Federal Times Blogs

Are you interested in phased retirement? We want to hear from you

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Congress just passed a new phased retirement option that would allow federal employees to work part-time at the end of their career, while also earning a partial pension. This has the potential to significantly change how feds and their agencies plan for retirements.

If you’re a fed nearing retirement age, and are interested in the phased retirement option, we’d like to talk to you. How would a semi-retirement help you and your agency? Is there a dream project you’d like to wrap up before retiring once and for all? Are you busy mentoring younger employees? Are you just not ready to hang it up, but would like a little more spare time?

E-mail me at slosey@federaltimes.com if you’d like to talk.

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Postal regulators reject emergency action to delay mail plant downsizing

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It’s not looking good for the American Postal Workers Union’s last-ditch attempt to delay a wave of mail processing plant downsizings set to begin next week.

In a unanimous decision released today, the Postal Regulatory Commission ruled that the APWU had failed to make the case for an emergency injunction.  Although the five-member commission didn’t make a final decision on the union’s complaint filed earlier this month, today’s ruling says that the union “has failed to demonstrate that it has a substantial likelihood of prevailing on the merits, that it will suffer irreparable harm, or that the balance of the equities in this matter weighs in its favor.”

An APWU spokeswoman could not be reached for comment. In a statement posted on the union’s web site, President Cliff Guffey said that the decision “demonstrates the need to strengthen the commission’s authority and to enhance public input into USPS plans that would affect service on a nationwide basis.”

In the next two months, the U.S. Postal Service plans to close or consolidate 48 plants in the first phase of a three-year push to cut the size of its plant network by half and eliminate 28,000 jobs.

In a June 12 complaint, the APWU had argued that the Postal Service should not be able to proceed until the commission issued an advisory opinion on proposed changes to mail delivery standards that are accompanying the downsizing; that opinion is expected in early September.

Report: Secrecy spending jumped by more than $1 billion last year

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You can argue about the effectiveness of the United States’ national security classification program, but there’s no disputing one point: Keeping secrets costs money—lots of it.

Last year, executive branch agencies shelled out an estimated $11.4 billion on classified information systems and other facets of the program, according to an annual report released this week by the Information Security Oversight Office, a branch of the National Archives and Records Administration.

That’s up 12 percent–or $1.2 billion–from 2010, and more than double the figure from a decade ago. The actual tab to taxpayers is likely much higher, because the report doesn’t include spending by the CIA, the National Reconnaissance Office and four other agencies that do almost all of their work in secret. Their estimates are provided in a classified addendum to the public portion of the report.

ISOO doesn’t speculate on possible reasons behind last year’s double-digit percentage increase, but one obvious suspect is the government’s response to the massive WikiLeaks breach, which became known starting in mid-2010. Spending on “protection and maintenance for classified information systems,” for example, shot up 20 percent last year to $5.65 billion. The cost of physical security also ballooned by more than 20 percent to $1.74 billion. Interestingly, though, estimated agency spending on personnel security dropped 10 percent to about $1.4 billion.

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National cyber center unveils plan for working with industry

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Federal officials unveiled details of a new public-private partnership aimed at speeding industry’s development of secure information technology products.

The new National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE) launched in February is a project of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). It aims to bring companies together to create and discuss security management solutions that can be used by agencies and private companies.

Acting Executive Director Donna Dodson on Tuesday said NCCoE’s vision is to provide a world-class collaborative environment for integrating cybersecurity solutions that stimulate economies and national economic groups.

Initially, the center will focus on adopting secure health IT products and gradually focus on other areas such as cloud and mobile computing, based on industry’s needs and challenges.

“We do not envision building our own solution from scratch. What we want to do is work collaboratively … to do that in conjunction with industry,” she said.

Here’s how the center will operate:

Step 1: Engage the business community.
Step 2: Propose “use cases”.
Step 3: Select applicable IT components.
Step 4: Generate feedback and implement new cyber prototype solutions.

To engage businesses, the center plans to conduct what it calls “deep dive” workshops, in which it gathers inputs from a broad variety of groups to address a specific challenge.

The center will engage all participants — small businesses, large businesses, the academic sector and federal agencies alike — to develop an integrated solution that has clear benefits for particular industry sectors. The goal is to find integrated, affordable and useful security tools for all technology consumers.

“Federal agencies are one of those business communities that rely on a commercial product to build infrastructures that support their business needs,” said Matt Scholl, deputy chief of NIST’s Computer Security Division.

The need is especially great in the health care arena. A collaborative, “use case” example was the work NCCoE has done with Health IT solutions with the Health and Human Services Department.

NIST Director Dr. Patrick Gallagher said that between 2005 and 2008, 230 million electronic records were breached, which included 40 million electronic medical records, according to the American National Standards Institute. In November 2001, a study showed 96 percent of healthcare providers responding to a survey reported at least one data breach in the last two years.

The $10 million center operates at a state-of-the-art computing facility near NIST’s Gaithersburg, Md., campus.

View video from the NIST workshop

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Do feds feel safe around their offices?

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Are you a federal employee or contractor who feels unsafe arriving or leaving your office? The Federal Times would like to hear from you.

If you are interested in sharing your story please email Andy Medici, at amedici@federaltimes.com.

Contractor to pay $2 million to settle discrimination claims

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Baldor Electric Co., which once produced batteries and generators for the Army and other federal agencies, has agreed to pay $2 million and offer 50 people jobs to settle allegations of discrimination, federal contract oversight officials said this week.

The company’s applicant screening process for its facility in Fort Smith, Ark. allegedly discriminated against women and minorities, the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) said in a news release. The OFCCP found the company’s process of evaluating applicants was based on subjective standards, not an objective analysis of a person’s qualifications, an OFCCP spokesman said. As a result, 795 qualified women, African-Americans and job seekers of Asian and Hispanic descent could not advance to the interview stage when applying for production and laborer positions, OFCCP said in the release.

The company did not receive any complaints over its hiring process from the group, said Baldor Electric spokeswoman Tracy Long.  The OFCCP’s finding was based on an analysis of people who applied for positions at Baldor and how many of those applicants were asked to interview for positions, she said.

Officials believed they were in compliance with federal rules but decided to settle to avoid further legal costs, Long said.

OFCCP  enforces Executive Order 11246, which prohibits federal contractors who receive more than $10,000 in government contracts each year from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. OFCCP raised the issue with Baldor officials in 2007 after conducting a routine compliance audit, the OFCCP spokesman said.

Baldor, which is based in Fort Smith, currently has federal contracts worth more than $18 million with the General Services Administration and the Veterans Affairs and Justice departments, according to OFCCP. From 1997 to 2010, Baldor received $79 million to produce batteries and generators for federal agencies including the Army, GSA and the Justice Department, OFCCP said.

Under the terms of the agreement, Baldor will pay $2 million in back wages and interest to the 795 affected individuals and will make at least 50 job offers to the group as positions become available, OFCCP said. The company also agreed to begin self-monitoring measures to ensure that all hiring practices fully comply with the law, OFCCP said.

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Commerce IG to review recent cyber attack, security practices

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A Commerce Department agency’s security program is under review, following a January cyber attack that crippled its networks.

As part of an annual audit, the inspector general is reviewing the Economic Development Agency’s security program, according to a June memo. The review will determine the program’s effectiveness, significant factors that led to the cyber attack and how EDA has responded.

The computer virus was discovered Jan. 20, and the agency shut down employees’ Internet access the following week. Workers were eventually given new computer workstations with access to Internet and email, and the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team launched an investigation.

Despite the systems disruption, the agency’s job still got done: It announced 72 grants totaling $32.6 million during that period.

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Update: House subcommittee passes veterans data breach notification bill

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A House subcommittee on Wednesday passed a bill to ensure vets are quickly notified when their personal information is breached.

The Veterans Data Breach Timely Notification Act, , H.R. 3730, requires the Veterans Affairs Department to notify Congress and vets within 10 business days of their personal information being breached. VA could request a five-day extension if more time is needed to identify affected individuals or mitigate a breach.

VA contractors that handle vets’ personal information would be held to the same standards under the bill.

“In the unfortunate event of a breach of sensitive information, veterans and their families should be notified as soon as practically possible,” Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said in a statement.

“Current law, however, gives the VA a full thirty days to notify veterans that their personal information may have been compromised. That is too long.”

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New steps to combat leaks on the way

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As the fallout over recent leaks of classified information continues to swirl, one consequence will be closer scrutiny of contacts between intelligence community employees and news outlets under two measures announced this week by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

The first involves the counter-intelligence polygraph exam that seven intelligence agencies, (CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, Energy Department, FBI, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office and National Security Agency)  give employees when they’re first hired and typically every seven years thereafter when their security clearances come up for renewal.  Hitherto, only the CIA has asked about unauthorized disclosures of classified information and its question does not specifically mention the news media, said Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Clapper’s office.  All seven agencies will now have to add a direct query about disclosures to the media.

The second step aims to beef up the intelligence community’s ability to pursue administrative investigations against employees suspected of making unauthorized disclosures, but who are not charged criminally. At Clapper’s request, the inspector general for the intelligence community will form a standing task force of IGs from individual intelligence agencies that can cross bureaucratic boundaries in conducting independent inquiries. Together, the new measures will send “a strong message” that members of the intelligence community hold themselves “to the highest standard of professionalism,” Clapper said in a news release.

But some worry that the latest war on leaks will result in collateral damage.

Back in 2001, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft estimated that polygraphs had a false positive rate about 15 percent. Mark Zaid, a Washington attorney who specializes in national security law, doubts that figure has changed much since then. In the uproar following the Aldrich Ames debacle of the 1990s, several hundred CIA employees ran into polygraph problems, Zaid said today in an email, adding that no one was allowed on an overseas tour  if they had unresolved issues on that score. As a result, Zaid said, many careers in what is now the CIA’s National Clandestine Service were “stalled or derailed.”

Turner declined comment on that point.

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SAIC protests $4.6 billion DISA contract

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Science Applications International Corp. is protesting a $4.6 billion award to Lockheed Martin to support the Defense Information Systems Network.

The protest was filed June 22 with the Government Accountability Office. GAO will issue a decision on the protest by Oct. 1.

“We are disappointed in the government’s decision to not award us the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Global Information Grid (GIG) Services Management (GSM) contract. We feel our solution is the best value for the customer and we are proud of our performance history on this contract,” SAIC spokeswoman Melissa Koskovich said in a statement.

Lockheed Martin Corp. beat out incumbent SAIC to provide daily operations and sustainment of the Defense Department’s global data network. The contract has a ceiling of $4.6 billion over seven years — three base years and two two-year option years.

SAIC’s current contract was awarded October 2001 and expires Sept. 30. The contract has one six-month option remaining through March 2013.

“We have a strong and agile team, and because of our high technical readiness levels, we feel we are the best choice to ensure secure global communication and information-sharing by providing provisioning, net operations and assurance, and network maintenance services on a worldwide basis, including support of the military’s global information grid. We look forward to working with this key defense customer to resolve this matter,” Koskovich said.

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