News in Brief

GSA puts its art collection online, Category management goes big and more

GSA art collection: Flamingo by Alexander Calder.

(Flamingo by Alexander Calder / GSA Art Collection)

GSA's art collection goes online

Not all the best government art is housed in museums on the Washington Mall.

The General Services Administration owns some serious artwork, ranging from monumental sculptures like Alexander Calder's "Flamingo" to murals in hundreds of post offices commissioned under the New Deal's Works Progress Administration.

On Oct. 13, GSA took its stash online, with the launch of the launched the Fine Arts Collection, an interactive website intended to guide those looking for artwork by favorite artists or to discover works near them. It's the first time the agency's entire art collection has been accessible in one location.

"No one has seen all of these works in person, but now we have the opportunity to understand the breadth of the collection," said Jennifer Gibson, Director of GSA's Art in Architecture and Fine Arts programs. "This site brings it all together for the first time and provides a portrait of America as seen by its artists."

Category management goes big

The White House and GSA are moving ahead with their work to widen category management policy for acquisition, according to the managers in charge of the effort.

In an Oct. 14 blog post, Anne Rung, chief acquisition officer at the White House Office of Management and Budget, and Tom Sharpe, commissioner of GSA's Federal Acquisition Service, said they will soon issue "several significant category management policies to drive greater savings and efficiencies in IT" under the buying efficiency plan. Their post did not provide specifics on those announcements, however.

Since introducing the effort last January, Rung and Share have championed category management as a way to consolidate product information for buyers, reduce contract redundancies and generally straighten out some twisted processes in federal procurement.

They've also released a "Government-Wide Category Management Guidance" document, established category management as one of 15 Cross Agency Priority goals, and continued improvements to GSA's Acquisition Gateway, among other efforts.

Rung and Sharpe also noted they have identified at least four agencies -- GSA, the Defense Department, OMB and the Office of Personnel Management -- to lead at least seven of ten new "Category Centers of Excellence" under the effort. Formal announcements for the specific agency leading each center of excellence, and for the category managers who will lead that category on behalf of the government, are coming "shortly."

Researchers: NSA may be breaking popular algorithm

A popular algorithm used to secure websites, email and other protocols is vulnerable to state-sponsored attackers, according to a new research paper presented at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security.

To use the algorithm, known as the Diffie-Hellman key exchange, a client and server "need to agree on a large prime number with a particular form," wrote researchers Alex Halderman and Nadia Heninger, in a blog post. However, a well-resourced adversary can perform one huge computation to "crack" the prime number and then break any one connection using that prime, they said.

"Based on the evidence we have, we can't prove for certain that [the National Security Agency] is doing this," wrote Halderman and Heninger. "However, our proposed Diffie-Hellman break fits the known technical details about [the NSA's] large-scale decryption capabilities better than any competing explanation."

Key trade group opposes CISA

A nonprofit group whose members include Amazon, Google and Facebook has come out against the cybersecurity information-sharing bill that is pending Senate consideration. The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act "does not sufficiently protect users' privacy or appropriately limit the permissible uses of information shared with the government," the Computer and Communications Industry Association said in an Oct. 15 statement. The bill also "authorizes entities to employ network defense measures that might cause collateral harm to the systems of innocent third parties," the group said.

CCIA said that it supports the goal of improving the sharing of cyber-threat information between the public and private sectors, but that it cannot support CISA in its current form.

CISA and other information-sharing bills in recent years have been dogged by privacy concerns. CISA's co-sponsors, Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), have said they have worked with privacy advocates to refine how the legislation treats personal information, but those efforts apparently fell short of CCIA's standards.

CISA is set to be taken up by the Senate at some point after senators return from a recess. There are a host of amendments that will receive votes, according to a deal between the sponsors and Senate leaders, and some of these are sponsored by noted privacy activists in the upper chamber. Anything passed by the Senate would have to be conference with a pair of House bills that have some of the protections advocated by CCIA.

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