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News briefs: Week of Dec. 16

Dec. 15, 2013 - 01:53PM   |  
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HHS IG will investigate

The Health and Human Services Department inspector general will investigate the development and procurement process behind, according to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

“We need a thorough review of the contractor performance and program management structure that resulted in the flawed launch of the website,” Sebelius said in a Dec. 11 blog post.

She said she has asked the inspector general to review the acquisition process, overall program management, and contractor performance and payment issues, and will take action to address any findings.

She added the agency will also create a new “chief risk officer” within HHS’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to help mitigate development risks and develop metrics to measure the effectiveness of content management system programs.

Hackers steal data on 104,000 employees

Hackers stole personally identifiable information this summer on more than 104,000 Energy Department employees, family members and contractors, the agency’s inspector general concluded in a new report that faults DOE officials for failing to take basic cybersecurity precautions.

Although the IG did not uncover a single “point of failure” for the July breach, a combination of technical and managerial problems “set the stage for individuals with malicious intent to access the system with what appeared to be relative ease,” the IG said in the report. The investigation also found that the extent of personal information stolen was much more extensive than the department initially reported. Beside names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers, the data also included bank account numbers and places of birth, along with education and disability information, the report said.

DOE managers told the inspector general that they are notifying everyone affected.

The drones are coming - someday

The Federal Aviation Administration has released a road map for allowing drones to fly everywhere in the country, but research and regulations are months behind the schedule Congress set to have drones fly safely with commercial airliners by September 2015.

The five-year road map released by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta projects 7,500 unmanned aircraft in the skies within that period if regulations are in place.

Technical complexities facing the FAA, however, include how much training to require of ground-based pilots, how to ensure that drones fly safely if they lose contact with their pilot, and how drones and commercial aircraft should warn each other when they’re in the same area.

“The FAA is committed to safe, efficient and timely integration of unmanned aircraft systems into our airspace,” the agency said in a statement. “Over the next several years, the FAA will establish regulations and standards for the safe integration of remote piloted [unmanned aircraft] to meet increased demand.”

The issue of commercial drones came to the forefront this week when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that the online retail giant is testing the delivery of packages with drones.

“We have operational goals as well as safety issues that we must consider when planning to expand the use of unmanned aircraft,” Huerta said.

Processed pension claims fall steeply

The number of pension claims processed by the Office of Personnel Management plunged last month.

After processing about 11,000 pension cases in October, OPM handled just 5,714 last month, a drop of almost half, according to statistics.

But because the approximately 5,700 new claims received last month were also well below projections, the backlog of pending cases remained roughly the same at just over 14,000 and is far below the threshold of a year ago. In a statement, Ken Zawodny, associate director of OPM’s retirement services branch, suggested that the agency is scaling back efforts to cut the backlog further.

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