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OMB posts updated shutdown contingency plans

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Earlier today, the Office of Management and Budget posted updated contingency plans on its web site. You can find them here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/contingency-plans

Navy delays NGEN award until May

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The Department of the Navy will not award a contract next month for its Next Generation Enterprise Network as planned.

Navy officials had originally planned to award one or two contracts by Feb. 12 to develop the massive private network, known as NGEN, but the award date has been pushed back to May 2013.

“Due to the complexities of the NGEN requirements, we are changing our contract award estimate in order to ensure a complete and thorough review of offerors’ bids,” Ed Austin, spokesman for the Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems, said in a statement.

Three companies have already announced their intent to bid on the NGEN contract: HP; Computer Sciences Corp.; and its partner, Harris Corp.

So far, the continuing resolution and looming threat of automatic sequestration budget cuts have not impacted NGEN’s contract award schedule, the Navy said Thursday. But that could change in the future.

NGEN will replace the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), a contractor-owned network serving more than 700,000 Navy and Marine Corps personnel.

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Navy releases updated draft RFP for NGEN contract

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The Navy on Friday released a revised draft request for proposal to industry for its Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN) program.

The updated draft reflects comments from industry and Navy stakeholders and will provide further clarification of development requirements for NGEN, the Navy said in a news release. Industry has 10 working days to review and comment on changes to the initial draft, which was released in September.

NGEN will replace the current Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) as the world’s largest network. It will serve both sailors and Marines on land and overseas.

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Navy delays release of RFP for NGEN contract

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The Navy will not release a final request for proposal to industry for its Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN) program as planned, according to a post Friday on the Federal Business Opportunities website

The RFP likely will not be released before the end of January 2012, the Navy said in a follow-up news release. Initially, the Navy had planned to release an RFP to industry on Dec. 21. Instead, the Navy will release an update to its draft RFP around Dec. 19 for industry review and comment. The revisions include sections L and M of the draft RFP, which detail instructions, conditions and notices to offerors as well as evaluations ratings.

NGEN will replace the current Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) as the world’s largest network. It will serve both sailors and Marines on land and overseas.

“We are using the insight from all responses to further solidify the requirements and to ensure that we release a quality RFP that industry will be able to bid on and execute in order to provide enterprise network services to our Sailors and Marines,” said NGEN program manager U.S. Navy Capt. Shawn Hendricks.

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Shutdown Watch–Day 8

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The big news today is what’s not happening—i.e., there is no indication of any deal in sight to reopen the government this week. In addition, a bill to ensure back pay to hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal employees appears to be hitting a Senate slowdown. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., raced through the Republican-run House on a 407-0 vote Saturday; supporters had hoped for a similar glide through the Democratic controlled-Senate.

But on Monday, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called it “premature” to move ahead with the back pay bill while Democrats were refusing to take up other House-passed measures to selectively restore funding to high-profile agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Park Service, according to an article published on Roll Call’s website.

Rather than pushing the bill quickly through the Senate, Cornyn suggested that the legislation go through the “normal legislative process,” which would mean opening it up to amendments. As the Senate Minority Whip, Cornyn is number two in the Senate GOP’s pecking order, so his position presumably carries some weight.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., did not respond to an email asking whether Reid planned to bring the back pay bill up before the full Senate this week. A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declined comment this morning.

In other news, some 7,000 Veterans Affairs Department employees join the ranks of the furloughed today.

Overall, VA–the second largest government agency–has fared much better than most; of some 332,000 total employees, fewer than 15,000 are subject to furloughs, according to its shutdown contingency plan. Many of the 7,000 sent home today work in regional offices that will now be closed. Something else to keep an eye on is the possibility that–should the shutdown continue into the second half of October–VA benefit checks could be delayed, including payments for disability compensation and GI Bill living stipends, according to the department.

Anything we’re missing in regard to major developments or agency responses to the shutdown? Send us a note at shutdownstories@federaltimes.com

 

 

 

How would your agency handle a shutdown?

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The odds of a partial government shutdown starting Oct. 1 spiked with House Republicans’ decision today to push a 2014 continuing resolution that would also cut off funding for “Obamacare” implementation. What would your agency do? A starting point can be found at the Office of Management and Budget’s website. Back in 2011, (i.e., several crises ago), OMB collected links to the contingency plans for dozens of agencies on a single page and–perhaps presciently–never took them down. Here’s the link:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/contingency-plans.

In a memo today, OMB Director Sylvia Burwell told agencies to update those plans, which determine–among many other issues–which employees will be subject to unpaid furloughs.

Of course, even if a shutdown doesn’t materialize, agencies will likely be operating under a continuing resolution that leaves funding at its current post-sequester benchmark–not exactly something to look forward to. Last week, for example, The New York Times reported that the FBI was planning ten furlough days for most of its workforce, accompanied by closings of its headquarters and regional offices on those days.

A bureau spokeswoman wouldn’t confirm those details, but at the FBI Agents Association, President Reynaldo Tariche said today that there is “grave concern” among agents about the potential impact on investigations and other casework.

Sen. Collins’ speech on the Postal Service

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, drew plenty of attention last week for her speech on postal issues. Since news outlets couldn’t excerpt much more than a fraction of what she said, FedLine thought it might be worthwhile to post the entire address, both as prepared and as Collins actually delivered it on the Senate floor, according to materials provided by her office. The first version is on the left; the second on the right.

 

SENATOR COLLINS CALLS FOR BIPARTISAN POSTAL REFORM

 

WASHINGTON – - U.S. Senator Susan Collins today, from the Senate floor, outlined the importance of the bipartisan postal reform bill she has cosponsored with Senators Joe Lieberman (I/D-CT), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Scott Brown (R-MA).

The text of Senator Collins’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, is below:

Mr. President:

The Majority Leader has indicated that the Senate may soon turn to legislation to reform an American institution, the United States Postal Service.

Our Founding Fathers recognized the importance of having a Postal Service.  Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution gives Congress the power to establish Post Offices.

The Postal Service is also required by law to provide, as nearly as practicable, the “entire population of the United States” with “adequate and efficient postal services at fair and reasonable rates.”  This is called the universal mandate and ensures that the Postal Service cannot leave rural states or small towns behind.

The Postal Service, which has delivered mail to generation after generation of Americans, will not be able to make payroll sometime this fall, according to the Postmaster General himself.

In the past two years alone, the Postal Service has lost $13.6 billion, and first-class mail volume has dropped 26 percent since 2006.

No one wants the mail to stop later this year.    That means that we must pass a bill.

The U.S. Postal Service is the linchpin of a mailing industry that employs more than 8.5 million people and generates almost $1 trillion in economic activity every year.   Virtually everyone — from big retailers to small businesses to online shops — relies on the Postal Service to deliver packages, advertise services and send out bills. The jobs of American in fields as diverse as direct mail, printing, catalog companies, and paper manufacturing all are linked to a healthy Postal Service.

Nearly 38,000 Mainers work in jobs related to the mailing industry, including thousands at our pulp and paper mills like the one in Bucksport, Maine, which provides paper for Time magazine.

The crisis facing the Postal Service is dire, but not hopeless. With the right tools and action from Congress, the Obama Administration, and the Postal leadership, the Postal Service can reform, right-size and modernize.

My colleagues, Senators Lieberman, Carper, Brown, and I have crafted legislation to update the Postal Service’s business model and give it the tools it needs to survive and succeed.  We have introduced a bipartisan bill that will help the Postal Service reduce operating costs, modernize its business model, and innovate to generate new revenue.

However, the Postmaster General and I fundamentally disagree on how to save the U.S. Postal Service.  He continues to make decisions that will severely degrade service and drive away customers.

It is clear we have two very different visions on how best to help the Postal Service.  While each of us wants to ensure the Postal Service is set on a sustainable path, I fear Mr. Donahoe’s approach would shrink the Postal Service to a level that will ultimately hasten its insolvency.

The current plan by the Postal Service to slow first-class mail, close facilities, and ignore Congress flies in the face of the good faith we extended during the many months we have worked on the reform bill.

We worked hand in hand over a number of months with the Postmaster General to craft a bill that would save the Postal Service money in a way that prioritized the lifeblood of the mail – mailers and the service around which business mailers have built their business models and around which individual customers have developed their mailing habits.

Despite these negotiations, the Postmaster General has pushed ahead with plans to abandon current mail service standards in favor of reduced access, slower delivery times, and higher prices, which will force many customers to pursue delivery alternatives.  If those adjustments involve shifting to non-postal options in even a minority of cases – say 10 or 20 percent, the Postal Service would face an irreversible catastrophe.  Once customers turn to other communication options and leave the mail system, they won’t be coming back, and the Postal Service will be sucked into a death spiral.

What do I mean when I say businesses will adjust their business model?  Companies large and small that rely on the mail tell me that if service continues to deteriorate, they will conduct more business online and encourage their customers to switch to online services for bill-paying and other transactions.

Other businesses, such as small newspapers or pharmacy suppliers, have told me that they would seek non-postal delivery options, such as for local delivery and transport services.  Again, let’s assume only a small fraction of businesses change their operations by shifting to these online or non-postal options – it could still spell the end for the U.S. mail system.   For every five percent drop in First Class Mail volume, the Postal Service loses $1.6 billion in revenue.

That’s why the downsizing of the labor force and excess capacity that the Postmaster General states is so critical to saving the Postal Service must be carried out in a way that preserves service and does not inflict avoidable harm on these dedicated workers.  Too many have assumed that this simply can’t be done.

But the fact is, there are many options to cut costs and expand revenue while preserving service such as:  reducing the size of processing plants without closing them, moving tiny post offices into local grocery stores, reforming an expensive and unfair workers’ compensation program, allowing the Postal Service to ship wine and beer, refunding an overpayment into the federal retirement system, developing a new health plan that would greatly decrease the need to pre-fund future retirees benefits, and using buyouts to encourage employees to retire.

The Postmaster General is instead proceeding with a disastrously flawed plan, as evidenced by the recent announcement of draconian processing plant closures.  This coupled with the still-pending closures of almost 4,000 mostly rural post offices and the Postmaster General’s push to eliminate of overnight and Saturday delivery tell me that the current Postal Service leadership is gravely underestimating the consequences of lesser service on revenue from customers who depend on the service as it is provided today.

It also suggests the Postmaster General is prepared to have rural America bear the brunt of service reductions in violation of the universal service mandate.

The Postal Regulatory Commission concluded just that in its analysis on the impact of the proposal to end Saturday delivery.

The Postal Service will not be saved by a bare-bones approach that will require massive adjustments by its customers.   Perhaps that might have made sense in a time when customers had no other options, such as would have been the case decades ago.  But today, the massive shift to online publications and commerce provides most businesses alternatives to using the mail.  And a good portion of them will explore and settle on those alternatives if the Postal Service makes it harder for them to serve their customers.

Then there are the customers who simply can’t adjust their business model and could be forced out of business, taking the jobs they support with them.

Instead, the approach taken by our postal reform bill, the 21st Century Postal Service Act, would be to reduce excess capacity in the Postal Service while preserving service for customers.  While our bill would not ban the closure of all postal facilities, it would establish service standards and allow for meaningful public comment procedures that would ensure that delivery delays and impact on customers were mitigated.  The result would be that most facilities would remain open so as to preserve overnight delivery, Saturday delivery, and easy access to bulk processing for commercial mailers.  Our bill would still reduce the workforce and processing capacity at those facilities to match the volume coming in.

For example, rather than closing a plant that has excess capacity, our plan would allow a plant to downsize its labor and volume capacity.  This could mean running one shift instead of two, or half a shift instead of a whole shift, using one sorting machine instead of two, using half the space and renting out the rest, and so forth.  That way the plant still could process mail in the region providing the same service it receives today, while saving money.

Under the Postmaster General’s plan, however, the plant would close, and its volume would be processed much further away, often hundreds of miles away.  That megaplant further away would add shifts and capacity to handle the new volume, but because of the distance, overnight delivery would no longer be possible or guaranteed, and Saturday delivery would end.

The loss in revenue due to dramatically reduced service under the Postal Service’s plan would not take place under our plan – and the negative ripple effects on customers, jobs, and the broader economy would be avoided.

With our bill set to come to the floor imminently, the Postmaster General has, nonetheless, moved forward with preparations for sweeping closures and service reductions.  That means that even if our bill were to pass, get through conference, be sent to the President’s desk, and start to be implemented over the coming months, the Postal Service’s ill-conceived actions would have already done damage to its customer base.

Customers have to plan now for what they see coming.  With all these closures announcements, customers are already making contingency plans.  In this way, the Postal Service has already triggered the hemorrhaging of customers that our bill could prevent if it were to become law.

But on top of the damage already incurred, what this reckless move demonstrates is an attitude that is dead-set on its service-degrading, customer-be-ignored approach.  That attitude seems so stubbornly entrenched that I worry that even if our bill becomes law, the current Postal Service leadership would not enact it properly in good faith.  Without an attitude of “service first,” I am concerned that all the important processes and considerations we place in the bill could just become box-checking exercises for a Postal Service that is looking to just maintain the appearance of compliance rather than embarking on a new path.

This approach by the Postal Service is all the more inexcusable given its reputation for fuzzy math.  By cutting service and raising prices, and not calculating the resulting disastrous revenue losses, we have to ask ourselves if the savings estimates under the Postal Service plan are pure fantasy.

This is nothing new – the Postal Service’s assumptions about projected losses and savings from service cuts have proven unreliable in the past.  For instance, the magnitude of the savings the Postal Service estimates from eliminating Saturday delivery has been challenged by the Postal Regulatory Commission, in part because of the Postal Service’s significant underestimation of likely lost revenue.

Furthermore, we are relying on the Postal Service’s data and projections about savings and revenue, without giving the Postal Service’s regulatory body, the Postal Regulatory Commission, the opportunity to provide its Advisory Opinion.   That opinion, likely due this summer, will provide valuable feedback from stakeholders and independent economic analysts.

I hope my concerns can be addressed. But for now, is it futile to move ahead on postal reform legislation?  If the Postmaster General chases away his customer base with price hikes and service cuts before we can enact legislation to stop him, are we just wasting time trying to pass a bill that can no longer save the Postal Service?  And if the Postal Service managers are so stubbornly attached to their flawed plan now, who’s to say they’ll faithfully execute the bill once it becomes law?

So, Mr. President, I find myself in a quandary, one created by the Postmaster General himself as he shifts from plan to plan, from negotiation to negotiation.  This makes it extraordinarily difficult for those of us who want to save the historic Postal Service so it can continue to be a vital American institution for generations to come.

SENATOR COLLINS CALLS FOR BIPARTISAN POSTAL REFORM

 

WASHINGTON – - U.S. Senator Susan Collins today outlined the importance of the bipartisan postal reform bill she has cosponsored with Senators Joe Lieberman (I/D-CT), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Scott Brown (R-MA).

The text of Senator Collins’ remarks as delivered from the Senate floor is below.

Mr. President:

The Majority Leader has indicated that the Senate may soon turn to legislation to reform an American institution, the United States Postal Service.

The Postal Service is almost as old as our nation. Our Founding Fathers recognized the importance of having a Postal Service.  Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution gives Congress the power to establish Post Offices.

The Postal Service is also required by law to provide, as nearly as practicable, the “entire population of the United States” with “adequate and efficient postal services at fair and reasonable rates.”  This is called the universal mandate and ensures that the Postal Service cannot leave rural states or small towns behind.

Yet, the Postal Service, which has delivered mail to generation after generation of Americans, will not be able to make payroll sometime this fall, according to the Postmaster General.

In the past two years alone, the Postal Service has lost $13.6 billion, and first-class mail volume has dropped 26 percent since 2006. The trend is not encouraging.

Since no one wants the mail to stop being delivered later this year. That means that we must pass a bill – and soon.

The economic impact of the U.S. Postal Service is enormous.  It is the linchpin of a mailing industry that employs more than 8.7 million people and generates almost $1 trillion in economic activity every year.   Virtually everyone — from big retailers to small businesses to online shops — relies on the Postal Service to deliver packages, advertise services and send out bills. The jobs of Americans in fields as diverse as direct mail, printing, catalog companies, and paper manufacturing all are linked to a healthy Postal Service.

Nearly 38,000 Mainers work in jobs related to the mailing industry, including thousands at our pulp and paper mills like the one in Bucksport, Maine, which provides paper for Time magazine.

The crisis facing the Postal Service is dire, but it is not hopeless. With the right tools and action from Congress, the Obama Administration, and the Postal leadership, the Postal Service can reform, right-size and modernize.

My colleagues, Senators Lieberman, Carper, Brown, and I have crafted legislation to update the Postal Service’s business model and give it the tools it needs to survive and succeed.  We have introduced a bipartisan bill that will help the Postal Service reduce operating costs, modernize its business model, and innovate to generate new revenue.

However, the Postmaster General and I fundamentally disagree on how to save the U.S. Postal Service.  He continues to make decisions that will severely degrade service and drive away customers and that undermine the opportunity for our legislation to succeed.

It is clear we have two very different visions on how best to help the Postal Service.  While each of us wants to ensure the Postal Service is set on a sustainable path, I fear Postmaster General Donahoe’s approach would shrink the Postal Service to a level that will ultimately hasten its insolvency.

The current plan by the Postal Service to slow first-class mail, close facilities, and ignore Congress flies in the face of the good faith we extended during the many months we have worked on the reform bill.

We worked hand in hand over a number of months with the Postmaster General to craft a bill that would save the Postal Service money in a way that prioritized the lifeblood of the mail – mailers and the service around which business mailers have built their business models and around which individual customers have developed their mailing habits.

Despite these negotiations, the Postmaster General has pushed ahead with plans to abandon current mail service standards in favor of reduced access, slower delivery times, and higher prices, which will force many customers to pursue delivery alternatives.  If those adjustments involve shifting to non-postal options in even a minority of cases – say 10 or 20 percent, the Postal Service would face an irreversible catastrophe.  Once customers turn to other communication options and leave the mail system, they won’t be coming back, and the Postal Service will be sucked into a death spiral.

What do I mean when I say businesses will adjust their business model?  Companies large and small that rely on the mail tell me that if service continues to deteriorate, they will conduct more business online and encourage their customers to switch to online services for bill-paying and other transactions.

Other businesses, such as small newspapers or pharmacy suppliers, have told me that they would seek non-postal delivery options, such as for local delivery and transport services.  Again, let’s assume only a small fraction of businesses change their operations by shifting to these online or non-postal options – it could still spell the end for the U.S. mail system.   For every five percent drop in First Class Mail volume, the Postal Service loses $1.6 billion in revenue.

That’s why the downsizing of the labor force and excess capacity that the Postmaster General states is so critical to saving the Postal Service must be carried out in a way that preserves service and does not inflict avoidable harm on these dedicated workers.

The fact is, there are many options to cut costs and expand revenue while preserving service such as: reducing the size of processing plants without closing them; moving tiny post offices into local grocery stores; reforming an expensive and unfair workers’ compensation program; allowing the Postal Service to ship wine and beer; refunding an overpayment into the federal retirement system; developing a new health plan that would greatly decrease the need to pre-fund future retirees benefits; and using buyouts to encourage employees to retire.

The Postmaster General is instead proceeding with a disastrously flawed plan, as evidenced by the recent announcement of draconian processing plant closures.  This coupled with the still-pending closures of almost 4,000 mostly rural post offices and the Postmaster General’s push to eliminate of overnight and Saturday delivery tell me that the current Postal Service leadership is gravely underestimating the consequences of lesser service on revenue from customers who depend on the service as it is provided today.

It also suggests the Postmaster General is prepared to have rural America bear the brunt of service reductions in violation of the universal service mandate. The Postal Regulatory Commission concluded just that in its analysis on the impact of the proposal to end Saturday delivery.

The Postal Service will not be saved by a bare-bones approach that will require massive adjustments by its customers.   Perhaps that might have made sense in a time when customers had no other options, such as would have been the case decades ago.  But today, the massive shift to online publications and commerce provides many with alternatives to using the mail.  And a good portion of them will explore and settle on those alternatives if the Postal Service makes it harder for them to serve their customers.

Then there are the customers who simply can’t adjust their business model and could be forced out of business, taking the jobs they support with them.

Instead, the approach taken by our postal reform bill, the 21st Century Postal Service Act, would be to reduce excess capacity in the Postal Service while preserving service for customers.  While our bill would not ban the closure of all postal facilities, it would establish service standards and allow for meaningful public comment procedures that would ensure that delivery delays and impact on customers are considered.  The result would be that most facilities would remain open so as to preserve overnight delivery, Saturday delivery, and easy access to bulk processing for commercial mailers.  Our bill would still reduce the workforce and processing capacity at those facilities to match the volume coming in.

For example, rather than closing a plant that has excess capacity, our plan would allow a plant to downsize its labor and volume capacity.  This could mean running one shift instead of two, or half a shift instead of a whole shift, using one sorting machine instead of two, using half the space and renting out the rest, and so forth.  That way the plant still could process mail in the region providing the same service it receives today, while saving money.

Under the Postmaster General’s plan, however, the plant would close, and its volume would be processed much further away, often hundreds of miles away.  That megaplant further away would add shifts and capacity to handle the new volume, but because of the distance, overnight delivery would no longer be possible.

The loss in revenue due to dramatically reduced service under the Postal Service’s plan would not take place under our plan – and the negative ripple effects on customers, jobs, and the broader economy would be avoided.

With our bill set to come to the floor imminently, the Postmaster General has, nonetheless, moved forward with preparations for sweeping closures and service reductions.  That means that even if our bill were to pass, get through conference, be sent to the President’s desk, and start to be implemented over the coming months, the Postal Service’s ill-conceived actions would have already done damage to its customer base.

Customers have to plan now for what they see coming.  With all these closures announcements, customers are already making contingency plans.  In this way, the Postal Service may have already triggered the hemorrhaging of customers that our bill could prevent if it were to become law.

But on top of the damage already incurred, what this reckless move demonstrates is an attitude that is dead-set on its service-degrading, customer-be-ignored approach.  That attitude seems so stubbornly entrenched that I worry that even if our bill becomes law, the current Postal Service leadership would not enact it properly.  Without an attitude of “service first,” I am concerned that all the important processes and considerations we place in the bill could just become box-checking exercises for a Postal Service that is looking to just maintain the appearance of compliance rather than embarking on a new path.

This approach by the Postal Service is all the more inexcusable given its reputation for fuzzy math.  This is nothing new – the Postal Service’s assumptions about projected losses and savings from service cuts have proven unreliable in the past.  For instance, the magnitude of the savings the Postal Service estimates from eliminating Saturday delivery has been challenged by the Postal Regulatory Commission, in part because of the Postal Service’s significant underestimation of likely lost revenue.

Furthermore, we are relying on the Postal Service’s data and projections about savings and revenue, without giving the Postal Service’s regulatory body, the Postal Regulatory Commission, the opportunity to provide its Advisory Opinion.   That opinion, likely due this summer, will provide valuable feedback from stakeholders and independent economic analysts.

I hope my concerns can be addressed. But for now, is it futile to move ahead on postal reform legislation?  If the Postmaster General chases away his customer base with price hikes and service cuts before we can enact legislation will our bill be effective in saving the Postal Service?

So, Mr. President, I find myself in a quandary, one created by the Postmaster General himself as he shifts from plan to plan, from negotiation to negotiation.  This makes it extraordinarily difficult for those of us who want to save the historic Postal Service so it can continue to be a vital American institution for generations to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No more than 20 vendors to get initial cloud security assessments

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As many as 20 cloud computing vendors will be certified for federal use under a new security assessment program when it launches in June.

The General Services Administration, which manages the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), has said that companies already providing cloud technology to agencies under GSA’s Infrastructure-as-a-Service contract will be among the first to have their technology vetted through the program.

Vendors on GSA’s upcoming Email-as-a-Service contract will also be given priority. After being vetted and meeting any additional standards to ensure security, companies are approved to offer their products and services for sale to agencies. Anywhere from six to 20 contractors will go through FedRAMP in the first six to eight months, said Dave McClure, associate administrator of GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.

“It is not going to be a situation where we will be drowning in FedRAMP applications,” McClure said in an interview this month. “We want to roll this out very cautiously and carefully, [and] make sure it works.”

By fiscal 2014, FedRAMP will be a sustaining program and all products are expected to go through the process, he said.

FedRAMP security requirements, largely based on standards set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, will apply to information technology systems at the low and moderate security levels.

For example, vendors must be able to prove that they use two-factor authentication. Their systems operators, must have two forms of evidence, such as a password and identification card, to verify who they are before accessing systems that provide government services.

Vendors and agencies will have a year to comply with updated security standards, which NIST expects to release in July.

NIST identified gaps in previous guidance to address new challenges, such as insider threats, supply chain risk, and mobile and cloud computing technologies, said NIST fellow Ron Ross in an interview.

NIST standards address the need for cloud vendors to detail where government data is physically stored and processed and to provide a clear contingency plan in case of a terrorist attack or cyber incident.

According to the most recent data from 2009, agencies spend $300 million annually to test the security of IT systems and approve their use in the federal government.

“One of the promises and the benefits of FedRAMP is that we think it will save about 30 to 40 percent of governmentwide costs associated with assessing, authorizing, procuring and continuously monitoring these cloud solutions,” federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel said in December when announcing FedRAMP. The government spends “hundreds of millions of dollars a year securing information technology systems, and much of that work is duplicative, inconsistent and time-consuming.”

FedRAMP will allow agencies to reduce the number of people it takes to assess and authorize the security of its systems by 50 percent and cut the assessment time by 75 percent, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

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OPM approves GAO buyouts

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The Government Accountability Office just told its employees that the Office of Personnel Management has given the thumbs up to its buyout and early out plans. GAO sent employees a memo last week offering the buyouts and early retirements, but cautioning they were contingent on OPM’s approval.

The deadline to apply is Sept. 6, and those who accept the offers must retire by Sept. 30.

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Obama: Time to ‘eat our peas’ on debt

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From USDA.gov

President Obama went into full-on “stern dad” mode during today’s press conference on debt ceiling negotiations. Not only did he flatly reject a stopgap increase in the debt ceiling, but he did so with language that Sasha and Malia have surely heard from time to time:

This is the United States of America, and we don’t manage our affairs in three-month increments. … I will not sign a 30-day, or a 60-day, or a 90-day extension. That is just not an acceptable approach. And if we think it’s hard now, imagine how these guys are going to be thinking six months from now, in the middle of the election season when they’re all up.

We might as well do it now. Pull off the Band-aid. Eat our peas. Now is the time to do it. If not now, when?

Obama reiterated his calls for both Democrats and Republicans to compromise in the deficit debate and accept spending cuts and revenue increases that each side will find distasteful. The “my way or the highway” attitude that has recently taken hold on Capitol Hill will lead to nothing getting done, he said: “I do not see a path to a deal if they don’t budge, period.”

He refuted Republican claims that his proposals to close the deficit in part by raising taxes on the wealthy would kill jobs in a recession by saying they wouldn’t take effect until 2013. If tax loopholes aren’t closed and all deficit reduction comes from spending cuts, that will devastate seniors and the poor, Obama said. “It’s not that I have this grand ambition to create a bigger government,” Obama said. “It’s because if we’re going to actually solve this problem, there are a finite number of ways to do it. If we don’t have revenues, we’re putting the burden on people who can least afford it.”

(That surely drew gales of laughter from the sizeable portion of the Republican party that hammers Obama day-in-day-out with just that big government charge.)

Obama press conferences are usually filled with long, stemwinding answers, and this one was no different. But when a reporter asked him whether the administration was preparing contingency plans in case the debt ceiling is not raised, he offered his shortest response of the day: “We are gonna get this done by August 2.”

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