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Ohio on verge of population loss

December 31, 2012

By Ken McCall

Dayton Daily News

Staff Writer

If Ohio wants to increase its tax base and make up for the political clout it lost in the latest reapportionment of congressional seats, new Census data show the state will need to make a dramatic turnaround.

In fact, Ohio needs something to change if it isn’t going to join Michigan as another shrinking state.

Ohio’s anemic population growth has continued to slow in the last two years, a Dayton Daily News analysis of census estimates has found. The state’s population grew by an estimated 3,218 people for the year ending July 1, the new estimates show, a microscopic 0.03 percent. That was the fourth-smallest percent gain in the country for the 12-month period.

The Census Bureau calculates population estimates for every 12-month period ending July 1, based on birth, death and migration data.

For the 12-year period since the 2000 Census, Ohio had the third-smallest share of population growth among all 50 states. It gained 1.6 percent, or 180,682 people. Only Rhode Island, which grew by 24 people over the 12 years (0.0 percent growth), and Michigan, which lost more than 69,000 people (-0.7 percent), faired worse.

That not only cost Ohio two seats in the new 113th Congress that will convene Jan. 3, it also impacts the state economy, experts say.

The trend is a concern for Ohio and means state policy makers must “double down on our efforts to make Ohio job-friendly again,” said Rob Nichols, spokesman for Gov. John Kasich.

“For many years now, people have left the state in search of better fortunes elsewhere,” Nichols said. “But over the last two years, things have definitely improved.”

While the state lost 400,000 jobs from 2006 through 2010, it has gained more than 130,000 in the last two years, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But that hasn’t helped population growth. Last year’s increase was less than half of the 7,286 people it gained only two years ago – and is less than one eighth of the almost 27,000 population growth in 2002-03. The trend line is clearly heading toward negative territory.

In addition, the Census data show that Ohio continued to lose residents as people move elsewhere in the nation. While the state gained more than 33,000 people from international migration during the last two years, the data show, it lost 84,528 people who moved to other states.

The total migration loss of more than 51,000 people was counteracted by the state having about 60,000 more births than deaths from April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011.

“Without question,” Nichols said, “until Ohio has a sustained period of economic growth and job creation, this will remain a concern.”

Ohio’s population growth is so weak that it is likely inevitable that the state will soon see population loss for the first time in its history, said Mark Salling, research associate with the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.

“If the economy were to pick up, especially in Ohio, we might avert this eventual loss of population,” Salling said. “But without being able to foresee any major changes in the economy, the loss has got to happen soon. But then again, five years ago I was saying it would happen any year, and it still hasn’t happened.”

Ohio is in competition with the rest of the country to attract and retain residents, and it has struggled to attract both migrants from other states and foreign-born migrants. Migrants typically are younger and help increase birth rates, because they are usually in the family-forming years.

Population growth results from economic growth, because jobs opportunities attract new people to a state, Salling said. But population growth also stimulates a state’s economy, because it increases the number of young and innovative residents. Population growth also means there are more consumers, which increases demand for goods and services.

Population loss matters less if a state still has a highly educated and skilled population, and high-paying jobs abound, Salling said. But Ohio had the 12th lowest median household income in 2011, according to Census data.

There are also political consequences of slow population growth.

House seats are apportioned based on population, so a slower-than-average rate of population growth would cost Ohio more seats in the House of Representatives and also electoral votes, said Justin Buchler, associate professor of political science with Case Western Reserve University.

And slower growth will likely cost the state some federal dollars.

“In a more direct sense, federal money is frequently allocated based on population, so fewer people means less money,” Buchler said.

Part of the problem, when it comes to reapportionment and other federal distributions, is that so many other states have grown so much faster than the Buckeye State.

While Ohio gained a bit over 180,000 people over the last 12 years, for example, Texas gained more than 5.1 million, California gained 4.1 million and Florida gained 3.3 million.

And while Ohio’s percent growth was less than 2 percent, Nevada continued to expand by almost 37 percent. Utah and Arizona grew by 27 percent.

To make matters worse all of Ohio’s neighbors did better — except for Michigan, which lost population. Kentucky, for example, had more than five times Ohio’s percent growth. The bluegrass state grew by more than 8 percent during the 12 years, gaining more than 330,000 people. Indiana grew almost as fast: it gained 445,468 residents or 7.3 percent. Pennsylvania grew by 3.9 percent and West Virginia by 2.7 percent.

The economic downturn stunted migration from states like Ohio to the Sun Belt states, which bore the brunt of the recession and problems in the housing market, said William Frey, demographer and senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution.

But Frey said thawing labor and housing markets in those states means people again are packing up and heading south and west.

Continued improvements in the economy and housing market would likely result in increased migration flows. Domestic and international migration remain the keys to growth, because birth rates are falling and deaths have increased, Frey said.

Urban revitalization also could help reverse Ohio gain more residents, because cities are the magnets that attract young and educated workers, said Lavea Brachman, executive director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center in Columbus, and a non-resident Senior Fellow with the Brookings Institution.

“Revitalization of our cities is really an important piece of regrowing the economy and attracting people back to Ohio,” she said. “Cities are the focal points of our regions, and the demographics show that is where people want to live.”

But the bottom line is people are going to live where they can find good jobs, said Laura Jones, a spokeswoman for JobsOhio, the state’s nonprofit economic development agency.

“The companies with those good jobs are going to remain or locate in the states that provide the most positive business environment,” Jones said in an email. “JobsOhio works closely with the governor and state agencies to continually identify ways to make Ohio friendlier for job creation … but we can’t let our foot off the gas.”

Top five and bottom five growth states


Ranked by % population change 2000-12



2000 population 

2012 population 

Population change 2000-12 

% population change 2000-12 



























Bottom five







West Virginia 










Rhode Island 










Source: U.S. Census Bureau intercensal estimates 




Drones, phones and other 2012 privacy threats

New law enforcement and marketing tools and technologies keep privacy advocates on their toes

Jaikumar Vijayan

December 28, 2012 (Computerworld)


Verizon’s attempt — unsuccessful so far — to secure a patent for a so-called ‘snooping technology,’ which in this case would let television advertisers target individual viewers based on what they’re doing or saying in front of their sets, capped another challenging year for privacy advocates.


Verizon’s snooping technology and TV ads

The Verizon technology, which includes a sensor/camera housed in a set-top box, would determine the activities of individual viewers — eating, playing, cuddling, laughing, singing, fighting or gesturing — and then trigger personal advertisements based on the activities.

Overall, the technology would serve targeted ads based on what the user is doing, who the user is, his or her surroundings, and any other suitable personal information, according to Verizon.

The U.S. Patent Office delivered a “non-final” rejection of Verizon’s application in November.

But analysts say that because engineers are already working on such technology, it’s a cinch that some kind of similar technology will be included in TV set-top boxes in the not too distant future.


Here, in no particular order, are other developments in 2012 that could have a major long-term impact on privacy:


The U.S. drone law: Eye in the sky

The Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, signed into law by President Barack Obama in February, was immediately slammed by rights groups, privacy advocates and lawmakers who contended that the law poses a major threat to the privacy of law-abiding citizens.

The bill, still largely unnoticed by the general public, opens up American airspace to commercial unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones. Over the next few years, the FAA is expected to license the use of as many as 30,000 drones by border patrol agents, government agencies, state and local law enforcement agencies as well as businesses.

The powerful drone lobby has done much to highlight the benefits of drones in tracking fugitive criminals, managing traffic, monitoring crops, conducting land management activities, news reporting and filmmaking.

Numerous agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, NASA, the FBI. the border patrol, and local police departments have secured licenses to operate drones in U.S. airspace.

Rights advocates argue that the law includes no meaningful guidelines for protecting privacy rights.

The advocates warn that drones equipped with facial recognition cameras, license plate scanners, thermal imaging cameras, open WiFi sniffers, and other sensors could be used for general public safety surveillance.

The Center for Democracy and Technology earlier this year noted that static surveillance technology like closed circuit television cameras cannot track individuals beyond their fields of vision. But drones, the group contended, can peek into backyards and be used — without a warrant — to track individuals pervasively.

A drone flying at a height of 400 feet or more would likely be considered to be operating in a public space. So, the center argues, while police would need a warrant to peer over a private fence, they would not need one to use a drone to observe an individual in his or her backyard.


Warrantless cellphone location tracking: What Fourth Amendment?

Despite a major U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January on the constitutionality of GPS tracking by law enforcement agencies, the overall issue of location tracking of individuals remained as murky as ever in 2012.

Cellphones and other mobile devices offer criminal investigators a powerful tool for tracking suspects. Local police departments often use realtime cellphone data track individuals. In addition, historical cellphone data is often gathered — without a warrant — by police to track past activities of suspected criminals.

In a case now being heard by the U.S Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, federal prosecutors maintain that there can be no reasonable expectation of privacy in historical cell phone location data that is collected and maintained by phone companies.

According to prosecutors, the Stored Communications Act (SCA) of 1986 allows them to use a relatively easy-to-obtain court order to force a carrier to turn over a person’s historical cell-site location information.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in August agreed with that assessment, ruling that Fourth Amendment protections do not apply to cellphone location data.

Others courts, however, have ruled that cellphone data is protected.

Privacy advocates have expressed frustration at what they call a continuing lack of clarity over the issue.

Many contend that warrantless cellphone tracking goes against all reasonable expectations of privacy and, in many cases, violates Fourth Amendment prohibitions against unreasonable search.

The advocates say that location data from cellphones and other mobile devices allow law enforcement officials to gather extremely detailed and protected information about an individual.

In a landmark ruling in June, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with privacy advocates that law enforcement officials need to first obtain a search warrant based on probable cause before conducting some types of location tracking.

However, the court’s decision pertained only to the issue of warrantless GPS tracking. It did not address the crucial and much broader issue of whether similar tracking using cellphone data and other geo-tracking devices requires a warrant.

That lack of guidance leaves the door open for all sorts of warrantless cellphone tracking by the government and all sorts of interpretation of those actions by the courts, privacy advocates say.


Internet and mobile privacy: Or the continuing lack thereof

For several years, consumer rights groups and others have been calling on Congress to create regulations governing how Internet companies, online advertisers, mobile service providers and mobile application providers can collect and use consumer data.

Despite some movement in attracting the attention of legislators, 2012 is set to close without any major changes to online consumer privacy rules.

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights , released by the Obama Administration in February, sought to encourage the creation of new industry standards for collecting, sharing, storing and using private data on the Internet and mobile networks.

The administration said at the time that the document is part of an effort to require that companies limit the collection of personal data, protect any sensitive data collected, and give consumers the right to access and to correct mistakes in personal data collected by Internet service providers, carriers and mobile application companies.

While many consumer rights groups and privacy advocates have praised the Administration’s intent, they have expressed disappointment at the continued focus on industry self-regulation.


Many of them fear that the “multi-stakeholder process” outlined in Obama’s Consumer Bill of Rights will be hijacked by deep-pocketed Internet companies with little real concern for consumer privacy. The consumer advocacy groups continue to maintain that meaningful privacy protections can result only from strong legislation.


Predictably, industry groups such as the Digital Advertising Alliance, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Direct Marketers Association have cautioned against any legislation and have insisted that self-regulation is the best way forward.


NYC Domain Awareness System: Surveillance city?

A New York City-wide Domain Awareness System (DAS) rolled out by the New York Police Department (NYPD) in July has left groups like the American Civil Liberties Union uneasy about its privacy implications.

The city’s data aggregation and real-time analytics tool, built in collaboration with Microsoft, is designed to combat crime and terror threats in the city.

The system gives city police a way to quickly aggregate and analyze data from 3,000 surveillance cameras, along with license plate readers, radiation detectors, 911 calls and multiple public safety databases.

Housed in the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative command center, DAS is designed to provide real-time alerts on potential security threats. Operators and analysts at the command center can use the system’s graphical interface to quickly pull up and correlate public safety, geospatial, chronological and other information that might be relevant to an unfolding event.

While city officials have described the system as an invaluable security tool, the ACLU and others have expressed concern about its privacy implications.

For instance, some fear that DAS — and especially components like its license plate readers — make it much easier for police to track and conduct warrantless surveillance of individuals and groups.

It’s too soon to measure the extent of the systems privacy threat,

City officials have insisted that they have put in various, privacy-friendly measures — such as purging license plate data every 30 days. Even so, with other cities likely to follow New York’s lead, DAS could well become a barometer of things to come.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar’s RSS feed . His e-mail address is



Feds Issue First Cloud Services Security Authorization

FedRAMP, which aims to make it easier and more cost-effective for government agencies to adopt cloud services, is now officially open for business with the authorization of Autonomic Resources ARC-P service.


By J. Nicholas Hoover InformationWeek

December 28, 2012 11:48 AM


In a bid to accelerate and make more cost-effective the adoption of cloud computing, the federal government Thursday issued the first government-wide security authorization for a cloud computing service as part of the new Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP).

The FedRAMP program will eventually be a mandatory, common approach to ensuring that cloud computing services meet federal cybersecurity requirements. It will replace the historically agency-by-agency and therefore often duplicative approach to certifying that services meet these requirements. For now, though, almost 19 months after being announced, FedRAMP is still just getting off the ground.




In issuing the authorization on Thursday, the General Services Administration met its goal of finalizing its first security authorization by the end of 2012 and vaulted little-known North Carolina-based government contractor Autonomic Resources LLC, which received the authorization, into the public eye.

The authorization process required Autonomic Resources to implement and thoroughly document its implementation of dozens of required FedRAMP security controls in the vendor’s ARC-P infrastructure-as-a-service offering, and had auditors from cybersecurity consultancy the Veris Group verify and test those controls. The authority to operate granted by GSA serves as proof that Autonomic Resources meets federal cybersecurity requirements for cloud services, and enables any government agency to use ARC-P.

Autonomic Resources’ ARC-P is a community cloud infrastructure-as-a-service offering that can provide federal agencies with managed and unmanaged virtual machines. Autonomic Resources hires only employees with government security clearances to manage its cloud operations.

The company, which offers a variety of cloud and other managed services to government agencies, counts among its customers the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the Navy, the National Institutes of Health, and a number of state and local governments. It has also been awarded contracts as part of several broader GSA contract vehicles, such as the government-wide cloud email contract vehicle.

Dave McClure, associate administrator of GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, which has played a leading role in developing FedRAMP, estimates that agencies using FedRAMP will save $200,000 per authorization. While the authorization for Autonomic Resources is a start, agencies likely won’t start seeing real savings until more prominent, commonly used services providers have their services authorized as part of FedRAMP.

While Autonomic Resources received the first FedRAMP authorization, larger cloud service providers and government contractors are sure to follow. About 80 companies have applied for FedRAMP authorization since GSA began accepting applicants this summer, and GSA said in a statement Thursday that more authorizations are expected in “early 2013.”

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Congress Approves Bill to Delay Sequestration

Aviation Week

By Jen DiMascio

January 02, 2013


U.S. lawmakers at the eleventh hour approved a deal that will delay across-the-board budget cuts until March 1.

The budget cuts – known as sequestration – were scheduled to take effect on Jan. 2, when the 112th Congress ends. The legislation passed by the Senate and the House on Jan. 1 avoids the so-called fiscal cliff of an increase in taxes coupled with sharp reductions in government spending, which economists had warned could push the nation back into recession.

The legislation allows taxes to rise on individual Americans making more than $400,000 a year, while maintaining other tax cuts. It also sets up another fight over sequestration that will occur as Congress resumes its debate over how to handle the deficit, entitlement spending and the debt ceiling.

A deal was hatched on New Year’s Eve by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), although a House vote was not assured. Throughout the day on Jan. 1, House Republicans remained divided and disappointed that the bill did not address spending cuts.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, planned to support the bill – with reservations – and called on the president and the next Congress to resolve sequestration “immediately.”

“As we continue down this uncertain road, we must keep in mind that cutting spending and raising taxes can only get us so far,” McKeon says. “We must allow our economy to grow if we are to resolve this debt crisis. We must also, finally, address the entitlement spending that is driving our debt.”

Now decoupled from the tax issue, it will be harder to reach a deal on defense spending reductions, says Todd Harrison, senior fellow of defense budget studies for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“It puts Republicans in the hard spot of demanding different spending cuts – but cuts that Democrats are willing to go along with,” Harrison says. “It may turn out that there is no alternative set of spending cuts more palatable to both sides than sequestration. It is telling that the Republicans were the ones resisting even a delay in sequestration. If they really want spending cuts, this may be the best they can do.”

The most likely scenario, according to Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners, is that the Pentagon’s investment accounts would decline by 2-3% annually between fiscal 2012 and 2015. But there is still a 25% probability that sequestration will be triggered in March or that the Pentagon would face about $50 billion in fiscal 2013 spending cuts, prompting about a 5% decline in investment budgeting authority.


Thirteen states meet REAL ID standards, remaining get deadline extension

Fri, 2012-12-21 07:47 AM

By: Mark Rockwell


Over a dozen states currently meet the Department of Homeland Security’s REAL ID national identity standards, while the remaining states that don’t currently comply will get extensions to do so come January 15.

DHS said on December 20 that Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming, met the REAL ID Act of 2005 standards for driver’s licenses and identification cards. The

In its Dec. 20 statement, DHS commended those states for “the substantial progress in working toward these goals and the improvements in security for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards since 9/11.”

However, the agency said, other states haven’t provided enough information for it to determine if they meet the act’s requirements. It granted a temporary deferment for all other states and territories to respond with additional information before it makes a final determination. DHS said it would continue to receive and review state submissions on a “rolling basis.”

Many states have objected to the law, saying it is too costly and could tangle their motor vehicle departments with extra work, including lengthy background checks on all drivers’ license applicants, and that it carried some privacy rights concerns.

Beginning January 15, 2013, said DHS, states that it finds haven’t met the standards will receive a temporary deferment allowing federal agencies to continue to accept their licenses and identification cards for boarding commercial aircraft, access to federal facilities, and entering nuclear power plants.

DHS said its goal is to implement the REAL ID Act, as required by law, in a measured, fair, and responsible way. It said it would consult with states and stakeholders in the coming weeks and months to develop a schedule for the phased enforcement of the Act’s statutory prohibitions to ensure that residents of all states are treated fairly. DHS said it expects to publish that schedule by early fall 2013 and begin implementation at a “suitable date” afterwards. Until the schedule is implemented, it said, federal agencies can continue to accept driver’s licenses and identity cards issued by all states for official purposes.

The REAL ID Act enacts the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the federal government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.” The act was crafted to prevent potential terrorists from using official state identification. The 9/11 hijackers had used state drivers’ licenses, among other bogus ID, to board the airplanes used in the attack.

REAL ID, said DHS, establishes minimum security standards for license issuance and production and prohibits federal agencies from accepting for official purposes those documents issued by a state unless DHS determines that the state meets the minimum standards.

The agency noted it has twice modified the statutory deadline to allow states more time to meet the statutory requirements of the act in the face of declining state revenues. DHS also noted that between fiscal 2008 and 2011, it awarded $263 million in grants to improve the security of state identification credentials.



An update on the pay-freeze situation

Washington Post

Posted by Josh Hicks on January 3, 2013 at 6:00 am


Federal civilian employees have worked under a pay freeze for about two years, but their incomes will begin to rise after March 27 unless Congress acts before then to once again halt their normally automatic salary increases.

Lawmakers are expected to take up the matter again in coming months as they address the debt limit and the automatic spending cuts that will be delayed under a fiscal-cliff deal President Obama signed Wednesday.

Obama, who imposed the pay freeze in 2010 as a way to curtail federal spending, issued an executive order last month that would lift the hold and implement a 0.5 percent across-the-board increase for lawmakers and federal employees starting after the last short-term spending plan expires on March 27.

Congress could override the executive order with new legislation that extends the freeze, but Obama would have to sign the measure.

The fiscal-cliff deal included language holding congressional salaries at current rates through 2013, meaning part of the president’s order — the part increasing lawmaker pay — will not take effect.

The GOP-controlled House approved a bill on Tuesday to extend the pay freeze for federal workers and members of Congress through 2013. But the Democrat-led Senate didn’t vote on the legislation, meaning it died — a new Congress is scheduled to convene Thursday.

Federal labor leaders this week criticized the GOP-sponsored bill.

“Reducing the salaries of federal workers through an extended pay freeze is a cheap political ploy,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. “Not only does it inflict tremendous damage on the families of these modestly paid workers, more than half of whom are veterans, but it also hits the communities where these employees live, since they will continue to be unable to afford any kind of economic activity beyond paying for the bare necessities of living.”


Virgin Galactic Space Planes Should Launch This Year

$200 000 Buys You a Seat

IEEE Spectrum

By David Schneider / January 2013


In the high deserts of New Mexico, not far from the bison grazing on Ted Turner’s sprawling Armendaris ranch, lie some curiously otherworldly structures. The largest one presents a 15-meter-high wall of glass on one flank, although the rest of the building appears to have buried itself in the adjacent earth, as if it had crash-landed there. Just a couple of hundred meters away sits a low-slung dome with something that resembles a giant eye budding from the top. “It almost looks like a spaceship itself,” quips David Wilson, who handles media relations for the site.

The squat dome will house the operations center for this futuristic facility, called Spaceport America, the first spaceport ever built expressly for commercial use. And by the end of the year, Spaceport America should be home to the first-ever “spaceline”: Virgin Galactic, part of Sir Richard Branson’s London-based Virgin Group.



Once Virgin Galactic’s routine flights begin, ordinary people—at least, ordinary people with US $200 000 to spare—will be able to buy tickets into space. True, the company won’t take them into orbit, but it will fly them 100 kilometers (62 miles) above sea level to the Kármán line, which the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale defines as the edge of space.

To get there, they’ll have to have at least a dollop of the right stuff. The six passengers and two pilots will take off horizontally from the spaceport’s 3.7-kilometer-long runway in a space plane that will likely have the ambiance of a trendy business jet. This craft—dubbed SpaceShipTwo by the company that designed it, Mojave, Calif.–based Scaled Composites—will be slung beneath a double-fuselage carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, on takeoff and for the flight’s first couple of hours.

The real adventure begins after the two linked craft rise about 15 km (50 000 feet), at which point SpaceShipTwo will drop from its mounting, fire up its rocket motor, and go zooming upward into the heavens. Its passengers will then experience peak forces that are almost 4 g’s—four times normal gravity—more than what a ride up on the space shuttle gave its astronauts, although for passengers on SpaceShipTwo the push into their seats will last for just a minute or so. The feeling of acceleration will abruptly disappear when SpaceShipTwo’s rocket motor shuts down, as the craft coasts upward through a broad arc that will give its occupants about four minutes of free fall, or “weightlessness.”

Although Virgin’s plans do not include having flight attendants on board, the company is promising passengers that at this point of their flight they will be free to move about the cabin, as they say. (The pilots will no doubt joke with them about the dangers of unexpected turbulence.) After floating over to press their noses to the windows and spending some time enjoying a magnificent view of star-dappled blackness behind Earth’s curved horizon, these new astronauts will have to reseat themselves for the leg back home.

The wings of SpaceShipTwo are hinged, just like those of its predecessor, SpaceShipOne, which won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 by overtopping the Kármán line twice within a span of two weeks. Burt Rutan, founder of Scaled Composites and the designer of SpaceShipOne, realized that by rotating the aft section of its wings by about 65 degrees, the craft would be aerodynamically stable as it fell back into the atmosphere. Scaled Composites describes the resultant reentry as “handsoff” or “carefree.” But passengers probably won’t feel so carefree when they begin to experience the deceleration—up to 6 g’s worth at peak (although that level lasts only for seconds).

Can ordinary folks really handle such rigors without incident?

“Going to 6 g’s is a serious thing, but it’s a very trainable thing,” says George T. Whitesides, president and chief executive officer for Virgin Galactic. “We put 80 of our earliest customers through that exact g profile and the vast majority did fine.” Lynda Turley Garrett, a travel agent based in Saratoga, Calif., and an “accredited space agent” for Virgin Galactic, traveled to the National AeroSpace Training and Research Center in Southampton, Penn., where she rode a simulator-equipped centrifuge that duplicated the forces that Virgin’s passengers will be challenged by. Not only did she not black out, she found the experience thrilling. “It was 100 times better than any roller coaster I’ve ever been on,” she says.

More than 500 people have already signed up to get a taste of space with Virgin Galactic. Those who want to reserve the next available seat (as most have done) must pony up the full fare, so it’s no casual commitment. Whitesides expects that it’ll take his company more than a year from when commercial operations begin to find seats for all those who have put money down so far. And exactly when passengers will begin flying is unclear. But Branson has said that the first such flight, on which he and his two grown children will be passengers, should occur sometime this year.


It’s understandable that the timetable is still a bit vague. Ferrying ordinary people to the edge of space is, after all, not something anyone really knows how to do yet. While the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is working hard to ensure all goes without incident, its role here is much more restricted than it is with airline travel. “The FAA is not certifying that the vehicle is safe,” says Whitesides, explaining that’s because there are no established procedures for safety certification when it comes to commercial space vehicles. “We’ll be operating in a somewhat unique regulatory regime based on informed consent,” says Whitesides. “The operator informs the customer [about the risks], and the customer makes the decision.”

How you judge the risks, though, isn’t so clear. The big question mark is SpaceShipTwo’s rocket motor. As with SpaceShipOne, that motor will be of hybrid type, using a solid fuel (a rubber-like polymer) and a gaseous oxidizer (nitrous oxide). “People have long recognized that hybrids have an inherent safety advantage,” says Brian Cantwell, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford. That’s because even with a catastrophic failure of the motor, the fuel and oxidizer can’t mix easily. Hybrids have, however, been slow to catch on in the rocket business, because most of these designs provide underwhelming oomph. “The hybrid was perfect for SpaceShipOne because it did not require high performance,” says Cantwell.

Despite the inherent safety of hybrid rockets, things can—and have—gone badly wrong with them in the past. In 2007, the oxidizer tank being developed for SpaceShipTwo’s hybrid rocket motor exploded during a test of the motor’s oxidizer feed system, killing three and seriously injuring three others at Scaled Composites. Such an explosion was completely unexpected, given that nitrous oxide is normally considered quite stable—the very same substance (“laughing gas”) is used in countless dental offices. That a tank of this seemingly safe gas nevertheless exploded with great violence shows that hybrid rockets are not necessarily benign when they fail. “That’s probably the biggest safety concern,” says Cantwell. So it’s no wonder that Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic have been proceeding most cautiously toward their goal since the fatal explosion five and a half years ago.

The pace of advance for Virgin Galactic is slower than it had been for SpaceShipOne, which took only three years to go from the start of full development to winning the Ansari X Prize. But that’s understandable, given the safety concerns that come with transporting passengers and the scale of things that need to be put in place to support a real spaceline. The Spaceship Company, a corporate entity created by Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites in 2005 expressly to build these craft, is now working on a second SpaceShipTwo aircraft along with a second carrier. The plan is to build five spaceships and two carriers, which will be based at Spaceport America, meaning that operations must both scale up in size and move from California to New Mexico.

The end result should be something science-fiction writers have long dreamed of: regularly scheduled passenger flights into space. “We’re going to be shooting for once a week at the start,” says Whitesides. The technology is almost here to allow that, and space enthusiasts will no doubt celebrate the start of a new era when it comes, although few of them will have the means to celebrate it with a joyride into the beyond. And whether there will be a sustained demand for these $200 000 seats is anyone’s guess.

This article originally appeared in print as “To Infinity and Beyond: Tickets, Please!”


BMW will introduce the first affordable cars made with superlight carbon composites

Carbon-Fiber Cars

IEEE Spectrum

By Lawrence Ulrich / January 2013

Rumpelstiltskin famously spun straw into gold, and until recently, the idea of weaving superlight carbon fiber into mainstream cars also seemed a fairy tale.

The reason? Carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, or CFRP, is expensive. Back in 1992 the cost was insanely high—U.K.-based McLaren Automotive needed 3000 man-hours to hand-layer, mold, and cure the material into the bones of the US $1 million F1, the world’s first street-legal carbon car. And even though McLaren now builds the 75-kilogram carbon chassis of its MP4-12C supercar in just 4 hours and sells the car for $225 000, that’s still too steep for the average buyer.

But now BMW is unveiling a technology that it says can mold a woven sheet of carbon fiber into a completed car part in less than 10 minutes. Those parts will go into the groundbreaking BMW i3, a plug-in hybrid that analysts estimate will cost just $40 000 to $50 000 per car, barely more than the price of a Nissan Leaf EV.

The i3 is a funky, tall-roofed city car with a roughly 160-kilometer range, a 160-km/h top speed, and a carbon-fiber “Life” module that weighs just 120 kg—less than some passengers. The car is set to emerge from a plant in Leipzig, Germany, in late 2013, and production is expected to ramp up to as many as 40 000 units a year.

In 2014 the company will start making the i8 hybrid, a futuristic sports car that starred in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011). In both BMWs, the CFRP passenger module mates to a separate module that integrates the power train, lithium-ion battery, suspension, and aluminum crumple zones.

Building moderately priced cars from CFRP had long been a holy grail for automotive engineers, because a carbon chassis weighs half as much as a steel counterpart and 30 percent less than aluminum. The savings in weight translates into better performance and higher fuel efficiency. Therefore, it’s a material of choice for everything from Formula One racers and America’s Cup yachts to jet fighters, spacecraft, and the Boeing 787.

Cost was the sticking point. “Time and again, everyone said it was impossible,” says Joerg Pohlman, director of BMW’s carbon fiber projects. The technology took hundreds of millions of dollars of research and development to perfect.

The company now intends to begin building more than 1 million carbon-fiber components a year and to eventually base many of its cars on the material.

A linchpin of the plan is in Moses Lake, Wash., where the lure of cheap, clean hydropower sparked a $100 million partnership between BMW and Germany’s SGL, among the world’s top manufacturers of carbon-based products. BMW and SGL bill it as the world’s greenest, most efficient carbon-fiber plant. That’s one reason why the i3’s total life-cycle carbon dioxide emissions will be one-third less than that of the most efficient internal-combustion cars—50 percent less if the i3 is recharged using renewable energy.

Along Moses Lake’s 245-meter production line, bundles of 50 000 silky white polymer acrylic strands—each a tenth as thick as a human hair—are carbonized in furnaces at 1400 °C. Spools of the black fiber head to Wackersdorf, Germany, where they’re woven into sheets. At another German factory, sheets are pressurized, impregnated with liquid thermosetting plastic, and molded—in BMW’s speedier, proprietary take on resin-transfer molding—to form finished components in less than 10 minutes. The trail ends in Leipzig, where components are glue-welded together, forming the bones of a radically new type of car.

Pohlman says other efficiencies will make carbon fiber about as inexpensive to manufacture as aluminum within three to five years. Instead of 350 or 400 metal parts, the i3’s chassis has about 35. The simple construction—a bit like gluing together a model car—eliminates dozens of factory welding robots and manufacturing stations. And unlike steel—even clear-coated steel—carbon fiber never rusts, requires no costly corrosion treatments, and is designed to last for decades with minimal structural fatigue. The plastic underpinnings, experts say, will long outlast the cars and technology that surround them. True, that raises the question of how to recycle the stuff, which is tricky, because recycled fiber isn’t strong enough to reuse in a car chassis.

As ever, government fuel-economy regulations are largely driving this structural revolution, making “lightweighting” one of the biggest automotive trends around the world.

In the United States, President Obama has called for manufacturers of cars and trucks to double their fuel economy by 2025, to a lofty 54.5 miles per gallon (4.3 liters per 100 kilometers). The European Union targets a 40 percent reduction in automotive CO2 emissions by 2018; the target of 130 grams of CO2 per kilometer driven equates to 5.6 L/100 km, or 42 mpg.

The problem is that cars have been porking out for decades, adding power along with air bags and other crash protection. Then there’s such froufrou as 20-inch wheels, navigation systems, and seats that heat, cool, and massage their spoiled occupants.

Both regulators and customers “demand more safety, features, and comfort, but at the same time we are forced to [make them] lightweight,” Pohlman says. “And the response can’t be to take out seat belts and the nav system.”

This article originally appeared in print as “Carbon Car.”



Al Jazeera pays steep price for struggling Current TV

CBS News

Constantine von Hoffman /

MoneyWatch/ January 3, 2013, 3:52 PM

(MoneyWatch) After years of trying to sell Current TV, co-founder Al Gore has finally found a buyer for what some critics have lambasted over the years as America’s least watched cable network: Al Jazeera. Yet while the purchase price, which was undisclosed but reported at between $100 million and $500 million, may ultimately pay off for the pan-Arabic news network, it comes at quite a cost. Even the low-end of that price range suggests that Al-Jazeera paid more than $4,500 for each of the network’s viewers.

When Current was launched in 2005, it focused on airing user-generated videos in 8-minute segments. Seeking a larger audience, it then gradually move into producing long-form narrative video journalism and reality and documentary programming. For the last couple of years, it tried to position itself as a left-leaning broadcast alternative to the cable news channels.

Yet by 2010 the network was averaging only about 23,000 viewers a day. By comparison, the CW network averaged more than 200,000 viewers a day during the week of Dec. 23, 2012.

Prior to this week’s sale, Current was mostly known for its connection to Gore, the former Vice President in the Clinton administration and for its internal turmoil. In March, for example, the company was engaged in a high-profile spat with talk-show host Keith Olbermann, firing him only 10 months after he was hired. Before he was dismissed Current’s management had hoped the former MSNBC anchor would lift the network out of obscurity. It didn’t happen. Although Olbermann’s initial shows drew more than than 100,000 viewers, within a few months that number was down to roughly 46,000.

In April of 2011, with Current averaging around 22,000 viewers a day, there were reports that the network was in danger of being dropped by Time Warner Cable for low ratings. The cable company eventually did keep Current on, but with the unusual contract requirement that it had to meet certain minimum audience thresholds every quarter.

But Current’s sale to Al Jazeera has prompted Time Warner to drop the network. The loss of Time Warner’s 12 million subscribers cuts Al Jazeera’s potential U.S. viewership by one-fifth.

Al Jazeera believes the U.S. is a good market because of the huge amount of American traffic its website gets. “U.S. viewers have clearly demonstrated that they like the way Al Jazeera provides compelling, in-depth news to audiences across the world,” said Al Jazeera director general Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani in a statement. “Our commitment to the voice of the voiceless, bringing stories from under-reported regions across the world and putting the human being at the center of our news agenda is at the heart of what we do.”

In buying Current, Al Jazeera said it is launching a new channel that will provide offer domestic and international news geared toward American viewers. The news operation, to be based in New York, will join the company’s bureaus Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington. Al Jazeera also plans to open additional bureaus around the country and to double its U.S.-based workforce to more than 300 employees.

Yet Al Jazeera also has struggled to grow in the U.S. The network has failed to attract a cable distributor for its English-language programming amid signs that cable providers are gun-shy about offering access to a network that has been accused of ant-Americanism and slanted coverage.

Time Warner Cable has so far declined to give any reasons for dropping Current. A statement issued by the company said only that “our agreement with Current will be terminated and we will no longer be carrying the channel.”



DHS to pick up $6 billion tab for cyber surveillance systems at every department


By Aliya Sternstein

January 3, 2013


The Homeland Security Department is footing a potentially $6 billion bill to provide civilian agencies with the technology and expertise needed for near real-time threat detection, DHS officials said this week. The White House has demanded so-called continuous monitoring since 2010, but many agencies did not have the resources or know-how to initiate such surveillance.

Under the new five-year project, DHS, which is responsible for protecting civilian networks, will shoulder the financial burden to finish activating continuous monitoring governmentwide. More than 62 percent of the federal government, or 15 out of 24 major civilian agencies, do not have mature surveillance programs, according to internal watchdogs

The new initiative, called continuous monitoring as a service, or CMaaS, will bundle sensors, risk-status displays and professional consulting services for agencies, according to a vendor solicitation released late last month.

Homeland Security plans to split the job among at least five teams, each comprising multiple companies supplying an array of technologies and experts. Military, state and local agencies will be urged to purchase services from the same contract packages to protect dot-mil and municipal government computer systems, but Homeland Security will not cover those costs.

“DHS is responsible for securing unclassified networks for federal executive branch civilian departments and agencies” on the dot-gov domain, Homeland Security spokesman SY Lee said.


Some information technology vendors expect, in the future, similar services will be offered to electricity providers, hospitals and other critical service companies for their private networks, though that is outside the scope of the current initiative.

Executives at prospective contractor Booz Allen Hamilton said their bid for the task will highlight the Virginia-based consulting firm’s own internal continuous monitoring system. “We’re definitely eating our own dog food on continuous monitoring,” said George Schu, a senior vice president who handles the company’s federal cyber business. “I think this is a defining moment for the nation, and the government has an important role.”

Continuous monitoring is intended to quantitatively track computer security protections, detect abnormal network activity, and then illustrate all this data on a central, easy-to-read computer screen, federal officials say. Agency personnel are in charge of interpreting the statistics on those “dashboards” to spot vulnerabilities and fix the most detrimental ones first, Lee said.

Each competitive proposal must include all three CMaaS components: human services, tools and dashboards.

Industry players are creating diverse teams because of the breadth of skills required, Booz Allen officials said. Agencies will be able to select from 15 types of tools, such as applications that identify unauthorized software and users on a system, as well as professional consulting services to operate the tools, the contracting document states.

This week, Homeland Security officials said they anticipate awarding the contracts before October 2013.

Ahead of imminent budget cuts, DHS secured $218 million for continuous monitoring and intrusion detection programs from a continuing resolution that funds the government through March 27.


California rules phased in for lower-watt bulbs

By Mark Glover

Published: Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 – 12:00 am | Page 6B


As of Tuesday, California entered the last phase of a program designed to improve the energy-efficiency standard of light bulbs.

The process started with standards outlined in the federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

California implemented the program one year ahead of the rest of the nation, starting with traditional 100-watt bulbs. Those manufactured on or after Jan. 1, 2011, had to use 28 percent less energy than a traditional 100-watt incandescent light bulb. New bulbs – including halogen, compact fluorescent or light-emitting diode bulbs – could not use more than 72 watts.

The cost savings in 2011 was estimated at $35.6 million.

On Jan. 1, 2012, the standard went into effect on traditional 75-watt bulbs (new bulbs could have a maximum 53 watts).

Effective Tuesday, the standard went into effect statewide for traditional 60-watt bulbs (43 watts is the new standard) and 40-watt bulbs (29 watts is the new standard).

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$10,000 College Degree Proposal Catches On in California

BY: McClatchy Newspapers | California | January 3, 2013


With the cost of going to college already more than $30,000 a year at many California campuses, is it possible to earn a bachelor’s degree for just $10,000 — total?

Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Marysville, hopes so.

Borrowing an idea being promoted by Republican governors in Texas and Florida, the GOP assemblyman has introduced a bill that would create a pilot program in California for what he’s billing as a $10,000 bachelor’s degree.

The degree would be available to students majoring in science, technology, engineering or math disciplines.

Assembly Bill 51 calls for closer coordination between high schools, community colleges and California State University campuses and targets three regions for the pilot program: Chico, Long Beach and Turlock.

Participating students would earn some college credit in high school through Advanced Placement classes and greater access to community college courses.

The bill calls for participating community college students to go to school full time.

Tuition at CSU right now is $5,472 a year. Books and campus fees cost another roughly $2,000 annually. A statement from Logue said his proposed $10,000 degree would include textbooks. It does not cover living expenses such as room and board.

“I hope my bill will be the beginning of a revolution to the very pressing issue of the costs of college that students face these days,” Logue said in a statement. “We cannot expect today’s students to have a higher standard of living than their parents if they continue to leave college saddled with so much debt.”

Even on a topic as politically sympathetic as making college more affordable, it remains to be seen if the Republican’s bill can make any headway in California’s Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Assembly Speaker John A. Perez has his own plan for lowering the cost of college — what he calls a “middle-class scholarship” program — and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has said he wants universities to increase affordability by doing more with online education.

CSU officials have not taken a position on the bill. Logue’s bill builds on efforts already under way in California to better streamline K-12 schools, community colleges and universities, said Judy Heiman, a higher education analyst with the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.


“The bill also appears to draw on existing regional education partnerships, an approach we think makes a lot of sense,” Heiman wrote in an email. “In addition, the incentives in the bill for full time attendance would support current efforts to improve graduation rates.”



Obama signs $633B defense authorizations bill

Thursday, Jan 3, 2013 12:45 AM EST

HONOLULU (AP) — President Barack Obama has signed a $633 billion defense bill for next year that tightens penalties on Iran and bolsters security at diplomatic missions worldwide after the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Obama had threatened to veto the measure because of a number of concerns, including limits on his authority to transfer terrorist suspects from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for one year.

But Obama said that although he continued to oppose certain sections of the bill, “the need to renew critical defense authorities and funding was too great to ignore.”

The bill includes cuts in defense spending that the president and congressional Republicans agreed to in August 2011, along with the end of the war in Iraq and the drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan.



Bank websites hit by cyber attacks

From The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer

Posted: 1:38 p.m. Friday, Jan. 4, 2013


Three months after the web sites of the nation’s largest banks were incapacitated by attacks from an international group, some banks are having intermittent problems again.

During the last few weeks, the web sites of several of the largest banks have been hit sporadically by so-called “distributed denial-of-service attacks.” The attacks flood the web sites with so much traffic that it makes it difficult for customers to log into their online accounts or get information.

Among the banks reportedly affected in recent weeks: PNC, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and SunTrust Bank.

Federal regulators last month warned banks nationwide about another round of DOS attacks after a group known as Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters posted a statement on Dec. 10 that it planned such attacks. The group is the same one that hit the nation’s largest banks in September and October – attacking a different bank every day and going in order according to their size.

PNC has had issues off and on since about Dec. 13, according to posts on its Facebook page. As of Wednesday, “the web site is operating normally and the vast majority of customers have uninterrupted access,” said spokesman Fred Solomon. “If individual customers cannot access the system, we invite them to call the call center.” The call center (888-762-2265) is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday .

This round of attacks has not seemed as severe as the ones in September, which nearly paralyzed each bank’s web site for a day or more.

“I think that, with experience, the industry is able to be better prepared,” said Lynne Woodman, spokeswoman for KeyCorp in Cleveland.


Woodman said that the industry is being vigilant about the potential for all sorts of threats, including a new blitz of phishing, in which thieves try to trick consumers into divulging information or downloading computer bugs that can compromise their personal information.

It’s important for consumers to remember that banks don’t send email links to customers and ask them to click on the links to update their account or open documents they weren’t expecting to receive, she said.

Woodman added that customers should check on their accounts regularly – either online, by phone or in a branch – to thwart any kind of ongoing abuse. She personally checks on her accounts twice a week. “Nobody knows your spending patterns better than you do,” she said.

There is no indication whether the web sites for any other Greater Cleveland banks besides PNC were affected by this most recent round of attacks.

Regulators say that those launching attacks may be trying to distract a bank’s technology department so they can try to hack into accounts, prevent customers from reporting problems or prevent banks from sending out warnings to customers.



Jan. 3, 2013 – 5:11 p.m.

Intelligence Authorization Bill Reveals Funding Priorities for Classified Spy Budgets

By Tim Starks, CQ Roll Call

The fiscal 2013 intelligence policy bill sent to President Barack Obama this week would reduce the costs of operating spy agency computer and satellite systems, while authorizing more funding for counterintelligence, research and development and dispatching more spies worldwide.

In public remarks and statements entered into the Congressional Record, leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees provided rare insight into funding priorities spelled out in the annual authorization bill, although exact funding levels for specific agencies and programs are classified, and final funding levels are predominantly decided by appropriators.

The bill also contains a number of meaningful policy provisions that are unclassified, such as a provision requiring intelligence agencies to notify Congress when it authorizes the public disclosure of intelligence information.

The House cleared the legislation Dec. 31.

House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said that the bill would authorize funding that is “significantly below” the fiscal 2012 total, which was $75.4 billion, but that it would represent a “modest increase” from President Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal 2013, $71.8 billion.

“The bill authorizes increased funding for intelligence collection programs, including increased counterintelligence to thwart foreign spies,” Rogers said on the House floor Dec. 31. “It also increases funding for our intelligence community’s comparative advantage — cutting-edge research and development.”

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on Rogers’ panel, said the bill would pay for additional counterintelligence analysts and surveillance. Ruppersberger also said the bill would enhance “global coverage” — generally speaking, new spies overseas — “especially in areas of strategic interest.”


On the other hand, Rogers suggested the bill also made some cuts, noting, “This bill promotes operating efficiencies in a number of areas, particularly in information technology, the ground processing of satellite data, and the procurement and operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms.”

Added Ruppersberger: “We made cuts where appropriate, eliminated redundancies, and pushed programs to come in on time and on budget.”

Personnel levels would remain relatively flat, Rogers said, with a few exceptions, such as for new FBI agents who would conduct surveillance on terrorists or personnel who would help with coordination and training for allied countries.

Although the two major commercial satellite imagery companies, GeoEye, Inc. and Digital Globe, are attempting to merge, the merger has not been approved by federal regulators yet. The authorization measure contains provisions aimed at increasing competition in that field, Ruppersberger said.

“The bill promotes the commercial space industry by enhancing the government use of commercial imagery and commercial communications services. It requires the government to use commercial imagery to the maximum extent practicable,” Ruppersberger said. “I believe competition is important to ensure we get high quality products while keeping costs down. It drives innovation and provides a much-needed insurance policy in case there are problems with other programs. And it does create jobs.”

The bill authorizes the creation of a new Defense Clandestine Service, Ruppersberger said, although the conference report on the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill notes that there would be limits on adding new personnel to the service beyond current manpower levels, at least until the Pentagon provides information about the long-term cost of the service and justifies its need and effectiveness.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., had placed the Senate version of the bill on hold over a number of provisions designed to crack down on leaks. Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said those provisions were removed as a result of complaints from senators, the media and the public.

“Unfortunately, I am certain that damaging leaks of classified information will continue, and so the committee will need to continue to look for acceptable ways to address this problem,” she said Dec. 28.

The bill did retain a leak-related provision that Feinstein said would “require notification to the congressional intelligence committees under certain circumstances with respect to certain disclosures of national intelligence information.”

Other provisions of the bill, Feinstein said, would cut back on the number of reports the intelligence community has to deliver to Congress; facilitate “joint duty” to allow personnel to move around within the intelligence community and gain experience in other agencies; require a plan from the Director of National Intelligence and other spy agencies to cut back on erroneous payments; and compel the executive branch to come up with a strategy for agencies to recognize security clearances issued by other agencies.

“I am pleased that Congress has passed this annual intelligence authorization bill, which allows the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to provide comprehensive oversight of the nation’s intelligence community,” said Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., in a Dec. 31 news release. “It is imperative that Congress provide oversight to hold the intelligence community accountable for its fiscal and legal responsibilities.”


VA farmed out claims system work to controversial Navy organization


By Bob Brewin

January 2, 2013


The Veterans Affairs Department has paid the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic $105 million to help develop its next-generation disability claims processing system since 2010, despite two internal watchdog reports in 2009 that blasted previous work done by the Charleston, S.C.-based organization for VA.

This amounts to roughly 21 percent of the total $491 million budget for the Veterans Benefit Management System planned for nationwide deployment this year.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki views VBMS as the key to eliminating the claims backlog by 2015. The department ended the year with 900,121 backlogged claims, 608,365 of which — 68 percent — had been stuck in the system more than 125 days.

VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker said in response to an email from Nextgov that SPAWAR Atlantic provides engineering, agile development, operations, help desk, project management office support and testing for VBMS. He said this is part of an acquisition strategy that includes interagency partners as well as VA contractors in direct support to develop and integrate multiple components included in VBMS.

He said SPAWAR Atlantic is “expected to remain a vital part of the VBMS team” based on the organization’s “strong performance” on the program as well as its previous strong performance on the post 9/11 GI Bill education benefit program.

Baker declined to detail the fees VA has paid SPAWAR Atlantic for its work on VBMS. The organization operates under a working capital fund much like a business. In a statement, Baker said SPAWAR Atlantic “is paid for its direct government labor at fixed rates [plus] costs associated with materials, travel, etc.”  

The department’s inspector general, in a June 2009 report on an interagency agreement VA signed with SPAWAR Atlantic in 2007, described program management fees that run between 10 and 13 percent.

VA personnel never questioned the 10 percent fee, the IG said, nor was there a decrease in the rate charged by SPAWAR when its VA work jumped from $2.5 million to $66 million. “Given the fact of the substantial increase in work ordered by VA, we would expect that some economies of scale would be achieved to decrease the [program management] fee,” the report said.

In a follow-on August 2009 report on engineering work SPAWAR Atlantic was commissioned to do on a replacement for a botched patient scheduling application, the IG said, “We do not believe this to be a viable solution because our review of the SPAWAR contract found that most of the work was being performed by contractors, not SPAWAR government employees.”

In at least one instance on the VBMS program VA may have been hit with an additional contract fee due to the way SPAWAR Atlantic subcontracted work to L3 Communications Inc. VA has deployed VBMS in phases or small chunks at regional offices. In May 2012, SPAWAR awarded the company a contract for the final phase of work through a task order on the Defense Information Systems Agency’s umbrella Encore II information technology contract. DISA usually charges a 1.25 percent fee for task orders executed on its contracts.

Baker said L3 is the prime contractor supporting SPAWAR Atlantic on the VBMS program “and its subcontractors provide key support to include architecture design, requirements development, agile software development, testing support, and production operations support of the development, testing and operations environments.” He did not provide the value of the L3 contract.

SPAWAR Atlantic is an economic engine in South Carolina, and generated $3.3 billion for the state in 2011, according to a November 2012 report on military spending in the state by the South Carolina Department of Commerce.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has been a strong supporter of SPAWAR Atlantic. Graham served for years on the Senate VA Committee until 2011, when he took a post on the Appropriations Committee. The command employs 3,673 people directly and its work supported another 23,819 jobs in the state.


By Bob Brewin

January 2, 2013


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