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White House to release cyber executive order Wednesday

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President Barack Obama will issue an executive order Wednesday aimed at tightening the nation’s cybersecurity.

Senior administration officials, including White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel and Army Gen. Keith Alexander, head of U.S. Cyber Command, will provide details on cyber policy Wednesday morning at the Commerce Department. Officials will provide an update on cybersecurity priorities for 2013, including information sharing and reducing cyber risks, Commerce announced Tuesday.

The executive order is said to include provisions that will establish voluntary cybersecurity standards for critical infrastructure sectors, such as transportation and energy, where federal regulators have authority to enforce those standards. However, the order could not provide liability protections for companies that follow those standards but are attacked.

The order is also expected to direct agencies to share cyber threat information with companies operating critical infrastructure.

Lawmakers failed last year to pass comprehensive cybersecurity legislation, but Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., plan to reintroduce cyber legislation Wednesday.

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), HR 624, would allow the government and industry to voluntarily share information about malicious attacks and viruses. Companies that share information under the bill’s provisions or protect their networks would be granted legal protections if they’re subject to a cyber attack. The bill passed the House in April.


Legislation is not enough to protect gay contractors, equal rights advocates say

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An executive order that would extend discrimination protections to gay federal workers is not forthcoming, a senior administration official said Thursday. Instead, the Obama administration is hoping that a bill mulling in Congress for the last 18 years will eventually bring about the workplace protections that gay rights advocates and lawmakers have been seeking.

Lawmakers have proposed but never passed legislation to extend workforce discrimination protections to cover sexual orientation during almost every session of Congress since 1994. Language to cover gender identity discrimination was added to the proposed bill, called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act,  in 2007.

But the bill itself would not go as far as an executive order, according to experts at the Center for American Progress. CAP staff compared the proposed legislation to similar protections provided in a 1965 executive order that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

The proposed bill would apply to employers with 15 or more employees, whereas a new executive order would likely cover any business that receives a government contract for more than $10,000, CAP experts said in a recent article.

Also, people who want to report gender identity or sexual orientation discrimination would file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, under the proposed bill. Under an executive order, people discriminated against by federal contractors could also file complaints through the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which conducts more proactive compliance reviews on companies, CAP experts said in the article.

More than 16 million employees of federal contractors either work for companies or reside in states that do not provide explicitly protect workers from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, according to a February report by UCLA’s Williams Institute, which conducts research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.

Freedom to Work, which seeks anti-discrimination policies for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender workers, collected more than 110,000 signatures in an online petition asking the president to issue the executive order. Seventy-two House members, led by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ, signed a letter to the president requesting the order as well.

Officials from Freedom to Work, the Center for American Progress and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force met with White House officials this week to talk about President Obama’s plan to keep a campaign promise he made before becoming president. They left disappointed.

“It remains legal to fire or refuse to hire people based on their sexual orientation in more than half the country – 29 states; the same is true for gender identity in 34 states,” Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said in a statement. “Given the huge gap in statewide protections, the administration and Congress must step up to protect LGBT people and their families nationally.”

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Has the President put the brakes on contractor disclosure?

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Some say yes, at least for this year, the time has passed for President Obama to issue an executive order that would require federal contractors to disclose their political contributions. But some transparency advocates say a window of opportunity still exists for transparency into corporate political contributions.

The door is still open if the administration does not tie the award of contracts to political disclosure, the main objection of critics, Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, said Monday. The administration instead should require anyone who receives federal money, including grant recipients, to disclose their political contribution information after award, Amey said.

“Certainly, the disclosure of this information shouldn’t be so tightly constrained [to government contractors],” Amey said in a recent blog post. “With nearly $550 billion spent each year on grants, I would love to see the [executive order] include disclosure by all entities receiving federal funds.”

Critics calls the order, a draft of which was leaked around this time last year, an attempt to override the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That decision protected corporate donations to political, third-party organizations and drove millions of dollars into the 2010 elections.

Republicans moved quickly to stop any potential executive order with language in this year’s defense authorization bill and an omnibus appropriations bill. Civilian agencies are now prohibited from asking contractors to disclose contributions before an award. Defense agencies cannot ask for that information before or after an award.

The legislation still leaves room for the President to order contractors at civilian agencies to disclose their political contributions after the award of a contract. Groups like Public Citizen and lawmakers supportive of disclosure asked the President to issue a revised order around the time of his State of the Union speech this year, which unofficially marked the beginning of Obama’s campaign season, said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen.

“The door was wide open,” Holman said in an interview Monday. “The fact that the President didn’t go ahead with it at the State of the Union means that it’s just too little too late at this point.”

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., disagreed: ”Any time is the right time for the President to sign an executive order to bring disclosure and transparency to those who do business with the federal government,” Eshoo said through a spokesman.

In the meantime, Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced legislation that would require all corporations to disclose their political contributions greater than $10,0000. The Democrat-controlled Senate is working on a floor vote in the next few weeks, Holman said. Even without any Republican support, Holman said the vote on the bill will send the message that transparency is a priority for the administration, Holman said.

“It will force everyone to say yes or no when it comes to transparency of money and politics,” he said.

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Group seeks protections for gay contractors

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More than 100,000 people have signed an online petition asking the president to issue an executive order ensuring workplace protections for gay federal contractors.

Administration officials will not confirm any action, but Tico Almeida, president of the Freedom to Work advocacy group, said Labor and Justice department lawyers have recommended President Obama issue a policy requiring federal contractors to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Freedom to Work, which seeks anti-discrimination policies for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender workers, created the online petition at Change.org.

More than 16 million employees of federal contractors either work for companies or reside in states that do not provide those protections, according to a February report by UCLA’s Williams Institute, which conducts research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.

Several large contractors, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Dynamics, and some states offer specific protections against sexual orientation discrimination, Almeida said. DynCorp International recently added such protections after reports that company officials demoted and transferred an employee who reported being taunted by anti-gay slurs, he said.

Companies without explicit policies prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination may still offer protections for their employees, said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president for the Professional Services Council industry association. However, having those policies in place could help the workforce feel better protected, he said.

“It’s an area worth paying attention to,” Chvotkin said.

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Stop Swag

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In opening my emails every morning I’m accustomed to a plethora of press releases. Today the release that caught my eye was the announcement of President Obama signing an executive order to cut federal agency travel, printing and IT costs.

However it wasn’t the “news” in the release that has me blogging. It’s the use of the word swag. Sports reporters have been using the word for months now.  There is no doubt that you will hear swag used if you tune into ESPN’s SportsCenter. But I didn’t expect the White House to jump on the bandwagon.

screen shot from WH press release

Is it just me or does the word swag bother anyone else? And the fact that the White House used it in an official press release.

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Bills attempt to preempt executive order

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In direct response to a presidential order under consideration, lawmakers today introduced two bills to prevent federal agencies from collecting or using information about contractors’ political expenditures.

Several lawmakers – most of whom are Republican – have asked the president to abandon his plans for an executive order, a draft of which was leaked last month, that would require potential contractors to report their campaign contributions and political expenditures before being awarded government contracts.

After the leak, White House officials said they are considering the policy as a way to add more transparency to the contracting process. But it has been a month with no action from the president.

So Republicans in both the House and Senate have introduced preemptive measures that would prohibit federal agencies from essentially doing what the executive order would require.

An amendment with similar language was also included in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which the House passed today.

The opposing lawmakers, backed by contractor groups, argue that the executive order could silence contractors’ support of political groups and politicize the federal procurement process.

They say the president is trying to override the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which protected corporate donations to political organizations and drove millions of dollars into the 2010 elections.

The president and Democratic members of Congress were unsuccessful in passing a bill last year requiring disclosure of the donors to political organizations.

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Obama orders agencies to cut carbon footprints

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President Barack Obama issued an executive order this afternoon that requires agencies for the first time to measure and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama nixed an earlier idea, included in a draft executive order I reported on back in August, to set a governmentwide percentage target. Instead, each agency must recommend its own target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. It will be up to the heads of the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget to approve those targets.

Obama’s order also sets new requirements for cutting gas and water consumption, reducing landfill waste and purchasing products and services that meet environmental sustainability mandates.

We’ll have more on the order at www.federaltimes.com and in next week’s issue of Federal Times.

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OMG! Prez bans txting while drving

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Feds, put down those BlackBerries. At least while you’re behind the wheel.

President Barack Obama issued an executive order today that bans federal employees from using their cell phones, BlackBerries or other electronic devices to send or receive text messages, read e-mails or perform other electronic tasks while driving .

The order applies to employees behind the wheel of government owned or leased vehicles or those driving their own vehicles while on government business. Agencies also were instructed to encourage federal contractors to enforce similar polices on their own workforces.

Obama issued the order to coincide with a Washington summit organized by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on the dangers of text messaging and other distractions while driving.

The number of crashes attributed to distracted drivers nationally has risen during the past five years, even though the number of crashes overall has dropped, and accounted for 16 percent of crashes and fatalities in 2008, Transportation statistics show.

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