FedScoop » News http://fedscoop.com Federal technology news and events Wed, 20 Aug 2014 21:46:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 DISA forecasts further movement into the cloud http://fedscoop.com/disa-forecast-to-industry/ http://fedscoop.com/disa-forecast-to-industry/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 21:46:30 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62370 DISA CIO David Bennett says the agency is ready to look at any and every option available when it comes to procuring commercial cloud services.

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As the Defense Information Systems Agency looks to reorganize as military missions abroad wind down and the Defense Department deals with mandatory spending cuts, the focus is falling on the cloud.

Chief Information Officer David Bennett said at DISA’s forecast to industry Wednesday the agency is still feeling out how they will move forward with commercial cloud, but is ready to look at any and every option available.

“We will not rule out anything at this point in terms of how we would execute our cloud function,” Bennett said.

Bennett does say he has a team that plans to focus on Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), with emphasis on having products reach data security levels above where they currently stand.

“As we look at this cloud security model, we’re going to look to put a vehicle in place that will give us stability to host not only levels 1 and 2, which house publicly releasable information, but levels 3, 4, and 5, unclassified but sensitive information” such as personally identifiable information (PII).

Bennett said the cloud services DISA is considering differ from milCloud — a cloud services portfolio that manages DOD applications — in that some data stored on future cloud services will sit outside DOD’s “fence line.”

“I fully expect we will put things fully out in the commercial cloud, for instance, publicly released information, we’ll just put it out there and forget about it. We’ll keep it updated, but, we’re not gonna put any controls on it,” Bennett said. “But for the higher level of information, like PII or [health information], we can put that into a commercial facility, but we want to have some awareness of what’s going on with that information and extend the fence line around that enclave so we can maintain awareness.”

DISA is looking to leverage cloud services to support everyone from senior leadership to soldiers in the  field.

DISA is looking to leverage cloud services to support everyone from senior leadership to soldiers in the field.

Bennett also sees a focus in “unified capabilities” – a suite of software that manages voice, video and other data services across a consolidated network — with DISA’s approach mirroring their cloud-based strategy.

“We have things that we want to do to gain lessons learned and then roll that into a longer term strategy,” Bennett said. “This is going to be one of those things, in my opinion, that’s going to be a significant game-changer within the agency.”

Change is already coming to unified capabilities, with Jessie Showers, vice director of network services, saying DISA is expecting to fully move from a fixed switched network to an all-IP network no later than 2016. Showers also said DISA is shutting down its legacy video solution to use a new global video service that’s expected to reach initial operational capability in November.

“We’re posturing the greater organization of DISA to be better prepared for what we see our future as,” said Army Major General Alan R. Lynn, vice director of DISA. “We are having a lot more collaborative work with the services. We have always been in the cyber business, but that business keeps increasing. We see ourselves more and more involved.”

Lynn said the reorganization is part of a changing dynamic that will allow DISA to better protect and serve the military’s own networks.

“I think the services are doing a great job of protecting their networks,” Lynn said. “What we want better capability and better visibility on is all the data feeds that they have. Let’s say they have attack vectors coming toward them, they all can see those individually. Where we would have greater impact is if we could see the total picture of the attack so we could do the large data analytics and spread the word to other services.”

Other points of focus for Bennett include:

  • Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements (JELA), which allow DISA to combine contract requirements with military branches and other agencies in order to “incentivize industry to provide best pricing.” DISA started using JELAs last year, and wants to use them particularly with the U.S. Air Force and Army moving forward.  “We want to leverage JELAs at every opportunity so that we get the best price for the customers,” Bennett said.
  • Consolidating more than a hundred global service desks into one virtual desk, a project that is already underway and keeping with an application rationalization directive that calls for the DOD to analyze and move applications that are not on a local service to one of eight enterprise-level data centers in the continental U.S. “It’s a contract vehicle we are looking to put in place that would be available for the services to leverage as part of their process of analysis of their application. We’re trying to help the services at-large execute their mission by providing a vehicle by which they can do some things they have to do [which are] tied to moving their applications into the data centers.”

Slides from multiple presentations during the forecast are available on DISA’s website.

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Inside the struggle for electronic health record interoperability http://fedscoop.com/ehr-interoperability-stage-2-meaningful-use/ http://fedscoop.com/ehr-interoperability-stage-2-meaningful-use/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 21:08:34 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62335 Electronic health records should be able to freely move between your doctor to your hospital and anywhere in between. Only that's increasingly not the case.

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It is a growing issue everywhere from the examination table in your physician’s office to your hospital system’s database to the halls of Capitol Hill. The health care system at large is trying to move your health record off of a paper chart and into the digital space. Furthermore, your electronic health record (or EHR in health care parlance) should be able to to freely move between your physician to your hospital or anywhere crucial in between. Only that increasingly isn’t the case.

Over the past few months, stories have popped up chronicling doctors’, clinicians’ or other health care providers’ headaches moving to and/or accessing EHRs. The chorus of complaints has led the Senate Appropriations Committee to submit language in a draft bill that calls for a report from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) on what “the challenges and barriers” are to EHR interoperability.”

Whatever challenges and barriers there are, it is clear both hospitals and office-based physicians are struggling to meet HHS’ Meaningful Use Criteria, which include interoperability guidelines.

Small clinics suffer

In a study published in the September 2014 issue of Health Affairs, a number of analysts — including some working for ONC — found that while the rates of hospitals adopting basic EHRs continue to rise, only 5.8 percent of hospitals surveyed were able to meet all of 16 core objectives put forth in HHS’ Meaningful Use Criteria. The areas in which hospitals were most lacking were providing patients with the ability to view and download their information and sending care summaries between care settings.

In another study that examined EHR adoption in office settings, only four in ten physicians had any electronic exchange with other health providers, and one in seven exchanged clinical data with providers outside their organization.

Both studies found that in some respects, the more resources available to a hospital or an office, the more likely they were to have already implemented EHRs. In the study that focused on hospitals, more than half of all rural hospital respondents said they had “less than basic” EHR implementation in 2013. In the study dedicated to office-based care, solo practitioners and specialty physicians lagged behind larger practices or primary care physicians.

The lag is something ONC has tried to combat since the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which was part of 2009′s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The act, which designated $30 billion to build a nationwide system of electronic health records, established 62 Regional Extension Centers (RECs) to provide guidance to local health care providers.

The RECs have been beneficial on the local level. According to ONC, as of July 2013, more than 70,000 providers had demonstrated some form of meaningful use. However, as the hospital-based survey states, the RECs’ efforts are not enough to combat the lag in meeting meaningful-use standards.

Anita Somplasky, the director of measures and support at Quality Insights, a nonprofit health care company that serves as a REC in Pennsylvania, agrees that the cards are stacked against smaller practices who are trying to meet the requirements of meaningful use.

“Small and medium practices are absolutely struggling,” Somplasky said, adding that trying to meet meaningful use standards has been a “slow, slow process.”

Somplasky said she has been dealing with EHR interoperability issues for years, including one that would have allowed more than 900 providers to send secure emails to one another. But three years went by before a solution was provided by vendors.

Even with ONC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services delivering marching orders for providers to follow, Somplasky said smaller practices are considering taking the financial penalties that come with failing to meet the HHS meaningful use goals.

“Here in Pennsylvania, folks have to pay the state to do syndromic surveillance (the analysis of medical data to detect or anticipate disease outbreaks) or for the immunization registry,” Somplasky says. “That’s $4,000. If the penalty is $3,000, why would I pay $4,000 to login to the state and then another $4,500 for the patient portal? That’s just the unfortunate financial reality.”

Even small practices that have seen the first-hand upside of EHRs still have to create workarounds so their systems can communicate with others outside of their practice.

Mary Beth Byrnes, who helps manage a four-person family practice in Souderton, Pennsylvania, was an early adopter of EHRs, integrating SOAPware into her practice in 2005. Even as Byrnes invests heavily as updates roll out, she said she still has to create workarounds in order to stay on top of patient records.

Byrnes told FedScoop that while she can pull information from other sites, she’s not able to make lab orders electronically. She also said her reporting capability within SOAPware is not very robust, causing her to create a workaround to where she will manually submit queries to obtain data.

While Byrnes said this doubles her workload when working with the program, she needs to do it in order to keep up with any updates SOAPware will roll out in the future.

“Especially as a solo practice, if we don’t get on top of this, we might as well pack it up, close down and go home,” Byrnes said.

Dr. Jorge Schierer, chief medical information officer for Pennsylvania-based Reading Health System, understands that small practices like Byrnes’s face bigger hurdles than large hospitals or health systems.

“The smaller the practice is, the harder it is to do all the things that you need to do to be successful,” Schierer said. “The expense of purchasing, maintaining and optimizing electronic medical records is not insignificant. It’s not offset significantly enough by the potential dollars that you could capture from meaningful use.”

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Postal Service geo-fence tech promising, but not quite ready http://fedscoop.com/postal-service-geo-fence-tech-promising-quite-ready/ http://fedscoop.com/postal-service-geo-fence-tech-promising-quite-ready/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 20:05:42 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62373 Geo-fence technology could make the U.S. Postal Service more efficient, but it’s not quite ready for prime time, according to an August 14 report from the USPS inspector general. Geo-fence technology leverages global positioning system signals to create virtual geographic zones that ensure delivery personnel stay on schedule and on their routes. According to the IG, the Postal Service is currently developing and testing a delivery management system (DMS) that includes geo-fence technology to improve efficiency. Under the system, if a delivery driver ventures from a predetermined route, a supervisor would receive an email or text message alerting them of the deviation. With…

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Geo-fence technology could make the U.S. Postal Service more efficient, but it’s not quite ready for prime time, according to an August 14 report from the USPS inspector general.

Geo-fence technology leverages global positioning system signals to create virtual geographic zones that ensure delivery personnel stay on schedule and on their routes.

According to the IG, the Postal Service is currently developing and testing a delivery management system (DMS) that includes geo-fence technology to improve efficiency. Under the system, if a delivery driver ventures from a predetermined route, a supervisor would receive an email or text message alerting them of the deviation.

With this technology, delivery supervisors will be able to analyze whether or not a driver is ahead or behind of schedule on their route.

If a driver pivots from his or her expected route, whether permitted or not, a supervisor will receive a text or email notification. Source: USPS OIG

If a driver deviates from his or her expected route, whether permitted or not, a supervisor will receive a text or email notification.
Source: USPS OIG

The IG found, however, that the DMS contained a flaw – if a driver takes on additional stops that are not part of his or her normal route, the data obtained by DMS would not be correct. The system would interpret the driver’s additional stops and route changes as a deviation from a planned route and deem that driver to be behind schedule even if the additional stops and changes were authorized. The inaccuracy comes with a variance in the scan data of managed service points (MSPs) as the carrier moves through his or her route.

USPS management planned to address the problem by April; however, according to the IG, as of July the flaw still existed.

“The Postal Service’s planned use of geo-fence technology will increase carrier visibility to aid supervisors in performing street management,” the report said. “Our analysis shows that MSP scan variances would be accurate on regular routes, but inaccurate when there are authorized route deviations.”

The report recommended that the Postal Service modify DMS to capture adjustments for time and location projects if a carrier is assigned an altered route before the system goes national.

According to the report, the Postal Service management agreed with the findings and recommendations. The Postal Service plans to update the software to account for route deviation by Sept. 30.

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NHTSA begins to explore vehicle-to-vehicle communications http://fedscoop.com/nhtsa-begins-explore-vehicle-vehicle-communications/ http://fedscoop.com/nhtsa-begins-explore-vehicle-vehicle-communications/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:42:06 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62354 Technology that could save more than 1,000 lives on the road per year is one step closer to reality after the Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released an advance notice of proposed rule-making about vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology.

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Technology that could save more than 1,000 lives on the road per year is one step closer to reality after the Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released an advance notice of proposed rulemaking about vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications technology.

“By warning drivers of imminent danger, V2V technology has the potential to dramatically improve highway safety,” David Friedman, NHSTA’s deputy administrator, said in a release announcing the rulemaking. “V2V technology is ready to move toward implementation and this report highlights the work NHTSA and DOT are doing to bring this technology and its great safety benefits into the nation’s light vehicle fleet.”

The 34-page advanced notice proposes the creation of a new federal motor vehicle safety standard to require V2V communications capabilities for light vehicles – vehicles weighing less than 4.25 tons. The advanced notice does not contain actual rulings but rather questions for the public that the agency will use to craft eventual rules, due in 2016.

Among the V2V technology NHTSA is attempting to regulate, the agency is specifically looking at crash-warning applications, including intersection movement assist and left turn assist. Both of those applications rely on messages obtained from sensors to detect and warn drivers of potential hazards during those actions.

The advanced notice asks commenters for their opinions on how the agency can educate the public about security and privacy aspects of the technology. The agency said in the advanced notice that it will issue a draft privacy impact assessment alongside a potential forthcoming regulatory proposal that would require V2V technology in new vehicles in the future.

“We will draw on the knowledge of security experts inside and outside government in devising that review,” the advanced notice said. “We invite knowledgeable commenters to address the questions […] to help ensure we are drawing on the full range of expertise in dealing with these issues.”

The advanced notice of rulemaking is currently up for public comment on regulations.gov.

Accompanying the notice of proposed rulemaking was a report from the agency on the potential effectiveness of the technology. According to the report, NHTSA’s standards have already reduced highway fatalities and injuries in the more than 40 years since its establishment in 1970.

“A significant number of annual crashes remain that could potentially be addressed through expanded use of more advanced crash avoidance technologies,” the report said. “The agency estimates there are approximately five million annual vehicle crashes with attendant property damage, injuries and fatalities. While it may seem obvious, if technology can help drivers avoid crashes, the damage due to crashes simply never occurs.”

Preliminary NHTSA estimates in the report for the V2V equipment and technology would cost approximately $350 per vehicle in 2020, but if the equipment becomes more commonplace, that price could reduce significantly by 2058.

The V2V communications systems currently transmit and receive messages in the 5.8-5.9 GHz frequency — that frequency is currently under Federal Communications Commission consideration on whether to allow Wi-Fi enabled technologies to operate in that same spectrum.

“More research needs to be done on whether these Wi-Fi enabled devices can share the spectrum successfully with V2V, and if so, how,” the report said.

But one of the main issues facing the implementation of V2V technologies is customer acceptance and maintenance.

“If consumers do not accept a required safety technology, the technology will not create the safety benefits that the agency expects,” the report said. “Rather than return to a dealership periodically for a download of new certificates, consumers may choose instead to live with non-functioning V2V capabilities.”

The report said the agency is looking into making these downloads automatic, but more research is required.

A November 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office said the technology faces a number of challenges, but ultimately the onus was on NHTSA to determine how to proceed with implementation and rulemaking with the issue.

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Feds working to overcome challenges, early failures in public-facing mobile apps http://fedscoop.com/feds-working-overcome-challenges-early-failures-public-facing-apps/ http://fedscoop.com/feds-working-overcome-challenges-early-failures-public-facing-apps/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:36:30 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62358 As agencies continually release public-facing mobile apps to better serve American citizens, the directors and strategists behind their creation are the first to admit there is room for improvement.

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As agencies continually release public-facing mobile apps to better serve American citizens, the directors and strategists behind their creation are the first to admit there is room for improvement.

“In my world, smartphone apps have failed. They have not lived up to their potential. And the reason for that is they’re easy to ignore, and they’re easy to delete,” said Erik Augustson, director of SmokeFree.gov with the National Cancer Institute, in reference to apps he’s worked with that use technologies to deliver behavioral interventions.

Despite an abundance of smartphone-wielding Americans, Augustson and his colleagues speaking at a panel during the Federal Mobile Computing Summit said they still struggle with user experience building mobile applications — that is, creating an app that is useful to a given audience.

User experience, though, varies greatly from agency to agency and app to app. For instance, Lisa Wolfisch, deputy director of the Census Bureau’s Center for New Media and Promotion, said her agency’s main concern when building its three recently-released apps — which are highly-touted within the federal space — was making a vast amount of information fit a tiny screen while keeping the user engaged.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Emergency Communications had very different concerns.

“How does an application that’s specifically used for fire, for example, get utilized with somebody who’s got thick gloves on their hands?” asked Alex Kreilein, technology policy strategist in DHS’s OEC. Likewise, he said, “Public safety often times works 10 to 12 hour shifts. A smartphone is not going to last that long.”

It’s not an easy task, but most agencies have user experience in its crosshairs and are working toward making more useable apps.

“At the end of the day, my work is about humans,” Augustson said. “So trying to strike this balance of creating a technology that is useful, it turns out, will probably be the main challenge that we face.”

For Kreilein and DHS, that means calling in the pros in the private sector to get outside of traditional government-think to produce thoughtful applications.

“We don’t build applications. In fact, I don’t ever want to build an application because I’m a really bad developer,” he said. “But more importantly than that, what we really want to do is get outside of the normal and traditional way for contracting and developing applications, but also we want to try to get outside the Beltway to get some development from the private sector corporation and individuals.”

Another strategy to build a better user experience is working with other agencies, essentially the job of panelist Joshua Parcell, manager of mobile programs for the General Service Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.

“One of the big pieces we’ve been working on is a crowdsourced testing program where feds are helping feds test mobile products,” Parcell said. His office acts as a community of practice to showcase and share the mobile projects of agencies governmentwide and assist them in their development. Another working project of Parcell’s is a “mobile code chop shop” to help agencies better their apps and then share that code with others who might find it useful.

Certain federal agencies have made progress entering the mobile space, but Parcell said there is one question they must ask if they want to be successful in chasing “an ever-moving target.”

“How is the user going to use a mobile app in a way that’s different?” he said. While agencies are beginning to realize that and have begun crafting better mobile practices, he said, “I don’t think any agency in the federal government has said ‘this is the perfect mobile strategy.’”

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DHS grant programs come under scrutiny in aftermath of Ferguson riots http://fedscoop.com/police-militarization-has-roots-in-dhs-grant-programs-not-pentagon/ http://fedscoop.com/police-militarization-has-roots-in-dhs-grant-programs-not-pentagon/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:29:27 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62351 The images coming out of Ferguson, Missouri, have put the pentagon on the defensive as mainstream media outlets question the department's program to transfer excess military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies. But the so-called militarization of local police departments may have less to do with the Pentagon and far more to do with post-9/11 Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism grant programs.

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The images coming out of Ferguson, Missouri, have put the Pentagon on the defensive as mainstream media outlets question the department’s program to transfer excess military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies. But the so-called militarization of local police departments may have less to do with the Defense Department and far more to do with post-9/11 Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism grant programs.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said during a press conference Tuesday the Defense Department’s program to transfer excess military equipment to local law enforcement agencies is an effort approved by Congress in existence since 1991. When asked what the police department in Ferguson had received, Kirby provided a list that did not include many of the military-style items that have been captured on video and in images during rioting that was sparked by the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer.

Since 2007, the Defense Logistics Agency has transferred “two humvees, one generator and one cargo trailer to the Ferguson Police Department,” Kirby said. “Now, in all of St. Louis County, over that same period of time, which includes Ferguson, six pistols, 12 rifles, 15 weapon sites, an EOD robot, three helicopters, seven humvees, as I said, two of which are being used by Ferguson, and two night-vision devices. That’s what they got.”

The BearCat armored vehicle is sold to law enforcement agencies around the country and is often financed through grant money provided by DHS. (Photo: Lenco)

The BearCat armored vehicle is sold to law enforcement agencies around the country and is often financed through grant money provided by DHS. (Photo: Lenco Armored Vehicles)

Photos from Ferguson show a police special operations unit manning sniper rifles atop a BearCat armored vehicle. The BearCat is manufactured by Lenco Armored Vehicles. With a price tag of more than $250,000, the armored vehicle is often acquired through grant applications. At press time, the Lenco website was down due to having reached its “bandwidth limit.”

But the body armor, ballistic helmets and shields and other specialized military-style clothing, such as battle dress uniforms, that are now commonplace across the country are part of the DHS Authorized Equipment List, from which  states can purchase the items through multiple homeland security grant programs, including the Urban Area Security Initiative, the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) and Operation Stonegarden. However, a review of the guidelines included with the DHS AEL shows that the department forbids the use of tactical law enforcement protective equipment purchased with funds from these grant programs for riot control.

“This item is for use only by specialized teams such as Tactical Entry or Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Teams,” reads the AEL listing for ballistic helmets. “Not for riot suppression.”

DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard said the agency’s money under the State Homeland Security and Urban Areas Security Initiative grant programs is governed by specific guidelines. “Local governments and municipalities have the authority to determine their needs and purchase equipment as prioritized by the State Administrative Agency (SAA) and the urban area,” Boogaard said in an email to FedScoop. “The SAA is also the only entity eligible to apply for these funds. [The Federal Emergency Management Agency's] annual grant guidance details specific guidelines and eligible expenses under each grant.”

The $401 million SHSP provides funds to every state, which can then be disbursed based on that state’s homeland security strategy for “planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise needs to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism and other catastrophic events.”

The UASI program made $587 million available in fiscal year 2014 to the 100 most populous metropolitan areas in the country. The specific amounts awarded to each city is determined by the relative risk of terrorist activity in those areas. The money can be used to “prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism.”

The state of Missouri received approximately $121 million in DHS grants from 2005 through 2007. As part of this effort, the state received $45.8 million in State Homeland Security Program grants and $51.3 million in Urban Areas Security Initiative grants.

But the increasing concerns about the militarization of local police departments is shedding light on one of the challenges facing DHS: the agency’s visibility into how states and localities are actually spending federal grant dollars, if the federal government is funding duplicative programs and if states are sufficiently justifying their expenditures.

Chris P. Currie, the acting director of Homeland Security and Justice at the Government Accountability Office, said FEMA, which manages the preparedness grant programs for DHS, has not always coordinated its processes for reviewing the large homeland security grant programs. Not only does FEMA run the risk of awarding duplicative grants, but the agency does not currently have detailed knowledge of how funds are actually spent, he said.

“By allowing the state administrative agencies to determine how the money is distributed [FEMA and DHS] give up some granularity in oversight,” Currie said in an interview with FedScoop. “They don’t have that level of detail on projects and purchases.”

DHS has distributed more than $20 billion in homeland security preparedness grants as of 2011.

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Good Technology gets DISA approval for iOS7 platform http://fedscoop.com/good-gets-disa-approval-ios7-platform/ http://fedscoop.com/good-gets-disa-approval-ios7-platform/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 12:00:50 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62301   Enterprise mobility management provider Good Technology has received approval for their Secure Technical Implementation Guide (STIG) from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), allowing the Department of Defense and other government agencies to use the company’s suite of mobility products on Apple’s iOS7 operating system. The STIG allows for the implementation of Good’s mobile device management system, mobile email management system, mobile application management and secure email. The platform provides the ability for app containerization, access to an enterprise app store and S/MIME support for both smart cards and derived credentials. Chris Roberts, global public sector vice president for…

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iPhone 5

Good Technology’s latest STIG will allow the Defense Department to securely use Apple iOS7 platform (Courtesy: Apple)

Enterprise mobility management provider Good Technology has received approval for their Secure Technical Implementation Guide (STIG) from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), allowing the Department of Defense and other government agencies to use the company’s suite of mobility products on Apple’s iOS7 operating system.

The STIG allows for the implementation of Good’s mobile device management system, mobile email management system, mobile application management and secure email. The platform provides the ability for app containerization, access to an enterprise app store and S/MIME support for both smart cards and derived credentials.

Chris Roberts, global public sector vice president for Good, says the U.S. Air Force and pockets of the U.S. Army that already have Good licenses have been asking to use their products with iOS devices for some time.

“There has been quite a bit of a push from a number of different entities inside the DOD to make sure that there was a way to implement iOS7 and Good together,” Roberts told FedScoop.  

The STIG is Good’s sixth since the company started working with DISA in 2006. The company now says its the only mobility provider to be validated on three separate operating systems: iOS, Android and Windows phone.

“The Department of Defense continues to be concerned with securing mobile devices and they turn to DISA to provide an outline of best practices for mobility,” said Nicko van Someren, chief technical officer at Good Technology, in a release. “This sixth STIG approval, coupled with Good Technology being the only EMM provider to be awarded the Common Criteria EAL4+ certification for iOS and Android…is another validation that government agencies can rely on Good for secure mobility, no matter which devices or operating systems are being deployed.”

Roberts says with the entirety of Good’s platform now through the STIG process, agencies can begin to embrace what mobility allows them to harness.

“What it really means is that we are getting people inside the DOD to move beyond just receiving email on devices, to being able to really focus on how to execute missions better,” Roberts says. “No matter whether its the DOD or the rest of the government, budgets are tight and demands are increasing and this really opens up their world to start thinking more about how to get to the things that are most important.”

 

 

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CDC outsources IT solutions to Dell for another 5 years http://fedscoop.com/cdc-dell/ http://fedscoop.com/cdc-dell/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 21:16:56 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62297 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tapped Dell Services Monday for a five-year, $120 million IT infrastructure support contract that will support life sciences research as the agency battles an unprecedented Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

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CDC scientist Carol Bolden examines microscopic slides showing Exserohilum rostratum during the 2012 multistate fungal meningitis outbreak investigation. (Credit: CDC)

CDC scientist Carol Bolden examines microscopic slides projected onto a computer screen. (Credit: CDC)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a five-year contract with Dell Services for IT infrastructure support services Monday, adding to an already 11-year-long relationship between the two.

Valued at more than $120 million, the contract will provide comprehensive IT solutions to support the life sciences research the agency performs to protect America and keep it secure from the harmful spread of disease and other health threats.

Despite the more than a decade of business with CDC, Dell Services was not just handed this contract on good merit, said George Newstrom, vice president of Dell Services Federal Government. “It’s not an extension. We had to re-compete for this business, and it was a full and open competition.”

Newstrom couldn’t go into specifics on the work his company would perform for CDC due to security concerns, but he did explain that much of Dell’s work in health care IT focuses on “service desks, high-tech desktop support, data center migration, customized applications, and we do a lot of [business process outsourcing] work as well.”

In addition to embedding “a couple hundred” Dell employees at CDC’s headquarters in Atlanta to operate its IT, Newstrom said Dell Services also provides health IT solutions to the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, while other parts of the company support larger health care companies, like Emblem Health and the American Red Cross.

Newstrom pointed out that in the more than 10 years Dell has worked with CDC, the way the agency operates has become much more global. Right now, for instance, its biggest challenge is taking place in West Africa battling the Ebola outbreak, for which it created a software application to track people exposed to the deadly virus.

“I don’t think you can pick up a paper or turn on a TV and not see them involved in something,” he said. “And while their mission is protecting the health care and security of U.S. citizens, it’s truly a global entity because of how diseases are spread, how quickly they can go, how vast they are.”

And that makes the role of the IT professionals at CDC an ever-expanding one, Newstrom said. On any given day “it could be the Ebola crisis or a desktop refresh they’re doing.”

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USDA awards loans to improve broadband in rural Midwest http://fedscoop.com/usda-awards-loans-improve-broadband-rural-midwest/ http://fedscoop.com/usda-awards-loans-improve-broadband-rural-midwest/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 20:28:21 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62329 The Agriculture Department awarded almost $40 million in loans Aug. 15 that will help bring new or improved broadband Internet service to some of the nation's most rural areas.

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The Agriculture Department awarded almost $40 million in loans Aug. 15 that will help bring new or improved broadband Internet service to some of the nation’s most rural areas.

Funded through the USDA Rural Utilities Service’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan Program, the improved service will go to parts of Minnesota, North Dakota and Texas.

Continuing a multi-million dollar grant made in 2010 to bring fiber-to-the-premises service to central North Dakota, the USDA awarded an additional $4.7 million loan to bring the same service to two towns in the eastern part of the state. A portion of that money will also go to Griggs County to improve its current exchange system for more than 600 of its subscribers.

Also in North Dakota, USDA awarded an $8.5 million loan to the Red River Rural Telephone Association, which will lay more than 140 miles of fiber-optic cable throughout towns on the state’s eastern border that will extend into western Minnesota.

With the loan, the telephone association will be able to complete the fiber-to-the-premises network project designed to “meet current and future requirements for voice, video and high-speed data services to subscribers,” according to a release.

In Texas, the USDA gave the Community Telephone Company a $26.4 million loan to replace an old system with a fiber-to-the-premises network. The company will also replace six exchanges in the northern central part of the state.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a release that access to broadband was essential to a rural community’s economic strength.

“It improves access to education and quality health care, and it leads to new jobs and business opportunities,” Vilsack said. “Broadband is part of everyday life in most of America and vital for economic success in the 21st century.”

In 2012, President Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing the White House Rural Council, which is tasked with addressing challenges in rural America and building on the administration’s rural economic strategy.

Last month, Vilsack and the council announced a $10 billion Rural Infrastructure Opportunity fund that would join the department’s more than $200 billion in direct and guaranteed loans for its rural development program.

The opportunity fund focuses on investments for hospitals, schools, water systems, energy projects, food systems and broadband expansion.

“Rural America cannot be left out,” Vilsack said.

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The Achampong theorem of life at NSA http://fedscoop.com/the-achampong-theorem-of-life-at-nsa/ http://fedscoop.com/the-achampong-theorem-of-life-at-nsa/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 19:43:37 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62295 Christina Achampong, an operations researcher at NSA, says "whatever happens in the world can be modeled as a math problem.”

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Wondering what it’s like to work at the National Security Agency, one of the most secretive intelligence agencies in the world, is nothing new for most people. But wondering what it’s like in the aftermath of an unprecedented security breach that has fed a campaign to demonize the agency and its employees is an entirely different proposition. To understand that, you have to have lived it — you have to have had your patriotism and common decency challenged on the front page of nearly every dying newspaper in the world.

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Christina Achampong, an operations researcher at NSA, says “whatever happens in the world can be modeled as a math problem.”

Christina Achampong knows what that’s like. The 30-year old operations researcher has applied her mathematics expertise at NSA since 2009. She describes her experience working at the agency as “wonderful.” But there was that one moment, shortly after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden disclosed thousands of classified documents detailing NSA’s operations around the world, when the mainstream media began painting the agency with the broad strokes of an evil empire bent on destroying liberty that Achampong and her colleagues felt the need to pause and think about what was being said about them.

“I did have that moment of ‘Is this true? Is this who we really are? Are we who they say we are?’” Achampong told FedScoop in an exclusive interview at NSA’s headquarters. “I think that everybody must have had that moment of introspection. I know that they must have had the same moment. You could feel it. I came to the understanding that the answer was a resounding no. No.”

There it was. Long before the newly-appointed NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers had issued his current marching orders to stick to the facts and not apologize to anybody for being a part of NSA, Achampong and her colleagues had put the noise of Washington, D.C.’s media echo chamber behind them. “Surprisingly, it sort of cemented my resolve. We seemed to have doubled-down in our commitment and we’re all as passionate as ever,” she said. “It’s unfortunate, it’s hurtful, and it’s hard sometimes from day to day when it’s constantly something else and something else. But we all still come to work, and we all still do our job, and we’re not going anywhere.”

From puzzles to the puzzle palace

As a young girl, Achampong loved numbers, puzzles and problem solving. Her mother bought her math workbooks with stickers in the middle that she got to use as a reward for answering correctly. “While most parents would bring coloring books along to keep their kids quiet, my mom would bring those. And I would just sit wherever [we were] and do word problems for hours and be perfectly happy,” Achampong recalled. “That was always my thing. To this day, I still can’t color very well.”

Not surprisingly, math was her strength in high school. She scored 710 out of 800 on her math SAT, which sent her on her way to eventually earning a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from Drexel University. By 2009, Achampong had earned dual master’s degrees in industrial engineering and operations research at Pennsylvania State University.

She recalls attending a conference for operations research professionals shortly after graduation. To her surprise, the conference hosted a job fair. And there, at its own booth, was the NSA.

“I didn’t even have a resume on me,” she recalled. “I don’t think there’s anybody who is looking for a career in math that doesn’t come across NSA. Whatever you do in math, they do it here.”

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“I don’t think there’s anybody who is looking for a career in math that doesn’t come across NSA. Whatever you do in math, they do it here,” said Christina Achampong, an operations researcher at NSA.

What she didn’t know then, however, was NSA’s need for operations researchers — professionals who specialize in an advanced mathematics field that deals with optimal decision making. Achampong had found a home in an organization with the highest-concentration of mathematics experts in the world. She was a direct hire, which means she didn’t go through one of the agency’s development programs.

“I went directly into a full time organization where the entire mission of the organization was to do operations research work. Just about everybody there was an operations researcher or industrial engineer or mathematician,” she said.

Operations research at NSA 

Operations researchers are employed in virtually all areas within NSA, but the largest pool of operations researchers sits in the Technology Directorate’s Systems Engineering division, working in teams of two or three. When asked to describe what type of mathematics operations researchers use, Achampong kindly tries to explain the advanced mathematical concepts in layman’s terms even a journalist can understand.

“We solve decision analysis problems for the NSA,” she said. “Operations research is specifically about optimal decisionmaking…optimal in the mathematical sense. There are several fundamental math disciplines that support operations research, namely linear algebra. What we do is take a problem as it’s expressed to us and mathematically model it. So, we translate the problem into math. Whatever happens in the world can be modeled as a math problem.”

But operations research is multidisciplinary — you might need to use simulation or mathematical modeling or statistical analysis, according to Achampong. “Some problems may require regression analysis, or linear programming or integer programming. For the most part in decision analysis I’ve dealt with weighted sums,” she said.

weightedSum

Technical recruiting & service

In addition to her work in operations research, Achampong also does technical recruiting for the agency. Put simply, she’s the recruiter who can tell the posers from the real experts. And when it comes to recruiting the world’s best talent, she has a simple message for them. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, you haven’t done this,” she said, referring to the challenging and rewarding work she does at NSA.

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“We protect this nation,” Achampong said, tears welling up in her eyes. “And I don’t know how much of what I say people will believe, but they can believe that.”

But the next generation of mathematical talent is also important, both to NSA and to Achampong personally. So she spends a lot of time volunteering throughout Baltimore County schools in Maryland co-teaching an Algebra II class.

So what do junior high school and college level students think about the NSA?

“In the classrooms…at the eighth grade level, they’re just still fascinated to know that everything their teacher has been teaching them all year is something real and is actually something you use,” Achampong said.

However from new college graduates, the majority of the questions she receives involve lifestyle issues. “At the collegiate level they
want to know what is it like to not be able to carry your cell phone in the building? How has this impacted your social life? Is there flexible time? Do I have to work 8-to-5? Even [with the big issues facing the nation and the debate about NSA's role and mission] those are the majority of the questions.”

The questions Achampong receives from college students researching their first career reflects more on the idiosyncrasies of a generation defined by the iPhone and social media than it does on work environment at NSA. “The work here is so rewarding. I’m sure that after a while [the mantra of we protect this nation] starts to sound like a talking point. But we protect this nation,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. “And I don’t know how much of what I say people will believe, but they can believe that. I’m sorry,” Achampong said, pausing to regain her composure.

“To know that you get to work with people who are years ahead of their fields who will never be able to publish. The sacrifices that are made.”

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