News in Brief

Counting mobile, robot gap, rural tech and more

GAO: Agencies need to get a handle on mobile

The federal government is not getting its money's worth from the $1.2 billion it spends annually on mobile devices and services, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Auditors found that agencies typically lack enterprisewide inventories of their devices because the purchase and tracking of mobile devices and services falls to components and bureaus. Only four of the 15 agencies GAO reviewed manage their mobile inventories centrally. Of those four, only the General Services Administration had what GAO characterized as a "comprehensive inventory" in which the number of devices listed matched the number reported to the Office of Management and Budget as required under the 2012 Digital Government Strategy.

Furthermore, GAO said the wide variance paid for similar or identical devices and services suggests that there is an opportunity to save money by consolidating contracts and capitalizing on the purchasing power of large agencies.

The report includes 34 recommendations for specific agencies, most of which ask them to produce complete inventories of their mobile devices and service contracts and develop methods to ensure that devices are being used appropriately so agencies aren't paying for expensive overages or for devices that aren't being used.

DARPA goes DevOps for robots

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to tap into the agility of industry and hacker robot-makers who live online in fast-track "makerspaces" and "hackerspaces," where they pump out innovative technologies.

According to DARPA, the small-scale robotics community tends to fly under the radar of federal agencies and commercial technology providers, which generally rely on multiyear, multimillion-dollar contracts for technology development. As a result, the government is missing out on some leading-edge robotics developments.

To address the gap, DARPA launched the Robotics Fast Track program, which will support rapid, more agile development to provide the Defense Department with up-to-the-minute capabilities. The program will fund robotic hardware and software development with "clean-slate approaches" that adapt existing resources "by engaging highly agile organizations and individuals who traditionally have not worked with the U.S. government."

"We spend too much time creating three- to four-year solutions for six-month problems," said Mark Micire, a program manager at DARPA. "We want this new generation of robotics innovators to see DARPA as a partner that can help them develop breakthrough technologies in the areas that personally interest them and help translate their ideas and know-how into game-changing capabilities."

USDA using tech to reach the boonies

The Agriculture Department is accepting applications for its Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant program, which seeks to bring education, training and health care to isolated parts of rural America.

"This program provides people who live and work in rural areas with better access to a variety of educational and health care services," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "For example, because of the DLT program, students in rural areas can take advanced placement classes [and] residents can have access to specialized medical services not typically available," among other benefits for rural communities.

The agency is making $19 million available for fiscal 2015 to fund computer networks, telecommunications equipment and other technology tools. Individual grants will range from $50,000 to $500,000.

Applications are due by July 6.

Cyber Command scraps $475 million contract

U.S. Cyber Command has abruptly withdrawn a solicitation for contract services worth as much as $475 million. A terse May 21 update to the request for proposals states: "The government has determined it is necessary to reassess the needs of [Cyber Command] and to consider whether another acquisition strategy could better meet those needs."

The purpose of the omnibus contract was to streamline the command's "acquisition of cyber mission support capabilities and services, information technology services, and cyber professional services" and to "provide support across multiple technical and non-technical disciplines under a centralized structure," according to the original solicitation.

As of press time, Cyber Command officials had not responded to an FCW request for more information on why the solicitation was scrapped.

Justice issues drone guidance

The FBI and other Justice Department agencies use unmanned aircraft for a variety of investigative purposes -- in drug and kidnapping investigations, to track fugitives, and in search and rescue. A Justice Department working group, made up of the law enforcement components, the U.S. Attorneys Office, the office of the CIO, and other divisions has released policy guidance on the deployment of drones for investigative purposes, designed to work in concert with existing administration policy on drones and privacy.

The Justice Department says that personnel can't use drones "solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment or the lawful exercise of other rights secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States," and that any use of drones by Justice agencies, "must assess the relative intrusiveness of the proposed use of [drones] and balance it against the particular investigative need." Drone deployment must be approved by an Assistant Special Agent in Charge or equivalent in a field office, and by a supervisor at the agency's aviation unit or a designated supervisor at agency headquarters. The Justice Department also announced it would release a summary of drone operations annually, with descriptions of the sorts of missions undertaken, including missions on behalf of state, local or tribal law enforcement agencies.

The guidance comes just a few weeks after the FBI was criticized by civil libertarians for conducting aerial surveillance using manned small aircraft over West Baltimore in the wake of rioting there. An official told the Washington Post that the surveillance was conducted at the request of the Baltimore Police Department.

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