Attention, Combined Federal Campaign charities, PCFOs, participating employees (and anyone else involved in the CFC)
Dear CFC community:
As many of you know, the Office of Personnel Management is seeking public comment on a proposed overhaul of the campaign. As of this morning, almost 160 comments had been submitted; because the deadline for commenting is June 7, Federal Times would like to do a story for our next print issue on reaction to the plan.
But we need your help. OPM isn’t posting the comments online and won’t otherwise release copies without a Freedom of Information Act request (which typically takes months to process). So, if you’ve weighed in on the plan, we’re asking you to send us your comments directly. If you’re comfortable doing that, please email them to me (Staff Writer Sean Reilly) at email@example.com. With your permission (and please make that clear in your message), we’ll also post as many of the comments on Fed Times’ site as our bandwidth and hard-working web staff can handle.
Thanks in advance for your help!
Four years after President Obama created the post of chief performance officer to some fanfare, the job is now vacant, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget confirmed this week.
“OMB does not currently have a chief performance officer,” Ari Isaacman Astles said in an email to FedLine. “The responsibilities of the CPO are being handled by the OMB management team.”
Back in April 2009, Obama had tapped Jeff Zients, who became OMB’s deputy director for management, to also serve as chief performance officer. In that role, Obama said at the time, “Jeff will work to streamline processes, cut costs, and find best practices throughout our government.” But Zients quietly handled off those duties early last year to Lisa Brown, another White House staffer, when he again took over as acting OMB director. At the beginning of this March, however, Brown became general counsel at Georgetown University.
Astles didn’t say whether Brown was still serving as acting chief performance officer at the time of her departure. No word on a possible replacement, although Chief Information Officer Steve VanRoekel is now temporarily overseeing the management side of the house at OMB. (Zients left the deputy director’s job last month.)
Meanwhile, the Senate is moving forward with the nomination of Brian Deese to serve as deputy OMB budget director. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has scheduled a vote on Deese’s candidacy this afternoon; the Senate Budget Committee could soon follow suit after holding a confirmation hearing yesterday.
So at least one of these jobs may soon be filled.
Amazon Web Services is the latest vendor to pass a rigorous security review for all federal cloud products and services.
So far, only CGI Federal and North Carolina-based Autonomic Resources have completed the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP). The governmentwide program was launched in June to standardize security reviews of commercial cloud products and is housed within the General Services Administration.
Under the FedRAMP program, Amazon was granted a provisional Authority to Operate (ATO) by the Health and Human Services Department. This means HHS has certified that Amazon’s GovCloud and regional cloud service offerings meet federal security standards, and the company’s services are authorized for use at HHS. The purpose of FedRAMP is for other agencies to save time and money by using or building on the security review HHS has done.
More than 300 government agencies are currently using Amazon Web Services, Teresa Carlson, vice president of worldwide public sector, said in a statement.
By June 2014, all cloud services and products in use at federal agencies or in an active acquisition process must meet FedRAMP requirements.
Agencies are on the hook to publicly release more digital data in a way that protects citizen’s personal information and does not comprise government security.
One challenge, however, will be determining how that data could be combined with existing public data to identify an individual or pose other security risks to agencies, according to experts speaking at ACT-IAC’s annual Management of Change conference this week.
“The awareness is there, the concern is there, [but] the practice of it is relatively immature,” said Mike Howell, deputy program manager in the Office of the Program Manager of the Information Sharing Environment. “The policy framework around how you prevent inadvertent aggregation of personal identifiable information [and] sensitive information, it’s a known problem. It’s good that people are paying attention, but it becomes incumbent on whoever the aggregator is what they do with that information.”
Howell, whose office falls under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, highlighted the administration’s recent Open Data policy that refers to this issue as the mosaic effect. The policy memo, released this month, directs agencies to:
Consider other publicly available data –in any medium and from any source-to determine whether some combination of existing data and the data intended to be’ publicly released could allow for the identification of an individual or pose another security concern.
The challenge for many agencies, however, is they’re struggling to understand what data they have let alone what data is already in the public domain.
According to the policy, “it is the responsibility of each agency to perform the necessary analysis and comply with all applicable laws, regulations, and policies. In some cases, this assessment may affect the amount, type, form, and detail of data released by agencies.”
There’s a natural tension between releasing open data and securing it, said Donna Roy, an executive director in the Department of Homeland Security’s Information Sharing Environment Office.
Agencies have been instructed to:
- Collect or create only that information necessary for the proper performance of agency functions and has practical utility.
- Limit the collection or creation of information that identifies individuals to what is legally authorized and necessary for the proper performance of agency functions.
- Limit the sharing of information that identifies individuals or contains proprietary information to what is legally authorized.
The General Services Administration is moving forward with plans to stand up a cloud broker contract for acquiring and managing the performance of federal cloud services.
The Department of Homeland Security is one of two agencies that has committed to testing GSA’s cloud broker model in a pilot program expected to launch this fall, said GSA’s Mark Day. Speaking Monday at the annual Management of Change conference in Maryland, Day said GSA will award one contract to test the concept of a broker model and reevaluate the pilot by year’s end to determine how it could be expanded.
GSA has not yet defined all the services a cloud broker would provide, but the National Institute of Standards and Technology defines a cloud broker as “an entity that manages the use, performance and delivery of cloud services and negotiates relationships between cloud providers and cloud consumers.” Technology research firm Gartner defines cloud brokerage as a business model in which an entity adds value to one or more cloud services on behalf of one or more cloud users.
Some question whether the cloud broker model will add value or end up costing agencies more money. In a Feb. 14 letter to Rep. Doris Matsui, R-Calif., GSA’s Lisa Austin said the cloud broker model could be more effective in creating ongoing competition among cloud providers, rather than awarding single contracts for each cloud service.
“Part of the pilot is really understanding what’s the right role, [and] what’s the right process” for a cloud broker model, Day told Federal Times. ”We think we have an idea, but now we’ve got to test it.”
Day made clear what cloud brokers would not do inherently governmental functions, such as contracting. It isn’t clear to what extent brokers would negotiate services between agencies and cloud service providers, but the hope is that cloud brokers will increase vendor competition and reduce pricing and reduce the complexities of acquiring cloud services and integrating them with existing services.
Roughly 15 agencies are part of the cloud broker discussion, Day said. He would not name the second agency that has committed to testing the broker model because the agency has not announced it publicly.
The challenge for GSA has been attracting business to some of its existing federal contracts, rather than agencies launching their own contracts or using other agencies’ contracts. To garner greater use of its strategic sourcing contracts and future use of its cloud broker contract, GSA is meeting with agencies to determine their commitment to participate in market research and use the contracts, Day said. GSA can better leverage the federal government’s buying power, and vendors have an idea of what’s possible, in terms of business volume on a contract, he said.
More than half of the attendees at a big training meeting in 2011 for the General Services Administration’s acquisition arm hailed from the Washington area, but when it came time to figure out a location, officials headed to sunny Orlando instead.
As outlined in a memo released by the GSA’s Inspector General this week, a review found that Federal Acquisition Service officials settled on a contract proposal for conference planning and training that came to nearly a quarter million dollars, while the next highest vendor proposed just $79,784.
Despite the price, the IG found that officials essentially steered the conference to the Disney Institute by cutting and pasting from the request for quotation of a GSA leadership conference held months earlier by the FAS office in Atlanta. Three other vendors were rated poor and disqualified.
“This indicates that the competition may have been restricted since the requirements in the work statement could not be meet by other potential vendors,” James P. Hayes, deputy assistant IG, concluded in a May 15 memo to FAS Commissioner Thomas A. Sharpe, Jr., who was not in charge of FAS at the time.
Overall, the Florida conference conference cost $164,000, while 58-percent of the 155 attendees came from the Washington area, the IG found.
In am email, Dan Cruz, a spokesman for GSA, said the activity took place in 2011 and “would not be tolerated today.”
He said Acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini, who also was not with GSA at the time, has enacted reforms leading to greater oversight of travel, conference spending and related procurement activities.
“Over the past year, GSA has cancelled more than 50 conferences,” Cruz said. “These internal reforms, including cuts in travel and conference spending, have led to $73 million in savings.”
Tangherlini was named head of GSA after the former chief, Martha Johnson, resigned amid embarrassing disclosures of lavish, taxpayer-funded conferences, including a now infamous gathering in Las Vegas that cost more than $800,000 and featured a red carpet party and a mind reader.
With the Defense Department set to lay out a final furlough policy today, the Merit Systems Protection Board has rejected a union’s request for a heads-up on how it could decide appeals from employees who challenge the decision to force them to take unpaid time off.
“Under federal law, the Board is prohibited from issuing advisory opinions,” the agency’s clerk, William Spencer, said in a letter yesterday to Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers that cites the relevant provision of federal law. This afternoon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to officially tell DoD employees that most will be furloughed for up to 11 days by the end of September because of sequester-related budget cuts.
On May 1, Junemann had asked the board to issue “a pre-emptive statement of opinion” on whether furloughed DoD workers could win appeals. Such a step would save the board “from deciding thousands of cases that would likely come,” Junemann said in the letter MSPB chairman Susan Grundmann.
The board’s decision is “disappointing,” Matt Biggs, IFPTE’s legislative and policy director, in a phone interview today. By issuing the pre-emptive ruling, he said, board members “would have saved themselves a lot of time and effort and work because there are going to be thousands of cases going through.”
Over the last few days the IRS has become the focus of the media after evidence that some employees targeted specific political groups seeking a certain type of non-profit status. Lawmakers have called or hearings or the firing of those employees while outside groups have cried foul over their treatment by the IRS.
So what happens now? How bad is it? Is this a major scandal or the standard procedure for IRS enforcement of these tax-exempt groups?
For all of you federal employees out there feel free to chime in about how you feel about the unfolding story or comment anonymously to firstname.lastname@example.org
President Obama’s choice for deputy budget director spent a fair amount of time discussing the need for tighter management during a confirmation hearing today.
During a period of fiscal challenges, a key focus “has got to be making our government more efficient and more effective,” Brian Deese told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. President Obama nominated Deese, previously a top White House economic aide, last month for the post of deputy budget director at the Office of Management and Budget. The person holding that job “plays an important role in setting those (management side) priorities and also in making sure that we as a team at OMB would be well-positioned to execute on those,” he said.
In replies to written questions released at the hearing, Deese added that “greater focus on evidence in budgeting” will ensure effective government spending. If confirmed, Deese said he would work closely with OMB’s deputy director for management. That post has been vacant since Jeff Zients left last month; Obama has not yet named a replacement.
Deese served as deputy director of the National Economic Council from January 2011 until March; since then, he has been at OMB as a counselor to the director. If confirmed, he would replace Heather Higginbottom, who left in February for a job at the State Department.
No significant opposition has emerged so far to his nomination. At today’s hearing, committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., praised Deese as someone who understands the importance of innovation, both in saving money and in delivering better public services. Besides Carper, only Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., attended. A spokesman for the committee’s top Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, did not reply to voicemails asking the reason for his boss’s absence.
The Senate Budget Committee, which also has jurisdiction over Deese’s nomination, plans its own confirmation hearing later this month, a spokeswoman said.
We had a great response from all of you readers last time we did this so we are opening it up for another round of comments from fellow feds.
Federal employees have a lot to deal with. Congress has slashed budgets governmentwide while the sequester has forced agencies to initiate furloughs. Feds are being asked to do more than ever with fewer resources and are being stretched to the limit.
But beyond all that, it seems that some federal employees are working in barely functioning facilities. There have been stories of mold, exploding toilets, cracked ceiling tiles and leaky plumbing. Agencies have multi-billion backlogs of repairs and maintenance that have not been funded in years, and feds are paying the price.
What is it like at your building? Has something broken and just not been fixed? Have you been told that repairs to bathroom fixtures are not on the table? Tell us all your horror stories about where you work by commenting on the blog, or feel free to email me at email@example.com to talk about your issues.