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Kundra calls for “global Cloud First policy”

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Before leaving office this month, federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra laid out the administration’s “Cloud First” policy, which requires agencies to give priority to cloud computing services as opposed to buying hardware and software.

State and local government are also moving forward with cloud computing, but Kundra’s vision is the “creation of a global cloud first policy that forces nations to work together” on issues concerning cloud and whether cloud data should be shared between nations, Kundra said in a Tuesday New York Times op-ed piece. If cloud data can be shared, what restrictions should be in place?

In Japan, the Ministry of Economic Trade and Industry expects the country’s cloud computing market will reach $20.1 billion by 2015, said Kundra, adding that the United States can’t afford to be left behind. That number is projected to reach $3 billion in India over the same time period and create 100,000 jobs.

“Public and private organizations that preserve the status quo of wasteful spending will be punished, while those that embrace the cloud will be rewarded with substantial savings and 21st-century jobs,” he said.

Within the federal government, there are mixed feelings about cloud computing. The General Services Administration was the first agency to move its email to the cloud, and GSA expects to cut costs by 50 percent over five years. “But other agencies have balked,” Kundra said, using the State Department as an example. The department is concerned about potential security risks because the data is stored off site by a contractor.

Kundra said organizations that don’t adopt cloud computing are at greater risk because employees will find a way to use services like Dropbox and Gmail that they are accustomed to. This creates an “IT shadow” that could cause greater vulnerabilities than a “properly overseen cloud computing system.”

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Postal Service woes could undermine federal workers’ comp fund

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What happens at the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t necessarily stay at the Postal Service.

The latest example: A federal workers’ compensation fund could run out of money within three months if the cash-strapped mail carrier skips a $1.2 billion payment due in mid-October, according to the Labor Department.

The department runs the fund under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act. Should the Postal Service miss the October “chargeback” for past claims, officials estimate that the program would have no money to pay any benefits during the last four months of fiscal 2012, running from next June through September, according to a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

BUT, the fund could have to halt benefits by late this November if the Postal Service misses its required payment and—as is considered extremely possible—the government begins fiscal 2012 under a continuing resolution. The reason is that Congress generally doesn’t appropriate enough money under a short-term CR to cover the cost of annual lump sum benefits, Brian Kennedy, the Labor Department’s assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs, said in the letter. On top of that, the workers’ comp fund wouldn’t have enough money to pay the vendor that processes medical claims under the compensation act, Kennedy wrote. His letter, dated Aug. 1, was first reported by Reuters news service.

So, will the Postal Service, which describes itself as effectively bankrupt, be able to ante up?  At this point, the answer is yes, spokesman Dave Partenheimer said today in an email. But in its third-quarter report released earlier this month, the Postal Service suggested it could  have “insufficient cash” to meet all of its federal obligations this fall, including the workers’ comp component.

The moral? To rewrite a famous line from English poet John Donne, no agency is an island. And for thousands of federal workers’ comp beneficiaries out there . . . keep your fingers crossed.

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Senate panel sets postal hearing for next week

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Game on! The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee just officially announced what is certain to a highly charged hearing next Tuesday afternoon, titled “U.S. Postal Service in Crisis: Proposals to Prevent a Postal Shutdown.”

The focus is expected to be the Postal Service’s recently unveiled bid for the freedom to lay off some 120,000 unionized employees, along with creating its own retirement and health insurance programs. No witnesses have been announced yet, but they will presumably include U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe or a stand-in, as well as labor and mailing industry representatives.

Unsurprisingly, all three proposals have not exactly been embraced by the Postal Service’s four unions. This, however, will be the first formal gauge of congressional sentiment. The hearing is set for 2 p.m.,  Sept. 6. For those who can’t attend in person, the committee usually webcasts its hearings live; the panel’s homepage is http://hsgac.senate.gov/public.

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Martin Luther King Jr. memorial becomes 395th national park

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On Aug. 28, 2011, the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial officially took its place as America’s 395th national park – 48 years after King’s “I Have a Dream speech” delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

“Welcoming this memorial to the National Mall honors a heroic man and a critical chapter in our nation’s march toward a more perfect union,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “Martin Luther King, Jr., mobilized the power of faith and morality to break the chains of oppression that held our nation back.

The dedication ceremony was also to take place on Sunday, Aug. 28, but was postponed because of Hurricane Irene, which made its way up the eastern seaboard.

In 1996, Congress authorized Dr. King’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, to establish a memorial to the civil rights leader in Washington, DC. The group formed the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation and held a competition for the design. A site along the Tidal Basin of the National Mall was chosen for the memorial.

For more information about America’s newest national park, please see http://www.nps.gov/mlkm.

Disclosure rule for federal researchers gets diluted

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Institutions can wait for written requests to disclose federally-funded researchers’ financial ties to pharmaceutical companies and other corporate interests, according to a final rule issued by the Health and Human Services Department Thursday.

This is a change from the proposed rule brought by the agency in May 2010, which would have required institutions to post information about conflicts of interest on a publically available website.

The final rule requires research institutions to determine if a researcher’s financial ties or interest in an outside company could bias or present a conflict of interest with federally funded research. It would apply to HHS’s National Institutes of Health, which received $32 billion in the President’s proposed 2012 budget. More than 80 percent of that is dedicated for research.  

The Office of Management and Budget was reviewing the rule before its final issuance.  A source close to the review told Nature magazine that an OMB official had pushed for the removal of the website requirement. Sen. Chuck Grassley has asked the Office of Management and Budget for internal communications that could reveal why the requirement was limited and by whom.

In his former seat on the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley, R-Iowa, found instances where researchers were receiving money from the federal government to study drugs from companies to which they also had financial ties. The written request option is a barrier that institutions can hide behind if they don’t want to readily disclose information, he said in a statement.

“This is a missed opportunity to inject transparency where it’s really needed,” said Grassley, now ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “With less public scrutiny than we could have had, we’ll lose a valuable layer of oversight.”

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Government-wide web site on agency performance goes live

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It took a little longer than expected, but performance.gov is now open to the public. The site, created about a year ago by the Obama administration, had hitherto been password-protected and generally limited to federal employees. Check it out and let us know what you think.

The site is intended to undergird the administration’s performance management strategy, in part by providing “in-depth information on agency priority goals and key performance indicators, measures and milestones,” federal Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients wrote last September in a memorandum to Senior Executive Service members. At the time, Zients said the site would go public later in the fall, but that debut had been repeatedly delayed.


Rep. Coffman wants to end lawmakers’ pensions

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Here’s something you don’t see every day: A congressman taking a swipe at his own retirement benefits.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., today announced that he will introduce a bill when Congress returns that does away with lawmakers’ future defined benefit pension plan. The bill wouldn’t touch any pension benefits accrued before its passage — or their Social Security and Thrift Savings Plan benefits — but going forward, no current lawmaker would add to the value of his pension, and future lawmakers would get no pension whatsoever.

Coffman in January introduced a bill requiring most federal civilian employees to take a two-week, non-consecutive furlough. He has not proposed doing away with feds’ defined benefit pension (Sens. Tom Coburn and Richard Burr have, however).

In a statement, Coffman said lawmakers who ask others to sacrifice in this economic environment also have to take some of the pain:

I’m a Marine Corps combat veteran and I was taught that you should never ask others to do anything that you would be unwilling to do. These are extremely difficult economic times and Congress needs to set an example and lead the way for the country. I think this is a good start.

Lawmakers pay more into their FERS and CSRS plans than federal employees do, but also receive higher benefits. Lawmakers under FERS pay 1.3 percent of their salaries into the pension plan, as well as contribute to Social Security and their own TSP accounts. After serving five years, they are eligible to get 1.7 percent of their salaries for every year up to 20 that they served in Congress, and 1 percent for every year after 20.


Some federal buildings closed after 5.9-magnitude earthquake, OPM grants excused absence, telework

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UPDATED 9:55 a.m.: More than a dozen federal buildings in the Washington area, including the Interior Department’s headquarters on C Street, are closed today following the 5.9- magnitude earthquake that rocked the east coast Tuesday afternoon.

“Emergency employees are expected to report for work on time,” regardless of their building being closed, according to an update posted on the Office of Personnel Management’s website, which includes a list of all building closures as of 1:50 a.m. (A list of building closures is also included below).

Employees working at buildings that are open will have the option of unscheduled leave and unscheduled telework, OPM said.

Here are guidelines for non-emergency employees if your building is closed:

  • Non-emergency employees (including employees on pre-approved paid leave) will be granted excused absence (administrative leave) for the number of hours they were scheduled to work, unless–
    • The employee is required to telework by his or her agency’s official policy as reflected in his or her written telework agreement;
    • The employee works or is on official travel outside of the Washington, DC area;
    • The employee is on leave without pay (LWOP); or
    • The employee is on an alternative work schedule (AWS) day off.

OPM has directed workers to check with their supervisors and on agency websites to see if their building has been opened and for further guidance.

Building closures:

      5TH & F STREETS, NW
      BLDG 1
      BLDG 19
      1849 C. ST, NW


    • BUILDING A, 6810


      11555 ROCKVILLE PIKE
      4205 SUITLAND RD
UPDATE: The following buildings are no longer listed as closed on OPM’s operating status site, as of 8 a.m.:
    • 8401 MUIRKIRK RD
      LAUREL, MD

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Updates by the minute: Early dismissal after 5.9 magnitude earthquake hits Virginia and D.C.

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UPDATE 6:02: U.S. Postal Service reporting that no employees were injured, but that there is structural damage to some buildings closer to the quake’s epicenter. Headquarters building at L’Enfant Plaza in Washington will be open Wednesday.

UPDATE 4:25: Here’s an official statement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency saying that there are no early reports of major damage or requests for assistance so far, but preliminary assessments are continuing.

UPDATE 4:01 p.m.: OPM declares early dismissal for federal employees in the Washington area after earthquake. A decision on Wednesday’s operating status will be made by 4 a.m. tomorrow.

UPDATE 4 p.m.: ABC News has video of the quake hitting the White House and Capitol Building here.

UPDATE 3:40: Veterans Affairs says via Twitter it’s getting reports of potential damage at some Virginia facilities, such as the Lynchburg, Va., Community Based Outreach Clinic.

OPM says statement from Director John Berry is coming soon.

UPDATE 3:34:  Is this a first? Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., calling a pro forma session of the Senate to order off-site outside Postal Museum, according to Twitter feed.

UPDATE 3:21: Government Accountability Office employees were evacuated, but are now back in, according to spokesman Chuck Young. Employees are being given the option to leave work early.

UPDATE 3:12: The North Anna nuclear facility in Louisa County, Virginia, is running on diesel generators after losing offsite power, according to Elizabeth Stuckle, a spokeswoman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The reactors were automatically and safely shut down, and the plant declared an “unusual event,” which is the lowest level alert for an out-of-the-ordinary situation. There are nine other nuclear plants in the affected area, but they have reported no shut downs.

UPDATE 3 p.m.: Image of the devastation here.

UPDATE 2:58 p.m.: We’re getting word that employees at the National Endowment for the Humanities, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Archives have been told they can go home. Employees at the Veterans Affairs, Interior and State departments and the Office of Personnel Management were also evacuated, and are now being let back into their buildings.

The Justice Department’s HR Twitter feed says they have implemented continuity of operations plans for DC area offices; but they’re also telling employees to “stay tuned for guidance from OPM.”

UPDATE 2:46: U.S. Postal Service is “currently assessing our operations to see if there are any impacts,” spokesman says. Headquarters building at 475 L’Enfant Plaza evacuated.

UPDATE 2:32: The United States Geological Survey National Center in Reston, V.A. has been evacuated.

UPDATE 2:23 p.m.: Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said on his Twitter account that people will have trouble using their cell phones, and should only use them if its an emergency.

Other post-earthquake tips from FEMA: Stay away from damaged areas, clean up chemical spills and open your cabinets carefully. See more here.

UPDATE 2:13 p.m.: CNN reports the Pentagon and Capitol Building have been partly evacuated, and the quake has been upgraded to a 5.9.

Washington Metro trains are running no faster than 15 mph as personnel check all tracks.

ORIGINAL POST: A 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook the Washington, D.C. area minutes ago. The epicenter was based near Richmond, Va., and shook buildings and rattled furniture as far as New York and Ohio.

More updates as the aftermath unfolds.

Here is the link for the USGS: http://on.doi.gov/rpwVxc

Please email us at amedici@federaltimes.com or slosey@federaltimes.com if your building has been evacuated or you have had to take any steps in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Public gets more time to comment on controversial DoD rule

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The Defense Department has extended the public comment period on a controversial package of proposed rules related to contractor safeguarding of unclassified information, according to a Federal Register notice.

The comment period, which was supposed to end next Monday, will instead run through Nov. 30.  The Pentagon gave no reason for the extension (apart from allowing more time for public input, of course). But, as Federal Times reported back in July, the package has drawn objections both from contractors (on the grounds that it would be unnecessarily burdensome) and open-government advocates (who suspect an end run around the Obama administration’s efforts to put checks on agencies’ handling of “controlled unclassified information”).