FedScoop » News http://fedscoop.com Federal technology news and events Tue, 02 Sep 2014 21:51:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Obama proposes 1 percent pay raise for federal employees http://fedscoop.com/potus-orders-one-percent-wage-increase-civilian-federal-employees/ http://fedscoop.com/potus-orders-one-percent-wage-increase-civilian-federal-employees/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 21:50:27 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62735 President Obama last week proposed raising wages for civilian federal employees by at least one percent in 2015, a move that could prevent a higher increase from taking effect automatically under federal law.

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President Obama last week proposed raising wages for civilian federal employees by at least one percent in 2015, a move that could prevent a higher increase from taking effect automatically under federal law.

Under Title 5 of the United States Code, the president is authorized to establish an alternative pay plan to increase pay for civilian federal employees in the general schedule and other pay plans. President Obama also sent a letter establishing a one percent increase for uniformed services. Although Congress has the authority to block Obama’s proposal, it must act to do so before Jan. 1.

“I have determined that it is appropriate to exercise my statutory alternative plan authority […] to set alternative January 2015 across-the-board and locality pay adjustments,” the president said in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Vice President Joe Biden. “As the country’s economic recovery continues, we must maintain efforts to keep our Nation on a sustainable fiscal course,” Obama wrote. “This is an effort that continues to require tough choices and each of us to do our fair share.”

The pay increase would supplant the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act (FEPCA), which allows for an automatic annual adjustment in wages under the Labor Department’s Employment Cost Index – a formula different than the Consumer Price Index, despite being prepared by the same department.

The FEPCA-established wage adjustment is automatically applied every year unless either Congress or the president acts to adjust it. If Congress does nothing to block President Obama’s one percent increase for 2015, the increase will take effect for the first applicable pay period after Jan. 1, 2015.

If neither the president nor Congress act before the end of the year, under the ECI formula, wages will increase by 1.3 percent for civilian federal employees.

The increase will be the second federal employee wage boost in two years. In December 2013, Obama signed an executive order to increase federal employee wages by one percent, ending the previous three-year pay freeze.

Although some may argue that any increase is better than no increase at all, Tim Kauffman, a communications specialist at the American Federation for Government Employees, told FedScoop in a phone interview that the increase does not go far enough.

“We think the one percent raise does not go far enough to make up for years of no pay raises,” Kauffman said. “The new one percent really doesn’t make up for the ground that federal employees have lost.”

Kauffman did, however, praise a proposal put forth by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., in March that would increase federal civilian wages by 3.3 percent.

“We’re grateful for House and Senate lawmakers for their proposal of a 3.3 percent increase,” Kauffman said. “The good news is that employees will receive at least a one percent pay raise, which is better than the alternative of no pay raise.”

Connolly’s proposal, the Federal Adjustment of Income Rates Act, would start to make up for a three-year wage freeze, he said in a statement.

“After a three-year wage freeze, wage-reducing work furloughs, sequester cuts and a government shutdown, our nation’s dedicated federal employees deserve fair compensation,” Connolly said. “Not only has our federal workforce been demonized and demoralized by the constant attacks from the House majority and the Tea Party, over the last four years federal wages have lagged far behind the private sector and have even failed to keep up with the rate of inflation.”

Both AFGE and the National Treasury Employees Union, another leading federal employee organization, have endorsed Connolly’s proposal, which was cosponsored by fellow Democratic Reps. Jim Moran of Virginia, Elijah Cummings of Maryland and John Tierney of Massachusetts.

Connolly’s version and a similar Senate version have been referred to committee and have stayed there since being introduced.

The White House did not provide a comment by publication time.

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NASA to refresh memory on Mars Opportunity rover http://fedscoop.com/mars-opportunity-rover-nasa-flash-memory/ http://fedscoop.com/mars-opportunity-rover-nasa-flash-memory/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 17:00:46 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62713 In the coming days, NASA will be reformatting Opportunity's onboard flash memory, which has been getting in the way of the rover's science missions.

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Mars Opportunity Rover

A self-portrait of NASA’s Mars Opportunity Rover, taken in March 2014. Opportunity will be undergoing a reformat after scientists tried to reset its internal memory. (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.)

NASA’s Mars Opportunity Rover was only slated to work a three-month mission on the red planet, yet it has been in operation for more than a decade. Even Earth-bound computer systems need to undergo maintenance every now and again, let alone one that has been operating for 10 years approximately 125 million miles from Earth.

In the coming days, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be reformatting Opportunity’s onboard system in order to wipe flash memory, which has been getting in the way of the rover’s science missions. The flash memory has become worn out from repeated use, causing the team at NASA’s JPL to reset Opportunity’s systems a dozen times last month.

“Worn-out cells in the flash memory are the leading suspect in causing these resets,” said John Callas, project manager for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Project, in a statement. “The flash reformatting is a low-risk process, as critical sequences and flight software are stored elsewhere in other non-volatile memory on the rover.”

Opportunity’s flash memory, which works similar to how smartphones store photos or songs, hasn’t been reset since launching in 2004. Five years ago, NASA performed a similar reboot on Opportunity’s companion unit, Spirit, to stop a series of “amnesia events” that plagued the rover.

NASA will download all of the useful data on Opportunity and then place the vehicle in a “safe mode” while the reformat takes place.

The team also plans to reprogram the unit’s communication sessions in order to give it a slower but more reliable data transfer system. NASA has given considerable attention to data transfer projects in the past few weeks, with a request for information that called for commercial options to build cost-effective data relay orbiters that closed Aug. 23.

NASA’s rover project is part of an ongoing mission that plans to send a human to Mars in the 2030s.

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VA planning aggressive replacement of scheduling system http://fedscoop.com/va-planning-aggressive-replacement-scheduling-system/ http://fedscoop.com/va-planning-aggressive-replacement-scheduling-system/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 16:34:14 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62708 The Veterans Affairs Department plans to complete proposal evaluations and award a contract for a commercial patient scheduling system by the end of the year, the VA official in charge of the program told FedScoop.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to complete proposal evaluations and award a contract for a commercial patient scheduling system by the end of the year, the VA official in charge of the program told FedScoop.

Under fire on all fronts stemming from technical glitches and deliberate manipulation of the scheduling system that resulted in veterans not receiving timely care and even dying while awaiting care, VA has embarked upon a massive upgrade and replacement effort that officials refer to as “flooding the zone.” The approach involves an array of IT projects covering immediate, short-term and long-term objectives designed to improve the scheduling system as soon as possible.

Steve Schliesman, assistant deputy chief Information officer for project management at the Department of Veterans Affairs. (Photo: LinkedIn)

Steve Schliesman, assistant deputy chief information officer for project management at the Department of Veterans Affairs. (Photo: LinkedIn)

VA has completed more than 600 updates to its main electronic health record system, known as the Veterans Integrated System Technology Architecture (VistA). “And we continue to do that,” Steve Schliesman, the agency’s new assistant deputy chief information officer for project management and product development, said in an exclusive interview with FedScoop. “Right now we have 11 critical ones that we’re currently working and tracking on a day-to-day basis, fixing and addressing current shortfalls in the system to help provide immediate relief.”

A major part of the immediate effort stems from a recent VistA scheduling enhancements contract, which introduces a resource management dashboard, an aggregated clinical scheduling view and a single queue of the request lists. “So instead of … multiple different wait lists this aggregates all of the views into one single list so [each scheduler] knows they’re collectively working off of one authoritative list,” Schliesman said.

But the contract for a new commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) scheduling module, known as the Medical Appointment Scheduling System, will be a highly complex undertaking that VA plans to tackle in increments, with the first round of new functionality deployed within six months of awarding the contract. The key, however, will be to deploy new COTS features without breaking the existing system that schedulers rely on to manage more than 260,000 patient appointments every day.

“When you look at the complexity of the scheduling module, it has 41 legacy packages that it’s dependent on and 71 legacy packages dependent on the scheduling module. So by using these discreet chunks of functionality, if it works, it stays,” Schliesman said.

VistA’s scheduling module plays a fundamental role in the larger cycle of patient care and VA operations. VistA scheduling not only gets veterans appointments, but the data generated by the scheduling system is critical to the long-term management of VA’s medical practices and finances. Everything from health trends in specific populations of veterans to the amount of federal reimbursements provided to individual VA clinics is tied to the VistA scheduling system. Adding to the importance of a robust scheduling module are VA’s plans for telehealth, an army of offline home-care providers in remote locations for extended periods of time and the agency’s plans for mobile and Web-based self-service applications.

Officials are mum on the contract’s potential value, citing concerns that whenever a number is leaked, all industry proposals tend to come in at that precise figure. But Schliesman did acknowledge that there may be related infrastructure upgrade costs associated with the new system and that proposals—due by the end of October, as long as the RFP remains on schedule—will be required to undergo a full-blown proof-of-concept demonstration before being phased into live deployments. VA plans to conduct technical evaluations and complete demonstrations by mid-December, just weeks prior to awarding the contract.

Schliesman acknowledged that the evaluation time will be based on the number of proposals VA receives. The agency, however, has planned for a two-phased evaluation period. The first phase will involve a technical evaluation of each proposal. “But then adding an additional complexity of requiring that we actually conduct a demonstration, having [the vendor] demonstrate the capabilities of the system so we can actually see it as a proof of concept,” Schliesman said. “We should be able to see upfront the viability of the proposal based upon them bringing in the capabilities that exist.”

The demonstration phase would be conducted outside of VA’s networks, Schliesman said. But once the approach has been validated, it would be pushed out to pilot sites at VA facilities.

“We’re not asking our veterans and schedulers to wait for relief while we do this. What’s been missing in the press is the other efforts that have gone into correcting the immediate needs of the current system, enhancing the short-term capabilities of the apps and Web interfaces and even the work on the VistA schedule enhancements. We have work going on while this acquisition is running in parallel,” Schliesman said.” We’re not trying to delay any process. We want to get relief to the veterans as fast as we can. At the same time, we’re investing in the future evolution of the VA. So it’s got to be done right.”

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CBP CTO Wolf Tombe on lowering the cost of government with IT http://fedscoop.com/cbp-cto-wolf-tombe-lowering-cost-government/ http://fedscoop.com/cbp-cto-wolf-tombe-lowering-cost-government/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 16:06:15 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62720 Wolf Tombe, chief technology officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, discusses how his agency is using IT to lower the cost of operations.

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Wolf Tombe, chief technology officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, discusses how his agency is using IT to lower the cost of operations.

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BREAKING: Dave McClure headed to cyber firm Veris Group http://fedscoop.com/dave-mcclure-story/ http://fedscoop.com/dave-mcclure-story/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 13:03:59 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62689 Months after announcing his departure from the General Services Administration, Dave McClure is set to join cybersecurity provider Veris Group as chief strategist.

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Months after announcing his departure from the General Services Administration, Dave McClure is set to join Virginia-based cybersecurity provider Veris Group as chief strategist.mcclure

McClure, who served as associate administrator for GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies from 2009 until 2014, will work with state and federal agencies as Veris Group’s chief strategist to implement cloud solutions, according to a release.

During his time at GSA, McClure played a role in the implementation of the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) for standardizing and securing agencies’ cloud efforts and the development of of USA.gov, Data.gov and other cloud-hosted websites.

With more than 25 years of federal IT experience under his belt, McClure will look to leverage his knowledge and relationships in that space to help key stakeholders solidify and grow their IT stature. Before he joined GSA, McClure spent 18 years with the Government Accountability Office conducting IT reviews of major agencies.

“I am excited to join such a dynamic company with great leadership and a superb reputation in cyber and cloud support services,” McClure said in a statement. “I look forward to navigating the changing federal IT market dynamics and advancing existing and new services with industry partners.”

McClure was well-regarded by his colleagues at GSA for his work as a digital pioneer for both the agency and the federal government. Casey Coleman, former GSA CIO who worked with him closely, told FedScoop when McClure announced his federal departure that he was the model IT executive.

“Dave is someone who is smart as far as knowing the technology in the field, and smart in terms of being able to work very effectively with people,” Coleman said. “He can take a complex project like FedRAMP and evolve it from an abstract concept into reality. He’s the perfect model for what an executive in this role should look like.”

Though he’s moving to the private sector, McClure’s impact on the federal government will be a lasting one, according to GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini.

“Since Dave McClure joined GSA, he has played an invaluable role in making this agency a leader in digital innovation for the entire federal government,” Tangherlini said. “He has left a strong foundation that everyone at GSA, and the entire federal government, can build on in the years to come.”

McClure won’t have to stray too far from Washington, D.C., and his federal roots — Veris Group is located in Vienna, Virginia, and maintains a huge Washington presence.

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The cognitive cloud? IBM rolls out Watson-as-a-service http://fedscoop.com/watson-cloud/ http://fedscoop.com/watson-cloud/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 03:34:51 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62691 People who use cloud computing on a regular basis are familiar with the suite of "as-a-service" options: Infrastructure-as-a-service, Software-as-a-service, Platform-as-a-service. IBM is ready to introduce another: Watson-as-a-service.

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Watson

Scott Spangler, principal data scientist for IBM Watson Innovations, demonstrates how IBM Watson cognitive technology can now visually display connections in scientific literature and drug information. In this image, Watson displays protein pathways that can help researchers accelerate scientific breakthroughs by spotting linkages that were previously undetected. (Jon Simon/Feature Photo Service for IBM)

People who use cloud computing on a regular basis are familiar with the suite of “as-a-service” options: infrastructure-as-a-service, software-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service. IBM is ready to introduce another: Watson-as-a-service.

IBM announced last week it has moved its cognitive computing system into the cloud to form the Watson Discovery Advisor, allowing researchers, academics and anyone else trying to leverage big data the ability to test programs and hypotheses at speeds never before seen.

Since Watson is built to understand the nuance of natural language, this new service allows researchers to process millions of data points normally impossible for humans to handle. This can reduce project timelines from years to weeks or days.

“We’re entering an extraordinary age of data-driven discovery,” said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president for IBM Watson Group, in a release. “[This] announcement is a natural extension of Watson’s cognitive computing capability. We’re empowering researchers with a powerful tool which will help increase the impact of investments organizations make in R&D, leading to significant breakthroughs.”

IBM has been honing Watson’s capabilities over the last three years, reducing its size and upping its power since its famous appearance on “Jeopardy!” in 2011. The Watson of today is drastically different, operating at 24 times its power from Jeopardy while shrinking 90 times smaller. Earlier this year, IBM invested $1 billion into the project to form the Watson Group, with $100 million going to entrepreneurs and companies to build applications to run on Waston.

“I think there have been a number of ways that we have improved the system since Jeopardy,” said John Gordon, vice president of IBM Watson Systems. “What you saw on Jeopardy was a system that could provide answers to questions. While the range of topics was very broad, there was always a relatively succinct question and succinct answer. In the phase after Jeopardy, through the beginning of this year, we were validating that we could extend the technology from doing a broad set of fairly straightforward questions to do some real important commercial cases. Based on the results with that, we validated this was very possible.”

A few ongoing research projects are already leveraging Watson’s new capabilities. A peer-reviewed study released last week by the Baylor College of Medicine identified a protein that modifies another protein related to many cancers, giving doctors a chance to fine-tune drug efficacy or create new treatments. The study was completed in part due to Watson’s ability to process 70,000 scientific articles about the protein, a feat that researchers could only dream to accomplish. According to the National Institutes of Health, a typical researcher only has time to read about 300 studies per year.

“Even if I’m reading five papers a day, it could take me 38 years to completely understand all of the research already available today on this protein,” said Dr. Olivier Lichtarge, the principal investigator and professor at Baylor College of Medicine. “Watson has demonstrated the potential to accelerate the rate and the quality of breakthrough discoveries.”

The Watson Discovery Advisor team has also been used in research projects for Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi and New York’s Genome center, processing millions of scientific papers in order to shave months off completion dates.

IBM believes in Watson’s capabilities beyond medical laboratories, finding applicable use cases in everything from finance to law to restaurant kitchens. Gordon, who formerly worked on IBM’s Smarter Cities project, believes Watson can help close a digital divide that will allow governments to better serve their constituents.

“Part of Smarter Cities was working with different municipalities and governments to determine how technology could help them provide better services to their constituents,” Gordon said. “One of the things that became apparent to me was the digital divide between those who were able to use technology and those who were not. Watson, to me, represented the beginnings of computing systems that didn’t require people to conform to technology. So I really thought of Watson as propelling more people into the information economy across all of the ways we help citizens. I think Watson will bridge that digital divide.”

With a combination of power never before released at a scale that is now widely accessible, Gordon believes Watson serves as a tipping point for cognitive computing.

“We are at the absolute beginning of this cognitive era of computing,” Gordon said. “I expect it to go on for the next 50 years. This could be more transformative than when we saw the Internet come forward and drive connectivity. Systems that can learn, systems that we can teach and that can help us not only understand the information around us, but inspire us to be more creative and drive innovation. I think we are just at the very beginning of this, but with our ecosystem and opening it up to the entrepreneurial base, I’m sure the ingenuity of all the people that are going to have the ability to integrate with Watson will build up solutions we’ve never even considered before.”

 

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SEC’s outgoing CIO reflects on IT successes, future challenges for commission http://fedscoop.com/secs-outgoing-cio-reflects-successes-future-challenges-commission/ http://fedscoop.com/secs-outgoing-cio-reflects-successes-future-challenges-commission/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 20:03:14 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62687 Bayer’s departure four years after taking over the CIO spot came at a natural time, he said. A release from the SEC said he'll say his goodbyes in October.

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SEC’s CIO, Thomas Bayer, will leave his post in October and return to the private sector.

When Thomas Bayer arrived at the Securities and Exchange Commission, the agency’s IT infrastructure was underfunded and inefficient. Now, four years later, as Bayer prepares to leave his position as the chief information officer, the commission is saving money yearly on its operating and maintenance budget and investing that money back into new IT initiatives.

“I got there just after the financial crisis had occurred,” Bayer said. “I was blessed with having good funding from Congress and commitment from my chairman and the commission that they would invest heavily in information technology in order to modernize and transform the SEC.”

Over the next four years, Bayer and his team led an effort to reduce the agency’s data center footprint from 30,000 square feet to 3,000 square feet by introducing a public cloud to host some of the agency’s systems as well as its website.

In 2010, when Bayer came on board as CIO of SEC, the agency’s website was receiving about 100 million hits a month. Now, the site receives more than 2 billion hits per month.

“That was a dramatic change,” Bayer, a FedScoop FedMentor, said. “We outsourced [the website] to the cloud and that allowed us to reduce our bandwidth by 37 percent. We had faster page refreshes and better security from a denial-of-service perspective.”

During his tenure at SEC, Bayer helped create the agency’s IT transformation plan – an ongoing strategy that promotes service agility, data transparency and simplification. The principles of the plan help the agency reform its IT infrastructure centers around the “working smarter” principle, Bayer said.

By working smarter, the agency saved $18.8 million in O&M costs last year under Bayer’s watch. Those savings weren’t sent somewhere else in the agency, Bayer said, but instead used to invest in other IT projects.

“All that money that we save goes into building new infrastructure or building new applications for the SEC,” Bayer said. “We’re not cutting it and moving it into some other spot within the SEC, we’re continuing to invest it in IT in order to continue to transform the SEC.”

Bayer’s departure four years after taking over the CIO spot came at a natural time, he said. A release from the SEC said he’ll say his goodbyes in October.

“I felt like the program was in a really good place,” Bayer said. “I’ve got great staff, I have great customers, everyone understands the importance of how technology can transform the SEC. I feel really comfortable leaving the program at this time.”

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done, Bayer said. Although he wished he had been able to complete it during his tenure, the next SEC CIO will continue the IT transformation agenda.

“This is the time to go,” he said. “I really wish that we could’ve accomplished all of [the IT transformation], because as we accomplish our goals in that transition, we find that our staff works more efficiently and effectively.”

After SEC, Bayer doesn’t necessarily know what is next for him; however, the CIO will leave the agency in October and is exploring a return to the private sector, where he worked before he came to the federal government. There’s no word yet on a successor either, Bayer said.

“We want to find a better CIO than Tom Bayer,” the outgoing CIO said. “[I would tell my successor] you have a wonderful team, you have a wonderful group of people that really want to execute based upon the direction that you give.”

In addition to tackling the IT transformation agenda, Bayer said the next CIO will need to continue to increase the agency’s capability to analyze data in real time to look for risk outliers and other attributes.

In a statement released last week, SEC Chair Mary Jo White said Bayer’s impact will be felt at the agency into the future.

“Tom’s leadership and vision have had a tremendous impact that will continue to shape the SEC for years to come,” White said. “Tom’s legacy will be an SEC that increasingly leverages technology to protect investors and strengthen our markets.”

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Energy Department looking to hire chief data officer http://fedscoop.com/energy-department-looking-hire-chief-data-officer/ http://fedscoop.com/energy-department-looking-hire-chief-data-officer/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 18:36:08 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62682 The rise of federal Chief Data Officer continues to grow. The Energy Department has an open job posting, looking to hire a chief data officer in two weeks.

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The Energy Department is seeking a chief data officer, according to a job posting on USAJobs.gov.

The chief data officer will be responsible for managing the department’s open data efforts, establishing agencywide data policies regarding privacy, security and confidentiality and will represent the agency in working groups with the federal chief information officer and chief technology officer.

The position will operate out of the Energy’s Germantown, Maryland, headquarters, as well as the Washington, D.C., office. Salary ranges from $120,749 to $181,500 per year.

The posting comes as the rise of the chief data officer continues in the federal government. Last month, former consultant Dan Morgan started as the Transportation Department’s first-ever CDO. Shortly thereafter, Commerce Department Secretary Penny Pritzker announced a search for her own department’s CDO.

Several other government outlets also employ CDOs, including the National Institutes of Health, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Army.

The Energy Department seems to be moving quickly with the hire, with the posting’s open period set to close Sept. 12.

 

 

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FTC announces awards for hackers who want to silence robocalls http://fedscoop.com/robocalls-ftc-zapping-rachel/ http://fedscoop.com/robocalls-ftc-zapping-rachel/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 22:00:50 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62641 There is a wide swath of America beyond tired of hearing from “Rachel from Cardholder Services.” On the other hand, the Federal Trade Commission is happy to hear from Rachel time and time again. Earlier this month, the FTC, along with the help of DEF CON attendees, created ways to attract and gather data on “Rachel” — a notorious automated telemarketing scheme known as a “robocall” — so law enforcement and researchers can figure out what makes robocalling still so prevalent despite the existence of a national “Do Not Call” list. The FTC announced the winners of its “Zapping Rachel”…

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Hackers have helped the FTC come up with a way to study 'Rachel from cardholder services.'

Hackers have helped the FTC come up with a way to study ‘Rachel from cardholder services.’

There is a wide swath of America beyond tired of hearing from “Rachel from Cardholder Services.” On the other hand, the Federal Trade Commission is happy to hear from Rachel time and time again.

Earlier this month, the FTC, along with the help of DEF CON attendees, created ways to attract and gather data on “Rachel” — a notorious automated telemarketing scheme known as a “robocall” — so law enforcement and researchers can figure out what makes robocalling still so prevalent despite the existence of a national “Do Not Call” list.

The FTC announced the winners of its “Zapping Rachel” challenge Thursday, which saw 13 different submissions spread out over three phases aimed at creating a next-generation “honeypot” that gathers data for law enforcement and researchers to analyze.

“Instead of trying to block the calls, we actually welcome them,” said Patricia Hsue, staff attorney for the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We want the calls to come in because we want more information about who is making these calls, how often they call, what numbers are they calling. The more we know about robocallers and how they operate and what tactics they use, the more we are going to be able to tailor our law enforcement and other policies to attack the problem.”

Phase 1 winner, Ape Security CEO Jon Olawski, was awarded a $3,133.70 prize for constructing the winning honeypot, using a combination of an audio captcha filter, call detail analysis, and recording and transcription analysis to determine incoming robocalls.

Phase 2 was geared more toward learning how robocallers avoid calling honeypots. The winning entry, created by Jan Voltzke, CEO of mobile security company Numbercop, created a four-step process that not only avoided calling a honeypot, but optimized the way to perpetuate robocalls on unsuspecting consumers. Voltzke also won $3,133.70.

The Phase 3 winner was a two-person team consisting of a data scientist from video game company Blizzard Entertainment, which built an algorithm that measured the number of robocalls made, whether the number called was toll-free and the time of the call, which helped identify likely robocalls. The FTC also declared two honorable mentions, which also worked in average length of call and whether the robocall was searching for toll-free numbers. The winning team split $3,133.70 while each honorable mention received $1,337. 

Hsue said the FTC does not plan to use the winning solutions in its own practices but hopes they serve as a catalyst for products that can abusive and fraudulent behavior brought on by robocalls.

“Our hope is that people already working on the problem will take the ideas were generated from this contest and be able to implement it into their own design” Hsue said “If the winners want to go ahead and continue working on the problem, that would be fantastic. If other people that are already working on the problem could improve upon the products they already have or generate new products, that would be fantastic, too.”

The winning entries are all open source, with the FTC expected to post at least parts of the winning submissions in the future.  However, Phase 3 looks to already be online via the winner’s GitHub page.

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GSA picks Valiant for enterprise IT security contract http://fedscoop.com/gsa-picks-valiant-secure/ http://fedscoop.com/gsa-picks-valiant-secure/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 21:55:42 +0000 http://fedscoop.com/?p=62615 The General Services Administration this week awarded Valiant Solutions a $33 million contract to serve as the agency's first line of enterprisewide defense against cyber attacks.

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The General Services Administration this week awarded Valiant Solutions a $33 million contract to serve as the agency’s first line of enterprisewide defense against cyber attacks.

A Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZone) certified small business, Valiant specializes in information security services commercially and in government, with experience deploying its services within the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor and other agencies. Valiant earned GSA Schedule 70 recognition in March as a certified industry partner to provide services to agencies.

According to Valiant CEO Matt Raydo, his company has been working with GSA since 2008, which he said gives it a better understanding of the agency and its desires for consolidating its IT security.

In a blog post announcing the contract, GSA said it will work with Valiant to “to improve GSA’s security posture through real time security operations and proactive policy, training, and governance activities. These actions will improve the ability to prevent intrusion and loss of critical data present on GSA networks.”

Specifically, Raydo said in an email to FedScoop, “the scope of the project includes Program Management, Security Operations, Security Engineering, Information System Security and Policy and Compliance support. It is Valiant’s goal over the next 5 years to work closely with GSA leadership to further streamline and consolidate security activities.”

Key to this contract is not just preventing attacks from happening but also responding to the threats — both inside and outside the agency — properly, GSA’s blog post explained.

“As cyber attacks become more sophisticated and advanced persistent threats multiply, preventing attacks is only one step in creating a secure enterprise,” states the post, authored by GSA Communications Manager Cara Battaglini. “Just as important is how an agency responds to a cyber security incident. A key component of this task order will be providing the forensic services to carry out a full investigation of major security events and prevent attempted attacks from disrupting agency priorities.”

Valiant’s award comes about a year after GSA helped facilitate a blanket purchase agreement for the Department of Homeland Security with 17 contract teams to provide continuous diagnostics and mitigation to agencies throughout governments of all levels. Valiant was a subcontractor on that $6 billion award to help agencies at all government levels combat cyber threats in real time.

The GSA did not comment by publication time.

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