News in Brief

OPM gets cyber hiring nod, DISA moves on classified mobile and more

Cybersecurity research gets a low-key Veterans Day rollout

The Veterans Affairs Department unveiled the skeleton of a centralized veterans' web portal on Nov. 11.

The launch of the beta version of came with little fanfare, and a disclaimer at the top of the page reading, "This site is a work in progress. We're designing in the open. If you don't find what you need, visit"

VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a statement that the site eventually will be the one-stop, central portal for vets to interact with the VA.

"You've told us VA has too many websites containing too much confusing information," McDonald said. "You've said want a site that's clear – one that's written in plain language and is easy to use. That's what you'll find here."

He promised that veterans would be able to manage manage all their personal information from a single account within a year.

DHS chief cites progress on reboot of failed immigration IT project

Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson is making lemonade out of an IT lemon.

In a lengthy statement on Nov. 11, responding to an Nov. 8 Washington Post story that pointed to the failure of an immigration records digitization program launched by Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2006, Johnson said his agency not only knew the system wasn't good enough, but used agile techniques to replace it relatively quickly with something much better.

Instead of sticking with the original contractor on the CIS project (which he didn't name, but the Post said was IBM), Johnson said DHS didn't "deem the original program 'too big to fail' and continue further down the wrong path." Rather, he said, "DHS made the hard decision to fundamentally reboot the program around the latest industry best practices and approaches."

He said DHS "pulled the plug on the original program, phased out the contractor, and moved to a different approach." In 2012, Johnson said, his agency launched the USCIS Transformation Program to digitize the millions of immigration applications it gets every year. "The result of these changes was a program and system that has little in common with the initial outdated attempt that was launched in 2006, beyond a shared name," he said.

The new system, according to Johnson, has processed 500,000 filings, representing 16 percent of all immigration processing. The agency is on track to increase that total by 41 percent by the end of 2016.

According to Johnson, DHS realized in 2012 that the single-contractor approach wasn't working. The agency then split work among several contractors, who had to compete to continue on the project.  DHS also adopted agile development techniques, open source technologies and best practices common in big digital industry companies like Amazon, Netflix and Etsy, he said.

"This is just the type of turnaround story in technology that we should be pioneering across the entire government," Johnson said.

OPM greenlights 1,000 DHS cyber hires

The Office of Personnel Management on Nov. 10 gave the Department of Homeland Security authority to hire up to 1,000 additional cybersecurity hands. The DHS positions cover cyber risk, incident response, malware analysis and "cyber-related infrastructure interdependency analysis," among other areas. The positions will be at General Schedule levels 9 to 15.

DHS is trying to bolster its cyber ranks as it shoulders the burden of protecting federal civilian networks.

DISA gets top-secret phones

The Defense Information Systems Agency last week received its first set of top-secret mobile devices, said DISA Director Lt. Gen. Alan Lynn.

The smartphones are undergoing testing, which has gone well, Lynn said Nov. 10 at an event hosted by AFCEA's Washington chapter. "The voice quality is really good and connects up with our other secure voice systems," he added.

DISA plans to deploy 3,000 secret-level smartphones by the second quarter of 2016.

"Mobility, to me, is the future," Lynn said. "That's where I see us going, ultimately."

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