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Quick Hits for Sept. 19

***After years of wrangling and lobbying from open government advocates, reports from the Congressional Research Service are being posted online in a searchable database. The requirement to make the reports public was included in a 2018 appropriations bill. CRS serves as a shared expert staff across Congress, preparing reports on topical issues, details of congressional procedure, legislative history, foreign affairs, economics, science and technology and more.

"I have long championed transparency and an open government, and I am glad that the American people will finally have the same access to these taxpayer-funded reports that lobbyists and insiders enjoy," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said. "The Library of Congress and its CRS division are superb national resources. Open access to information is vital to a functioning democracy, and this rollout is long overdue."

The CRS website launched with 628 reports dating back to the beginning of 2018, but the back catalog is expected to be added eventually. CRS also hasn't posted their topical briefs CRS In Focus, CRS Insight and CRS Legal Sidebar, according to a blog post from Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the American Federation of Scientists. AFS is an unofficial home of CRS reports – most non-confidential CRS content was leaked to AFS, which maintains an archive of reports. The websites EveryCRSReport.com and CRSreports.com also post the reports.

***The Department of Transportation is looking to data from Google-owned traffic app Waze to improve how it measures and responds to traffic risk, according to Dan Morgan, the agency's chief data officer and acting chief technology officer. Currently, the DOT's Highway Performance Monitoring Manual comes out once a year and the census on highway fatalities takes 18 months for the agency to compile. But Waze and other companies are providing the data to for DOT agencies to report on risks more quickly, Morgan said at the Predictive Analytics for Government conference on Sept. 18.

Waze generates better data from urban areas, on interstates and during commutes, Morgan said, but the app is a good resource for understanding traffic and its associated risks. The census on highway fatalities takes time to produce because of the need to obtain official supporting information such as toxicology results from local law enforcement. But, Morgan said, predictive data from Waze and other sources can be used to "target technical assistance or financial assistance and do interventions in a more timely fashion."

***The Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs advanced the nomination of James Gfrerer to serve as assistant secretary for the Office of Information and Technology and CIO at VA. OI&T, which has a $4 billion-plus budget annually, has been led by interim career officials for much of the past two administrations. If the full Senate backs the nomination, as is expected, Gfrerer would join LaVerne Council and Roger Baker as the only confirmed VA CIOs since 2009. Gfrerer replaces acting CIO Camilo Sandoval, a hire from Trump campaign whose appointment generated controversy among Capitol Hill Democrats because of allegations of professional misconduct by a fellow campaign staffer.

***Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced the Senate counterpart of a House-passed bill to codify the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program. Sponsorship from Cornyn, the Senate majority whip, makes it likely the bill will get a vote on the floor or added to the Homeland Security appropriations bill expected to be taken up after the midterm elections. As FCW's Derek B. Johnson noted when the Advancing Cybersecurity Diagnostics and Mitigation Act passed the House earlier this month, the bill gives Congress some oversight power to make sure that agencies are adopting and implementing CDM tools on schedule.

***Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) is calling for hearings into the safety of U.S. gas pipeline infrastructure in the wake of fatal series of gas explosions in Lawrence, Mass. In a statement, Lynch said the "siting and operation of volatile natural gas infrastructure in proximity to residential communities poses a grave public safety threat that demands robust congressional review."

As news of Lawrence explosions broke, there was an outbreak of unsupported speculation on Twitter that the event was linked to a remote computer intrusion, possibly linked to the Stuxnet malware used to target Iranian industrial control systems. Still, Lynch notes hackers have been trolling the U.S. gas infrastructure for years looking for information that could support remote takeovers of gas storage and delivery systems.

The Transportation Security Administration is responsible for pipeline security, and could issue cybersecurity regulations for pipelines and their supporting computer infrastructure, but as a 2012 CRS report noted, the agency, "may not have the resources to develop, implement, and enforce such regulations if they are mandated."

Posted on Sep 19, 2018 at 1:01 AM


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