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October 20 2012

October 22, 2012




DARPA to shift away from short term applied battlefield tech


By Joseph Marks

October 12, 2012


As the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan winds down, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency should focus less on responding to immediate conflicts and more on tackling obstacles the United States could face years or decades in the future, the agency’s director said Friday.

“We’re coming through an extended period with two active wars,” DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar said. “Very naturally some of our focus over the last many years has been shifted to taking our technologies into the field and getting our products into the hands of warfighters. I think we’ve made some real impact with that . . . We learned a lot in that process as well.”

But the Pentagon’s research arm can best serve the military and the nation by focusing less on current challenges and returning to its traditional mission.

“DARPA’s core mission is to be preparing for the future,” Prabhakar said. “I think it’s a very important time for us as an agency, given our charter, to put our heads up and look ahead and be cognizant of national security challenges much broader than the counterinsurgency focus that, of course, has pulled in some of our more applied work.”

Prabhakar became DARPA director July 30. She was speaking at a breakfast event sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association.

The agency will shift to focus more on cybersecurity, analysis of large and complex data sets, and the next generation of biological research, she said.

Among the challenges DARPA will face, Prabhakar said, is adapting to a world in which commercial rather than government technology underlies most complex systems and in which the United States has less of an edge in technological innovation.

“We as a country and [DARPA] as a national security enterprise had an extended period of time during which the United States had huge technological advantages and huge industrial advantages across many, many sectors,” she said. “Today, we live in a world where so much of the technology we rely on for national security is globally available — whether it’s all aspects of information technology or materials technology or manufacturing and production technology . . . One thing we must do is continue to be the world’s best user and the best builder of capabilities from this globally available tool set.”

As such, senior leaders must determine which elements of research and production are so vital to national security that the nation must maintain domestic capabilities and which can be purchased reliably from abroad, she said.

The agency also will try to help combat the relative decline in the number of U.S. students pursuing science, technology, engineering and math degrees, she said.


“One of the very first things we do to contribute is to do the projects that are so inspiring that kids get excited about doing technology,” Prabhakar said. “I think that’s a nontrivial contribution that DARPA makes.”



Rise In U.S. Hacker Attacks Against China


Kenneth Rapoza, Contributor

10/14/2012 @ 8:32PM |1,332 views


News last week that a U.S. government report alleged Chinese telecom companies were likely spying on U.S. firms comes at a time when Chinese companies are getting hacked into like never before. Including from computer systems in the U.S.

Now China has joined the chorus of countries saying the internet is no longer safe.

Whether it’s Huawei supposedly spying on U.S. telecom partners, or Chinese hackers breaking into Washington secrets, the same now holds for China. Foreigners are hacking into or spying on secret Chinese systems in ever-increasing numbers.

As Cybercrime Increases, Being Anonymous Getting Harder Kenneth RapozaContributor

About 7.8 million Chinese computers were affected in 27,900 IP attacks that originated in other countries. And that’s just between January and June, China’s National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team said on Monday.

The source of the attacks? The majority come from the U.S.

The United States hosted many of the overseas command and control servers that were used in the attacks — upwards of 24 percent. Japan was used 17.2 percent of the time, followed by computers in South Korea at 11.4 percent.

“Online attacks against our country are coming from outside our borders and the situation is growing more serious,” Zhou Yonglin, the team’s administration and operation director, told China Daily in an article published in Monday’s edition.

The number of computers affected so far this is nearly the same as the 47,000 attacks in all of 2011.

Hackers use IP addresses and servers overseas to infect networks with Trojan viruses and create Botnets, collections of compromised devices, Zhou said.

In April, global hactivist group Anonymous said it planned to destroy five Chinese corporate websites. That same month, hackers from the Philippines busted through safeguards at several Chinese-owned websites and graffitied them with political messages angry at Beijing for a dispute over Huangyan Island.




Usability expert: ‘Confusing’ Windows 8 is a ‘cognitive burden’


Summary: The claim that the Windows 8 learning curve “is going to be steep” should set off alarm bells in the heads of anyone thinking of deploying Microsoft’s new OS in an enterprise environment.

By Adrian Kingsley-Hughes for Hardware 2.0 | August 21, 2012 — 09:31 GMT (02:31 PDT)


Windows 8 may be fast, and it might turn that old PC of yours into “Greased Lightning”, but according to a usability expert that new user interface gets in the way of users actually being able to use the new operating system.

Raluca Budiu, a user experience specialist with Nielsen Norman Group, claims that the new user interface — previous called Metro but now renamed Modern UI by Microsoft — is “confusing” and imposes “a cognitive burden” on users.

In other words, people have to think too much.

Speaking to Laptop Magazine, Budiu claims that Windows 8 is “confusing” because the user has to remember which apps are running on the desktop rather than just being able to switch to them directly with a single click, as with previous versions of Windows. Windows 8 doesn’t give users a way to see which desktop apps are running when in the Metro Start Screen.

Budiu also highlights a number of problems relating to using Windows 8 with a mouse. Microsoft’s decision to hide menus not only slows the user down, but also makes the menus themselves less likely to be used.

“The fact that the menus are hidden is primarily what slows users down,” says Budiu. “Remember that what’s out of sight is out of mind. In our studies with mobile devices we found that whenever a menu was not in plain view, even users who knew about the existence of that menu didn’t use it as much or took a longer time to think to use it than if the menu options were all visible. So it’s not only the hovering that slows users down — it’s the lack of visibility that makes these menus less available”.

There’s also criticism in Microsoft’s decision to take what it thinks works on mobile platforms, to then apply this to desktop systems with larger screens.

“The idea of hiding the controls to give priority to content may make sense on mobile, where screen space is so limited, but it doesn’t make that much sense on a large screen, especially if users have to work harder to access hidden features”.

Budiu lambasts Microsoft’s move to shoe-horn together two user interfaces into a single operating system. This, she claims, will cause “a cognitive burden” for users as they have to remember how each user interface works and “is likely to confuse at least some of the users”.

Enterprise users who are thinking of deploying Windows 8 should take note of the fact that Budiu goes on to say that the Windows 8 learning curve “is going to be steep”.

This claim alone should act as a warning to anyone thinking of putting Windows 8 in the hands of thousands of users in an environment where you expect people to get work done. Training costs could eclipse the costs of deploying Windows 8, and offset any savings that the new operating system might offer.


Back in June, I called Windows 8 a “design disaster.” As much as I like the speed and performance gains that the new operating system brings, and despite being rock-solid, snappy and responsive, as a platform to do real-world work on Windows 8 feels utterly unusable. There’s too much mystery meat navigation and the last thing I want is for my PC to force me into playing “hunt the app” every time I want to get something done.


Microsoft prices Wi-Fi Surface tablet below new Apple iPad

Reuters – October 16, 2012

SEATTLE (Reuters) – Microsoft Corp is setting the price of its new Surface tablet below comparable versions of Apple Inc’s iPad, signaling its intent to grab a slice of the booming tablet market.

The world’s largest software company, which announced its surprise foray into computer manufacturing in June, said it would sell a 32-gigabyte (GB), Wi-Fi only version of its tablet at $499, versus $599 for a comparable version of Apple’s new iPad.

Microsoft’s tablet, which is taller and slightly heavier than an iPad, will go on sale on October 26 as the company launches the new touch-friendly Windows 8 operating system. A limited number will be available for pre-order from a Microsoft website from Tuesday morning.

The company is hoping the Surface – along with Windows tablets from other hardware makers – will challenge the dominance of Apple’s iPad, which has 70 percent of the tablet market after essentially inventing the category in 2010.

The iPad’s popularity demolished the market for mini-laptops called netbooks, and crimped the sales of full-scale PCs, eating away at Microsoft’s Windows market.

Based on a Nvidia Corp chip designed by ARM Holdings, the Surface will run a simplified version of Windows 8 that is not compatible with old Microsoft applications.

However, the tablet will feature new app-style versions of Office mainstays such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel, and will include Xbox games, video and music apps.

The Surface, with two cameras and a USB port, will be Wi-Fi only. Microsoft has made no mention of a wireless-enabled version.

On top of the basic model, Microsoft will also offer a 32GB model bundled with a black ‘Touch Cover’ – that doubles as a keyboard – for $599, and a 64GB version with a black Touch Cover for $699.

That compares to $699 for a 64GB Wi-Fi only version of the new iPad.

Since announcing the Surface in June, Microsoft had been silent on the price range, saying only that it would be “competitive” with similar products.

Some market watchers had speculated that Microsoft might price its first tablet even lower to compete with Apple’s less-powerful iPad 2, which costs $399, or smaller rivals such as’s Kindle Fire HD and Google Inc’s Nexus 7, which start at $199.


Alongside Microsoft’s physical stores in the United States and Canada, the Surface will be generally available online from October 26 for consumers in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Britain and the United States.

A second, heavier Surface tablet aimed at the new generation of lightweight laptops called “ultrabooks,” running on traditional Intel Corp chips, is expected on the market in a few months.

(Reporting By Bill Rigby; Editing By Ryan Woo)



Federal retirees will get 1.7 percent COLA next year


By Kellie Lunney

Ocober 16, 2012


Federal retirees will receive a 1.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment in 2013, according to the latest government figures.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics early Tuesday released September’s inflation figure, the final data point needed to calculate the 2013 COLA. Inflation stayed relatively low over 2012, resulting in a 2013 COLA that is much less than this year’s 3.6 percent bump.

The government publishes the annual cost-of-living adjustments typically in late October, based on the percentage increase (if any) in the average Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) for the third quarter of the current year over the average for the third quarter of the last year in which a COLA became effective. The CPI-W measures price changes in food, housing, gas and other goods and services. The 3.6 percent boost in 2012 was the first COLA increase since 2008.

The average of the July, August and September numbers along with the average figure from the third quarter of 2011 are used to calculate the 2013 COLA.

All federal retirees — whether they are covered by the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees Retirement System — will receive the full 1.7 percent. According to the formula, if the full COLA increase is 3 percent or higher, as it was for 2012, then FERS retirees receive 1 percent less than the full increase. So FERS retirees received a 2.6 percent boost for 2012. If the COLA falls between 2 percent and 3 percent, then FERS retirees would receive 2 percent. If the increase is less than 2 percent, as it will be in 2013, FERS retirees receive the same as CSRS retirees.

The increase will result in about $21 more per month for retirees, according to an Associated Press report.

This year’s increase takes effect on Dec. 1 and will be reflected in retirees’ first annuity payments in January 2013. The salaries of federal employees are not affected by the COLA announcement.

The COLA amount that recipients actually end up with is affected by Medicare Part B premiums, since those premiums are deducted from Social Security payments. The government will announce the 2013 premiums, expected to increase between 5 percent and 10 percent over 2012 rates, later this fall. That means recipients likely will see less than the 1.7 percent expected increase.

Joseph A. Beaudoin, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said his organization was pleased that retirees will receive “some relief” from inflation. “This is welcome news for retirees who have seen the cost of living continue to increase over the past year,” he said. “As Congress debates ways to avoid the ‘fiscal cliff,’ NARFE is prepared to oppose any changes to the COLA formula that would have an adverse effect on retirees.”


White House ponders a strike over Libya attack


Associated Press

October 16, 2012


WASHINGTON — The White House, under political pressure to respond forcefully to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, is readying strike forces and drones but first has to find a target.

And if the administration does find a target, officials say it still has to weigh whether the short-term payoff of exacting retribution on al-Qaida is worth the risk that such strikes could elevate the group’s profile in the region, alienate governments the U.S. needs to fight the group in the future and do little to slow the growing terror threat in North Africa.

Details on the administration’s position and on its search for a possible target were provided by three current and one former administration official, as well as an analyst who was approached by the White House for help. All four spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the high-level debates publicly.

In another effort to bolster Libyan security, the Pentagon and State Department have been developing a plan to train and equip a special operations force in Libya, according to a senior defense official.

The efforts show the tension of the White House’s need to demonstrate it is responding forcefully to al-Qaida, balanced against its long-term plans to develop relationships and trust with local governments and build a permanent U.S. counterterrorist network in the region.

Vice President Joe Biden pledged in his debate last week with Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan to find those responsible for the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others.

“We will find and bring to justice the men who did this,” Biden said in response to a question about whether intelligence failures led to lax security around Stevens and the consulate. Referring back to the raid that killed Osama bin Laden last year, Biden said American counterterror policy should be, “if you do harm to America, we will track you to the gates of hell if need be.”

The White House declined to comment on the debate over how best to respond to the Benghazi attack.

The attack has become an issue in the U.S. election season, with Republicans accusing the Obama administration of being slow to label the assault an act of terrorism and slow to strike back at those responsible. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday night that the security of State Department operations was her responsibility.

The White House is “aiming for a small pop, a flash in the pan, so as to be able to say, ‘Hey, we’re doing something about it,'” said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Rudy Attalah, the former Africa counterterrorism director for Defense Department under President George W. Bush.

Attalah noted that in 1998, after the embassy bombing in Nairobi, the Clinton administration fired cruise missiles to take out a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan that may have been producing chemical weapons for al-Qaida.


“It was a way to say, ‘Look, we did something,'” he said.

On the subject of developing a special operations unit, U.S. officials received approval from Congress well before the Benghazi attack to reprogram some funding in the budget that could be used for the commando program in Libya. But the details are still being discussed with the Libyans and also must get final approval from Congress, according to the defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The initial cost is estimated at about $6.2 million.

The defense official said U.S. leaders have recognized the need to train Libyan commando forces, but details such as the size, mission and composition of the forces are still being finalized.

A Washington-based analyst with extensive experience in Africa said administration officials have approached him for help in connecting the dots to Mali, whose northern half fell to al-Qaida-linked rebels this spring. They wanted to know if he could suggest potential targets, which he says he was not able to do.

“The civilian side is looking into doing something and is running into a lot of pushback from the military side,” the analyst said. “The resistance that is coming from the military side is because the military has both worked in the region and trained in the region. So they are more realistic.”

Islamists in the region are preparing for a reaction from the U.S.

“If America hits us, I promise you that we will multiply the Sept. 11 attack by 10,” said Oumar Ould Hamaha, a spokesman for the Islamists in northern Mali, while denying that his group or al-Qaida fighters based in Mali played a role in the Benghazi attack.

Finding the militants who overwhelmed a small security force at the consulate isn’t going to be easy.

The key suspects are members of the Libyan militia group Ansar al-Shariah. The group has denied responsibility, but eyewitnesses saw Ansar fighters at the consulate, and U.S. intelligence intercepted phone calls after the attack from Ansar fighters to leaders of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, bragging about it. The affiliate’s leaders are known to be mostly in northern Mali, where they have seized a territory as large as Texas following a coup in the country’s capital. The Maghreb is a region of northwest Africa that stretches from Libya to Mauritania.

But U.S. investigators have only loosely linked “one or two names” to the attack, and they lack proof that it was planned ahead of time or that the local fighters had any help from the larger al-Qaida affiliate, officials say.

If that proof is found, the White House must decide whether to ask Libyan security forces to arrest the suspects with an eye to extraditing them to the U.S. for trial or to simply target the suspects with U.S. covert action.

U.S. officials say covert action is more likely. The FBI couldn’t gain access to the consulate until weeks after the attack, so it is unlikely it will be able to build a strong criminal case. The U.S. is also leery of trusting the arrest and questioning of the suspects to the fledgling Libyan security forces and legal system still building after the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

The burden of proof for U.S. covert action is far lower, but action by the CIA or special operations forces still requires a body of evidence that shows the suspect either took part in the violence or presents a “continuing and persistent, imminent threat” to U.S. targets, current and former officials said.


“If the people who were targeted were themselves directly complicit in this attack or directly affiliated with a group strongly implicated in the attack, then you can make an argument of imminence of threat,” said Robert Grenier, former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.

But if the U.S. acts alone to target them in Africa, “it raises all kinds of sovereignty issues … and makes people very uncomfortable,” said Grenier, who has criticized the CIA’s heavy use of drones in Pakistan without that government’s support.

Even a strike that happens with permission could prove problematic, especially in Libya or Mali, where al-Qaida supporters are currently based. Both countries have fragile, interim governments that could lose popular support if they are seen allowing the U.S. unfettered access to hunt al-Qaida.

The Libyan government is so wary of the U.S. investigation expanding into unilateral action that it refused requests to arm the drones now being flown over Libya. Libyan officials have complained publicly that they were unaware of how large the U.S. intelligence presence was in Benghazi until a couple of dozen U.S. officials showed up at the airport after the attack, waiting to be evacuated – roughly twice the number of U.S. staff the Libyans thought were there. A number of those waiting to be evacuated worked for U.S. intelligence, according to two American officials.

In Mali, U.S. officials have urged the government to allow special operations trainers to return, to work with Mali’s forces to push al-Qaida out of that country’s northern area. AQIM is among the groups that filled the power vacuum after a coup by rebellious Malian forces in March.

U.S. special operations forces trainers left Mali just days after the coup. While such trainers have not been invited to return, the U.S. has expanded its intelligence effort on Mali, focusing satellite and spy flights over the contested northern region to track and map the militant groups vying for control of the territory, officials say.

Read more here:



Oct. 13, 2012 – 12:25 p.m.

Could Gas Tax Provide Detour From Fiscal Cliff?

By Nathan Hurst, CQ Staff

Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel famously observed that no crisis should be wasted — and those who want more spending for transportation are heeding that advice as they press for an increase in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes as part of any grand bargain to resolve the deficit reduction dilemma.

Transportation trade and industry groups see a unique opportunity in the negotiations aimed at avoiding draconian spending cuts and tax increases that will kick in at the end of the year unless Congress acts to avoid them. They are betting that an increase in motor fuels taxes that Congress otherwise would never seriously consider might stand a better chance as part of a bigger package that cuts spending and overhauls taxes and entitlement programs.

“In the context of much larger goals, the timing — if it’s ever going to be right — is now,” says Jack Basso, program finance and management director for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Basso speaks from experience. He was a top finance executive in the Transportation Department when the gasoline and diesel taxes were last boosted in 1993, as part of President Bill Clinton’s deficit reduction package. Eleven years earlier, the gasoline tax was more than doubled to 9 cents a gallon from 4 cents a gallon, also as part of a broader revenue package signed by President Ronald Reagan.

“Historically, when you think back about it, look at all the user fee increases we’ve gotten in the last 20-plus years, they’ve always been part of something else,” says T. Peter Ruane, president and chief executive of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. “Go all the way back to the budget deals of the late ’80s or early ’90s. Getting a straightforward user fee increase, as an example, as part of a transportation authorization program hasn’t happened lately.”

Linking an increase in motor fuels taxes to a tax and spending package is an idea endorsed by the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission, which suggested phasing in a 15-cent-per-gallon increase over three years.

Although neither Congress nor the Obama administration embraced the recommendations of the presidential commission led by former Republican Sen. Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, the concept may provide a framework for efforts in Congress to avoid the “fiscal cliff” at year’s end.

Industry groups including the roadbuilders, state highway directors and U.S. Chamber of Commerce see a narrow window of opportunity to gain a more sustainable stream of revenue for the Highway Trust Fund, and they are actively lobbying to be part of any deal.

“The long-term picture for transportation could very well be addressed in these sessions, the so-called fiscal-cliff sessions,” Ruane says. “And we are working that very aggressively, but mostly, you know, behind the scenes.”

Ideally, he says, the issue would be addressed in the next highway and transit authorization, “but if there is an opportunity to resolve that here now, as part of these overall fiscal discussions, then we’re ready to be part of the conversation, believe me.”

Funding Shortfalls

For the past decade, tax revenue for the Highway Trust Fund has fallen short of spending — $44 billion less from 2001 through 2011. The 27-month surface transportation authorization enacted in July needed an $18.8 billion infusion in general Treasury funds to meet projected spending. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the gap between highway revenue and spending will grow to about $147 billion over the next decade.

One factor is that Congress never indexed the 18.4-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax and 24.4-cents-a-gallon diesel tax to inflation when it last increased the taxes in 1993, meaning that the trust fund’s buying power has eroded. Making matters worse, user tax receipts are growing more slowly as Americans respond to higher gasoline and diesel prices by driving less and buying more-fuel-efficient vehicles. The CBO projects that new fuel economy standards phasing in through 2025 will reduce gas tax receipts by 21 percent once they are fully implemented.

Meanwhile, experts warn that the nation needs to increase dramatically its investments in roads, bridges, transit systems and waterways. The American Society of Civil Engineers, which admittedly has a vested interest in construction, graded the state of the nation’s infrastructure as a “D” in its 2009 report card and said $2.2 trillion over five years would be necessary to improve the status to a good condition.

“The Highway Trust Fund is facing its own fiscal cliff,” says Jack L. Schenendorf, a transportation lobbyist who was Republican chief of staff on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and later served on an independent commission created by Congress to identify long-term transportation funding solutions.

In the long run, simply raising gas and diesel taxes won’t fill the need, because the trend to high-mileage vehicles and alternative fuels will accelerate. While recognizing the eventual need to restructure highway financing, both the Simpson-Bowles panel and two study commissions mandated by the 2005 surface transportation law recommended gas and diesel tax increases as an immediate step.

But raising taxes is never easy, and a gasoline tax increase is especially difficult when motorists are already paying near-record prices at the pump. Shortly after taking office, the Obama administration rejected a motor fuels tax increase, saying it would be unfair to raise the burden on motorists during a recession.

Transportation lobbyists see the deficit deliberations as a rare chance to address their issue, because any deficit reduction agreement will necessarily require lawmakers to make painful choices. In that context, raising gasoline taxes would be just one more difficult decision and not one that would stand out on its own.

“When you talk about it in terms of the government’s overall fiscal cliff, this is a place where this can be attached,” Schenendorf says.

A transportation lobbyist says the idea of addressing surface transportation financing in a deficit reduction package has been presented to the bipartisan group of senators, led by Virginia Democrat Mark Warner, that is working on a plan to avert the automatic spending reductions and tax increases.

“There is definitely an openness to what we’re saying,” the lobbyist says. “Our message is clear: If you are going to go big, why not go really big and get this out of the way?”

As the Warner-led “Gang of Eight” tries to come up with a plan that would include revenue increases and structural changes to entitlement programs, along with spending cuts, another group of senators led by Finance Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, is focused on extending some of the expiring tax credits as well as a broader tax overhaul.

Both Obama and his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, have expressed general support for the idea of rewriting the tax code to reduce overall tax rates while eliminating a variety of tax credits and exemptions. One scenario might be an ambitious tax overhaul early in the next Congress following a stopgap measure this winter to step back from the fiscal cliff.

“I think it is going to be hard to get a long-term Highway Trust Fund solution in the lame-duck fiscal cliff efforts,” says Janet Kavinoky, executive director for transportation and infrastructure issues at the Chamber of Commerce. But, she adds, there “could be a vehicle” if the 113th Congress moves forward on “comprehensive tax reform and spending issues.”

Role for Fuels Tax

One of the study groups set up by the 2005 highway law acknowledged a “growing consensus” that an alternative to the fuels tax — such as taxing vehicle mileage — will be needed in about 20 years, but it concluded that gasoline and diesel taxes should continue to play an important role for the foreseeable future.

The commission, on which Schenendorf served as vice chairman, said the fuels tax has several important advantages, including “low administrative and compliance costs, relative stability and predictability, and ease of implementation.” The panel recommended a 5-cent to 8-cent annual increase in the per-gallon tax on motor fuels for five years, after which the tax would be indexed to inflation. The panel also called for a series of additional user fees, including levies on transit, train tickets and freight fees.

“For us, all of the options are on the table,” Ruane says, adding that any progress on infrastructure spending will depend on whether lawmakers have the stomach to raise user fees or add new ones. But he sees growing interest in Congress since the surface transportation authorization was enacted in July in addressing the funding shortfalls.


“I do think there’s some support up there, on both sides of the aisle, to revisit some of these more controversial ideas or come up with some new ones,” Ruane says. “We try to keep tabs on the math of this as to where people are leaning and I think that — push comes to shove — there will be some surprises. There’s some good support for these things.”


John D. Boyd and Anne L. Kim contributed to this story.

Editorial: U.S. Technology Leadership Tested

Aviation Week

October 15, 2012

It wasn’t that long ago that the U.S. essentially dominated the defense industry. From fighters and helicopters to airlifters and armored personnel carriers, the only reasons anyone did not buy American were that they couldn’t afford it, were banned for being Communists, or they were trying to protect their own domestic capability, regardless of the cost to their taxpayers.

Some people still think that is still the picture today. It’s not. In this issue, we look at international lightweight armor technologies (DT10) and the global use of autonomous vehicles at sea (DT4)—and it certainly doesn’t seem that the U.S. is leading in either area. The first is fundamental to the future of protected vehicles and the second to the design and operation of surface combatants.

But the U.S. is still dominant in aviation, you may argue. The answer is, “for now.” The Joint Strike Fighter promises to continue the tactical aircraft reign for decades, but with no firm price, in-service date or operating cost predictions, “promise” is the operative word.

So how did the U.S. not retain near total dominance in defense advancements, despite the fact that it outspends the rest of the world on science and technology, development and production? The answer may lie in the wreckage of more than a half-dozen major U.S. programs in the last 20 years that burned billions of dollars and delivered a fraction of the promised capability, if at all. Consider the B-2, Comanche, Ground Combat Systems and the Zumwalt destroyer, just for starters.

To be sure, not many defense programs outside the U.S. have performed much better. The Typhoon, as one observer likes to put it, “will be great when it’s finished”—a process that has taken more than 20 years to date. The U.K. has had to cut its Type 45 destroyer fleet in half. But at least Typhoon is in service with an active upgrade program (as are Rafale and Gripen) and the U.K. has twice as many Type 45s as the U.S. Navy will have DDG-1000 destroyers.


What, then, is the difference?

First, there is the sheer size of the U.S. military and the cost of always trying to outfit it with leading-edge technology. Force size is a decision above the acquisition planners’ pay grade—but it is also not possible to indefinitely increase the capability of each aircraft, ship or vehicle without also increasing total program cost.

Nevertheless, there is a powerful temptation to pursue ambitious programs that promise more capability for the same or less money, and the failure to deliver this is where the death spiral begins.


Instead, with smaller numbers of programs, personnel and budget allocations, defense technology should be focusing on what is unique, such as signatures and aerodynamics, and harvesting what is not unique from other technology bases and supply chains, military and otherwise.


Iran Renews Internet Attacks on U.S. Banks

Officials Blame Tehran for Sophisticated Disruptions of Capital One and BB&T Websites; More Strikes Planned Thursday.


Updated October 17, 2012, 9:28 p.m. ET


WASHINGTON—Iranian hackers renewed a campaign of cyberattacks against U.S. banks this week, targeting Capital One Financial Corp. COF -0.47% and BB&T Corp. BBT -5.04% and openly defying U.S. warnings to halt, U.S. officials and others involved in the investigation into the attacks said.

The attacks, which disrupted the banks’ websites, showed the ability of the Iranian group to sustain its cyberassault on the nation’s largest banks for a fifth week, even as it announced its plans to attack in advance.

U.S. officials said the attacks against banks, and others against Middle Eastern energy companies, were sponsored by the Iranian government and approved at high levels as part of a low-grade cyberwar that officials warned could lead to retaliation.

Unclear is at what point attacks on individual banks constitute an assault on the overall financial system that would call for a forceful response from the U.S. military, which has formed a “Cyber Command” to help defend government computers and critical civilian networks.

“It is a fair question,” said a senior U.S. official. “I am not sure I have the answer to it.”

Iranian officials didn’t respond to requests to comment.

BB&T worked Wednesday to restore the bank’s website, and Capital One was adding new security to its website, which was attacked on Tuesday, the banks said. BB&T operates the 11th biggest U.S. bank, and Capital One runs the 13th largest, according to a Federal Reserve ranking by consolidated assets.

In previous weeks, the group had stated which banks it would target, but its announcement posted on the Internet this week didn’t say which banks it planned to attack. The hacker group, which calls itself Qassam Cyber Fighters, said it planned further attacks Thursday.

The announcement, posted Tuesday, took a swipe at Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who last week issued a veiled warning to Iran to stop its cyberattacks and announced that the Pentagon spends $3 billion a year on cyber defenses.

The Qassam Cyber Fighters says it is retaliating for the anti-Islamic video made in America that has caused protests in Muslim countries. U.S. officials, however, say the hackers claim privately to be attacking U.S. financial institutions and energy companies in the Persian Gulf in response to crippling sanctions that have cut oil production in half and sent the Iranian currency tumbling.

“We have a suggestion for Mr. Panetta,” the group wrote in garbled English in their announcement on the Internet. It said that instead of “spending several billions that won’t be good for you, tell your henchmen on YouTube” to remove the anti-Islamic video.

The hacking group’s statement Tuesday also said it believed that U.S. banks were “howling under pressure from the attacks.”


“They clearly specialize in computers and not Shakespearean prose—in English or Persian,” said a senior defense official, after reading the announcement. “We take all cyberthreats seriously and believe that we need to do all we can as a country to defend ourselves against them.”

The Iranian attacks started at the beginning of this year when a few U.S. banks were pounded with unusually potent so-called denial-of-service attacks, which bombard websites to try to knock them off-line.

Iranian hackers turned this summer to some oil-and-gas companies in the Middle East, where they also destroyed company data, U.S. officials said.

Last month, they renewed their cyberassaults on the U.S. financial sector, announcing plans to target specific banks on specific days.

These latest attacks, which investigators say are at least 10 times as potent as the types of denial-of-service attacks hackers have mounted in the past, have disrupted service at even the largest U.S. banks. The highly sophisticated computer attack is using a new cyberweapon called “itsoknoproblembro,” according to the computer-security firm Prolexic Technologies.

The group has now attacked at least nine different U.S. banks, in some cases knocking websites offline and slowing the performance of others.

Banks were on edge early this week in anticipation of another cyber onslaught, according to people familiar with the investigation into the Iranian hacking campaign.

Tuesday’s attack on Capital One blocked access to the bank’s website for a number of hours.

“We experienced some disruption yesterday,” said Capital One spokeswoman Tatiana Stead. “There was minimal impact to the vast majority of our customers. All of our systems are fully operational.”

She added that after “the recent events,” the bank has “taken a number of precautions which may inadvertently cause some challenges for a small number of customers visiting our website.”

A small group of Capital One customers were also unable to access the bank’s website on Wednesday as it took additional security measures to block future cyberattacks, a Capital One official said, noting that customers could still access their accounts over the phone, on mobile devices, or in person at a bank branch.

At BB&T, spokeswoman Cynthia Williams said Wednesday that the bank was experiencing “intermittent outages” on its website “due to a denial-of-service’ event.”

She emphasized that these attacks don’t target an individual accounts or the bank’s internal computer systems. Instead they cause website disruptions that delay customers’ abilities to access their accounts.


US ambassador: Internet fee proposal gaining momentum

The Hill

Brendan Sasso 10/13/12 06:00 AM ET


U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer warned on Friday that a proposal to give a United Nations agency more control over the Internet is gaining momentum in other countries.

Proposals to expand the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) authority over the Internet could come up at a treaty conference in Dubai in December. European telecommunications companies are pushing a plan that would create new rules that would allow them to charge more to carry international traffic.

The proposal by the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association could force websites like Google, Facebook and Netflix to pay fees to network operators around the world.

Kramer said the idea of an international Internet fee is “gaining more interest in the African states and also in the Arab states.”

He said the United States delegation to the conference will have to redouble its efforts to convince other countries that the proposal would only stifle innovation and economic growth.

“We support efforts to grow broadband markets—not just divvying a static pie of revenue between operators and governments,” Kramer said in a speech in Washington hosted by the Telecommunications Industry Association.

Democrats and Republicans in the United States are united against proposals to increase international control of the Internet. Congress passed a non-binding resolution earlier this year urging the United States delegation to “promote a global Internet free from government control and preserve and advance the successful multistakeholder model that governs the Internet today.”

But Kramer warned that the United States is gaining a reputation of stubbornly opposing any changes to the ITU treaty. He said the United States will have to engage in negotiations with other countries to address their concerns.

He acknowledged that many countries are struggling to secure their networks from hackers and cybercriminals. He said the United States opposes international cybersecurity regulation but supports efforts to help poorer countries expand their ability to combat cyberthreats.

“The U.S. is open to dialogue in ways to make such cooperation more comprehensive, building on work by existing institutions,” he said.

Kramer explained that the United States will not have to sign on to any treaty that it objects to, but he warned that if a majority of countries at the Dubai conference adopt an overly regulatory treaty, it could reshape the open, international nature of the Internet.



U.S., Israel to begin air defense exercise


By Aron Heller And Pauline Jelinek – The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Oct 17, 2012 14:19:12 EDT

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. and Israel are embarking on the largest exercise in their long military relationship, against a backdrop of tension with Iran and sharp rhetoric in the American presidential election.

An air defense drill planned for late this month will involve more than 3,500 Americans and 1,000 Israelis, practicing their ability to work together against a range of threats facing the main U.S. ally in the Mideast. Officials briefing reporters on Wednesday would not specify the exact date for security reasons.

American forces have started arriving in Israel and others will participate from positions around Europe and the Mediterranean in what the military is calling Austere Challenge 2012, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin said via telephone from Germany.

“It’s about teamwork,” Franklin said, noting the drill has been planned for more than two years. The exercise, he said, “is not related to national elections nor any perceived tensions in the Middle East.”

Still, it comes as the Iranian nuclear program tops the international agenda. Israel has threatened to strike Iranian nuclear facilities if Iran’s uranium enrichment does not cease. The West and its allies fear the enrichment process could lead to nuclear weapons development. Iran denies that and says its nuclear ambitions are only for peaceful purposes.

President Barack Obama’s administration has been at odds with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over how close Tehran might be to producing a weapon and on the timing of any military strike to halt the program. Obama’s Republican presidential rival, Mitt Romney, has been sharply critical of Obama’s policy on Israel and has pledged greater support for Israel.

The military exercise was originally scheduled for April but was postponed at Israel’s request. No reason was given but it came amid growing talk of Israel preparing to attack Iran and of tension between the U.S. on Israel on the issue.

The odds of an Israeli attack in the near term now appear to have lessened, with Netanyahu now saying the world has until next summer to act against Iran.

The US-Israeli exercise will test multiple Israeli and U.S. air defense systems against incoming missiles and rockets from places as far away as Iran.

The systems include the “Arrow,” jointly developed and funded with the U.S. and designed to intercept Iranian missiles in the stratosphere; Iron Dome, designed to intercept shorter-range rockets that might be launched against Israel by Palestinian and Hezbollah militants; Patriot air defense batteries; and an Aegis ballistic missile defense ship.

Joining Franklin in Wednesday’s press conference, Israeli Brig. Gen. Nitzan Nuriel said the ground and computer-simulated drill is to practice teamwork in dealing with potential threats “from all fronts.”

Isaac Ben-Israel, a retired Israeli air force general and a former head of the Israeli space agency, said the main goal of the exercise was to improve coordination between the two military’s technological capabilities.

In the 1991 Gulf War, for instance, he said Israel relied on American satellites detecting rocket launches from Iraq and that the information was then transferred in an unwieldy fashion.

“The process now is much more direct and includes integrated systems. These need to be tested,” he said.

Heller reported from Jerusalem


Army’s annual spending on AUSA conferences exceeded $10M


Oct. 17, 2012 – 11:05AM |

By STEPHEN LOSEY | 1 Comments

The Army spent more than $10 million each on annual Association for the U.S. Army conferences in 2010 and 2011, according to a report this week from Bloomberg News.


Bloomberg reported that the Army spent $10.7 million on the 2010 conference and $10.6 million in 2011. The three-day conferences are educational forums for service members and civilian employees on topics such as cyberwarfare, Bloomberg said.

The revelations of the Army spending come after the General Services Administration and the Veterans Affairs Department were rocked by scandals involving excessive conference spending. Bloomberg noted that each Army conference cost roughly 13 times as much as GSA’s $823,000 conference, which was held in Las Vegas in 2010 and ended up bringing down the agency’s administrator.

The Army told Bloomberg it would be misleading and unfair to compare its conferences to GSA’s and VA’s.

GSA “got in trouble for spa treatments and iPods,” Army spokesman Michael Brady told Bloomberg. “That just doesn’t happen here.”


FCC unveils updated online cyber tool for small businesses

The Hill

By Jennifer Martinez 10/18/12 12:59 PM ET


Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski on Thursday unveiled an updated version of an online tool aimed at helping small businesses boost their defenses against cyberattacks.

The online tool, called the Small Biz Cyber Planner, lets small businesses create customized cybersecurity plans by answering a short set of questions. The updated version includes information for businesses on how cyber insurance can help protect their bottom lines if they are hit by a cyberattack. It also includes guidance on how small businesses can defend their computer systems from spyware.

“While broadband is creating significant opportunities for small businesses, the cost of cyber attacks are a real concern,” Genachowski said in a statement. “We know that not having a plan leaves small businesses vulnerable to cyber attacks.”

Nearly 10,000 businesses have used the tool since Genachowski first introduced it last year, according to the FCC. The agency partnered with Symantec, eBay, Visa, the Department of Homeland Security and others on updating the online cybersecurity tool.

A new study from Symantec found that small businesses are particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks, as nearly 83 percent of them lack plans on how to secure their computer systems and networks from hackers.

The FCC also released updated recommendations on how small businesses can better secure their workers’ mobile devices and thwart fraudulent payments from nefarious actors.

Boosting the nation’s cybersecurity has been a top concern of the Obama administration as the cyber threat facing the U.S. rises. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned in a speech last week that the U.S. could face a “cyber Pearl Harbor.”



China’s naval exercises in East China Sea send warning to regional rivals


Chinese naval exercises today simulated a conflict in disputed waters. Tensions between China and Japan have been mounting over claims to a set of islands in the East China Sea.

Christian Science Monitor

By Ariel Zirulnick, Staff writer / October 19, 2012


China held naval exercises in the East China Sea today in a robust show of military force intended to warn regional rivals against escalating territorial disputes.

China regularly holds maritime drills in the fall, but “sources close to the military” said the drills were related to a territorial dispute that has been the source of recent flare-up between China and Japan, the Financial Times reports.

Japan and China have long been at odds over a string of islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, but tensions ratcheted up last month when the Japanese government agreed to buy three of the islands that were privately owned by a Japanese businessman. The incident brought relations between the countries to a 40-year low and prompted the cancellation of celebrations planned for last month to fete the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in an in-depth report on the dispute last month.

“Relations are worse than they have ever been in 40 years,” Liu Jiangyong, a professor of Japanese politics at Tsinghua University in Beijing, told the Monitor. “I don’t see much chance of a war; but I think Japan is preparing for one, and we should, too.”

The Japanese government said that the intent was not to challenge China, but to prevent the islands’ sale to the governor of Tokyo, a vocal nationalist who might have used them to antagonize China. The explanation did not quiet Chinese anger.

The exercises also come on the heels of visits earlier this week by Japanese opposition leader Shinzo Abe as well as two cabinet ministers to the controversial Yasukuni shrine. The shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead – among them 14 class A war criminals convicted after World War II – is seen in China as a “symbol of Japan’s military atrocities” during its decades-long occupation of much of the region until Japan’s defeat in 1945, Bloomberg reports.

Chinese news agency Xinhua said the officials’ visit “would further poison bilateral ties” and “added insult to injury,” according to Bloomberg.

Drills like those held today are a routine event, but military sources told the Financial Times “this drill could only be read as directed at the island crisis.”



“This exercise will simulate a situation where foreign law enforcement vessels obstruct and interfere with our maritime surveillance and fisheries administration vessels on a mission to safeguard maritime rights and enforce the law,” said state media, referring to a statement from the East Sea Fleet which is participating in the drill.

According to the statement, the simulated scenario includes a collision in which the Chinese ships are damaged and some patrol staff are hurt and fall into the water. The East Sea Fleet then “sends a frigate, a hospital ship, a tugboat, advanced fighters and helicopters for support, cover and emergency rescue.”

“With this content, this drill must be seen in the context of the Diaoyu Islands,” said a source familiar with the military’s intentions.

According to Xinhua, the Navy held the exercises with the fishery administration and marine surveillance agency in order to “improve coordination” and their ability to respond to emergencies. Eleven vessels and eight aircraft were involved in the effort.

The Associated Press reports that Japan plans to hold similar drills with the US later this year centered around a theoretical challenge of “taking a remote island back from a foreign intruder.”

Multiple experts interviewed by the Monitor said that they don’t think either country wants to go to war. The real cause for concern is that it would take little to tip the countries into open conflict with tensions at a slow boil for so long, and both taking steps to intimidate the other.

So far, hostilities have been limited to water-cannon duels, as happened Sept. 24 between Japanese and Taiwanese Coast Guard vessels. But “when you have that many boats sailing around, the potential for mishap is quite high,” points out Bonnie Glaser, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The danger, adds Valérie Niquet, a China analyst at the Foundation for Strategic Research, a think tank in Paris, is that a collision, a sinking, or a fatality “could start something that would be difficult to stop,” especially since China and Japan have no procedures in place to handle maritime crises.


Pay gap widens for federal workers, panel says

Washington Post

By Eric Yoder, Published: October 19

White-collar federal employees are underpaid on average by about 35 percent compared with the private sector, a widening of the “pay gap,” which stood at about 26 percent last year, an advisory group said Friday.

The Federal Salary Council based that number on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that by law are supposed to be used in setting annual General Schedule pay raises.

Federal workers have had their pay frozen for two years. In August, President Obama announced plans to extend the freeze until April. He has proposed a modest 0.5 percent increase afterward.

Members of the council, composed of union leaders and outside pay experts, attributed the wider gap to the freeze and to changes in the methods that BLS uses in its pay comparisons.

“This clearly shows that there is a pay gap and that federal employees are underpaid,” said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees and a council member. “Hopefully, we can get back to reasonable cost-of-living adjustments and work on the pay gap.”

“I think on federal pay there’s too much misinformation and fiction out there,” said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union and also a council member. “There’s a very long history to this methodology. Even if someone wants to argue with what the number is, it’s important to address that there is a gap and it continues to grow. There’s no way to make the number zero, if you’re basing it on facts.”

Plenty of people are ready to argue. Federal pay has been a long-running point of debate, but the cost of the government workforce has drawn heightened scrutiny in recent years, including during the presidential campaign. Along with proposing a 10 percent workforce cut through attrition, Republican nominee Mitt Romney argues that federal workers are overcompensated by 30 to 40 percent on average.

That assertion is based on a study by the conservative Heritage Foundation, which also calculated benefits; on salary alone, the foundation gave an average advantage to federal workers of 22 percent. The government’s data do not reflect the value of benefits.

“No one who takes a look at these numbers, other than federal employee unions, concludes that federal employees are massively underpaid,” said James Sherk, the Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst who performed the think tank’s study.

Other studies using different methods and different sets of data have found federal employees ahead on average by varying amounts, with differences by education and other factors. The Government Accountability Office recently said that none of the approaches of comparison is definitive.

Federal officials have noted that its workforce ranges from groundskeepers to physicists (David Wineland recently won a Nobel Prize). Those with advanced degrees, they say, earn less than their private-sector counterparts.

Federal pay raises vary by locality. According to the Office of Personnel Management, the data show that federal workers who are the furthest behind are in the Washington-Baltimore area, about 50 percent on average. The data show that employees on average are more than 40 percent behind in San Francisco-San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles and New York. The smallest gap, about 23 percent, affects workers outside the 31 city areas that are specifically studied.

The salary council’s recommendations go to a higher-level body, which in turn reports to the White House. In practice, federal pay raises are negotiated in the congressional budget process.

While general raises have been frozen, individual employees remain eligible for increases based on performance, promotion or successfully completing the waiting periods used in some federal salary systems.


Malware Threatens Medical Device Security

Hospitals must contend with older operating systems that lack the latest security patches, and cope with the convergence of medical devices, EHRs, and mobile apps.

Information Week

By Ken Terry InformationWeek

October 19, 2012 11:38 AM


Malware increasingly is infecting hospital systems and the software that runs in-patient monitoring devices, according to government panelists cited in MIT Technology Review. Despite concerns, however, there is no public evidence that patients have been harmed.

At the recent session sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Information Security & Privacy Board in Washington, D.C., the article said, panelists blamed much of the security vulnerability on hospitals’ use of older Microsoft operating systems that have not been updated with security patches. In some cases, hospitals have been unable to modify the systems or even add anti-virus software because the software manufacturers were unsure whether such modifications would violate FDA regulations.

The FDA in 2009 issued guidance urging hospitals and medical device manufacturers to work together to eliminate security risks. But in September, the Government Accountability Office issued a report warning that implantable medical devices could be vulnerable to hacking, posing a safety threat, and asked the FDA to address the issue.

There’s also evidence that malware interferes with other kinds of devices. For example, malware slowed down fetal monitors in an ICU at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, according to the MIT Technology Review piece.

The FDA is now reviewing its regulations. But the article quotes Brian Fitzgerald, an FDA deputy director, as saying that the regulatory review would be gradual, “because it involves changing the culture, changing the technology, bringing in new staff, and making a systematic approach to this.”

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Medical device software increasingly is interconnected with electronic health records systems in hospitals, which themselves are vulnerable to attack. And the issue has been complicated by the widespread adoption of smartphones and other mobile devices, some of them personal devices that clinicians bring from home.

Ken Kleinberg, a health IT consultant with the Advisory Board Co., told InformationWeek Healthcare that the operating systems of these mobile devices have more robust security features than the legacy Windows systems found in many hospitals. But he agrees that hospitals need strong “bring your own device” (BYOD) security policies, including mobile application management tools. “It’s not just that you’re going to control the configuration on the device, you’re also going to control what application can be loaded on that device,” he said.

For example, a hospital can give doctors a list of the applications that it has vetted, noted Kleinberg. If a doctor wants to use a document reader, for instance, the hospital might suggest one. If he wants to use a dosing calculator, it might suggest three apps and make them available on its application server.

The operating systems that hospitals use are an even bigger challenge, he said, partly because computer manufacturers upgrade their OS so often. “You used to be able to go for a long time on an operating system, but those time frames are shortened now, and the releases are coming faster,” Kleinberg noted. “Now we’ve got [Microsoft] Windows 8, which came relatively soon after Windows 7. And you’ve got these new mobile platforms now–mobility is taking off and people want to support it. How long can healthcare organizations hang out on this older stuff? They’re probably waiting for the right time to upgrade, but there is no right time.”

On the other hand, he pointed out, upgrading to a new operating system is very expensive. First, Microsoft licenses cost a lot of money, and some organizations are looking at alternatives to Microsoft. Also, a new OS might require new computers capable of running it. Much of the software and interfaces already in use must also be upgraded. And from an operational standpoint, “It’s a big effort to make these migrations,” he said.

Nevertheless, there is no alternative to upgrading, said Kleinberg. “Organizations have to do it, and there’s even more reason to do it now. Because if you really want people to use these applications, you have to run them on the devices that clinicians are willing to carry and utilize. That’s why BYOD is something that organizations may want to push back on, but they have to embrace it.”

Besides BYOD, the other major driver for hospitals to upgrade their computer OS is the prospect that the FDA will tighten its regulations on medical devices, he said. Moreover, other agencies, including the FCC, might also weigh in with new rules “to help monitor the convergence of EHRs and devices and applications.”

InformationWeek Healthcare brought together eight top IT execs to discuss BYOD, Meaningful Use, accountable care, and other contentious issues. Also in the new, all-digital CIO Roundtable issue: Why use IT systems to help cut medical costs if physicians ignore the cost of the care they provide? (Free with registration.)


As other polls show tight race, Gallup stands apart

By Andy Sullivan | Reuters 

October 20, 2012

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The election between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney looks like it will be a knuckle-biter – unless you go by one of the United States’ most respected public-opinion polls.

As most surveys show Obama and Romney locked in a virtual dead heat, Gallup finds that the Republican would win by a comfortable six percentage points if the election were held today.

Questions about the gap between Gallup’s findings and those of other pollsters is the latest fuss this election season over polling methodology as partisan passions come to a boil in the heated final weeks before the November 6 presidential contest.

With a record of correctly predicting all but three of the 19 presidential races stretching back to 1936, Gallup is one of the most prestigious names in the business and its outlier status has other polling experts scratching their heads.

“They’re just so out of kilter at the moment,” said Simon Jackman, a Stanford University political science professor and author of a book on polling. “Either they’re doing something really wacky or the other 18 pollsters out there are colluding, or something.”

Gallup’s editor in chief, Frank Newport, said he didn’t know why his results didn’t line up with others. Nor did he seem unnerved by the disparity.

“We try to keep our eyes on the boat and do the best job possible,” he said. “We’re going over some additional tweaks with our methodologists to make sure we’re on top of it.”

When Obama opened up a wide lead in polls last month, Republicans accused researchers of interviewing too many Democrats. Those complaints evaporated when Romney surged ahead after his strong October 3 debate performance.

Now, the Obama campaign is questioning the validity of Gallup’s methods after it released a poll earlier this week that showed Romney leading among likely voters in the handful of battleground states that will decide the election.

Obama pollster Joel Benenson called the Gallup survey an “extreme outlier” and said its formula to determine likely voters created a bias against Obama supporters. “Gallup’s data is once again far out of line with other public pollsters,” he wrote in a memo on Monday.

Republican strategist Karl Rove pointed out on Thursday that no candidate who has ever polled more than 50 percent in the Gallup poll at this point in a presidential race has gone on to lose the election. As it happens, Gallup had Romney at 51 percent that day.

The contrast between Gallup and other major polls is stark.

As of Friday afternoon, Gallup’s daily tracking poll of likely voters had Romney leading Obama by six percentage points, 51 percent to 45 percent.

The Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll, taken from a sample online, had Obama leading by three points on Friday and for much of this week. A Public Policy Polling daily survey had Obama leading by one point, Rand put him ahead by three points and Rasmussen showed the two candidates to be tied.

“Firms don’t like being outliers – it causes a lot of self-doubt,” said Harvard University political science professor Stephen Ansolabehere. “It’s OK if you’re wrong if everybody else is wrong with you. It’s not OK to be wrong if you’re all alone.”

As to be expected in the imperfect world of polling, results from other companies are also at odds with each other. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll issued on Friday showed Obama ahead in the swing state of Iowa by the large margin of eight points, but a PPP poll the same day showed Romney ahead there by one point.


There are many possible reasons for variations. Gallup’s tracking poll relies on a seven-day rolling average, so it may still be registering a surge that Romney gained after his strong debate showing on October 3.

Several experts suggested that there may be something in the way the Gallup telephone survey is conducted that makes it more likely to translate a surge in enthusiasm for a candidate into an uptick in poll support, leading to wider swings in the final months before election day.

And there is a growing recognition in the industry that telephone-based surveys are becoming less reliable. As mobile phone use increases, a traditional home-phone survey will miss large chunks of the population, especially younger people.

But cell phones come with their own set of problems. Users often adopt an area code from another state and they may be less likely to answer calls from people they don’t know.

Yet that might not explain any discrepancy in polls by Gallup, which now relies on an equal balance of home phones and mobile phones for its surveys.

No matter the method, polling firms weight the answers of those who respond to reflect the general composition of the U.S. voting population as a whole. If a pollster has trouble getting enough older Hispanic women, for example, the responses of those who do participate will be counted more than once. But weighting a sample too heavily can distort the results.

The next step is determining how many of those who responded will actually participate in the election.

Gallup says it determines its “likely voters” by asking whether they have voted in the past, if they know where their polling place is located, and other similar questions. The formula has been tweaked this year to take into account the increasing prevalence of early voting.

Gallup’s Newport pointed out that the firm’s likely-voter formula has more accurately predicted the election results than its wider poll of all registered voters going back to the 1990s and, in fact, the likely voter prediction tended to slightly favor Democratic candidates.

The process is in some respects as much art as science as each polling firm relies on a different formula to arrive at its results. And because the details of the process are proprietary, it’s impossible to say what’s leading to the discrepancy, several pollsters said.

“I think they’re professionals at Gallup and they’re trying to get things right,” said Mark Blumenthal, the Huffington Post’s director of polling.

“Why is it so different?” he said. “The bottom line is we just don’t know.”

(Editing by Alistair Bell and Jackie Frank)


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