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News Digest

Nov. 7, 2010 - 04:03PM   |  
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Intern program violates vets' rights

The Merit Systems Protection Board last week ruled that a controversial intern program violates veterans preference laws and must be overhauled.

The Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP) has been improperly used to fill positions with nonveterans who ordinarily would not have been picked ahead of job seekers who were veterans, MSPB ruled.

MSPB said the government has improperly placed the FCIP positions in the excepted service, which lets agencies avoid the legal requirement to notify the public that competitive service vacancies are available. MSPB agreed with the plaintiff, disabled veteran David Dean, who argued that FCIP violated his right to seek federal employment.

FCIP violates veterans preference laws because it doesn't require the government to justify the placement of positions in the excepted service instead of competitive service, MSPB ruled. Excepted service is meant to fill jobs where it isn't practical to hold an open competition.

MSPB ordered the Office of Personnel Management to bring FCIP into compliance with Title 5 laws governing veterans preference within 120 days. And judges ordered the Veterans Affairs Department to conduct the hiring process again for nine positions in Columbia, S.C., that another plaintiff, Larry Evans, applied for in 2009.

Justify sensitive information designations

Open government advocates are hailing a new executive order requiring agencies to review and justify markings used to designate various types of "controlled unclassified information" (CUI).

Under the reviews, agency officials have to define each category and subcategory of CUI and link it to a specific law, regulation or governmentwide policy. The results must be approved by the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office.

The executive order, released Nov. 4, targets the current system of more than 100 CUI markings such as "sensitive but unclassified." It calls the system "an inefficient, confusing patchwork" that "has resulted in inconsistent marking and safeguarding of documents, led to unclear or unnecessarily restrictive dissemination policies and created impediments to authorized information-sharing."

In news releases, open-government groups praised another provision that makes clear that CUI markings will have no bearing on whether records are releasable under the Freedom of Information Act.

The order "is a victory for openness, for both our community and the administration," said Patrice McDermott, director of the OpenTheGovernment.org coalition.

Guidance bars lobbyists from advisory panels

In proposed guidance, the Office of Management and Budget is following up on President Obama's June memorandum barring lobbyists from serving on federal advisory commissions.

Registered lobbyists already on such panels will not be booted, but cannot be reappointed once their terms are up, according to the guidance, which was published in the Nov. 2 Federal Register.

Anyone who becomes a lobbyist while serving on a commission will have to resign or face removal.

One loophole could surface on appointments by state governors or members of Congress. While the discretion of such outside appointing authorities will be respected, OMB says, those authorities "should be encouraged" to name individuals who are not lobbyists.

DHS soliciting bids for next-gen IT services

The Department of Homeland Security is soliciting bids on its next-generation, $22 billion contract for information technology services.

The five-year Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading Edge Solutions II (EAGLE II) contract has three categories: development and delivery of services; technical support for those services; and independent evaluation on the cost-effectiveness of those services.

Questions on the solicitation are due by Nov. 15. Bids are due Jan. 11 for the unrestricted source category and by Jan. 18 for the small-business category.

Contractors coalition honors two feds

A coalition of government contractors honored two feds last week for their work in partnering with the private sector and maintaining a spirit of collaboration in the contracting process.

Charlie Williams, director of the Defense Contract Management Agency, and Soraya Correa, director of the Office of Procurement Operations at the Department of Homeland Security, were honored at the 8th Annual Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards.

Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, one of the event's hosts, said that Correa and Williams embodied professionalism and dedication to mission.

"Both have repeatedly demonstrated that one can stay entirely true to the procurement rules and the taxpayers' best interests while also maintaining an open, collaborative line of communications with the private sector," Soloway said.

Only 20% of overseas air cargo checked

Billions of pounds of packages bound for the U.S. each year are delivered on passenger flights in which cargo is checked with an electronic system that does not screen for bombs, lawmakers and security experts said last week.

The Department of Homeland Security uses computers to identify possibly dangerous cargo, usually after flights already in the air and en route to the U.S.

"That's too late. A bomb will go off while a plane is in the air," said aviation security consultant Glen Winn, a former United Airlines security chief.

The tracking system is under scrutiny following last month's plot to sneak bombs into U.S.-bound planes using cargo packages sent from Yemen. At some overseas airports, cargo is checked for bombs before being put on planes, but that screening could be below U.S. security standards, according to the Government Accountability Office.

About 20 percent of the 9 billion pounds of air cargo that comes from overseas each year is physically checked for bombs, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Google sues Interior over bidding for e-mail system

Search giant Google claims the Interior Department's bidding process for a new e-mail system is "unduly restrictive of competition," according to a lawsuit filed with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

In the Oct. 29 lawsuit, Google said it is at a disadvantage because Interior requires a Microsoft solution to support some 88,000 users on the new system.

The contract ceiling is $59.3 million over five years, according to the lawsuit.

"Google is a proponent of open competition ... in the technology sector in general," said a Google spokesperson in a statement. "A fair and open process could save U.S. taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and result in better services. We're asking the Department of Interior to allow for a true competition when selecting its providers."

The company asked the court to prohibit Interior from proceeding with the bidding process.

An Interior spokeswoman said she had no comment on the lawsuit. A Microsoft spokesperson also declined to comment.

Partnership council stalls on telework policy role

The effort to use labor-management partnership councils to increase teleworking opportunities may be over before it had a chance to begin.

At the Nov. 3 meeting of the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations, labor representatives and administration officials appeared divided on the partnerships' role.

American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage said the partnerships should focus on eliminating broad telework obstacles, such as concerns about security, and create more opportunities for employees to work from home on a regular basis.

He dismissed any effort to limit partnerships' role to the issue of expanding the use of mobile workdays or teleworking during snowstorms and other government-closing emergencies.

"I'm not interested in talking about a mobile workday," Gage said. "It sounds like you're just going to try to charge employees leave [during snowstorms]. If you can work at home on a snow day, you can work at home on a beautiful day in July."

But Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, said it's up to the White House to set government-wide telework policy, and mobile workday plans were more in the partnership council's jurisdiction.

Watchdog calls on SEC to put reports online

The Project on Government Oversight is accusing the Securities and Exchange Commission of inadequate disclosure.

Although semiannual reports from the commission's inspector general document dozens of investigative reports issued to SEC management over the past two years, the IG's website lists only eight such reports since last year and none before then, POGO said on its blog last week.

Even when investigative reports which look into allegations of misconduct by SEC staff and contractors are made public, key details are sometimes withheld, POGO said. In a report on SEC's investigation of Allied Capital, for example, the commission redacted the name of a former SEC official who became an Allied lobbyist, then illegally attempted to access a hedge fund manager's phone records. The ex-official's name had been disclosed in media reports and a book.

SEC officials could not be reached for comment.

OMB reminder to agencies: Share data, protect privacy

Agencies must find ways to improve data-sharing while at the same time protecting individual privacy, the Office of Management and Budget said in a Nov. 3 memo.

While sharing data can improve decision-making and government efficiency, "all participants must comply with applicable privacy laws, regulations and policy," according to the document, signed by acting OMB Director Jeffrey Zients and Cass Sunstein, head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

NASA's Mars rovers are on the cloud

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Project is the agency's first space mission to use cloud computing for its daily operations.

The project team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is working with Amazon.com to use cloud computing software and data for the rovers, which landed on Mars in 2004.

Cloud-based solutions will allow NASA to access services on demand and pay for only what is used.

Former Army engineer sentenced for bribery

A former engineer with Army Space and Missile Defense Command was sentenced last week to 20 months in jail for accepting bribes and evading taxes.

Steven Early Bryant, 39, was ordered to pay $200,000 in restitution to the government and a $5,000 fine.

Bryant pleaded guilty in July to accepting bribes in relation to the command's contracts providing material for missile defense research.

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