News in Brief

Defense health records, fed worker survey, Pentagon IT spending and more

Shutterstock image: medical professional interacting with a futuristic interface.

DOD health records procurement nearing last call

The bidding is over on the massive $11 billion plan to provide the Defense Department with a new electronic health record system.

The Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization procurement was whittled down to three teams of bidders in February. Now officials have closed discussions with those teams, according to a July 14 update on the federal contracting site FedBizOpps.

The contenders are a partnership between IBM and market-leading EHR provider Epic; a team that consists of EHR firm Cerner, Leidos and Accenture; and a team led by Computer Sciences Corp. that includes EHR provider Allscripts and Hewlett-Packard.

A decision is expected shortly after the teams make final revisions to their proposals, perhaps as early as the end of July.

Feds say bad workers aren't getting fired

In a new survey, 70 percent of federal executives say workforce duds are rarely or never given pink slips or even reassigned.

More than 3,500 federal executives participated in the anonymous survey, conducted by Vanderbilt University. It revealed deficits in training, skills and dealing with underperforming employees.

From the study's findings:

  • Seventy percent of underperforming non-managers and 64 percent of underperforming managers are rarely or never dismissed.
  • Only 68 percent of federal executives and 45 percent of political appointees believe they have received sufficient training and guidance on how to hire, promote, reward, discipline and dismiss employees in the career civil service.
  • Thirty-nine percent of federal executives agree or strongly agree that an inadequately skilled workforce is a significant obstacle to their agencies' ability to fulfill its core mission.
  • Fifty-one percent said their workforce's skills had improved during their tenure, while 19 percent said skills had gotten worse or much worse.
  • Forty-two percent of federal executives agree or strongly agree that they are unable to recruit the best employees.

Study: Pentagon IT spending to pick up

Although the Pentagon's annual spending on IT has dropped 14.4 percent over the past three fiscal years, it is set to increase by 1.6 percent in fiscal 2016, according to new research by IDC Government Insights.

The medium-term outlook is also rather positive: The compound annual growth rate of Defense Department IT spending from fiscal 2014 through 2019 is about 0.5 percent, the firm states.

"The increases show slightly more spending targeted to cloud solutions and more spending targeted to security improvements," said Shawn McCarthy, a research director at IDC Government Insights, in a statement. "This trend is expected to increase for the next few years. Beyond 2017, we don't expect to see growth to be quite as robust as what we have seen between 2014 and the proposed 2016 budget year for DOD agencies."

IG to probe foreign nationals' access to NIST systems

House appropriators are concerned about security at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, particularly the access that foreign nationals have to sensitive information stored at NIST facilities or on agency systems.

The House-passed bill that funds the Commerce Department whacked $264.6 million off the Obama administration's $1.2 billion budget request for NIST, and it clearly got the department's attention.

In a July 14 memo, Commerce's Office of Inspector General notified NIST Director Willie May that it was launching an investigation at the request of the House Appropriations Committee "to determine whether NIST has adequate processes and procedures to ensure that foreign nationals have the proper access to NIST information systems and data to prevent unauthorized use."

Appropriators also want NIST to coordinate with the FBI on shoring up counterintelligence, internal security and controls over the transfer of sensitive information.

OPM boosts website contractor's pay ceiling

In a non-competitive award on July 10, the Office of Personnel Management boosted the ceiling of its blanket purchase agreement with the contractor responsible for updating its Web-based benefits system.

The move allocates another $292,252 toward the work of Research Management Consultants Inc., the firm that is upgrading OPM's public website, intranet and Benefits Plus system.

OPM cited RMCI's unique historical knowledge of the Federal Employees Health Benefits open-season process as one of the primary justifications for the non-competitive award.

The agency also noted that several projects, including updating and implementing the Office of Management and Budget's HTTPS-only standard for federal websites, were in danger of not being completed in the current fiscal year without raising the ceiling for RMCI.

Biometric data collection goes mobile for air travelers

Customs and Border Protection has begun testing a mobile device that collects biometric data from foreign travelers leaving the U.S. from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

During the test of the Biometric Exit-Mobile Air Project, CBP officers equipped with handheld biometric devices will be stationed at the passenger boarding bridges of selected flights departing the U.S. The officers will scan certain foreign travelers' fingerprints and passports, and that data will be matched to the data collected when those travelers entered the U.S., which is stored in secure systems managed by the Department of Homeland Security.

CBP plans to expand the test this fall to airports in Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; Newark, N.J.; New York; San Francisco; and Dulles, Va.

The agency said the project, which will run through June 2016, is one of several initiatives it is working on to address a congressional mandate to biometrically record the departures of foreign visitors.

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