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News Briefs: Nov. 26

Nov. 26, 2012 - 01:26PM   |  
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GAO may charge fee to file bid protests

The Government Accountability Office is proposing to charge contractors a first-ever fee for filing bid protests.

The proposed fee, which would need congressional approval, is aimed at generating revenue to allow GAO to move to an electronic docketing system to handle a growing workload, said Ralph White, the agency’s managing associate general counsel for procurement law.

Based on an expected first-year cost of $450,000, the fee would be about $240 per protest, he said.

According to official statistics, White’s office handled some 2,475 bid protests and other cases in fiscal 2012, up about 50 percent since 2008.

The existing system is paper-based, and GAO otherwise lacks the money to shift to electronic docketing, White said.

White House issues insider threat guidance

The White House last week issued new minimum standards for agencies to guard against insider security threats such as those that led to the 2010 WikiLeaks breach.

In a memo, President Obama directed agencies to install programs to thwart internal threats, including espionage, violent acts against the government, unauthorized disclosures of classified information and sensitive data stored on government computer networks and systems.

According to the memo, standards for a governmentwide insider threat program should include:

• The ability to gather, integrate and centrally analyze and respond to key threat-related information.

• The ability to monitor employees’ use of classified networks.

• Insider threat awareness workforce training.

• Protections of civil liberties and privacy of all personnel.

Obama called for new programs and policies in the wake of the massive public release by WikiLeaks in 2010 of hundreds of thousands of sensitive government cables, reports and other military and diplomatic materials.

CMS awards $15B data management contract

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last week awarded a $15 billion contract to consolidate data centers and manage its immense stores of data.

Eight vendors — including CGI Federal, Lockheed Martin, Accenture Federal Services, LLC and National Government Services — were awarded spots on the 10-year contract, according to a notice on FedBizOpps.gov.

The new contract will build on a previous award to Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Companion Data Services about six years ago, he said. All three vendors were also awarded spots on the new contract.

CMS manages a network of more than 80 data centers and stores and maintains 370 terabytes of Medicare data and 30 terabytes of Medicaid data. Medicare claims will double, and Medicaid claims will triple by 2015, when physicians’ payments will be based on the level of patient care. The volume of data will be massive, considering a terabyte is roughly 3.4 million pieces of standard printing paper.

Called the Virtual Data Center contract, it will consolidate multiple contracts and provide applications hosting, telecommunications and networking, disaster recovery, enterprise security and other services. The contract will help consolidate CMS data centers to between six and eight, reduce energy consumption and eliminate duplicative spending on hardware and software, agency CIO Tony Trenkle has said.

DHS radio use is ineffective, IG says

Most radio users at the Department of Homeland Security don’t know how to use the department’s common channel, the results of a recent audit indicate.

Of a sample of 479 users surveyed, only one “could access and communicate” on the channel and just 20 percent had the settings correctly programmed in their radios, the department’s inspector general said in the audit, released this month.

The IG attributed the findings to DHS’ failure to provide the oversight needed to ensure interoperability across its operations.

DHS management disagreed with that finding, but agreed to do more to let employees know about relevant policies and procedures.

VA bought but didn’t install encryption software

The Veterans Affairs Department failed to install millions of dollars worth of encryption software on its computers, putting veterans’ personal data at risk, according to a recent inspector general report.

The report found that VA had not installed 84 percent, or 335,000, of the 400,000 encryption software licenses it began purchasing in 2006. The unused licenses total $5.1 million in costs.

VA did not allow enough time to test the software and failed to ensure it was compatible with its computers, the IG said. The department also failed to ensure it had sufficient staff to install the software.

VA said the software has been tested and is compatible with VA computers. It plans to install all purchased software licenses by September.

Senators question Army settlement with DynCorp

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., are questioning a $70.8 million Army Corps of Engineers settlement with DynCorp International.

The senators said the agency was unjustified in paying the contractor nearly 97 percent of the $72.8 million contract when the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction had found faulty construction and unusable buildings at an Afghan Army garrison the company built.

“It looks like we paid $70 million for a contract that delivered next to nothing — any reasonable person is going to ask why,” McCaskill said in a news release.

Collins said the Army Corps has been unable to provide a justification for the settlement. The senators in a letter last week ask the agency to provide them any evaluations or audits of DynCorp’s performance, any justifications for the settlement and names of officials responsible for approving the settlement.

Senator says DoD IG ‘caved under pressure’

The Defense Department’s inspector general apparently “caved under pressure” two years ago on the issue of whether the Pentagon’s payroll arm was capable of passing a financial audit, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has charged.

In 2010, the IG drafted a letter disputing an accounting firm’s decision to give the Defense Finance and Accounting Service a clean audit opinion on its working capital financial statements, but never issued the letter, Grassley said in a speech on the Senate floor. The IG’s independence “may have been compromised,” he added.

In a Nov. 15 letter, acting IG Lynne Halbrooks told Grassley that more work would have been needed to issue the letter, and that the IG’s office had let DFAS know about its conclusions. Today, however, the IG’s office “would do things differently,” Halbrooks wrote.

TSA ends program to breed explosives-detection dogs

The Transportation Security Administration is closing its Canine Breeding and Development Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas next year.

The agency will instead purchase dogs through existing procurement contracts, but will still train them at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland — though at a different facility.

The breeding program was closed as an efficiency move, spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.

GAO: Billions spent on IT, but effectiveness unclear

Agencies spend billions of dollars on legacy information technology systems without understanding if those systems are meeting their needs, according to a recent report.

A review of 75 major IT systems, totaling $4.6 billion in annual operations and maintenance costs, found that agencies had not properly examined the effectiveness of more than half of those legacy investments in terms of cost, schedule and performance goals, as required by the Office of Management and Budget, according to an October report released last week by the Government Accountability Office.

“Until agencies more completely address their policy and performance shortcomings, there is increased risk that existing multibillion-dollar investments will continue to be funded although it is not fully known whether they meet their intended objectives,” the report said.

GAO examined major IT investments at the Homeland Security, Defense, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs and Treasury departments, which spent a combined $37 billion on IT operations and maintenance in 2011. Overall IT spending governmentwide for that year was $79 billion.

OMB guidance requires agencies to report annually on the performance of their IT systems, in terms of cost, customer satisfaction and innovation. But GAO said compliance varies across the five departments.

The agencies reviewed by GAO agreed to develop policies requiring that legacy systems undergo performance assessments and to ensure assessments are done for all legacy investments.

SEC aided by more than 3,000 whistle-blower tips

The Securities and Exchange Commission received more than 3,000 whistle-blower tips in fiscal 2012, according to a new report by the agency.

The most common complaints related to corporate financial disclosures and possible fraud, according to SEC.

The agency said 143 judgments and orders issued during fiscal 2012 can be traced to tips from whistle-blowers.

SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro said the numbers show the whistle-blower program is a valuable tool in detecting financial fraud.

“When insiders provide us with high-quality road maps of fraudulent wrongdoing, it reduces the length of time we spend investigating and saves the agency substantial resources,” Schapiro said in a news release.

The agency can reward whistle-blowers with up to 30 percent of the money it recovers.

SEC paid out its first award of $55,000 in fiscal 2012, according to the report, which was required by 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

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