Federal Times Blogs

Services told to budget for JIE initiative

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The military services have been directed to include funding for the Joint Information Environment in their 2015 budgets, according to a Pentagon official.

Defense Department Chief Information Officer Teri Takai said she is working with DoD acquisition officials to figure out how JIE funding should be characterized in the services’ budgets, and how to manage JIE implementation plans and ensure future programs align with JIE engineering specifications, the American Forces Press Service reported earlier this month.

DoD would not provide more details on the budget guidance issued by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. “The direction by the Secretary of Defense was given in the department’s formal guidance, which remains classified,” DoD spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart said in a statement.

JIE is a massive restructuring of DoD information technology, which will include consolidating and standardizing disparate networks and systems and providing more enterprise IT services. Read more here.

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NASA extends deadline for SEWP contract — again

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NASA has once again extended the deadline for bids on its $20 billion Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (SEWP) V contract, the agency announced Friday.

The due date for bid proposals has been extended several times and is now set for Dec. 10, according to a notice on fbo.gov. The 16-day government shutdown in October played a role in earlier delays, the agency said.

In a Q&A document also released Friday, one vendor requested an extension to the due date following amendments to the RFP earlier this month. NASA is giving vendors an additional week from its most recent  Dec. 3 deadline.

The SEWP V contract will provide agencies with desktops, laptops, servers and other information technology equipment.


Is the White House ready to take up classification reform?

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The Public Interest Declassification Board meets publicly tomorrow amid anticipation that the Obama administration may at last take up the panel’s recommendations for modernizing the national security classification system.

Those 14 recommendations are now almost a year old; the first was for the White House to name a steering committee to guide implementation of the other 13. “All indications are” that the administration is now going to appoint a committee along those lines,  John Powers, a staff member for the declassification board, said in a phone interview today.

A spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council could not be reached for comment.

The board issued the recommendations last December in response to a 2009 charge from President Obama for a “more fundamental transformation” of the classification system, whose roots date back to World War Two.

Among its suggested changes, the advisory panel urged compressing the current three-tier system to two; requiring automatic declassification  of records with short-lived sensitivity; and providing “safe harbor” to classifying officials who decide that something doesn’t warrant a secrecy stamp. Among the other participants in tomorrow’s meeting–to be held at the National Archives in Washington–will be Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who has introduced a bill incorporating some of the board’s ideas.

Since last year, the stresses on the status quo have grown starkly visible, largely because of the disclosures of classified information from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Those in turn have prompted equally unprecedented–albeit authorized–releases by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and other parts of the intelligence community, ostensibly in the interest of setting the record straight.

“The events of the last year have given even greater urgency to the topic of classification reform,” Steven Aftergood, a secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists, said in a separate interview. Whether the board’s recipe for change is the right one is a separate question, Aftergood said, but there’s little disagreement that both classification and declassification practices “are ripe for reconsideration.”

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Report details factors behind flameout on $1B Air Force logistics project

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Muddled governance, ineffective change management and revolving door leadership were among the forces leading to last year’s demise of a costly and high-stakes Air Force logistics modernization program, according to newly released findings from an internal inquiry.

The Air Force canceled the Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS) last November after spending $1 billion for what one top manager termed “negligible” capability. But the acquisition review team offers a more upbeat take, concluding that much of the work done on the system “can be reused.”

The ECSS “wasn’t the failure people think it was,” the team adds. “It was the first step to truly understanding the enormous task the Air Force has ahead of itself.”

The undated executive summary was released this month by the Senate Armed Services Committee to Federal Times. After the cancellation, the committee’s chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and the top Republican at the time, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, demanded answers on what had gone wrong, what options the Air Force was considering to replace the ECSS and how the Defense Department would take into account the failure of the prime contractor, Virginia-based Computer Sciences Corp., to perform as required when awarding future contracts.

But while the Pentagon responded in March, neither Levin’s office nor DoD officials would release the answers (apart from a cover letter)  because the Pentagon opted to stamp them “For Official Use Only.”

At Federal Times’ request earlier this year, Levin specifically asked the Pentagon to drop the FOUO marking so the committee could make the full response public; the Defense Department instead said that it was not releasable ”’due to its contents,’” Tara Andringa, a  Levin spokeswoman, said in an email this month. Defense officials did permit release of the summary of the review team’s final report.

The report highlights four contributing causes and six root causes behind the program’s failure. One problem was getting “buy-in” from a user community fearful of how the ECSS would affect them personally. As time went on, the lack of effective change management got worse “because the lack of successful implementation signaled to the field that Expeditionary Combat Support System was not worth supporting,” the report says.

Management churn was routine:  The project went through five program executive officers in six years and six program managers in eight years. In addition, the ECSS logistics transformation office was staffed with term appointees, not permanent employees, leading to additional turnover. And the overall governance structure was flawed as well: The absence of “coherent leadership guidance” on meshing intermingled methodologies drove “needless delay, frustration, uncertainty and labor burden on the program office.”

That problem, the report says, “is not yet resolved.”

A year later, it’s also unclear where the Air Force stands in finding a way forward.

The ECSS was to be a key piece of the Defense Department’s drive to make its books fully auditable by a legally required deadline of September 2017. Because of scheduling issues, key officials were not available for an interview in recent days.

In written answers to questions, Brig. Gen. Kathryn Johnson said the Air Force still expects to meet both the 2017  target, as well as a preliminary deadline to produce an audit-ready statement of budgetary resources by the end of next September. Since the ECSS was cancelled, she said, the service is using a “building block approach” to deploying “new, improved transformational technologies.”

[This post has been updated to include new information from the Air Force]

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NASA issues call for innovative technology

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NASA is looking for cutting-edge technology that can revolutionize aerospace technology, according to a Nov. 15 press release.

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program (NIAC) offers as much as $100,000 to help study potentially groundbreaking technology that is at least 10 years from being operational, according to the agency.

NASA is accepting short proposals until Dec. 18. The agency will pick from among the applicants to write longer proposals due March 2014.

“Our NIAC program provides an on ramp for early stage technology concepts to take seed and potentially create revolutionary new capabilities for space exploration that might one day change how we live and work as we explore the cosmos,” said NASA’s associate administrator for space technology Michael Gazarik.

Past NIAC proposals have included ideas such as using electromagnets to protect spacecraft from radiation and a solid-state air purifier, according to NASA.

TVA privatization proposal still a live wire

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President Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget request may be moribund on Capitol Hill, but one hot-button proposal buried deep within it appears to be very much alive: Taking a close look at the option of selling off the Tennessee Valley Authority, the government-owned electric utility.

The administration has launched a strategic review that’s delving into issues like “de-federalization,” the implications of a change in TVA ownership for economic development and how to deal with the agency’s assets, according to a rundown of “stakeholder outreach discussion items” provided to FedLine by the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, a union representing about one-fifth of TVA’s some 12,500 employees.

The document, which IFPTE legislative director Matt Biggs said was drafted by the Office of Management and Budget, indicates that an interagency working group overseeing the review is made up of officials from the White House, Treasury Department and TVA.  It is marked “pre-decisional and deliberative,” a tactic often used by agencies to shield records from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

As the administration evaluates “a broad range of options to address TVA’s capital financing constraints,” it is  ”firmly committed to working with TVA’s stakeholders in an effort to better understand and address the interests and concerns of these groups regarding prospective TVA financial strategy alternatives,” the document says.

But in a Friday letter, IFPTE President Greg Junemann said the union got few concrete answers in a call with officials earlier this week. In the letter, addressed to OMB and TVA managers, he sought more information on a dozen points,  including exactly how the strategic review will work and whether any recommendations will be run by Congress.  “In our view, the belief that the TVA’s mission is no longer essential and is somehow linked [to] the fiscal sustainability of the overall budget is ill-advised,” Junemann said in the letter.

OMB spokesman Steve Posner and other agency officials could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.

The TVA, headquartered in Knoxville, Tenn., is one of the best-known legacies of the New Deal, with staunch defenders even among the Republicans who dominate Southern congressional delegations. (Yes, FedLine gets the irony.) But it also faces some well-documented challenges. For the record, here’s what the White House said in its FY14 budget request:

“Since its creation in the 1930s

during the Great Depression, the federally owned

and operated Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

has been producing low-cost electricity and managing

natural resources for a large portion of the

Southeastern United States. TVA’s power service

territory includes most of Tennessee and parts of

Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North

Carolina, and Virginia, covering 80,000 square

miles and serving more than nine million people.

TVA is a self-financing government corporation,

funding operations through electricity sales and

bond financing. In order to meet its future capacity

needs, fulfill its environmental responsibilities,

and modernize its aging generation system,

TVA’s current capital investment plan includes

more than $25 billion of expenditures over the

next 10 years. However, TVA’s anticipated capital

needs are likely to quickly exceed the agency’s

$30 billion statutory cap on indebtedness. Reducing

or eliminating the federal government’s role

in programs such as TVA, which have achieved

their original objectives and no longer require

Federal participation, can help put the Nation

on a sustainable fiscal path. Given TVA’s debt

constraints and the impact to the Federal deficit

of its increasing capital expenditures, the


intends to undertake a strategic

review of options for addressing TVA’s financial

situation, including the possible divestiture of

TVA, in part or as a whole.”


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DoD launches mobile device management training

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The Defense Department is rolling out training for end users and systems administrators on how to operate its new mobile-device management software.

Enterprise mobile security firm PaRaBaL is designing, building and delivering the training for all of DoD, said CEO Peter Coddington. “On this contract, our task is to make sure that all the DISA or DoD employees that will use the solution are fully versed and trained,” he said.

The small-business firm is a subcontractor to Bethesda, Md., technology company DMI, which was awarded a potential $16 million, three-year contract in June for mobile application store services and an MDM solution to centrally manage DoD smartphones and tablet computers.

Coddington couldn’t say how many users have been or will be trained other than noting, “we are well along in the process.” A performance work statement on fbo.gov, said the MDM software will be designed to support at least 162,500 devices, with the potential of 262,500 mobile devices by the end of the contract.

For DoD components that use DISA’s mobile services, users will learn how to activate the management solution on their devices and how to safely operate devices according to security guidelines, said Coddington, who declined to provide further details on the contract. Systems administrators will learn how to use the MDM solution.

The four-year-old company is also working with one of the military services to test software code used for developing mobile apps.

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Competition underway on $6 billion DHS cyber contract

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The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday released the first request for quote under its $6 billion continuous monitoring contract, according to industry sources.

The RFQ is for cyber tools and equipment, not services. The goal is to increase or extend software licenses that agencies already have in place, at a discounted price, said James Yeager, director of federal civilian sales at McAfee.  As of last month, 12 of the 17 vendors on the contract included McAfee products as part of their tool set available to agencies.

The RFQ will provide tools for 33 departments and agencies and range in value between $37.5 million and $60 million, Yeager said. One or multiple vendors will be selected based on lowest-price, technically acceptable bids.

Contractors have until Friday to submit questions about the RFQ. Responses are due Nov. 22, unless DHS is flooded with questions and opts to extend the deadline, Yeager said. An award is expected within 60 days.

“This task order is not where departments or agencies say ‘I have something, I don’t like it and I want to use something else,’” Yeager said. ”There’s not an option to say, ‘I don’t have anything that meets this requirement, let me tell you want I want.’”

All of the large civilian agencies have signed on to use the contract, which was awarded in August, John Streufert, director of DHS’ Federal Network Resilience division, said at a conference last month. The General Services Administration awarded the blanket purchase agreement on behalf of DHS.

“Our objective is to form up and choose those tools of best value and begin deploying them across some 120 of the largest dot-gov organizations,” Streufert said. He noted that the first proposals would be for commodities, but he expects task orders for services will follow soon after.

Subsequent task orders under the contract are expected in the first half of 2014, Yeager said.

While last month’s 16-day government shutdown delayed work, Streufert doesn’t expect it will impact the overall schedule of the five-year program. And it appears there isn’t too much concern about the program’s viability under the current continuing resolution.

DHS has already spent some of the program’s $185 million fiscal 2013 funds to develop the procurement, Streufert said in a separate interview.

Some agencies are looking to get a more competitive price for existing scanning tools, procure more software licenses or replace tools that didn’t function well in their IT environments, Streufert said.

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Postal Service announcing 2013 year-end financial results next Friday

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The U.S. Postal Service will be announcing its final fiscal 2013 financial results next Friday, according to a Federal Register notice today, and as usual, the only suspense will lie in the exact amount of red ink. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that last year’s loss will be nowhere near 2012’s monster figure of $15.9 billion.

That was a fluke, caused in large part because the Postal Service’s books reflected the cost of two skipped payments for future retiree health benefits. (Congress had pushed the deadline for the 2011 payment into 2012.) For 2013, the final number is likely to be in the range of $6 billion.

But as FedLine has noted before, even modest improvements in the Postal Service’s financial performance lessen the political heat on Congress to move on the long-term restructuring legislation that USPS leaders desperately want. Those odds, never good to start with, continue to fade.

The House of Representatives, for example, has yet to take up a postal overhaul bill sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa,, R-Calif., almost four months after the measure came out of  committee. This week, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee had initially planned to take up a competing measure sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., according to a draft agenda obtained by FedLine, but then dropped it from consideration, apparently because of a lack of consensus.

As the year winds to a close, lawmakers’ attention is likely to be consumed by budget negotiations aimed at heading off another partial government shutdown early next year. And with congressional mid-term elections coming next year, the prospects for legislative action–absent a full-blown, can’t-pay-the-bills crisis–will be even slimmer.


Golf lands another fed in the rough

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The linguistic origins of the word “golf” are lost to time. But for 21st century feds, the game often just means trouble.

The latest evidence: Stephen Calvery, head of the Defense Force Protection Agency, gets an unfavorable write-up by the Defense Department’s inspector general for giving employees administrative leave to participate in the agency’s 2009 and 2010 golf tournaments.

Under the rules, such leave is allowable only if it benefits the agency’s mission, furthers a particular DoD function or has “a government-wide recognized and sanctioned purpose,” according to a redacted copy of the report posted today on the IG’s website.

“DoD regulations do not list a golf tournament as a common situation in which agencies generally grant excused absence,” the report says.

Calvery responded that the tournament was one of several team-building “esprit de corps” initiatives he had launched at the agency, which was created after 9/11 to protect the Pentagon and its workforce.

In his further defense, Calvery noted that only four employees received administrative leave to attend the 2009 tournament. After checking with lawyers, however, he required participating staff to take annual leave for the 2011 event. The IG was unmollified, citing the wrongful use of administrative leave as one of several allegations to have merit.

The IG also found that Calvery misused his position to have his office staff pick up his lunch and bring him coffee, arranged for someone (the name is blacked out, but it wasn’t a DoD employee) to use the force protection agency’s firing range and provided preferential hiring treatment to a subordinate.

Calvery still heads the agency, according to its website. What disciplinary action he faced, if any, is unclear. A DoD spokesman said today that he didn’t know and that—if the punishment was administrative in nature-could not disclose it, anyway.

But let’s take the opportunity to review a few other examples of federal employees who ran into links-related trouble, drawing on information compiled by the non-partisan Project on Government Oversight.

There was, for example, the Bureau of Land Management district manager who accepted tickets to golf tournaments from oil and gas companies. Or the Department of Homeland Security employees found to have spent tens of thousands of dollars on training at golf and tennis resorts. Or the Justice Department officials who came under fire for awarding a $500,000 grant to the World Golf Foundation.

Horseshoes, anyone?

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