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News Digest: Nov. 7

Nov. 6, 2011 - 08:38AM   |  
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Study: Pay gap grows in private sector's favor

The pay advantage private-sector employees enjoy over federal employees grew 2.25 percentage points this year, bringing the pay gap to 26.3 percent, the Federal Salary Council said Nov. 4.

The pay scale freeze that began in 2011 helped cause the widening of the reported pay gap, the council's pay gap methodology working group said. The council includes three experts in labor relations and pay policy and six representatives of employee organizations representing large numbers of General Schedule employees. National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley and American Federation of Government Employees National Secretary-Treasurer J. David Cox are among its members.

The council's findings are diametrically opposed to several studies published in the last two years that claim federal employees earn much more than private-sector workers.

Critics such as the Cato Institute and some federal pay experts say that the government's claims of a widening pay gap are unbelievable with the economy still ailing and the job market remains soft.

Report blames China, Russia for cyber theft

Cyber criminals from China and Russia are stealing trade secrets and proprietary technology information from federal agencies and U.S. universities and companies, according to an intelligence report released last week.

And agencies and companies will have a harder time securing sensitive information as they pool their data processing and storage, the report noted. It advises agencies to encrypt data on servers, require passwords to access information and regularly test system security.

The annual report, from the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, which is under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, relies on data collected over the past two years.

Computer networks of agencies and other institutions, "all holding large volumes of sensitive economic information, were targeted by cyber espionage; much of this activity appears to have originated in China," the report says. Cyber espionage has cost the U.S. "tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in potential profits" from intellectual property and sensitive financial, business, scientific and economic information, it says.

‘Controlled unclassified information' defined

The National Archives and Records Administration last week released a first-ever standard registry for information deemed worthy of protection but not sensitive enough to need formal classification.

The registry, posted online at www.archives.gov/cui, lists 15 categories of "controlled unclassified information" (CUI) covering critical infrastructure, immigration and other areas.

President Obama ordered the registry's creation last November, with the goal of developing a governmentwide standard to replace what is now an ad hoc system in which each agency decides what warrants protection and how to mark it.

The Archives' Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) created the registry. Its next step is to come up with standardized markings for the new categories. Until now, agencies have used a wide variety of labels, such as "Law Enforcement Sensitive" and "For Official Use Only," to mark protected information that is not classified.

Snow policy may include ‘shelter' at the office

The Office of Personnel Management may encourage federal employees to "shelter in place" if a flash snowfall strikes this year.

OPM said last week it may stagger dismissals, with a "leave no later than" departure time and an option to shelter in place for people who don't leave in time.

The change, which OPM said is not final, is being considered to avoid situations like the snowstorm that hit Washington Jan. 26 and caused a 13-hour traffic jam. OPM advised employees to leave two hours early that day, but because skies were clear most of the afternoon, many feds did not. Snow suddenly fell around rush hour, and thousands of commuters clogged roads trying to get home.

Some critics blamed the gridlock on OPM Director John Berry's decision to close the government early. But Berry said the problem was that employees didn't take his advice.

Stand-alone intel budget unlikely, experts say

The prospects for a stand-alone intelligence budget are fading despite influential support for that approach.

For fiscal 2010, intelligence appropriations totaled more than $80 billion, most of it wrapped into the defense budget, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.

National Intelligence Director James Clapper said last year that breaking out intelligence spending would strengthen his hand in managing that money. Last month, however, Clapper conceded that it "ain't gonna happen," according to an official transcript of his remarks at a Texas symposium.

The House-passed version of the 2012 defense spending bill would bar creation of an independent intelligence budget.

As a result, intelligence funding "will mostly remain hidden" in the Defense Department's budget, Steven Aftergood, who writes the Secrecy News blog for the Federation of American Scientists, said in a post.

IG faults IRS oversight of fleet cards

The IRS needs to improve its oversight of some fleet cards the credit cards used by its Small Business/Self-Employed Division employees who drive government-leased vehicles to fuel facilities to enforce fuel excise tax laws, according to an inspector general report.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration did not identify specific instances of fraud or waste, but it said the IRS did not retain enough documentation to justify all of its charges to ensure they were appropriate.

The IRS agreed to develop new guidelines to bring it into compliance with standards set by the Office of Management and Budget, according to the report.

GSA chooses 21 companies for telecom services

Twenty-one companies have been awarded spots on the General Services Administration's Connections II telecommunications contract.

The indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract, with a ceiling of $5 billion, provides agencies with products and services that supplement GSA's Networx telecom contract, such as building and campus facility communications planning, operations, administration and management, customer service and technical support.

A&T Systems Inc., Harris IT Services Corp. and Verizon Federal Inc. are among the contractors.

AFGE wins election at VA hospital

The American Federation of Government Employees won the right to represent more than 700 doctors, pharmacists and medical technologists at the Veterans Affairs Department's Edward Hines Jr. Medical Center in Hines, Ill., in a Nov. 1 election.

The employees will be formed into a new union local in AFGE's 7th district.

AFGE has organized more than 40,000 VA employees over the last 10 years, Amie Pounds, AFGE national organizer, said in a news release.

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