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June 16 2012

June 18, 2012




Pentagon to soon deploy pint-sized but lethal Switchblade drones

The drones, which U.S. officials hope will help reduce civilian casualties in war zones, pack tiny explosive warheads that can destroy targets with pinpoint accuracy.


By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times

June 11, 2012, 5:00 a.m.


Seeking to reduce civilian casualties and collateral damage, the Pentagon will soon deploy a new generation of drones the size of model planes, packing tiny explosive warheads that can be delivered with pinpoint accuracy.

Errant drone strikes have been blamed for killing and injuring scores of civilians throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan, giving the U.S. government a black eye as it targets elusive terrorist groups. The Predator and Reaper drones deployed in these regions typically carry 100-pound laser-guided Hellfire missiles or 500-pound GPS-guided smart bombs that can reduce buildings to smoldering rubble.

The new Switchblade drone, by comparison, weighs less than 6 pounds and can take out a sniper on a rooftop without blasting the building to bits. It also enables soldiers in the field to identify and destroy targets much more quickly by eliminating the need to call in a strike from large drones that may be hundreds of miles away.

“This is a precision strike weapon that causes as minimal collateral damage as possible,” said William I. Nichols, who led the Army‘s testing effort of the Switchblades at Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Ala.

The 2-foot-long Switchblade is so named because its wings fold into the fuselage for transport and spring out after launch. It is designed to fit into a soldier’s rucksack and is fired from a mortar-like tube. Once airborne, it begins sending back live video and GPS coordinates to a hand-held control set clutched by the soldier who launched it.

When soldiers identify and lock on a target, they send a command for the drone to nose-dive into it and detonate on impact. Because of the way it operates, the Switchblade has been dubbed the “kamikaze drone.”

The Obama administration, notably the CIA, has long been lambasted by critics for its use of combat drones and carelessly killing civilians in targeted strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia. In 2010, a United Nations official said the CIA in Pakistan had made the United States “the most prolific user of targeted killings” in the world.

In recent weeks, White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked about the issue at a recent news briefing, and he said the Obama administration is committed to reducing civilian casualties.

Although Carney did not mention the Switchblade specifically, he said “we have at our disposal tools that make avoidance of civilian casualties much easier, and tools that make precision targeting possible in ways that have never existed in the past.”

The Switchblade drone appears to be an improvement as an alternative to traditional drone strikes, in terms of minimizing civilian harm, but it also raises new concerns, said Naureen Shah, associate director of the Counterterrorism and Human Rights Project at Columbia Law School.

She pointed out that when a drone strike is being considered there are teams of lawyers, analysts and military personnel looking at the data to determine whether lethal force is necessary. But the Switchblade could shorten that “kill chain.”

“It delegates full responsibility to a lower-level soldier on the ground,” she said. “That delegation is worrisome. It’s a situation that could end up in more mistakes being made.”

Arms-control advocates also have concerns. As these small robotic weapons proliferate, they worry about what could happen if the drones end up in the hands of terrorists or other hostile forces.

The Switchblade “is symptomatic of a larger problem thatU.S. militaryand aerospace companies are generating, which is producing various more exotic designs,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Assn. “This technology is not always going to be in the sole possession of the U.S. and its allies. We need to think about the rules of the road for when and how these should be used so we can mitigate against unintended consequences.”

The Switchblade is assembled in Simi Valley by AeroVironment Inc., the Pentagon’s top supplier of small drones, which include the Raven, Wasp and Puma. More than 50 Switchblades will be sent to the war zone in Afghanistan this summer under a $10.1-million contract, which also includes the cost of repairs, spare parts, training and other expenses. Officials would not provide details about where the weapons would be used, how many were ordered and precisely when they would be deployed.

AeroVironment, based in Monrovia, developed the weapon on its own, thinking the military could use a lethal drone that could be made cheaply and deployed quickly by soldiers in the field, said company spokesman Steven Gitlin.

“It’s not inexpensive to task an Apache helicopter or F-16 fighter jet from a base to take out an [improvised explosive device] team when you consider fuel, people, logistics support, etc.,” he said.

About a dozen Switchblades were tested last year by special operations units in Afghanistan, according to Army officials, who said the drone proved effective.

The Army is considering buying $100 million worth of the drones in a few years under a program called the Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System, Nichols said. The Air Force and the Marine Corps have also expressed interest in the technology.

AeroVironment is not the only company pursuing small, lethal drones. Textron Defense Systems is also working on a small kamikaze-style drone. Named the BattleHawk Squad-Level Loitering Munition, the drone is being tested at an Army facility in New Mexico.

Peter W. Singer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of “Wired for War,” a book about robotic warfare, said the Switchblade’s entry into the war zone is typical of today’s weapons procurement path. Defense contractors, he said, are on their own developing smaller and cheaper but powerful high-tech weapons vital to waging guerrilla-type warfare in the 21st century, and they are finding success.

“This weapon system is the first of its kind,” he said. “If it works, there’s little doubt others will follow.”


DoD energy projects prompt interagency turf wars


By ANDY MEDICI | Last Updated:June 9, 2012

The Air Force is trying to turn dust into dollars at Edwards Air Force Base by leasing 3,228 acres of unused land to Fotowatio Renewable Ventures to build a 450-megawatt solar field.

In exchange, the developer will provide the base, deep in southern California’s Mojave Desert, with up to 30 megawatts of electricity annually, and have the ability to sell any excess electricity it generates to other customers. In short, the developer stands to pull in $34 million annually in energy sales to local utilities and other customers based on pricing data from the Energy Information Administration.

But for the deal to go through, the Air Force needs the approval of another federal agency: the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management. That is because BLM owns the land and has final say over its use.

And BLM wants a cut of the action and a hand in the deal.

“We are going to run into problems on this one,” said Terry Yonkers, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for installations, environment and logistics, at a May conference.

BLM manages most federal lands — including more than half the lands on domestic military bases — and is responsible for ensuring that a portion of the revenues generated from exploitation of those lands — such as oil drilling or minerals mining — goes back to the U.S. treasury.

BLM has the ability to revoke the Defense Department’s rights to use its lands if it is not used for military purposes, such as test ranges and exercises.

But increasingly, military services are looking to parlay that property for another use: renewable energy. Government mandates that agencies use more renewable energy and shrink their carbon footprint, combined with the recent emergence of creative public-private financing options — known as enhanced use leases — makes such deals easier.

That flurry of deal-making activity by DoD has gotten BLM’s attention.

In the case of the Edwards Air Force Base solar energy deal, the Air Force will use only about 7 percent of the total energy generated. BLM argues that because only a small fraction of the project will serve military purposes, it should have a stronger role in forging the deal to ensure the government gets its due.


“Now it looks like the ‘Sopranos’ of the government are coming down and looking to take the military head on,” said Paul Bollinger, director of government solutions at Boeing Energy and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Army for energy and partnerships.

Speaking at a conference last month, Bollinger said DoD and BLM teamed up 25 years ago on a geothermal project at the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake in the Mojave Desert — which he described as a “little shakedown” by BLM. Since 1987, China Lake and BLM have run geothermal wells producing 270 megawatts of energy annually — enough to power 180,000 homes.

Ray Brady, manager of BLM’s national renewable energy coordination office, said the fundamental question BLM is asking about the lands being used for such deals, Brady said, is this: “If it’s not specifically needed for DoD mission purposes, shouldn’t it really be revoked and returned to BLM for broader use?” He said the agency would be willing to team up on projects, with DoD or BLM sharing the lead on a project and dividing the proceeds.

“Clearly, DoD does have an interest for the electricity that would be generated to meet their on-base need. We would like to be able to facilitate a process for that,” Brady said.

There is much at stake as the two agencies try to sort out such questions. One January report by the Pentagon points out that it could generate up to 7 gigawatts of solar power and $100 million in revenue at just 10 Air Force and Army installations in the Mojave and Colorado deserts. But BLM owns 90 percent of the land at these installations, according to the report.

DoD is under pressure to develop the lands to meet the mandates of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which requires agencies to use renewable energy for at least 7.5 percent of their facility energy needs by fiscal 2013.

The Air Force has said 1 gigawatt of its energy will come from renewable sources by fiscal 2016. The Navy said it will reach the same goal by fiscal 2020, and the Army, by fiscal 2025.

The Air Force Real Property Agency is pushing to award enhanced use leases for $5 billion in total land and project value over the next four years. About half of that would be devoted to renewable energy projects.

The Army aims to turn more than 13,000 acres at Fort Irwin, also in the southern California desert, into a 500-megawatt solar field that will power the entire installation. Clark Energy group will front $2 billion in exchange for being able to sell the excess energy it generates. BLM owns virtually all of the more than 754,000 acres at the installation, which means the Army will need to get BLM approval.

Tom Hicks, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, said at a conference in May that much of the lands that BLM owns on military bases are buffer zones in between testing ranges or at the borders of military installations.

“A buffer zone is not really useful for much of anything other than things like renewable energy generation,” Hicks said.

He said Congress should step in and provide legislative relief by setting clear guidelines on how the land could be used.

“We need to see if we can come to some near-term resolution on this issue so we can build more renewable power on our land,” Hicks said.

Meanwhile, BLM and the Pentagon have formed a new working group that is trying to sort out how such deals will work and what will happen to any revenues generated on those lands.


Big Data Problem Plagues Government Agencies

Thor Olavsrud, CIO

June 11, 2012

Big Data has the potential to transform the work of government agencies, unlocking advancements in efficiency, the speed and accuracy of decisions and the capability to forecast. But despite the potential benefits, most federal government agencies are struggling to leverage Big Data.

These agencies lack the data storage/access, computational power and personnel they need to make use of Big Data, according to a recent report, “The Big Data Gap,” by MeriTalk. MeriTalk is a community network for government IT developed as a partnership by the Federal Business Council, Federal Employee Defense Services, Federal Managers Association, GovLoop, National Treasury Employees Union, USO and WTOP/WFED radio.

“Government has a gold mine of data at its fingertips,” says Mark Weber, president of U.S. Public Sector for NetApp, underwriter of MeriTalk’s report. “The key is turning that data into high-quality information that can increase efficiencies and inform decisions. Agencies need to look at Big Data solutions that can help them efficiently process, analyze, manage and access data, enabling them to more effectively execute their missions.”

The government is collecting data: 87 percent of government IT professionals say their stored data grew in the last two years and 96 percent expect their data to grow in the next two years (by an average of 64 percent). Unstructured data makes up 31 percent of data held by the government, and the percentage is on the rise.

On average, government agencies store 1.61 petabytes of data, but expect to be storing 2.63 petabytes within the next two years. These data include: reports from other government agencies at various levels, reports generated by field staff, transactional business data, scientific research, imagery/video, Web interaction data and reports filed by non-government agencies.


The majority of IT professionals (64 percent) say their agency’s data management system could be expanded or upgraded to cope with this growth, but they estimate it will take an average of 10 months to double their short- to medium-term capacity.

While government agencies collect massive amounts of data, MeriTalk’s report found that only 60 percent of IT professionals say their agency analyzes the data collected, and less than 40 percent say their agencies use the data to make strategic decisions. That includes U.S. Department of Defense and intelligence agencies, which on average are even farther behind than civilian agencies when it comes to Big Data. While 60 percent of civilian agencies are exploring how Big Data could be brought to bear on their work, only 42 percent of DoD/intel agencies are doing the same.


Big Data Roadblocks

The roadblocks are myriad and varied, Weber says. First and foremost is the question of who owns the data. In the private sector, the pattern is clear, he notes: Enterprises are taking their data analysts out of the IT department and embedding them in lines of business. IT may have responsibility for making sure the enterprise is capable of storing vast amounts of data, but it is the lines of business that have ownership of the data and how it is used. But that’s not the case in government.

MeriTalk found that 42 percent of respondents believe that IT owns the data collected by the agencies, 28 percent believe it belongs to the department that generated the data and 12 percent believe data ownership belongs to the C-level suite.

“There’s a lack of ownership of the data,” Weber says. “It might not seem like that big of a deal, but it is. Who is responsible for mining that data? I think it’s a partnership, but someone’s got to be directing. Work needs to be done there.”

Technology and a lack of personnel also present roadblocks. MeriTalk found that when it comes to driving mission results around Big Data, agencies estimate they have just 49 percent of the data/store/access, 46 percent of the computational power and 44 percent of the personnel they need. And 57 percent of the respondents say they have at least one dataset that has grown too big to work with using current management tools and infrastructure.

In an effort to help government agencies harness the power of Big Data, the Obama Administration announced a new “Big Data Research and Development Initiative” at the end of March that promises more than $200 million in new research and development investments in Big Data.

“In the same way that past federal investments in information technology R&D led to dramatic advances in supercomputing and the creation of the Internet, the initiative we are launching today promises to transform our ability to use Big Data for scientific discovery, environment and biomedical research, education and national security,” Dr. John P. Holdren, assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), said when announcing the initiative.


Under the initiative, the OSTP, together with six federal departments and agencies will work in concert to achieve the following objectives:

Advance state-of-the-art core technologies needed to collect, store, preserve, manage, analyze and share huge quantities of data

Harness these technologies to accelerate the pace of discovery in science and engineering, strengthen national security and transform teaching and learning

Expand the workforce needed to develop and use Big Data technologies

Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Big Data, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Thor at


As U.S. Eyes Afghanistan Withdrawal, Will China Up Its Role?

Beijing faces growing rivalries with its Pacific neighbors, but in Central Asia it finds a warmer welcome

By Austin Ramzy | @austinramzy | June 12, 2012 | 3

The U.S. “pivot” to East Asia is looking increasingly like a game of musical chairs. The military, diplomatic and economic shift, which President Obama first presented last fall, was envisioned as a response to the winding down of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the increasing military power of China. Last week, while traveling in Asia, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that by 2020 about 60% of the U.S. Navy’s warships would be stationed in the Pacific Ocean, versus a roughly 50-50 split between Atlantic and Pacific today. But even as the U.S. shifts to the East, China is looking to its far West, to the very place the U.S. is planning to quit. The U.S. and its allies plan to withdraw most of their troops from Afghanistan by 2014. China, however, has large and growing interests in the country with which it shares a short, mountainous border. Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai met Friday with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao in Beijing, where they announced a new strategic partnership. Afghanistan was also made an observer of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security group made up of Russia, China and four central Asian states, which was holding its annual summit in Beijing.

In recent years, China has become a key investor in Afghanistan. In 2007, China Metallurgical Group won a $3 billion lease to mine the Aynak copper field in Logar province, the largest single project in the country. Last year, Afghanistan approved China National Petroleum Corporation’s bid to drill for oil and natural gas in Sari Pul and Faryab provinces, the first concession granted a foreign firm. Trade between the two countries is small but rapidly growing, increasing from $25 million in 2000 to $234 million last year. But while China looks to Afghanistan to fulfill part of its appetite for energy and raw materials, its chief interest is security. China has been wary of the U.S.-led western military presence in the country. At the same time Beijing suspects that some of the Uighur militants behind attacks in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang have received training and shelter in Afghanistan under the previous Taliban regime. Likewise, China is a market for Afghanistan’s booming heroin production. Part of Friday’s declaration signed by Hu and Karzai included a renunciation of terrorism, extremism, separatism and organized crime, a sign of China’s concerns about Afghanistan’s influence on stability in Xinjiang.

Hu also met with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Beijing last week, where the two reaffirmed their common stance against intervention in Syria. As Panetta was traveling through Asia visiting U.S. allies and partners, Putin’s Beijing turn signaled that China also has friends in the neighborhood. While China is facing rivalries with Vietnam and the Philippines over territorial claims in the South China Sea and with Japan over parts of the East China Sea, the SCO grouping fosters stability among China’s central Asian neighbors. As the U.S. plots its Afghanistan withdrawal, some observers in Russia and China have suggested that the grouping lead Afghan peace talks, citing the lack of direct involvement in the U.S.-led war against the Taliban as a key advantage for the regional bloc. But despite the appearances of Sino-Russian comity in Beijing, the massive neighbors have very divergent goals that prevent deep cooperation, independent analyss Bobo Lo argued in a New York Times op-ed.

China, which refused any participation in the coalition force in Afghanistan, either through the contribution of troops or in a resupply role, will continue eschewing any military involvement. Instead, Beijing hopes that increased investment will improve stability while helping provide the raw materials consumed by China’s economy. “Faced with the threats of extremism and drugs, the long-term strategy is to start with economics, the establishment of regional transportation networks and to expand Afghanistan’s trade with Central Asia and China, letting China’s economic engine to drive economic development in Afghanistan,” Chen Xiaochen, a journalist and researcher, wrote Monday in China Business News, a Shanghai-based financial daily. “The local people have employment, and the support for terrorism will be reduced. With the replacement planting, local people will be able to grow fewer poppies. Afghanistan is a high-risk area, but that means returns will be high.”

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DoD contract audits plunge in quest for thoroughness

Jun. 11, 2012 – 01:58PM |

By SARAH CHACKO | Comments


Pentagon audits of its contractor costs have slowed to a trickle in recent years, prompting critics to charge that billions of dollars in questionable costs are likely being paid but not flagged by auditors.

The Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) last year conducted 7,390 audits, which is less than a third of the number — 26,623 — performed six years ago. The dramatic slowdown occurred even as the agency has ramped up hiring in the same period by about 20 percent.

One result of the slowdown: a daunting $573 billion backlog of contracts stretching back six years that have already been paid but still await auditing. Six years ago, the backlog figure was $110 billion, less than one-fifth of the current size.

Critics fear the agency will never catch up on that backlog because, by law, paid contracts more than six years old cannot be reviewed. Since auditors typically identify between 1 percent and 2 percent of contract costs as improper, that means the department may miss out on between $6 billion and $11 billion that could be recovered.

DCAA officials say they slowed down their auditing operations to focus more on the quality and thoroughness of audits — and less on the quantity — following criticism from Congress in 2008 and 2009 that DCAA’s management was too concerned with getting audits done quickly.

They say DCAA has a plan to pick up speed and eliminate the backlog by October 2014. The agency will:

• Expand the auditing staff. It has already added 615 employees since 2008 and plans to add another 1,000 by 2015 to bring its auditor workforce to more than 5,000.

• Dedicate teams of auditors entirely to the backlog of incurred cost audits, which are audits of contracts that have already been paid.

• Conduct less stringent audits on low-risk contractors.

• Farm out some work to the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA). Specifically, it is asking DCMA to conduct more forward-pricing audits, which are audits performed on contractors’ proposed prices and terms of service prior to the award of a contract. Doing this should free up more DCAA auditors to work on the backlog of incurred-cost audits.

Contract lawyers and former DCAA auditors say that won’t be enough.

“It’s a quality and quantity issue,” said Richard Loeb, a former federal procurement official who now is an adjunct professor of government contract law at the University of Baltimore law school. “There’s got to be balance between the two.”

DCAA should consider using third-party auditors or auditors from other agencies to work on the backlog, Loeb and other experts say. Or the agency could set a minimum-value threshold for contracts in the backlog, under which the agency simply would not conduct full audits.


DCAA’s new approach

DCAA’s problems today stem from concerns raised four years ago by the Government Accountability Office and lawmakers. GAO audits found that DCAA auditors were cutting corners when it came to auditing contractors, in part because managers were pressing them to prize speed over thoroughness. Lawmakers pushed DCAA for changes, even suggesting that the agency become independent of the Defense Department.

In response, the agency retrained auditors in how to produce quality audits and judged their performance on how well they adhered to auditing standards, not how quickly they produced audits.

More recent changes show that DCAA is attempting to balance quality with speed.

DCAA revised its policy in late 2010 so that it conducts fewer pre-award audits: The agency now audits fixed-price contract proposals valued at more than $10 million, up from $1 million, and cost-reimbursement contract proposals valued at $100 million, up from $10 million. The rest go to DCMA for a review but not a full audit.

This year, DCAA started measuring how quickly forward-pricing audits are completed based on due dates established with the contracting officer before the audit starts.

DCAA officials say the steps are already showing promise. DCAA completed about 1,000 incurred-cost audits so far this year, more than twice the number in each of the two previous years, Pentagon spokeswoman Army Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins said.

Auditors also are questioning more costs and finding greater savings for the government, she said. For example, in 2003, DCAA issued 29,780 reports, questioned $8 billion in costs and realized a savings of $2.2 billion. Last year, the agency issued only 7,390 reports, but it questioned almost $12 billion in costs and realized a savings of $3.5 billion, she said.

Former DCAA auditors say it will take time for the agency’s new auditors to have an impact. It takes about two years to train new hires, and three to five years before an auditor can reliably identify inappropriate charges, former auditors said.

“It’s more than just accounting,” said Michael Thibault, a former DCAA deputy director. “It’s judgment that goes into these risks.”


Share the load

DCAA is trying to stay ahead of a six-year deadline that starts when a contractor’s cost submissions are accepted by the government. After six years, agencies cannot dispute a contractor’s costs.

Contractors have increased their own staffs to help the growing number of DCAA auditors locate records and receipts.

The number of DCAA auditors looking at DynCorp’s records quadrupled in the last three years: from about 15 in 2009 to 60 today, said Thibault, who is now DynCorp International’s vice president of government finance and compliance. In response, DynCorp doubled its staff to about 24 to help, he said. Those additional staffing costs of contractors end up being paid by the government since they are passed off as overhead costs when they perform contracted work.

DCAA, which typically covers contractors by region, is exploring ways to consolidate audit oversight for major contractors. Under a pilot project with Raytheon, all of the company’s audits fall under one group of auditors and support staff.

Others say the agency should look to outside audit firms or even share auditors across government to help clear the backlog.

“DCAA, in the area of costs, is one of the few government agencies that trusts no one else,” said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president of the Professional Services Council trade association. “There are clearly companies that have the capability of auditing to the government’s standard.”


And Chvotkin said he doubts there is any appetite on Capitol Hill for letting DCAA conduct abbreviated audits of contractors because lawmakers believe improper payments must be curtailed, regardless of cost.

“We want somebody at every intersection, so if you run a red light you’re going to get caught,” he said. “Can it be done? Of course. But that contributes to the cost and the time.”





June 11, 2012 – 10:30 p.m.

Industry Opposes Cybersecurity Plan

By Tim Starks, CQ Staff    

A bipartisan attempt to split the difference between two competing Senate cybersecurity bills has run afoul of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the most influential groups in the debate over protecting computer networks.

While Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has made passing a cybersecurity bill a top priority, the legislation faces strong opposition from a range of interests, including businesses and privacy groups.

At the center of the debate over the bills is how or whether to impose any new security standards on businesses that own the most vital digital infrastructure.

The new compromise effort, led by Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., would include security performance standards for businesses that own the most crucial computer networks, but would not require industry to meet them. Instead, companies would be given incentives to meet them, such as protection from lawsuits in the event of an attack.

The original Reid-backed bill (S 2105), sponsored by a group of senators led by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., would give the Department of Homeland Security regulatory authority to write performance standards that owners of that critical infrastructure would have to meet, albeit in a manner of their own choosing. A competing measure (S 2151), offered by a group of senators led by top Armed Services Republican John McCain of Arizona, would contain no such standards.

Senators involved in drafting the compromise said their proposal is in the very early stages. “We are a work in progress,” said Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., who is working on the language with Whitehouse, Kyl, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and, according to Whitehouse, unspecified other senators. The proposal has circulated as an outline more than an actual draft bill.

But the Chamber of Commerce opposes the proposal as it stands, saying it is not really a compromise and that it would still impose new requirements on owners of covered critical infrastructure (CCI).

“The proposal is being marketed as ‘voluntary,’ but it would stipulate that owners and operators take certain actions involuntarily,” said Matthew Eggers, senior director of national security and emergency management at the Chamber. “In fact, a subset of CCI would be required by the federal government — due to some vague ‘national security need’ provision — to certify that it meets particular security mandates.”

Businesses have argued that mandates for defending computer networks would hamper both security and the economy. Proponents of security standards for critical infrastructure argue it is an essential need in any cybersecurity legislation.

Eggers added that the Whitehouse-Kyl proposal “would authorize federal officials to publish an assessment of the entity’s cybersecurity in ‘an appropriate form,’ which is incredibly problematic from a security point of view.”


Focus on Incentives

The Chamber backs the McCain bill, as well as a House-passed measure (HR 3523) that is focused on incentivizing businesses and the federal government to share threat information. Both the McCain and Lieberman bills contain provisions aimed at fostering information sharing as well.

McCain said he agrees with the Chamber’s assessment that the compromise language is “too regulatory.” He said he wasn’t sure of the proposal’s chances of success. “It’s the 12th compromise I’ve seen,” he said.

Lieberman was more supportive. A spokeswoman said Lieberman’s “initial reaction was to welcome the proposal because it recognized the need to secure critical infrastructure and it even appeared to require baseline standards for critical infrastructure, the destruction of which would degrade national security.”

Whitehouse said he didn’t expect anyone to abandon their position until a final agreement was reached. “I don’t think anybody will be happy until everybody is happy,” he said.

But he did offer a reaction to the Chamber’s contention that the proposal is overly regulatory. “The position of the Chamber — that nothing should be done on critical infrastructure — has no support in either the Democratic or Republican national security community,” he said.

And the language is emerging from a broader bipartisan group than the other two bills. The McCain language’s cosponsors are the top Republicans on a number of Senate panels. The Lieberman bill is cosponsored by Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking member of Lieberman’s panel.


Whitehouse said it was “too early to say” whether the language might be offered as an amendment or whether it would expand to include other cybersecurity topics besides critical infrastructure protection.


Army Virtual Worlds Expert Forges Ahead Without ‘Second Life’

By Max Cacas, SIGNAL Online Exclusive

June 11, 2012

As recently as a few years ago, Second Life was a vital, flourishing virtual community in which users carried on their lives, interacting with others and “living” fully imagined existences within the memory of a large computer server.

In fact, Second Life caught the imagination of the U.S. military, and in some cases, members of the services began using Second Life for real-world collaboration and to solve problems shared by all services.

Now, one of the most ardent proponents of virtual worlds technologies for military collaboration has forged ahead and developed a version of the Second Life technology that is able to operate behind secure .mil firewalls, and it is on its way to being certified for secure operation within most military networks.

Douglas Maxwell is science and technology manager with the Army Research Laboratory’s (ARL’s) Simulation and Training Technology Center in Orlando, Florida. He is also a staff researcher with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island.

In recent years, he’s been the principal organizer of “Military Lands in Second Life,” or “MilLands,” the section of the virtual community set aside for members of the U.S. armed forces to work on projects of common interest.

Maxwell says the summer 2010 decision by Linden Labs, the firm that originally developed Second Life, to discontinue work on an enterprise version that could operate securely on a server behind a corporate firewall, was a prime motivator behind his work.

“I respect Linden Labs’ decision to do that, because they had to survive as a company,” he explains. But he also wanted to ensure that the effort expended in developing

MilLands did not go to waste.

“We looked for ways,” Maxwell went on, “to transfer the knowledge to an open platform, one that we could own and control, and move forward.”

Maxwell says that with the help of several industry partners, he was able to advance development of Open Simulator, a virtual worlds application similar to Second Life, and successfully transfer the environmental grids and other digital elements of MilLands into MOSES, the Military Open Simulator Enterprise Strategy. He describes MOSES as a “proof-of-concept” information technology project designed to show that virtual worlds environments can be adapted to operate securely.

The effort was made, says Maxwell, on behalf of a large and growing community of experts, both within and outside of the military’s scientific community, who had come to depend on MilLands as a tool for collaboration.

“I wasn’t the only person coming to the conclusion that there was value in this platform,” he explains. “There are many other people in other laboratories and other services who saw that this platform was wonderfully flexible and powerful.”

Maxwell recently assisted the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in utilizing Open Simulator for development of the next generation of U.S. Navy attack submarines.

Maxwell goes on to say that because MilLands operated on the open Internet and was hosted by a commercial company, sensitive data could not be easily integrated into MilLands, which was the original motivation for the development of Second Life Enterprise (SLE). Maxwell credits Linden Labs for giving him and his colleagues enough advance notice that SLE would no longer be developed and making it possible for outside developers to continue the work.

“Linden Labs made the Second Life client open source, and a group of Second Life developers were able to reverse-engineer a suitable server application that could provide the same, or similar, service.” He says, while individuals did some of the outside development, engineers at IBM and Intel also provided support.

The result, says Maxwell, is the Open Simulator server application software that can run in a secure environment behind a .mil firewall but can also operate on the open commercial Internet to facilitate collaboration with military, industry and academic computer experts who are making its continued development possible.

At this time, MOSES has about 370 users, says Maxwell, representing academia (including Tulane University, George Washington University, Colorado Technical University, University of Southern California, University of Central Florida, University of Edinburgh and the Naval Postgraduate School); the military (Naval Undersea Warfare Center/NAVSEA, Air Education Training Command at Maxwell Air Force Base, Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base); and industry (Sonalysts, Raytheon).

In an interview during the recent Federal Consortium of Virtual Worlds Conference held at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., Maxwell says that the next step is “getting the necessary information assurance documents and authorities so that we can deploy it on a proper .mil network.”

He envisions one day being able to run Open Simulator on the Defense Research and Engineering Network (DREN) and its secure-network counterpart, S-DREN. Maxwell says that testing to achieve information assurance certification for MOSES will be taking place during the summer and adds that he recently received tentative approval to test MOSES on the ARL’s segment of the DREN.

Another goal is to make possible authenticated logins on the Open Simulator server using the Common Access Card (CAC) now in use throughout the Defense Department. He also wants to augment the “physics” within MOSES (in other words, how virtual objects behave in a virtual environment) and explore how to better integrate real-world terrain maps and grids to enhance MOSES’ utility in training and simulation exercises.

Maxwell stresses that MOSES is a proof-of-concept “strategy,” and that he is not interested in developing or supporting a monolithic Open Simulator system for the entire U.S. military. Rather, he says he is more interested in “providing guidance and (digital) copies of the MOSES infrastructure to other organizations that want to run it behind their firewalls and put their own data into it.”



State Dept considers $16.5 million contract for Amazon Kindles


By Dawn Lim

June 11, 2012

This article originally misstated the terms of the State Department’s agreement with Amazon and was misleading about the cost of each Kindle. NextGov regrets the error.

The State Department is considering a $16.5 million, 5-year no-bid contract with Amazon that could include as many as 35,000 Kindle e-Readers and content, an agency spokesman confirmed. The Kindles would be used to stock designated libraries and U.S.-friendly educational centers around the world, aiding those who want to study English and learn about America.

State is willing to guarantee approximately $2.3 million in the first year for at least 2,500 Kindles and content, the spokesman said. It is waiting for Amazon to come back with a proposal for further negotiations.

The price per unit is currently being worked out. It is expected to be in the ballpark of a recent pilot program where State purchased 6,000 Kindles for $980,000 for educational and e-diplomacy purposes, which works out roughly to a cost of $163 for each device.

“State has not and will not spend even a penny more than retail prices,” said Philippe Reines, spokesman for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Department officials determined that Kindles were the only appropriate device for the contract, which was not opened to competitive bidding, contracting databases show. The Amazon e-Readers were selected because they come with a built-in English dictionary, support foreign languages, translate text to speech, and receive information securely from a content distribution platform managed by the State Department, contracting notice stated.

Other electronic readers such as the Barnes and Noble Nook, Sony Reader Daily and Kobe e-Reader were deemed unsuitable as they couldn’t offer the same the text-to-speech function, battery life and global Wi-Fi connectivity, the document stated.

Apple iPad tablets offered unnecessary functions that presented “unacceptable security and usability risks for the government’s needs in this particular project,” the documents said. iPads also fell short on battery life requirements and would not allow the State Department the same control over the dissemination of content.


Pentagon experiments with bomb-sniffing rats


By Dawn Lim

June 8, 2012

The Pentagon is funding experiments by scientists to get knapsack-outfitted rats to sniff out land mines and bombs.

Two Bucknell University professors will work with defense contractor Coherent Technical Services Inc. to condition rats to do the work of bomb-sniffing dogs, the university announced.

The rats will wear mini-backpacks and wireless transmitters that track their positions. They will learn to associate a vibration in the backpack with an edible treat. Over time, their brains will become wired to associate the buzz with rewards. With this reward mechanism, they will be trained to sniff out bombs and explosive chemicals.

The army research office has forked over $100,000 for the first phase of the project. If the project proves successful, the contract could be extended for two years with funding of up to $750,000.


What We Misunderstand About Drones

The Atlantic

By Joshua Foust

A practice of shoot first and ask questions later, and an over-emphasis on short-term gains, make us more reliant on these tools than we maybe should be.

The New York Times’ blockbuster article on President Obama’s counterterrorism policies has sparked wide discussion of his evolution into a president focused very strongly on killing terrorists. Americans are also debating the effectiveness and morality of drones. These are important conversations to be having, to which I’d add some of the common misconceptions about drones. The first is that drones are cheap, and the second is that they’re replacing other forms of military operations.

Drones might seem like a cheap and easy way to wage war, but that’s not always the case. They require a substantial base of operations and support staff to function, which means they can actually cost more than traditional aircraft to purchase and function. And public anger over drones in the targeted countries has created severe political blowback, adding challenges for U.S. diplomacy and influence in parts of the world that are already tough enough to manage.

There’s also a common assumption that defeating terrorism requires a fundamentally kinetic approach. Obviously, that’s often true, but the point is that it’s not categorically true. And sometimes the kinetic approach can be costly. In Yemen, there is very little evidence that the growing use of drones has actually reduced the threat posed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In Pakistan, while drones have reduced the presence and reach of al-Qaeda Central, they have not necessarily diminished the global challenge posed by the group’s ideology. Furthermore, this drone-associated political turmoil has had disastrous consequences for that country’s internal politics and economy — meaning there is some risk that our drones might contribute to further destabilizing a country armed with a hundred nuclear weapons.

There are other ways of addressing the problem of terrorism. Current U.S. strategy is primarily about violence: hunt down and kill suspected terrorists. But allowing the Defense Department and the CIA to target people they cannot identify — to kill people who behave suspiciously without knowing who they are or what their intentions are — doesn’t really seem like self-defense. And it risks creating more instability, more state failure, and thus bigger problems in the future.

Yemen is a perfect example of what can go wrong. In 2007, AQAP was a worrying presence in the country’s hinterlands, but not yet a major force in national politics. The U.S. lavished the regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh with hundreds of millions of dollars in training, equipment, and U.S. personnel. The U.S. also made Yemen its second most active battlefield for “surgical strikes” and drone operations, after Pakistan. However, after years of increasingly violent actions against AQAP, there are more al Qaeda terrorists in Yemen than ever before. The Saleh government lied to the U.S. about targets, possibly exploiting them to take out his rival. The U.S. has said that it treats opponents to the current government in Yemen as part of the same larger threat as al-Qaeda terrorists. Talk about mission creep.

The policy of thwacking terrorists with drones (or even with small special forces teams or aircraft) has not, so far, been hugely successful at changing the targeted environments such that terrorism is neither growing nor a major threat to the U.S. It has killed a lot of people associated with al-Qaeda (in addition to people not associated with al-Qaeda). But the movement and potentially affiliated branches are on the march in Northern Africa, in Nigeria, in Mali, in Somalia, and in Yemen.

A broader approach could, for example, place more emphasis on affecting social and political currents that presently support the terrorist movements and ideologies. One interesting project is the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, an inter-agency shop created last September and run out of the State Department. The group recently posted, to a jihadi forum, Photoshoped images meant to reverse al-Qaeda’s online propaganda — and, in the process, created a lot of nervous responses from al-Qaeda posters about the unreliability of the internet.

The Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications’s gambit was a small victory, but one that could presage a more creative, less invasive approach to countering terrorists; using their own tools against them. Creativity, agility, and innovation — things the U.S. is actually quite good at — seem more promising as a long-term counterterrorism strategy than throwing drones at every country with a security problem.


The problem with drones is not the drones themselves, but the trend of killing first and asking questions later.


DoD freezes conferences, associated travel


Army Times

By Andrew Tilghman – Staff writer
Posted : Friday Jun 8, 2012 10:00:08 EDT


The Pentagon has ordered a freeze on all new large-scale conferences and conference-related travel pending a sweeping review that aims to cut travel costs across the Defense Department.

The order signed June 3 by Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter orders the service chiefs to review all upcoming conferences costing more than $100,000 to ensure that they “significantly further the Department’s mission.”

“Each component or service shall suspend incurring any new obligations for conferences to which it is not yet committed until it has completed its review,” Carter wrote.

All conferences could be affected. Conferences currently scheduled for the next several months will be reviewed, and military officials cannot authorize any new conference plans or financial commitments until after the review is completed later this year, a Pentagon official said.

For now, conferences expected to cost more than $100,000 will require approval from top Pentagon officials, according to the memo.

Many of the largest military conferences are sponsored by groups independent of the Defense Department, such as the Association of the U.S. Army or the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space conference. Nevertheless, attendance at those conferences could be affected because service members typically travel on military expense accounts.

The Pentagon memo follows a directive from President Obama in May calling for all federal agencies to reduce travel costs by 30 percent for fiscal year 2013. That order came shortly after reports in April that the General Services Administration spent more than $800,000 on a 2010 conference in Las Vegas.



Pew survey finds China seen as top economic power

Jun 13, 5:10 AM EDT


AP Business Writer


BEIJING (AP) — For the first time, people responding to a global survey are more likely to view China and not the United States as the world’s leading economic power.

The results of the Pew Research Center survey do not reflect reality: America’s economy remains well ahead of its closest rival. But it does highlight China’s steadily rising public image amid rapid growth, as well as the erosion of the United States’ status as the global superpower, especially after the 2008 financial crisis left it struggling with recession and high unemployment.

The 21-nation poll found that 41 percent of people said China was the world’s economic power, while 40 percent favored the U.S. Among the 14 nations that were asked the same question in 2008, the margin was wider: 45 percent placed the U.S. on top four years ago, with just 22 percent for China, but in the latest poll China was favored 42 percent to 36 percent.

The trend was especially strong in Europe: 58 percent of people in Britain saw China as the leading economy, versus just 28 percent for the United States. Even in the U.S., respondents were about evenly divided on the question. Turkey and Mexico were the only countries where more than half of people consider the United States the leading economic power.

“Over the last few years, perceptions about the global economic balance of power have been shifting,” Pew said in the report.

China passed Germany as the biggest exporter in 2009 and has overtaken Japan as the world’s second-biggest economy. But its situation is complex: It is relatively poor by income per person, while the United States is among the richest. The United States is the global center for the auto, computer, finance, aerospace and other industries.

China’s competitive edge is its large pool of low-cost labor, but that is shrinking as wages rise and the Chinese population ages. The World Bank and the communist government’s own advisers warn it must make basic changes to its economic strategy to boost productivity and keep incomes rising.

Those nuances are reflected in the Chinese public’s more tempered views of their country in the Pew survey. Only 29 percent of people interviewed saw it as the leading economy, versus 48 percent for the United States.

The polls were nationally representative surveys conducted in March and April by 26,210 telephone or in-person interviews in 21 countries, including Brazil, Japan, India, France, Egypt, Tunisia, Pakistan and the United States.

The survey also found that China’s image has grown more negative over the past year in the United States, Japan and parts of Europe.

Across the 21 nations surveyed, the median percentage with positive views of China and the United States were about the same, at 49 percent and 52 percent, respectively. But Pew noted that overall figure concealed big differences in some countries. In Japan, 72 percent saw the U.S. favorably, versus just 15 percent for China. In Pakistan, 85 percent saw China favorably while just 12 percent said the same for the United States.


Experts warn of shortage of U.S. cyber pros


June 13, 2012

By Jim Finkle and Noel Randewich


NEW YORK (Reuters) – Leading cyber experts warned of a shortage of talented computer security experts in the United States, making it difficult to protect corporate and government networks at a time when attacks are on the rise.

Symantec Corp Chief Executive Enrique Salem told the Reuters Media and Technology Summit in New York that his company was working with the U.S. military, other government agencies and universities to help develop new programs to train security professionals.

“We don’t have enough security professionals and that’s a big issue. What I would tell you is it’s going to be a bigger issue from a national security perspective than people realize,” he said on Tuesday.

Jeff Moss, a prominent hacking expert who sits on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory Council, said that it was difficult to persuade talented people with technical skills to enter the field because it can be a thankless task.

“If you really look at security, it’s like trying to prove a negative. If you do security well, nobody comes and says ‘good job.’ You only get called when things go wrong.”

The warnings come at a time when the security industry is under fire for failing to detect increasingly sophisticated pieces of malicious software designed for financial fraud and espionage and failing to prevent the theft of valuable data.

Moss, who goes by the hacker name “Dark Tangent,” said that he sees no end to the labor shortage.

“None of the projections look positive,” said Moss, who serves as chief security officer for ICANN, a group that helps run some of the Internet’s infrastructure. “The numbers I’ve seen look like shortages in the 20,000s to 40,000s for years to come.”

Reuters last month reported that the National Security Agency was setting up a new cyber-ops program at select universities to expand U.S. cyber expertise needed for secret intelligence operations against computer networks of adversaries. The cyber-ops curriculum is geared to providing the basic education for jobs in intelligence, military and law enforcement.

The comments echo those of other technology industry executives who complain U.S. universities do not produce enough math and science graduates.

U.S. defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp on Monday launched the first undergraduate honors program in cybersecurity with the University of Maryland to help train more workers for the burgeoning field.

Salem pointed to British banks as one industry already struggling to find enough network security experts.

“Because there’s such a concentration of financial services companies there, there’s not enough security expertise already in London. We see it. Banks can’t find enough security professionals,” he said.

Moss, who founded the Defcon and Black Hat hacking conferences that are held in Las Vegas each summer, said that U.S. government agencies are so desperate to fill positions that they are poaching security experts from private firms.

In some cases, security firms have retaliated by refusing to send their most talented cyber experts on government jobs for fear of losing them. Instead they send their “B Team” consultants, Moss said.

Some companies have even begun writing non-poaching clauses into their contracts with clients to guard against losing their top cybersecurity talent.

Government officials from normally secretive agencies, including the National Security Agency, FBI and U.S. military, attend Defcon each year to recruit gifted hacking geeks who they might not otherwise be able to identify.

(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Phil Berlowitz and Ron Popeski)


FCC: Cable operators can stop providing analog signals of local TV

By Joe Flint,0,5845460.story

2:46 PM CDT, June 12, 2012


In a move that has upset the broadcast industry, the Federal Communications Commission said it will let lapse a rule that required cable operators to carry local television signals in analog.

Approximately 12 million cable subscribers across the country could lose access to some of their local TV stations unless they upgrade their equipment or switch to antennas. The FCC said many cable operators are making such equipment available at little or no cost to subscribers.

In 2007, when the FCC laid the groundwork for the transition to high-definition television, it required cable operators to also carry local stations in the old analog format. At the time, it put in an expiration on that provision for December 2012.

“With the majority of all households now enjoying digital services, the cable industry will maximize its bandwidth to provide innovative services that connect consumers to things they care about most,” said Michael Powell, a former chairman of the FCC who is now chief executive of the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn.

Powell added that “while some customers have yet to make the transition to digital, cable providers will continue to work hard to make that conversion as smooth as possible.”

The stations most likely to feel the brunt of the demise of what the FCC calls the “viewability requirement” are smaller stations, many carrying religious fare or catering to a particular minority group. Those stations have relied on an FCC rule, known as “must carry,” that requires a cable operator to carry a local television station on both its digital and analog tiers at no cost to it.

Now cable operators will no longer have to carry those stations on its analog tier. Bigger stations, such as those affiliated with ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, receive payment from cable operators in return for their signals and will likely not be affected.

Broadcasters tried to convince the FCC that the so-called sunset provision should be extended another three years but to no avail. Earlier this month, a coalition of black churches staged a small protest about the rule change at the FCC and the National Cable Telecommunications Assn., which is the chief lobbying arm of the cable industry.

“Today’s FCC decision has the potential to impose negative financial consequences on small local TV stations that are a source for minority, religious and independent program diversity across America,” said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of the National Assn. of Broadcasters. “If that is the outcome, millions of viewers will be the losers.”

Local stations that may feel the effect of this rule going away include Spanish-language station KJLA-TV, which was part of a group of broadcasters that launched a publicity campaign earlier this month hoping to change the FCC’s mind.

Many broadcasters see the FCC’s and Chairman Julius Genachowski’s motivation to sunset the rules as part of a broader plan to encourage smaller broadcasters to exit the television business and sell their airwaves so they can be used for new technologies such as mobile devices.

“Reallocating large hunks of TV spectrum to wireless broadband via the auction is what Genachowski is all about,” wrote Harry Jessell, editor of TVNewsCheck, an industry Web publication that often advocates for broadcasters. “He believes that broadband is the future of media, commerce and education and he wants to make sure it doesn’t starve for spectrum.”

An FCC spokeswoman and an aide to Genachowski both declined to comment.

Interestingly, one of those who may have to upgrade his cable is none other than FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell.

In his statement supporting the agency’s decision, McDowell acknowledged that he has only analog cable service and added that he expects that “the cable industry will work with the affected broadcasters and their viewers (such as myself) to ensure that, if analog signals will be ceased, consumers are aware of how to obtain an affordable set-top box and such equipment is provided in a timely manner so that consumers are not inconvenienced and broadcasters do not lose viewership.”



Sen. Levin: Defense Dept. could cut budget now to avoid severe reductions next year

Washington Post

By Walter Pincus, Published: June 12


The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Tuesday that the Defense Department could head off far deeper budget reductions by preemptively agreeing to cut $10 billion a year for the next decade.

Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who heads the powerful committee, said “defense has to contribute” to a compromise to head off the across-the-board, $55-billion-a-year cuts required by the budget compromise that Congress reached last year. The provision, known as sequestration, will be triggered on Jan. 3 if Congress doesn’t come up with a 10-year, $1.2 trillion deficit reduction plan or a compromise to change the law by the end of this year.

Levin suggested that some cuts could come from the costs of maintaining and modernizing the nuclear stockpile and funding for family housing for troops stationed in South Korea.

Levin, participating in a National Press Club session, said a signal should be sent on a compromise before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, because major defense contractors have already sent “warning notices” to employees of possible cuts.

“That kind of instability and uncertainty is what is going to drive us, hopefully . . . to at least take some steps down the path of avoiding that train wreck,” Levin said.

David Langstaff, president of defense contractor TASC, told the gathering that the situation “has business standing on the sidelines waiting to see what will happen.”

Levin, who is working with other senators to come up with a compromise, called his proposed reduction of $100 billion from the Pentagon over 10 years “a figure . . . for totally planning purposes when we look at how to come up with plans to avoid sequestration.”

He described sequestration as “mindless budgeting,” where “automatic reductions, perhaps 8 percent to 10 percent,” will take place across the board. Instead, Levin said any cuts beyond the $487 billion built into the 2011 congressional compromise will have to be “prioritized, prudent, [and] no area can be exempt.”

Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday, “Any cuts beyond those already factored in would require a reassessment of the strategy.”

One area Levin described as “ripe for cuts” is the nuclear stockpile. About $200 billion is being planned to modernize the nuclear weapons-building complex and build a new triad of strategic bombers, missile-launching submarines and land-based ICBMs.

Levin also suggested the possibility of savings in South Korea, where he said the United States cannot afford plans to provide family housing for dependents of American troops assigned there.

Gen. James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was at the session, said a funding review for U.S. forces in South Korea is called for. “It’s time, really, to make an adjustment on the [U.S.] posture,” he said.



Survey: US drone program unpopular overseas


By KIMBERLY DOZIER, AP Intelligence Writer

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

(06-12) 21:52 PDT WASHINGTON, (AP)


The Obama administration’s increasing use of unmanned drone strikes to kill terror suspects is widely opposed around the world, according to a Pew Research Center survey on the U.S. image abroad.

In 17 out of 21 countries surveyed, more than half of the people disapproved of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, Pew said Wednesday.

But in the United States, a majority, or 62 percent, approved the drone campaign, making American public opinion the clear exception.

“There remains a widespread perception that the U.S. acts unilaterally and does not consider the interests of other countries,” the study authors said, especially in predominantly Muslim nations, where American anti-terrorism efforts are “still widely unpopular.”

The White House declined to comment on the report. The Obama administration considers drone strikes one of its most effective tools to combat al-Qaida — preferable to conventional war because the strikes produce fewer American casualties and are intended to be more palatable abroad because the use of drones keeps U.S. troops on the ground to a minimum.

“In order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives, the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaida terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones,” White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan said in April in a detailed and wide-ranging defense of the policy. He said targets are chosen by weighing whether there is a way to capture the person against how much of a threat the person presents to Americans.

The global drone campaign under President Barack Obama has killed a number of high-value leaders, arguably more than any other method including more than a decade of special operations raids inside Afghanistan. A strike in Pakistan this month killed al-Qaida’s most recent second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi.

As conventional U.S. forces draw down from their missions overseas and drone strikes ramp up, the ire directed at invading armies is being transferred to the unmanned aerial devices.

“We continue to see the public thinking Obama has not fulfilled his promise that he would seek international approval for military force, and that’s related to displeasure with the drone strikes,” Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut said Tuesday in advance of the release of the survey, titled “Global Opinion of Obama Slips, International Policies Faulted.”

This is the first year Pew has included a question about the use of drones in its survey on the Obama administration, Kohut said. “It’s now a global issue,” he said.

The polls were nationally representative surveys conducted by telephone or in-person interviews in 21 countries in March and April.

In Pakistan, CIA drone strikes targeted terrorist suspects for years, with the Pakistani government publicly condemning them but privately continuing to work with U.S. intelligence on joint counterterrorist operations. That changed after the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan last year — carried out without Pakistani permission or knowledge. Pakistan considered that a violation of sovereignty and has demanded the U.S. either end the drone program or give Pakistan control of the aircraft, something U.S. officials say they will not do.

After a lull in strikes as the U.S. and Pakistan tried to mend fences, strikes have picked up again in recent weeks because U.S. officials believe they have nothing to gain diplomatically with the Pakistanis by holding back, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe highly charged strategic negotiations.

In Yemen, both military and CIA drones have stepped up the campaign against al-Qaida’s branch there, considered the most deadly threat to U.S. interests. Those strikes are carried out in coordination with Yemeni officials, with Yemenis signing off on the targets, Yemeni and U.S. officials say.

In Somalia, drones are used less frequently. With no formal government in the war-torn, failed state, there is no one for the U.S. to ask permission, but officials have been careful to keep both CIA and military strikes focused on suspects considered to be high-value targets, rather than targeting large training camps where dozens of would-be militants are learning their trade.

The idea is to remove the leaders rather than killing large numbers of trainees and pulling their extended families into battle of revenge against the Americans.



U.S. coal use falling fast as utilities switch to gas

June 12, 2012


By Elaine Thompson, AP


The fuel that powered the U.S. from the industrial revolution into the iPhone era is being pushed aside as utilities switch to cleaner and cheaper alternatives.

The share of U.S. electricity that comes from coal is forecast to fall below 40% for the year, its lowest level since World War II. Four years ago, it was 50%. By the end of this decade, it is likely to be near 30%.

“The peak has passed,” says Jone-Lin Wang, head of Global Power for the energy research firm IHS CERA.

Utilities are aggressively ditching coal in favor of natural gas, which has become cheaper as supplies grow. Natural gas has other advantages over coal: It produces far fewer emissions of toxic chemicals and gases that contribute to climate change, key attributes as tougher environmental rules go into effect.

Natural gas will be used to produce 30% of the country’s electricity this year, up from 20% in 2008. Nuclear accounts for 20%. Hydroelectric, wind, solar and other renewables make up the rest.

The shift from coal is reverberating across Appalachia, where mining companies are laying off workers and cutting production. Utilities across the country are grappling with how to store growing piles of unused coal. And legal disputes are breaking out as they try to cancel contracts and defer deliveries.

• Mining company Alpha Natural Resources of Bristol, Va., plans to produce 11.5 million fewer tons of coal this year, a decline of 11%, because so many customers have requested deferrals. The company has announced that 12 mining operations in Kentucky and West Virginia will be idled or slowed, and 353 jobs cut.

• Patriot Coal, a mining company based in St. Louis, closed a mine in Kentucky, idled several others in Kentucky and West Virginia, and has cut 1,000 jobs. The company’s stock has fallen below $2, down from nearly $25 a year ago, and the company’s CEO, Richard Whiting, was replaced at the end of May.

• GenOn, a wholesale power producer based in Houston, has invoked a legal clause typically used after natural disasters to try to stop suppliers from delivering more coal to already overloaded plants. “We just can’t physically take it right now,” says GenOn CEO Edward Muller.


Coal has dominated the U.S. power industry for so long because it’s a cheap and abundant domestic resource. The U.S. is the world’s second-largest coal producer after China, and it has the world’s biggest reserves — enough to last more than 200 years.


Coal has also enjoyed strong political support because of the jobs it provides in mining and transportation. That helped coal thrive even as environmental concerns over mining practices and air quality grew.

Just five years ago, coal was flourishing in the U.S. With electricity demand and the price of natural gas both rising, coal was viewed as essential to keeping power costs under control. Utilities drew up plans to build dozens of coal-fired plants.

But around the same time, a revolution was under way in the natural gas industry. Drillers figured how to tap enormous deposits of previously inaccessible reserves. As supplies grew and the price of natural gas plummeted, the ground shifted under the electric-power industry.

Now coal is being beaten at its own game. Natural gas has become a cheap and abundant domestic resource, too. And it is more environmentally friendly.

Power plants that burn coal produce more than 90 times as much sulfur dioxide, five times as much nitrogen oxide and twice as much carbon dioxide as those that run on natural gas, according to the Government Accountability Office, the regulatory arm of Congress. Sulfur dioxide causes acid rain; nitrogen oxides cause smog; and carbon dioxide is a so-called greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.

A pair of clean air rules enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency over the past year tightens limits on power-plant emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, and place new limits on mercury, a poison found in coal. This will force between 32 and 68 of the dirtiest and oldest coal plants in the country to close over the next three years as the rules go into effect, according to an AP survey of power plant operators conducted late last year.

Coal was hit with a potentially bigger environmental blow in March when the EPA issued guidelines that could limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants as early as 2013. Once the guidelines go into effect, no coal plants will be built unless utilities can develop a cost-effective way to capture carbon dioxide, analysts say. That technology has been slow to develop and is very expensive.

“Even without the EPA rules, coal is not really competitive,” Wang says.

Coal executives are hardly giving up. Nick DeIuliis, President of Consol Energy, a coal and natural gas producer based in Canonsburg, Pa., doubts the EPA’s restrictions on greenhouse gases will survive long term because of the economic harm he says they will inflict.

Consol and other U.S. coal companies hope to be able to keep mines active by exporting more of the country’s huge reserves. Last year U.S. coal exports hit a record 107 million short tons. High grade coal that is used to make steel is in particular demand in developing countries such as China, India and Brazil.

DeIuliis says the price of natural gas will rebound over time and that coal will once again account for half the nation’s electricity. “This is a cycle,” he says.

The futures price of natural gas hit a 10-year low of $1.91 per thousand cubic feet in April. It closed Monday at $2.22 but would have to more than double from there to convince utilities that have a choice of fuels to return to coal whenever possible.

Utilities are forecast to burn 796 million tons of coal this year, a 14% decline from last year and the fewest tons since 1992, according to Energy Department data.

Demand for coal has fallen even faster than the environmentalists who have been lobbying against coal had anticipated.

Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, says the shift was accelerated by the low price of natural gas. That, along with tougher environmental rules and alternatives such as wind and solar will keep the pressure on coal. “We won’t go backwards,” he says.


Average tuition of a four-year U.S. college climbs 15 percent


Dallas Morning News

Published: 12 June 2012 08:54 PM


When those college tuition bills come in, be prepared for sticker shock.

The average tuition at a four-year public university climbed 15 percent between 2008 and 2010, fueled by state budget cuts for higher education and increases of 40 percent and more at universities in states like Georgia, Arizona and California.

The U.S. Department of Education’s annual look at college affordability also found significant price increases at the nation’s private universities, including at for-profit institutions, where the net price for some schools is now twice as high as Harvard.

At Full Sail University, a film and art school in central Florida, the average price of tuition, fees, books and other expenses totals $43,990, even when grants and scholarships are factored in. The average net price for an incoming Harvard student: $18,277, according to the department. Net price is cost of attendance minus grant and scholarship aid.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said students need to be smart consumers and states need to do their part by making higher education a priority in their budgets. Forty percent of states cut higher education spending last year, the most important factor in tuition increases.

“As a nation, we need more college graduates in order to stay competitive in the global economy,” Duncan said. “But if the costs keep on rising, especially at a time when family incomes are hurting, college will become increasingly unaffordable for the middle class.”

Pennsylvania State University had the highest in-state tuition for a four-year public university at $15,250 during the 2010-11 school year. When the costs of room, board and other expenses are factored in, the total rises to $19,816, the fourth-highest net price.

Bill Mahon, a spokesman for the school, said a 19.6 percent cut in state funding last year, coupled with a decade of weak state support, “has left Penn State increasingly reliant on students and their families to fund most of the costs of their Penn State education.”

Zach Zimbler, who graduated from Penn State University this spring with a degree in information sciences, said his total tuition came out to about $50,000 for four years. He now has loans totaling around $25,000. He said many students don’t realize how much debt they’ve amassed until it comes time to pay.

“The students themselves don’t really know what they’re getting into,” he said.

The College Affordability and Transparency lists were first published last year to fulfill a reporting requirement passed into law in 2008. The lists track tuition and fees as well as the average net price at public, private and for-profit colleges and universities.

It’s one of several recent initiatives by the Department of Education to increase student and parent awareness on the costs of higher education. Last week, presidents from 10 colleges and universities agreed to provide students information on costs, financial aid and monthly loan payments after graduation in an easy-to-understand form. President Barack Obama also issued a mandate to streamline the application process for those who want to enroll in income-based repayment plans, which set a cap on loan payments based on discretionary income.

Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are struggling against a July 1 deadline to avert a doubling of interest rates on new federal student loans for 7.4 million people.

The data released Tuesday shows increases for four-year, public institutions that are similar what has been observed over the last decade, though Duncan said costs have increased faster in recent years. Between 2001-02 and 2011-12, in-state tuition and fees at public four-year colleges increased at an average rate of 5.6 percent each year, according to the College Board’s 2011 report on trends in higher education pricing. That rate is higher than in previous decades: In the 1980s, tuition increased at about 4.5 percent each year, and in the 1990s at 3.2 percent.

Certain states have been harder hit than others. Five of the 33 public universities with the highest net price, for example, are in Ohio. Six public universities in Georgia saw tuition increases that were higher than 40 percent. The University of California in Berkeley and Los Angeles also saw big price jumps.

The data released by the Education Department goes up until the 2010-11 school year, and in some states, tuition increased again last year.

Cook advised students to look at the data in context: Some schools with big rate increases, for example, still have tuition that is below the nationwide average.

“I think there is more comprehensive information that could be provided contextual information that could be provided for these lists if we really want to provide students and families with the most information to make a good decision about going to college,” he said.




2008-09 tuition, fees

2010-11 tuition, fees


University of Texas-Austin: 




Texas A&M: 




University of Texas-Dallas: 




Southern Methodist University: 




University of North Texas: 




University of Texas-Arlington: 




SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education 


Report: Four Ohio colleges among nation’s most expensive

Dayton Business Journal

Date: Wednesday, June 13, 2012, 7:35am EDT


The U.S. Department of Education has marked four universities in Ohio among the 14 most expensive public colleges in the country, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.

Miami University
Miami UniversityLatest from The Business JournalsCleveland State weighing tuition increaseMAG’s Janka has spent career riding waves of manufacturing technologiesAuto industry accelerates as bailout debatedFollow this company (No. 2), Ohio State University
Ohio State UniversityLatest from The Business JournalsSettlement reached in OhioHealth dispute with cardiologistsOhioHealth dispute ends with OSU docs idled from Clark County practiceState board calls for ban on lawyer at center of OSU scandalFollow this company (10) and Ohio University
Ohio UniversityLatest from The Business JournalsOhio U. medical school expanding to ClevelandOhio University med school to open second extension campus in northeast OhioEngine firm moving facility to KetteringFollow this company (13) along with the University of Cincinnati
University of CincinnatiLatest from The Business JournalsFour Ohio colleges among nation’s most expensiveODOT approves M for design of MLK interchange Macy’s marketers among those searching for clues to grab millennial dollarsFollow this company (14) all made the list, which weighed tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, and accounts for financial aid, the newspaper reports.

Costs range from $22,303 a year at Miami to $17,644 at Cincinnati.

Colleges blame rising costs on cuts to state funding for higher education, a trend that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said occurred in 40 states last year, the newspaper reports.


Senators attend hacking demonstration

The Hill

By Brendan Sasso – 06/13/12 12:42 PM ET


Several senators attended a demonstration put on by Homeland Security Department officials on Wednesday to show how hackers can break into computer systems.

The event was hosted by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the top lawmakers on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and the lead sponsors of a pending cybersecurity bill.

Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and about 40 Senate staffers also attended the simulation, according to aides for Lieberman and Collins.

Lieberman said the demonstration was meant to be enlightening, not scary.

The Homeland Security Department officials performed a second demonstration later in the morning for members of the media.

One official used a technique known as “spear fishing” to gain access to his colleague’s computer. With spear fishing, a hacker targets a computer user with an email containing an infected attachment.

In the demonstration, the official sent an email pretending to be his colleague’s boss. The email included an attachment that appeared to be a copy of the Lieberman-Collins cybersecurity bill, but actually included malicious code.

The hacker was then able to download confidential documents from the infected computer and even activate and view video from the computer’s webcam.

The demonstrations were part of a push for the Lieberman-Collins bill, which would encourage private companies to share information about cyber threats with each other and with the government. The bill would also empower the Homeland Security Department to set minimum cybersecurity standards for critical infrastructure systems, such as electrical grids and gas pipelines.


Supporters of the legislation, including the White House, say the mandatory standards are necessary to protect vital systems from attack. But many Republicans argue the mandates would unnecessarily burden businesses.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on Tuesday that he plans to bring the Lieberman-Collins bill to a vote “at the earliest possible date.”

In April, the House passed its own cybersecurity bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which focuses only on voluntary information-sharing and would not mandate any security standards.



Policy would require agencies to patch cybersecurity holes within 72 hours of discovery


By Aliya Sternstein

June 14, 2012


The Homeland Security Department later this month will present to federal computer contractors and remote cloud suppliers standards for finding and fixing cyber threats within 72 hours, DHS officials announced on Thursday.

The new approach aims to resolve what some cybersecurity specialists view as a flaw with the principle of automated “continuous monitoring” that the White House called for in 2010. Real-time tracking of potential network threats is intended to identify weaknesses faster and more economically than the old policy of manually reporting on computer inventories and incidents once a year. But spotting all the risks to personal computers and Internet connections in an organization does not make data any safer, critics note. Fixing them quickly does.

Resolving identified weaknesses rapidly is the goal of the new procedures and, according to some government advisers, agencies could eventually be required to adopt them. “We’re initiating the discussion and we are asking for comment,” DHS National Cybersecurity Division Director John Streufert told Nextgov on Thursday.

Homeland Security officials will describe the standards in-depth to industry officials June 25-26, Streufert said earlier in the day during a talk co-hosted by Government Executive Media Group, which includes Nextgov. He spearheaded the original continuous monitoring movement as the former chief information security officer for the State Department.

“Think continuous monitoring and mitigation,” said SANS Institute Research Director Alan Paller, who added that the term “continuous monitoring” has been misinterpreted in practice. “Knowing [of a weakness] and not fixing it is dangerous.” SANS, a computer security think tank, co-sponsored the event.

Streufert said the mechanics also will help shape rapid response in the cloud, where agencies do not always have physical control over their data. The standards are not a mandate, he said, but rather a template for how to tailor procedures to every sort of computing environment from federal data centers to corporate offices.

The formulation of the continuous fixing method follows the June 6 launch of the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program for certifying the security of outsourced computer centers. FedRAMP is a process in which third-party auditors initially check that a cloud service meets a set of uniform, governmentwide security controls, and then offer the resulting accreditation documentation to all agencies for free reuse. Any department can then install the authorized service as long as the cloud vendor continuously monitors those controls for their federal customers.

“Every agency is still fully responsible for the security of their operating environment,” Dave McClure, an associate administrator at the General Services Administration, which manages FedRAMP, said during the talk. The procedures for automated, continuous reporting to agencies are still a work in progress, Streufert said.

McClure said the government, as of June 13, had received 22 applications from cloud companies for certification. FedRAMP is obligatory for all Web services that will have a limited or serious impact on government operations if disrupted. The Office of Management and Budget is responsible for enforcing the program, which McClure said he expects will happen each year when agencies file reports on compliance with federal computer security law. “I think they’ve got some leverage,” he said, without going into details.


Microsoft Expected to Introduce Tablet


June 15, 2012



For decades, Microsoft has made the software that runs the vast majority of the world’s personal computers, leaving a gang of outside hardware companies to design the machines. Apple, its rival, makes it all.

Microsoft is about to concede that Apple may be onto something.

On Monday, Microsoft is expected to introduce a tablet computer of its own design that runs a new version of its Windows operating system, the first time in the company’s 37-year-old history that it will offer a computer of its own creation, according to people with knowledge of Microsoft’s plans who declined to be named discussing confidential matters. The device is aimed squarely at Apple’s iPad, the blockbuster touchscreen device that has begun to threaten Microsoft’s hegemony in the computer business.

Frank Shaw, a Microsoft spokesman, declined to comment.

The move would have been almost unthinkable at one time for Microsoft, a company that swallowed the PC market in the 1980s and 1990s by letting any hardware maker on the planet pay licensing fees to put Windows on its machines. That business was so lucrative for Microsoft that there was no reason for the company to make its own PCs, thereby competing for computer sales with its own partners.

The stunning success of Apple, now the most highly valued company in the world, has shown its rivals that they can no longer rely entirely on the business models that were so successful during an earlier era of the tech industry. With the iPad, Apple coupled hardware and software together in an elegant package, producing longer battery life, a more responsive touchscreen and other features competitors have not been able to match.

Google, too, has made a big concession to Apple’s approach; with its acquisition of Motorola Mobility last year, it signaled that it will design its own devices.

“If it’s true that Microsoft is going to produce its own tablet, it’s a major turning point for the company and shows just how breath takingly the landscape has changed in a just a few years,” said Brad Silverberg, a venture capitalist in Seattle and former Microsoft executive, who said he had no knowledge of the company’s plans. “The stakes are enormous.”

In the smartphone business, Google initially followed Microsoft’s playbook by making its Android operating system available to any hardware maker who wanted it, a move that helped turn Android into the top operating system for smartphones. The search company’s hardware partners were far less successful, though, in selling Android tablets to the public, which were often criticized for being inferior to the iPad.

Last year though, Google announced plans to pay $12.5 billion to acquire Motorola Mobility, a maker of Android smartphones and tablets. That deal, which was completed last month, was seen as a big shift in strategy for Google that will help it create better Android smartphones and tablets.

Microsoft and Google are not entirely embracing Apple’s approach. Even as they design their own devices, they both will continue to make their software available to hardware companies that want to base their products on them. Microsoft has already publicly demonstrated devices from hardware makers like Samsung running Windows 8, the next version of its operating system.

Microsoft has invited the news media to an event in Los Angeles on Monday afternoon, where it is expected to show its tablet device. The entertainment industry Web site The Wrap earlier reported that Microsoft planned to announce a tablet at for the event.

For Microsoft, making a tablet is an especially risky venture because of the enormous profits the PC business produces for Microsoft. Even with the emerging competition from the iPad, Windows remains one of the greatest franchises the technology industry has ever known, accounting for $4.6 billion in sales during its most recently reported quarter.

Its plans could erode the commitment the company’s hardware partners have to Windows since it will effectively be competing with them for sales.

Microsoft has made hardware before. It makes the popular Xbox 360, though that device sustained years of losses and manufacturing problems before it became a success. Microsoft failed with the Zune, a music player that was designed to compete with the iPod.



How Congress is hurting jobs

By Jeanne Sahadi @CNNMoney

June 15, 2012: 12:06 PM ET


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Everyone in Congress says they want to help create jobs and economic growth.

But federal agencies and government contractors in the private sector, which actually hire people, may find that ironic. They are still in the dark about future funding levels because lawmakers have not said whether they will replace heavy-handed automatic spending cuts set to take effect next year.

The so-called sequester — which no one in Congress likes but can’t agree on how to replace — would total about $110 billion next year alone. Half the cuts would come from defense and the other half from nondefense spending on domestic programs.

Most don’t expect lawmakers will reach a decision until the lame-duck session of Congress after Election Day, and possibly not until early 2013.

The problem is that prolonging the uncertainty is likely to cause serious hiring slowdowns and possible layoffs, experts and businesses said.

“If the deleterious consequences … are to be averted it must be done before the lame duck. Indeed, since most elected officials will spend most of the fall campaigning, the [cuts] must be dealt with by September,” according to a recent report from the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Businesses and agencies need to plan for the year ahead, and they simply can’t because they don’t know how many contracts will be funded and how many programs they’ll need to cut back on.

The point is not lost on Democrat Carl Levin, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“[T]hat uncertainty which is created by … the specter of sequestration … is a real threat to this economy. So not only must we avoid sequestration … we must do it in time to avoid a severe weakening to this economy,” he said at a National Press luncheon.

Those in the defense industry say the sequester is already having a chilling effect.

“In the past we’d add head count [in summer] to prepare for new work. This year, we’ll clearly take a more conservative approach until we see what’s going to shake out,” said Samuel Strickland, CFO of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH, Fortune 500) during a recent investor call.

At Lockheed Martin (LMT, Fortune 500), the largest U.S. defense contractor, the story is similar. “We are already taking action by not hiring and training new workers, not investing in new plants and equipment and not investing in new R&D,” said company chairman and CEO Robert Stevens during a Senate caucus lunch in March.

But Stevens also warned that if he doesn’t get clarity soon, he may be forced to issue notice this fall of possible layoffs in 2013. The federal WARN Act requires businesses with more than 100 employees to notify workers at least 60 days in advance of a mass layoff or plant closing.

0:00/1:27Boehner’s ‘line in the sand’ on debt

Since the sequester takes effect Jan. 2, 2013, the WARN Act requirement could mean layoff notices come out a few days before the Nov. 6 election.

But layoff notices are likely to be a measure of last resort for both federal agencies and private sector contractors, said government contracts expert Dan Gordon, who used to run the White House Office of Procurement.

Instead, he said he is expecting “a dramatic slowdown in hiring” this fall.

“It’s very slow and expensive to cut back on the government’s commitment under an existing contract. For both [federal agencies and private contractors] it’s always easier to stop hiring than to lay off existing employees,” Gordon noted.

He also expects federal agencies over the next seven months to be very reluctant to enter into new commitments with contractors, even though government has become more heavily reliant on contractors to do everything from guarding office buildings to running IT departments.

“Why make a commitment that might end up being costly to you?” said Joseph Minarik, senior vice president of the Committee for Economic Development.

Like Gordon, he believes hiring freezes are the greatest risk on the jobs front this fall.

But more than anything, Minarik said, for everyone in the public and the private sector “all the time being spent on planning for this situation is pure economic waste.”



Can you really trust claims about federal pay?

By Camille Tuutti

Jun 13, 2012


Editor’s note: This article was updated June 15, 2012 to attribute a quote about number disparity to Rex Facer, a member of the Federal Salary Council.


Federal pay has never been a straightforward issue, but as many members of Congress and the presidential administration propose freezing, cutting or otherwise changing federal salaries in the name of deficit reduction, it is an important one.

But determining whether government employees are paid more, less or as much as private-sector employees is much harder than it seems.

The complexity is rooted in the different methodologies used when looking at private and public sector compensation, according to panelists at the June 13 Coalition for Effective Change event. The event was held in downtown Washington, D.C., and was sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service.

Rex Facer, a member of the Federal Salary Council and associate professor of public finance and management at the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University, stressed the difficulty in evaluating something that’s rarely an apples-to-apples comparison.

What makes the Federal Salary Council’s analysis different is that it aims to ask how much individuals make, regardless of the sector they work in, he said. The council looks only at direct compensation and doesn’t assess any benefits employees receive, Facer said. However, the council does consider locality pay to explore how variations in compensation level within local labor markets differ from the overall, broad patterns of compensation differences nationwide.

That being said, the council has consistently seen a substantial gap between the pay federal employees receive to the compensation their peers outside the public sector get, Facer said.

Considering research by the council and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “federal employees are undercompensated somewhere, on average, between 30 and 40 percent,” he said.

Fellow panelist Joseph Kile, assistant director of the Microeconomic Studies Division at the Congressional Budget Office, agreed there’s no short answer to the question and offered up significantly different numbers.

The makeup of the federal workforce is vastly different from industry, and those dissimilarities shape compensation. Feds tend to have more education than those in industry, Kile said. Half of the government workforce has bachelor’s degrees, while only 30 percent in the private sector has the same level of schooling.

Education has been “by far been the largest explanatory variable” in trying to answer the question of which sector employees earn more, Kile said. “On average, folks with relatively less education tend to earn more in the federal government than in the private sector, and that’s both in terms of cash compensation and benefits,” he explained.

The reverse is also true for employees with higher levels of education. Those individuals are more likely to earn less in government than those in the private sector with the same level of education, Kile said. In general, however, the CBO finds that feds make about 2 percent more than private sector employees, Kile said.

Answering an audience member’s question about the disparity in the numbers, Facer pointed to the possibility of bad data and flawed methodology. “We may not have all the right data pieces; it could be that we aren’t using the right methodological approaches,” he said.

But finding the “perfect” methodology might be tricky as no approach is flawless, Facer pointed out. “It’s really easy to find chinks in the approaches, no matter which way you’re looking at it,” he said.





Chrome OS reviewed: The final verdict on Google’s cloud platform


By JR Raphael

Published on Computerworld Blogs (

Created Jun 13 2012 – 2:15pm

Today, I’ll get my head out of the cloud.

I’ve spent the past two weeks, you see, using Google’s Chrome OS [1]. I called it my Chrome OS experiment [2]: I wanted to dive in head first and experience what it was like to live completely in Google’s cloud-centric world.

I used a combination of the new Samsung Chromebook (Series 5 550) [3] and the new Samsung Chromebox [4] for the bulk of my computing needs, both in the office and out. Day by day, I detailed different parts of my journey — ranging from my thoughts on the hardware [3] to my impressions of Google’s reimagined software [1] and what it’s really like to work with Chrome OS offline [5].

You can visit each of those chapters for my in-depth thoughts on the topics. Today, I wanted to put it all together to share some final conclusions after two weeks of life in the Chrome lane.

So grab your favorite beverage and buckle up: Our ride starts now.

Conclusion #1: Chrome OS has a come a long, long way.

From both a hardware and software perspective, it’s impossible to overstate just how much Google’s Chrome OS has evolved since its introduction [6] 17 months ago.

The hardware — in both the new Chromebook and Chromebox — is finally powerful enough to support a compelling Chrome OS experience. Past generations of hardware, from the Cr-48 test notebook [7] to the first-gen Samsung Series 5 Chromebook [8], were woefully underpowered and couldn’t keep up with multitasking-style use. As such, it was difficult to embrace them beyond specific and limited circumstances (for me, light traveling and casual around-the-house Web browsing).

The new machines allow us to experience Chrome OS the way it was meant to be experienced — no slowness, no lag, no more hardware limitations holding the software back.

And as for the software? Well…

Conclusion #2: Chrome OS has finally evolved into a true platform.

I’ve been intrigued by Chrome OS since its start, but in the early days, the software had an awful lot of pesky holes [9]. On top of that, it was basically just a series of full-screen browser windows — nothing more — and that one-dimensional environment could feel rather restrictive and jarring to use.

With its newly revamped Chrome OS [1], Google has truly put the “OS” into the equation. Chrome OS sticks to its goal of being a browser-based, cloud-centric platform — but it now does it in a way that’s far more palatable and inviting to the user. Without abandoning its cloud-centric philosophy, the software also allows for a level of local file management and offline functionality [5] — even simple remote access to Windows, Mac, or Linux PCs — taking away most of the platform’s former liabilities.

Conclusion #3: Chrome OS offers a lot of attractive advantages over traditional PC setups.

As I mentioned, I’ve liked Chrome OS for a long time — but between the hardware and software limitations, it’s always been a limited-use, supplementary kind of system for me. With the latest hardware and software upgrades, that’s no longer the case.

In the time I’ve been using the Chromebook and Chromebox, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how little I’ve missed my standard Windows 7 desktop setup. The Chrome OS systems power up in three to five seconds; once you type in your Google credentials, it’s literally another two to three seconds before you’re in a browser window, online and ready to roll. The minutes-long wait for my Windows laptop to boot up and be ready to use has never felt more archaic.

Startup speed aside, the Chrome OS systems make a lot of things about traditional computing environments feel outdated: the cumbersome setup and installation procedures; the annoying and time-consuming OS upgrades; the need to manually update applications over time; the need to use antivirus software [10] (and the accompanying likelihood and potential consequences of infection); the reliance on complicated drivers; and the inevitable bogged-down, slowed-down effect that always seems to happen to PCs after you’ve had ’em for a few months.

Chrome OS doesn’t have any of those hassles. It’s just about getting online and getting stuff done, plain and simple. Most of the annoyances that have long accompanied computer use are nowhere to be found.

And let me tell you: As someone who uses computers all day, that is a huge breath of fresh air. For schools and businesses, too, the implications are enormous [11].

Conclusion #4: Chrome OS still isn’t for everyone.

For all its positives, Chrome OS isn’t going to be the right setup for everyone. If you rely on a lot of resource-intensive local programs — or if you have specific desktop utilities you just adore — you may find Chrome OS frustrating to use. While there are plenty of cloud-based apps available for most purposes, the experience using them isn’t always as good or as complete as what you find on their PC-based equivalents.

For example, even as someone who relies heavily on the cloud these days, using Chrome OS makes me realize how much I prefer the desktop TweetDeck application over its Web-based counterpart (the old desktop TweetDeck app, that is — you know, from before Twitter bought and ruined it [12]). Photoshop is another program where I feel a slight sense of loss; while cloud apps like Aviary [13] do a decent job, they’re just less robust than what I’m used to, and they lack the hotkeys and shortcuts that save me tons of time in my traditional configuration.

For me, I’m finding the tradeoff to be largely worthwhile; I find myself willing to adapt to the cloud apps in exchange for what I gain from Chrome OS. (I also realize that if push comes to shove, I can use Google’s Chrome Remote Desktop feature [14] to remotely utilize Windows-based programs — though outside of basic testing, it isn’t something I’ve done very often.) Depending on your needs and perspective, of course, your mileage may vary.

Chrome OS also requires you to rely primarily on cloud-stored data; if you aren’t comfortable keeping your info on the Web, with services like Gmail, Google Docs, and so forth, the cloud computing concept is definitely not for you.

Conclusion #5: The new Chrome OS devices are no-brainers for anyone using first-gen Chromebooks — and purchases well worth considering for anyone who lives in the cloud and wants a fast computer without the hassles.

No two ways about it: If you have a first-gen Chromebook, you’re going to love the new Chromebook model. It’s everything you like about your current system without the laggy tab-switching and performance limitations. (See this side-by-side comparison video [15] that I posted on Google+ for an illustration.)

If you don’t have a Chrome OS system but do spend a lot of your time in the cloud, meanwhile — relying primarily on Web-based services and storing the bulk of your data online — the new Chrome OS devices are well worth considering.

A lot of people say stuff like: “If you want a system that just runs Chrome, why don’t you buy a Windows laptop and install the Chrome browser? Then it’s the same thing except you can actually run regular desktop programs, too.”

Let me tell you something: Those people are missing the point. Chrome OS isn’t about limiting what you can do; it’s about eliminating the hassles that come with traditional computing. It’s about providing a fast, simple, hassle-free system for people who spend most of their time using the Web and Web-based applications (which, let’s face it, is an increasing number of us in this day and age).

The big variable, then, is the price: The new Samsung Chromebooks cost $450 for the Wi-Fi version and $550 for a 3G-connected model (which includes 100MB a month of data, no contract required, and the option to get additional data on a pay-as-you-go basis [16]). As I’ve said before, I think those prices are a bit high to attract widespread consumer interest [11] — particularly when you consider the variety of full-fledged Windows notebooks and high-end tablets available in that same range.

That said, I don’t think those prices are rip-offs — far from it. I think you get a lot of value for that money: You get excellent hardware, a lifetime of seamless and automatic software updates, and freedom from costly software purchases (Microsoft Office, anyone?) — not to mention freedom from OS problems and potential tech support expenses down the road. When you consider the overall return on investment and total cost of ownership, it really isn’t a bad deal; it’s just not one that’s going to be immediately eye-catching or an easy sell for the average consumer.

If you’re on board with the cloud computing concept, though, I suspect the new Chromebook — or the $329 desktop-based Chromebox — will make you quite happy.

Some personal perspective

After two weeks of using Google’s evolved Chrome OS on the new Chromebook and Chromebox, personally, I’m sold. I have no doubt that I’ll replace my old first-gen Samsung Chromebook with the new model and use it heavily for portable computing, both around the house and out and about.

What about Android tablets? I still have one — and use it — but to be honest, I find myself reaching for the Chromebook more often lately. The larger screen, outstanding full-size keyboard, and top-notch desktop-like browsing experience just make it an ideal way for me to get online and get stuff done fast. My Chrome extensions give me instant on-screen access to things like my Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Voice accounts. The tablet has its strengths and advantages — that’s for damn sure — but for the bulk of what I do online these days, I’m finding the Chromebook to be a quicker and more effective option and a better all-around complement to my Android phone.

Based on my experiences with the new setup, I’m actually tempted to move even further and embrace Chrome OS as my primary desktop platform, too, by way of the Chromebox. As I mentioned, there are really only a couple of traditional OS programs I found myself missing during my Chrome OS experiment — and the pluses of the platform (including the lack of typical-OS hassles) seem to outweigh their absence. The missing dual-monitor extended-desktop functionality is my biggest sticking point right now; with the way I multitask during the day, I need a second monitor connected to my system. Once that feature arrives, I’m going to take a serious look at making a full desktop migration.

So, in summary: It’s been an interesting two weeks living in the cloud — enough so that I’m thinking about turning my vacation into a permanent residence.

[17]Did you miss some parts of my journey? Not to worry: You can time-warp through the full adventure in the box below, all the way from day one through the very end. Chapter to chapter, you’ll find my detailed thoughts and impressions on every part of the Chrome OS experience.

But please: Remain seated with your seatbelt securely fastened. For no particular reason, really. I’ve just always wanted to say that.

The Chrome OS Experiment: The Complete Series

The experiment begins: 2 weeks with Google’s new Chrome computers [2]
Getting to know Samsung’s new Chromebook [3]
Samsung Chromebox: Chrome OS meets the desktop [4]
Chrome OS in-depth: Cloud-centric simplicity, evolved [1]
Chrome OS offline: Using a Chromebook without the cloud [5]
Chrome OS reviewed: The final verdict on Google’s cloud platform [18]

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New Web domains unveiled, could include .beer and .pizza

The Hill

By Brendan Sasso – 06/13/12 09:46 AM ET


The nonprofit organization that manages the Web’s address system unveiled thousands of applications for new Web domain names on Wednesday.

The move marks a massive expansion of the Internet’s domain system, beyond traditional address endings, such as .com and .org.

The list unveiled Wednesday includes company names, such as .Apple, .Amazon, .Gap, .Ford, .Lexus, .Lego and .JPMorgan, as well as generic names, such as .movie, .music, .hotel, .love, .life, .auto, .news, .pizza and .beer.

Google alone applied for more than 100 domains, including .Google, .lol, .mail, .map, .car, .cloud, .dad, .mom, .dot and .fun.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) had expected to receive about 500 applications when it began accepting them earlier this year, but it received more than 1,900.

Groups had to pay $185,000 to apply for each new top-level domain.

The California-based nonprofit will evaluate the applications based on technical and legal criteria but could ultimately approve the vast majority of them.

The list includes 116 applications in international characters, such as Arabic, Mandarin or Hebrew. Groups from North America applied for 911 of the applications, while 675 came from Europe, 303 from Asia, 24 from Latin America and 17 from Africa.

ICANN says the expansion will lead to more choices and spur innovation on the Internet. But advertisers and some business groups warned the change would force companies to defensively buy up names related to their brands.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Jon Leibowitz has expressed concern that the expansion could confuse consumers and enable scammers.

Others have questioned what the nonprofit plans to do with the more than $350 million in application fees.

At an event in London to unveil the application list, ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom rejected the argument that the organization ignored criticism of its plan. He said ICANN included “extensive intellectual property protections,” including a comment period for trademark owners to lodge complaints against applications.


He said the application fees were established to cover the cost to ICANN of managing the system and the group expects to only break even.

Beckstrom added that the public will decide which of the new domains will spawn popular websites.

“It’s up to consumers to pick winners and losers,” he said.


Freeze border security drone purchases, IG says

By Aliya Sternstein

June 12, 2012 updated


Federal investigators are advising that Customs and Border Protection stop buying drones until the Homeland Security Department agency maximizes the flight hours of its existing unmanned aircraft and develops a realistic budget for maintaining them.

CBP’s fleet of remotely-piloted surveillance planes sit unused 63 percent of the time that the vehicles are supposed to be flying, according to a May 30 audit by the DHS inspector general. The nation’s stateside unmanned aircraft systems, or UASs, were commissioned, beginning in 2004, to detect terrorist activity, illegal immigration and smuggling across U.S. borders.

The inspector general recommended that CBP “postpone additional UAS purchases” until completing recommended planning papers.

Based on contract specifications, CBP’s seven drones should have been flying at least 10,662 hours per year, collectively, according to the inspector general’s calculations. The drones flew only 3,909 hours per year total, the report found.

“Despite the current underutilization of unmanned aircraft, CBP received two additional aircraft in late 2011 and was awaiting delivery of a tenth aircraft in 2012,” wrote Anne L. Richards, the Homeland Security Department’s assistant IG for audits. The unmanned aerial surveillance program covers the U.S. southwest, Caribbean, gulf and northern border regions.

CBP reported that between fiscal 2006 and 2011 the agency spent $55.3 million for drone operations and maintenance but never prepared an operations and maintenance budget for the program. “This has resulted in a budget shortfall,” Richards wrote, adding that CBP transferred about $25 million from other programs in fiscal 2010 to fill the financial gap. “As a result of CBP’s insufficient funding approach, future UAS missions may have to be curtailed,” she added.

The agency did not budget for drone-related equipment, either, according to the report. As a result, the Corpus Christi National Air Security Operations Center was missing a compatible ground control station for the “Predator” drone and had to borrow one from the Cocoa Beach operations center. In addition, on at least three occasions that lasted a total of 9 days, the Grand Forks operations center could not launch aircraft because maintenance tools were unavailable.

In response to a draft report, CBP officials said that the agency has documents that guide funding requests for operations, maintenance and equipment.


“Funding requests arc developed to support the [UAS program], but the actual funding provided to the program is subject to changing department and agency criteria,” James Tomsheck, assistant commissioner for the CBP internal affairs office, wrote in an April 4 letter to the Homeland Security inspector general. “CBP will continue to request adequate funding based on known and projected operational requirements while judiciously utilizing available resources to accomplish CBP’s mission.”

The assistant inspector general said such planning materials are inadequate and not what was requested. “CBP’s comments do not appear to address the recommendation, which will remain open and unresolved until CBP provides specific documentation that details how it plans to achieve the [minimum flight hours expected] and acquire funding to provide necessary operations, maintenance, and equipment,” Richards wrote in the final report.

Responding to the recommendation that CBP halt drone procurements, agency officials said they do not currently have plans to acquire more aircraft, unless directed to do so by a higher authority.

The inspector general did not seem convinced that this answer meant CBP would postpone future drone buys. “CBP comments do not fully address the intent of the recommendation, because it indicated there are no plans to expand the UAS fleet,” Richards stated.

The agency has spent $152 million to acquire the nine vehicles currently in its inventory.

One way for CBP to obtain additional funding for drone support would be to rent its fleet to other federal agencies but the IG found it has not brokered agreements to obtain reimbursement from departments other than the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In the past, CBP’s drone program has aided Immigration and Customs Enforcement by monitoring a suspected smuggler tunnel. And the unmanned planes captured periodic images of flooded locations that allowed the National Guard to position high-water vehicles and sandbags where they were most needed.

In their written response to the audit, CBP officials said there already were ongoing efforts at Homeland Security to address the reimbursement issue.

On Tuesday afternoon, CBP officials said they had completed appropriate strategic planning for the program going forward that covers the inspector general’s budgetary recommendation. The agency does not currently have plans to purchase additional drones, they added.

“CBP’s Unmanned Aircraft System program provides command, control, communication, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability to support personnel and capabilities on the ground,” CBP spokesman Michael Friel said in a statement. “CBP concurred with the recommendations in the inspector general’s report and is committed to continuing to improve the UAS program.”

After receiving the audit, some Democratic lawmakers chided the agency for letting drones sit unused.

“The agency is spending money without adequate or proper planning, resulting in expensive aircraft spending most of the time idle on the ground,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. “CBP must implement the OIG’s recommendations to ensure the UAS program makes [the most] out of taxpayer money and our border security budget. CBP must also institute procedures so that its programs have the proper planning in place.”


Air Force space vehicle comes in for a landing

by Tech. Sgt. Julie Weckerlein
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

6/16/2012 – WASHNGTON (AFNS) — The Air Force’s unmanned, reusable space plane landed in the early morning of June 16 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., a successful conclusion to a record-setting test-flight mission that began March 5 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, one of two such vehicles, spent 469 days in orbit to conduct on-orbit experiments, primarily checkout of the vehicle itself.

“The vehicle was designed for a mission duration of about 270 days,” said Lt. Col. Tom McIntyre, the X-37B program manager. “We knew from post-flight assessments from the first mission that OTV-1 could have stayed in orbit longer. So one of the goals of this mission was to see how much farther we could push the on-orbit duration.”

Managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the X-37B program performs risk reduction, experimentation, and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies. The X-37B mission is the longest space mission only after the NASA Discovery shuttle program.

The 11,000-pound state-of-the-art vehicle, which is about a fourth the size of the shuttle, allows space technology experts to continue sending up experiments, with results returning safely to Earth for study.

“With the retirement of the space shuttle fleet, the X-37B OTV program brings a singular capability to space technology development,” McIntyre said. “The return capability allows the Air Force to test new technologies without the same risk commitment faced by other programs”

The vehicle was initially a NASA initiative, but was transferred to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2004. When it first launched in 2006, it was lauded for its cutting-edge technologies, such as the auto de-orbit capability, thermal protection tiles, and high-temperature components and seals.

“The X-37B’s advanced thermal protection and solar power systems, and environmental modeling and range safety technologies are just some of the technologies being tested,” said McIntyre. “Each mission helps us continue to advance the state-of-the-art in these areas.”



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