Procurement prize, NARA guidance, IRS system hacked and more

News and notes from around the federal IT community.

Crowdsourcing Innovation

Teach contracting officers to procure digital services, get $320K

The U.S. Digital Service and Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy want someone to teach the proverbial man to fish ... for better digital procurements.

The organizations have solicited the development of a training program through Challenge.gov, with up to $320,000 in prize money for the winning submission.

The challenge’s goal: developing a Digital Service Contracting Professional Training and Development Program.

The program, ideally six months or fewer in length, would be aimed at helping federal contracting officers and contract specialists navigate digital services procurement, according to the challenge announcement.

Per the announcement, a successful program will teach contracting professional how to:

  • Understand and procure digital services and supplies utilizing concepts such as those described in the Digital Services Playbook and the TechFAR (e.g, DevOps, UX, Design Services, Agile Software Development, Open Source, Cloud, Iaas, SaaS, and PaaS).
  • Appropriately measure the success of these contracts based on industry standards.
  • Accurately describe and define the value received.
  • Encourage the use of commercial practices and innovative approaches (e.g. modular contracting, broad agency announcements, challenges and prizes) to ensure procurements can capture flexible and rapidly changing technology advancements.

The challenge will include three phases.

In Phase I, participants will submit white papers detailing their training program concepts; three finalists will be selected from the white papers and given $20,000 to move forward with their designs.

In Phase II, finalists will present a mock classroom training and full design of their programs; one winner will move to phase III, in which $250,000 in milestone payments will fund a pilot training program.

If the ultimate training program design meets the government’s objectives, the winner will be eligible for a final $50,000 prize payment.

Phase I submissions will be accepted through June 23, and the Phase III pilot program should be wrapped and presented to OMB by Jan. 31, 2016.

IRS system hacked, 100,000 taxpayers affected

An online service provided by the Internal Revenue Service was used to steal tax returns and other information on more than 100,000 taxpayers, the Associated Press reported. The service, called "Get Transcript," was accessed from "questionable email domains" more than 200,000 times from February through mid-May, according to an IRS statement. Roughly half those attempts "successfully cleared authentication hurdles.

The service has been temporarily shut down.

NARA reminds feds that even fleeting text messages can be records

Quick notes sent via Google Chat, Facebook messenger, mobile phone SMS, Yammer, Whatsapp, Slack, and other fleeting communications platforms can be federal records, depending on the content of the message and who is doing the sending or receiving.

The National Archive and Records Administration is seeking comment on an updated bulletin detailing how agencies should set policy for managing chatter on these services, including updates on how to treat messages that originate in personal user accounts.

Capturing and preserving these kinds of messages poses special problems. It's not always easy to save messages with the complete metadata information, like sender, recipient and timestamp. The use of multiple platforms adds additional complexity. And some platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, have some claim of ownership and control to content produced in their systems, although government-specific terms of service negotiated by the General Services Administration largely address this last issue.

The guidance advices agencies not to prohibit the use of these tools to avoid the added headache of archiving messages, but rather to "actively provide the appropriate communication tools to employees to complete their work," so that feds don't routinely resort to personal accounts to communicate. Comment on the new guidance is due by June 5.

Iran claims to have foiled U.S. cyberattack

The Iranian government claims to have thwarted a U.S. cyberattack on its oil ministry in the last several weeks, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency

Fars cited an Iranian official, Brig. Gen. Seyed Kamal Hadianfar, as saying that the hackers were from the United States, and that they were stopped by Iran’s cyber response center.

A U.S. Cyber Command spokesperson did not reply to requests for comment on the report.

A document leaked by Edward Snowden and published by The Intercept in February reveals the National Security Agency’s concern about Iran’s ability to reverse engineer cyberattacks on its infrastructure.

FBI boosts Child ID app

The FBI upped the resolution and data capabilities on its popular Child ID app, which allows parents to electronically store their children’s pictures and vital information for use in case their child goes missing.

The app works on most Apple and Android smartphones and tablets. It stores up-to-date images and physical descriptions, such as height, weight and birthmarks, on users’ mobile devices, not with mobile providers or the FBI.

The FBI said its latest version's updated features include high-resolution image capability, a default recipient field (for a local police department’s email address, or other default emergency responder) and optional automatic reminders to update a child's profile.

According to the FBI, the app has been downloaded more than 250,000 times since it was released, first on iTunes in 2011, then for the Android operating system in 2012. The current version, released in April, has been downloaded more than 50,000 times onto devices around the world.

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