HHS IG finds security flaws in California insurance exchange

Covered California, the state insurance exchange that sells health coverage to Golden State residents under the 2010 health care law, isn't meeting federal security standards, according to a report from the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services.

The California exchange, which has received more than $900 million in federal funding, hasn't performed a required vulnerability scan on its systems, and the security plan didn't meet minimum standards promulgated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Additionally, the report found that some accounts lacked appropriate security settings.

Although the IG didn't find any evidence that the system had been compromised, the report states that "exploitation could result in unauthorized access to [personal user data], as well as disruption of critical marketplace operations."

The weaknesses identified by the IG "were collectively and, in some cases, individually significant and could have potentially compromised the integrity of the marketplace," according to the report.

Covered California agreed with the IG's recommendations and promised to put them in place.

NASA launches Datanaut Corps

NASA CIO Deborah Diaz and a range of other agency executives on May 7 launched a new "Datanaut Corps" -- a diverse cadre of data experts tasked with helping the space agency make the most of its massive collection of datasets. As Johnson Space Center Community Advocate Ali Llewellyn put it in a May 8 blog post, the datanauts are "leaders from across the data/maker/tech communities with diverse skill sets who ... are interested in engaging with NASA and pioneering the future of space-inspired data science."

The first Datanaut class does lack diversity on one front, however: "In keeping with NASA’s focus on Women in Data this year," all the founding Datanauts are women.

Cloud contractor to pay $9M to settle false-claims charges

Global Computer Enterprises, a now-defunct federal contractor, and owner Ray Muslimani agreed to pay $9 million to the federal government to settle charges that GCE hid its use of prohibited employees on federal contracts with the Labor Department and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

GCE, which supplied a cloud-based financial management service, allegedly concealed its use of engineers and other employees who could not work on federal contracts due to their citizenship or immigration status.

The company also provided software development services to the Coast Guard, the Secret Service and the General Services Administration, and it is alleged that the firm "repeatedly misrepresented and/or concealed" the use of employees prohibited from working on such contracts because of the lack of a security clearance or overseas location, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The FBI raided GCE's offices in 2013 to investigate allegations that the contractor was using prohibited employees. The ongoing legal investigation took a toll, and the company eventually filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

According to court documents, GSA and Labor paid GCE $23.5 million in August 2014 to acquire the financial management system from the ailing contractor when it filed for bankruptcy, in order to maintain access to the government data hosted on GCE's cloud.

The Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia approved the settlement, which does not constitute an admission of civil liability. The $9 million payment will come out of GCE's Chapter 11 proceeding.

DARPA, Navy team up on drones

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research are trying to make it easier to launch drones from ships. DARPA has two ongoing technical demonstrations to that end.

A project known as SideArm aims to "create a self-contained, portable apparatus able to horizontally launch and retrieve [unmanned aerial systems] of up to 900 pounds from trucks, ships and fixed ground facilities," agency officials said in a statement. DARPA plans to conduct further testing of the technology this year.

A second project, known as the Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems, is towed behind boats and could carry communications payloads of up to 150 pounds to a height of 500 to 1,500 feet. DARPA plans to test the technology at sea this year and possibly transfer it to the Navy.

OSTP: Prizes, challenges are effective IT procurement tools

Agency-sponsored technology competitions and challenges continue to inspire public-sector problem-solving and are an increasingly effective development tool, according to the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.

On May 8, OSTP released its fourth annual comprehensive report detailing the use of prize competitions and challenges offered through As of this month, the site had featured more than 400 prize competitions and challenges by more than 70 federal agencies, departments and bureaus.

The report states that 17 agencies conducted 97 prize competitions in fiscal 2014. A review showed an increase in the scope and sophistication of competitions and design challenges, and an increasing number of them sought to develop low-cost software and IT solutions. 

ONC awards grants to fund health IT innovation

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has funded six early-stage health IT companies via $300,000 in grants.

The money comes from the ONC Market R&D Pilot Challenge, launched in October 2014 to help startup health IT companies find organizations that would host pilot programs to test their technologies.

According to a blog post this week on the Department of Health and Human Services' Idea Lab site, the six winning companies will live-test new applications in health care settings administered by their host partners. Each team will receive $50,000 to fund its pilot program, which will become operational in August.

The winning teams are:

  • ClinicalBox and Lowell General Hospital.
  • CreateIT Healthcare Solutions and MHP Salud.
  • Gecko Health Innovations and Boston Children's Hospital.
  • Optima Integrated Health and University of California, San Francisco, Cardiology Division.
  • physIQ and Henry Ford Health System.
  • Vital Care Telehealth Services and Dominican Sisters Family Health Service.

TIA names three new execs

The Telecommunications Industry Association has named three new executives to its management team.

TIA, which represents manufacturers and suppliers of high-tech communications tools, tapped James Reid as senior vice president for government affairs, Franklin Flint as chief technology officer, and Patty Higginbotham as general counsel and senior vice president.

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