Oil spills, lousy managers and the pay debates top the list of most popular topics among FCW readers.
Feds are paid too much — or perhaps not enough — and they are outnumbered by contract employees. A lot of them have lousy managers, get security tips from a cartoonist/blogger and are just itching to replace their PC with an iPad.
That's the short version of the year in review, based on traffic data from FCW.com. It is hardly an accurate portrayal of the big events of 2010, but it provides a useful snapshot of the issues that are top of mind for many readers. With that perspective in mind, we offer this list of our 10 most popular stories, based on the number of unique visits.
1. NOAA interactive map tracks Gulf oil spill
As might be expected, the months-long Gulf oil spill, one of the biggest mainstream stories of 2010, was big news at FCW.com, thanks to a nifty tech angle.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launched the GeoPlatform website to provide the public with regularly updated data on the oil spill's trajectory, closed fishery areas, the effect on wildlife and gulf resources, the daily position of research ships, and affected shorelines.
NOAA worked with the University of New Hampshire's Coastal Response Research Center to tailor an existing Web-based geospatial platform designed to assist federal and local agencies with response activities.
Data published on the site comes from NOAA, the Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Homeland Security Department, NASA and several states.
For all intents and purposes, this blog post was written by the people, for the people.
The "FCW Insider" pulled together this piece on poor management practices by culling hundreds of reader comments from the first half of the year.
Bad management is a recurring topic at FCW.com, and it inevitably comes up whenever we run news stories about federal hiring, insourcing, telework and pay.
Many of the comments focused on the perception that the federal personnel system makes it nearly impossible to fire poor performers. Numerous readers protested, saying the process works — it’s just that most managers are not willing to make the effort.
But an anonymous reader spoke for many others by noting that the statement “You can’t fire a government employee” is “too close to being accurate.”
Any story about the Obama administration’s latest open-government initiative is certain to generate a fair-to-middling number of responses from readers who have a vested interest in the topic. But an article about bad government websites? That's sure to bring a flood of comments.
The point, of course, is that any well-intentioned effort to make government data more accessible — whether through a wiki, an IT dashboard or some other new-fangled technology — is bound to fail if the website is poorly designed.
Unfortunately, poor designs are not uncommon. We picked up this story from InformationWeek, which highlighted a dozen government sites that failed its experts’ taste test.
Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) won the hearts of many federal employees by forcefully countering a study by USA Today that concluded that feds are overpaid.
The USA Today article, which was based on a review of data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, found that feds received an average total compensation in pay and benefits of $123,049 in 2009, while private-sector workers made $61,051.
However, Kaufman said, the newspaper did not include military pay in its calculation of federal compensation, nor did it compare similar jobs across all categories.
In November, a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics gave credence to Kaufman’s argument by finding that feds make an average of 24 percent less than their counterparts in the private sector. But a few weeks later, news leaked that the so-called debt commission might propose freezing federal pay and cutting 10 percent of the workforce.
In December, President Barack Obama came out in favor of a pay freeze. Feds definitely are not feeling the love.
Federal Computer Week cartoonist and blogger John Klossner struck a chord with a post that gave a humorous spin to a serious matter: password security.
A recent study had found that many users defied common sense by using hacker-friendly passwords such as “123456” or “password.”
Although not purporting to be an expert on the topic, Klossner offered some suggestions for passwords that are difficult to crack. For example, he recommended using the title of one of Ben Affleck's good movies. “Nobody can remember those,” he wrote.
Another option: “Use your favorite Shakespeare quote, written as if it were spoken by Elmer Fudd.” Or this: “Use your favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger quote, as if spoken by Elmer Fudd.”
Not the stuff of security manuals, but hey, they just might work.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave the federal IT community a brief case of political whiplash when he suggested that the Obama administration’s insourcing initiative was not living up to expectations.
Although White House officials have cited various reasons for wanting to bring more jobs back into government, saving money was definitely at the top of the list. But that wasn’t panning out, Gates said in a speech Aug. 9.
Defense agencies have ended up spending nearly the same amount of money, just on fewer contract employees. His idea was to cut funding for support contractors while maintaining existing in-house staffing levels.
However, the story did not end there. Several weeks later, a DOD official said the military's existing insourcing initiatives were still on track.
Two senators of note got a lot of political mileage out of a report that confirmed what many people already knew.
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) said they were “astonished” to learn that the number of support contractors at the Homeland Security Department exceeded the number of staff employees — 200,000 vs. 188,000.
“The sheer number of DHS contractors currently on board again raises the question of whether DHS itself is in charge of its programs and policies, or whether it inappropriately has ceded core decisions to contractors,” Lieberman and Collins wrote.
Sources say this would not be news to contractors who have showed up at meetings with “agency officials” only to discover they were meeting with other contractors.
In case you haven’t noticed, the line between government and consumer technology is getting blurrier every day.
The iPad looks nothing like a traditional PC, and yet some 3 million people made it their computer of choice within the first three months of the product’s release. Although positioned as a consumer product, the iPad’s quick success prompted many observers to wonder if it could succeed in the federal market, too.
As it turns out, federal IT experts were way ahead of the rest of us and have been adding the tablet to existing contracts and testing out possible government applications.
Perhaps the desktop PC will hang around for years to come, but then again, the desk is not necessarily where all the action is.
No matter how familiar they get, some news stories will always be news.
A guaranteed must-read any week is when a federal employee or contractor accidentally exposes the personal data of federal employees or the public.
In this case, a procurement specialist at the Interior Department’s National Business Center made headlines by losing a CD containing personally identifiable information for about 7,500 employees at numerous agencies.
The good news was that the data was encrypted and password-protected and was presumed to be lost in the center’s secured, restricted-access area.
Why was a story about cybersecurity training so popular with our readers? Because the FCW cartoonist has a better grasp on security than many federal employees (see “Elmer Fudd” item above) and because agencies are tired of said employees providing FCW with guaranteed must-read stories on a recurring basis. It’s hard to argue with that.
NEXT STORY: Countering the consumerization of IT