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October 12 2013

October 14, 2013




Software, Design Defects Cripple Health-Care Website

Government Acknowledges It Needs to Fix Design and Software Problems

October 6, 2013, 8:42 p.m. ET



Six days into the launch of insurance marketplaces created by the new health-care law, the federal government acknowledged for the first time Sunday it needed to fix design and software problems that have kept customers from applying online for coverage.

The Obama administration said last week that an unanticipated surge of Web traffic caused most of the problems and was a sign of high demand by people seeking to buy coverage under the new law.

But federal officials said Sunday the online marketplace needed design changes, as well as more server capacity to improve efficiency on the federally run exchange that serves 36 states.

The government said for the first time Sunday it needed to fix design and software problems that have marred the online health-care exchange.

“We can do better and we are working around the clock to do so,” said Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services. The government is making software and hardware changes to smooth the process of creating accounts needed to gain access to the marketplace, federal officials said.

The website is troubled by coding problems and flaws in the architecture of the system, according to insurance-industry advisers, technical experts and people close to the development of the marketplace.

Among the technical problems thwarting consumers, according to some of those people, is the system to confirm the identities of enrollees. Troubles in the system are causing crashes as users try to create accounts, the first step before they can apply for coverage.

Experian EXPN.LN -0.59% PLC, an information-services firm, holds a federal subcontract to support that system. The company declined to comment.

Information technology experts who examined the website at the request of The Wall Street Journal said the site appeared to be built on a sloppy software foundation. Such a hastily constructed website may not have been able to withstand the online demand last week, they said.

Engineers at Web-hosting company Media Temple Inc. found a glut of stray software code that served no purpose they could identify. They also said basic Web-efficiency techniques weren’t used, such as saving parts of the website that change infrequently so they can be loaded more quickly. Those factors clog the website’s plumbing, Media Temple said.

The identity-checking foul-ups are also triggering problems for state-run exchanges, which rely on the federal system. The problem caused delays last week for users of MNsure, Minnesota’s exchange, as they waited for federal confirmation to create their accounts, said April Todd-Malmlov, MNsure’s executive director. She said the issue in her state was largely resolved by Friday.

Administration officials, who reported nearly nine million unique visitors to the federally run exchange as of Friday night, said the system underwent maintenance over the weekend.


The federal government is running all or part of the online marketplace for 36 states, while 14 states and the District of Columbia have their own systems. Those state-run systems have seen mixed performance. Such states as Connecticut and Kentucky have successfully enrolled customers, while Maryland had to take down its marketplace periodically last week to fix glitches.

About 30 million uninsured people live in the states the federal marketplace will serve, including Texas and Florida.

So far, Web-traffic problems are allowing only a small trickle of buyers, said John Gorman, chief executive of Gorman Health Group, an insurance-industry consulting firm with clients selling policies on the exchanges.

Large insurers have seen enrollment figures totaling in the hundreds each, said Sumit Nijhawan, chief executive of Infogix Inc., a data-integrity firm that works with such insurers as WellPoint Inc., Aetna Inc. and Cigna Corp.

So far, many tens of thousands of people had started the application process but the number of those who were able to create accounts and shop for coverage is likely in the low thousands, according to people with knowledge of the situation and estimates by insurance-industry advisers.

The administration has declined to say the total number of enrollees.

President Barack Obama has urged patience since the exchange launched. Early last week, as the website opened for business, he said online traffic was higher than expected. “This gives you a sense of how important this is to millions of Americans across the country,” he said.

Stephen Push, a 52-year-old early retiree living in McLean, Va., said he tried to log in to the website a dozen times last week, and was thwarted by website errors each time. On Friday, he called a hotline set up by the administration to help people enroll, but the customer-service representative was also unable to access the online marketplace.

On Sunday, Mr. Push said, he was able complete an application to begin shopping for insurance by telephone. But he said he was told he would have to wait two more days to log in and begin shopping for coverage, a delay the customer service representative attributed to the identity-checking system.

“After what I’ve been through, I’m a little suspicious,” Mr. Push said, adding that he hoped to see premiums lower than what he pays now.

Separately, a system that determines whether people are eligible for federal subsidies to buy insurance, or Medicaid, a state-run program for low-income people, continued to make some inaccurate determinations, despite improvements, people familiar with the matter said. By late last week, officials worried they may have to notify some applicants that they weren’t eligible for programs they enrolled in, one person said.

That system was developed by CGI Group Inc., GIB -0.83% the main contractor developing the federal exchange. CGI declined to comment.

Another problem last week involved security questions that were asked of applicants, similar to those asked by e-commerce websites. asks users to select such questions as “What is your radio station?” and then supply answers. Initially, the questions didn’t always appear in drop-down tools, leaving many early customers stuck last week.

After the problem was largely resolved, people said they were able to fill in the required information but the site still couldn’t process their application.

The website and enrollment problems don’t “matter so much in October, but for the actual enrollment campaign, this all needs to get fixed by November or they won’t be able to process the volume they’re going to get,” said Jon Kingsdale, an exchange expert who helped set up a similar marketplace in Massachusetts in 2005 and who now works as a consultant for several state-run exchanges.

—Jennifer Corbett Dooren and Timothy W. Martin contributed to this article.


DoD Official: 90 Percent of Furloughed Civilians Coming Back to Work

Defense News

Oct. 5, 2013 – 03:45AM | By PAUL McLEARY and MARCUS WEISGERBER


WASHINGTON — The Defense Department announced late Saturday afternoon that more than 90 percent of the 350,000 civilian employees it had furloughed on Oct. 1 will be able to go back to work as soon as Monday.

Pentagon comptroller Bob Hale said that the Pay Our Military Act — which Congress passed on Sept. 30 just hours before the government shuttered its doors — would allow many of DoD civilians who perform essential activities to come back to work, but contractors are not included among their number.

Since the government shutdown began, “we have stopped everything” save for critical activities that run operations in Afghanistan, Hale told reporters Saturday, adding that “it is very disruptive to the planning process” for sequestration as well.

“We’ve had to stop training activities, especially those that are not closely related to military operations, so it’s damaging our readiness,” which was already in decline due to budget cuts already enacted, he said.

Hale announced the categories of DoD civilians who would be eligible to come back to work on Monday, including those who are working on supporting combat operations in Afghanistan, along with civilians who provide ongoing support activities such as healthcare, commissaries, and critical logistics and maintenance functions.

Also included are staffers who work on acquisition, program oversight, and supply chain management, including — significantly — government inspectors who work with the defense industry to inspect their production lines.

“We will be bringing those inspectors back under [the Pay Our Military Act] I hope soon and we will be able to start the inspections,” at production plants that churn out helicopters, ground vehicles, and everything else that keeps the military humming, Hale told reporters.

Last week, defense industry giants Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Sikorsky, and Boeing announced thousands of employee furloughs due to lack of government inspectors and contract management personnel.

Asked if the company would cancel the 3,000 furloughs announced Friday, Lockheed spokesman Gordron Johndroe said “it’s too early to say. We welcome the announcement and will remain in close contact with the Pentagon. We’re hopeful our programs and contracts can move forward and there is minimal negative impact on our employees.”

A Boeing spokesperson said that “we have not received any information from our defense customers about plans to reinstate part of their workforce, therefore it would be inappropriate to speculate about what it might mean for Boeing employees and operations.”

The company said that it was still assessing how many furloughs it would have to issue due to the shutdown.

While the government inspectors will be coming back to work Hale didn’t know exactly when they would be able to assume their duties, but he estimated that it would be a matter of days.

The original announcement of the DoD civilian employee callback came from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at about 3 p.m. on Saturday, when he issued a statement saying that Defense and Justice Department lawyers had concluded that the DoD can bring back “employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities, and readiness of service members.”

While not all furloughed civilians would be able to come back, Hagel said that he had directed “the military departments and other DoD components to move expeditiously to identify all employees whose activities fall under these categories.” He cautioned that “I expect us to be able to significantly reduce —but not eliminate — civilian furloughs under this process.”

While the department announced the categories of employees that would be recalled, Hale was reluctant to get into too much detail since his office was still awaiting word from the services about who they want to bring back. He was also unable to say when the services would report back to him.

Lawmakers were quick to applaud the move.

“I am very pleased to see so many of our national security workforce will be able to return to work,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said Saturday in a statement.

“Congress gave the Executive Branch broad authority to keep our Armed Forces and dedicated defense civilians working throughout the government shutdown,” McKeon said. “Though I do not believe the law required these hundreds of thousands of workers to be furloughed in the first place, it is welcome news.”



Why Defense CIOs Remain Furloughed


By Bob Brew in

October 7, 2013


All civilian Defense Department chief information officers and their staffs remain on mandatory leave, a Pentagon spokesman told Nextgov, even though Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has recalled 90 percent of the 350,000 civilian workers furloughed last week.

Hagel, in his recall memo, said the Justice Department determined that the Pay Our Military Act signed by President Obama on Sept. 30 allowed the Pentagon to recall civilian employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service.

Defense Comptroller Robert Hale explained that “certain areas simply were not covered” by the Pay Our Military Act. Falling outside the interpretation of the law are “chief information officer functions, but not Internet protocol and cyber functions; legislative and public affairs functions, but not internal public affairs communications; deputy chief management office functions at the Office of the Secretary of Defense and component levels, and auditors and related functions.”

Air Force Lt. Col. Damien Pickart told Nextgov, “The comptroller’s guidance applies to all CIOs and their staffs across the Department of Defense.”

Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president of global public policy for information technology industry trade group TechAmerica, said the policy to sideline CIOs and their staffs goes far beyond just the Pentagon and the services, with CIOs at all the component commands, such as the U.S. Central Command, and even some bases.

Hodgkins said that the decision not to recall CIOs and their staffs makes no sense as they, among other things, help maintain email systems used by troops to communicate with their families, which could fall under the morale and well-being interpretation of the Pay Our Military Act.

He said information systems are ubiquitous within Defense and that cyber stands aside land, sea and air warfare as a key battleground. “CIOs can’t be anything but essential.”

Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting, agreed, calling it “staggering” that CIOs and their staffs remain furloughed. “Information technology is at the center of Defense mission critical systems. It is the lifeblood of the Pentagon,” Suss said.

Top level CIOs still sidelined include Defense CIO Teri Takai, Army Acting CIO Mike Krieger and Navy CIO Terry Halvorsen, along with their staffs. Lt. Gen. Michael J. Basla, who serves as the Air Force CIO and as an active duty service member, was not furloughed.




DoD Acquisitions Staff Have No Money to Buy


By Bob Brewin

October 7, 2013

The Pentagon has recalled 90 percent of the 350,000 civilians furloughed last week, including acquisition, contracts and logistics personnel.

But, as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made clear in his recall memo, due to the fact that the Pentagon doesn’t currently have an appropriations bill, those folks don’t have any money to buy stuff.

The Pentagon brought back most of the furloughed civilians based on an interpretation of the quickly written Pay Our Military Act, signed by President Obama on Sept. 30. The law says furloughs don’t apply to civilian employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.

Hagel said that law provided appropriations for personnel only and did not include funds for “equipment, supplies, materiel and all the other things the department needs to keep operating efficiently.” “If the lapse of appropriations of continues, many of these workers will cease to be able to do their jobs,” he warned. “If there comes a time that workers are unable to do their work, I will be forced to once again send them home.”

We have truly entered an alternative universe.

http://w w w hats-brew in/2013/10/dod-acquisitions-staff-have-no-money-buy-stuff/71477/


House Approves Immediate Pay for Feds Working During Shutdown

By Eric Katz October 8, 201360


The House unanimously approved legislation Tuesday that would pay federal employees who are working during the shutdown on time, rather than once the government reopens.

The bill would make appropriations for excepted workers through Dec. 15. About 1.5 million federal employees are currently excepted or exempted from furloughs, most of whom will not receive their next paychecks until the shutdown ends unless Congress acts.

The legislation, called the Federal Worker Pay Fairness Act, was linked to another bill that would establish a special committee to work out a deal on reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling. The committee would consist of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats. The resolution will head to the Senate as a single piece of legislation.

Obama announced his intentions to veto the joint bill should it reach his desk, saying it would do “nothing to solve the immediate, pressing obligation the Congress has to open government and pay its bills.”

The House on Saturday unanimously passed a separate bill that would grant retroactive pay to employees forced to take unpaid leave during the shutdown. While excepted employees are guaranteed back pay upon the government’s reopening, furloughed workers require congressional action to receive compensation for the shutdown period. President Obama has announced his support for the measure, though its timeline for passage in the Senate remains unclear.

House Republicans hope to use Senate Democrats’ general support of federal workers as a means to bring the upper chamber majority to the negotiating table, BuzzFeed reported.


Who Gets Paid First If the U.S. Hits the Debt Ceiling?

By Karen Weise October 08, 2013

President Obama had plenty of strong statements during his lengthy press conference today. He said the country would face a “very deep recession” if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling. He said Republicans are holding the country “hostage” and that they can’t just “wish away chaos.” But his words were squishier on one topic: whether he’d accept a deal that prioritizes which debts the U.S. will repay first.

This is the idea that the government can technically avoid a default if it pays bondholders before paying back obligations such as Social Security benefits. When Bloomberg’s Julianna Goldman asked Obama about whether he’s going along with such a plan, the president wouldn’t directly answer the question: “I am going to continue to be very hopeful that Congress doesn’t put us in that position,” he said.

That’s not to say he was warm to the idea. Obama said the country’s credit rating would suffer and borrowing costs would rise if the markets think the government is “not paying all of our bills on time”—”all” being the operative word. That echoes the sentiment top Wall Street executives have been telling lawmakers, according to a front-page story in today’s Wall Street Journal. Obama said the government’s obligations include payments to contractors, benefits for veterans, and Social Security checks for seniors.

Later, when pressed again on the topic, Obama said he didn’t want to say too much because he knows every word he mentioned would be parsed for meaning. He’s right—just look at the Federal Reserve’s struggles to communicate, or this very blog post. Obama said he’d prefer to defer to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who’s scheduled to testify in the Senate on Thursday. He said Lew will make a “formal presentation” then and address the issue. So mark your calendar. Thursday is now officially “debt prioritization” day.




Meltdowns zap NSA’s giant new data center

By Kevin McCaney

Oct 08, 2013

Operations at the National Security Agency’s massive new Utah Data Center will be delayed by a year because of powerful electrical surges that have caused explosions, melted equipment and disrupted circuits. The center had been scheduled to begin operating this month.

Ten meltdowns caused by arc fault failures — described as “a flash of lightning inside a 2-foot box” — over the last 13 months have destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment at the center, the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports.

The failures occurred between Aug. 9, 2012 and Sept. 25 this year, with each causing up to $100,000 in damage, the Journal reported. It took investigators six months to determine what caused the first two failures; the causes of the other eight remained undetermined.

While investigations continue, an initial report by the Army Corps of Engineers’ Tiger Team blamed the problems overall on fast-tracking construction of the $1.5 billion center and taking shortcuts around “regular quality controls in design and construction,” the Journal said. The Army Corps’ report also said it “did not find any indication that the proposed equipment modification measures will be effective in preventing future incidents.”

Arc faults are high-powered electrical discharges between two or more conductors. Forbes quoted an unidentified person familiar with the construction project as saying, “The problem, and we all know it, is that they put the appliances too close together. They used wiring that’s not adequate to the task. We all talked about the fact that it wasn’t going to work.”

Backup generators at the center also reportedly have failed in testing, with officials disagreeing over the cause.

The Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the construction, with architectural firm KlingStubbins handling the electrical work under a subcontract. Three companies — Balfour Beatty Construction, DPR Construction and Big-D Construction — are the primary contractors.

The center is located at the National Guard’s Camp Williams near Bluffdale, 26 miles south of Salt Lake City. The NSA has said the data storage capacity of the center is classified, but estimates have ranged from several zettabytes (a zettabyte being 1 trillion gigabytes) to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s claim of a yottabyte (a thousand zettabytes).

In July, Forbes examined blueprints of the facility with Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, and came up with a lower estimate, of about 12 exabytes.

By any measure, the center — one of the largest in the world and the largest run by the intelligence community — will have the capacity for a lot of the data being generated by the agency’s surveillance programs, including its controversial phone records collection and PRISM Web monitoring program. Delaying its operation for a year will put a crimp in NSA’s plans, but the Utah center isn’t its only means of processing data.

The agency has a data center at its Fort Meade, Md., headquarters and in the spring broke ground at the base on the $860 million High Performance Computing Center-2, a 600,000-square-foot facility scheduled to go live in 2016.


The FAA’s complaint against Trappy

FAA Civil Penalty on Misuse of UAS

by Patrick Egan • 8 October 2013


Docket No. 2012EA210009


On April 13, 2012, you were advised through a Notice of Proposed Assessment that the FAA proposed to assess a civil penalty in the amount of $10,000. After consideration of all the available information, it appears that:


1. On or about October 17, 2011, you were the pilot in command of a Ritewing Zephyr

powered glider aircraft in the vicinity of the University of Virginia (UVA), Charlottesville, Virginia.


2. The aircraft referenced above is an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS).


3. At all times relevant herein you did not possess a Federal Aviation Administration pilot


4. The aircraft referenced above contained a camera mounted on the aircraft which sent real time video to you on the ground.

5. You operated the flight referenced above for compensation.

6. Specifically, you were being paid by Lewis Communications to supply aerial photographs and video of the UVA campus and medical center.


7. You deliberately operated the above-described aircraft at extremely low altitudes over vehicles, buildings, people, streets, and structures.


8. Specifically, you operated the above-described aircraft at altitudes of approximately 10 feet to approximately 400 feet over the University of Virginia in a careless or reckless

manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.


9. For example, you deliberately operated the above-described aircraft in the following manner:

a. You operated the aircraft directly towards an individual standing on a UVA sidewalk causing the individual to take immediate evasive maneuvers so as to avoid being struck by your aircraft.

b. You operated the aircraft through a UVA tunnel containing moving vehicles.

c. You operated the aircraft under a crane.

d. You operated the aircraft below tree top level over a tree lined walkway.

e. You operated the aircraft within approximately 15 feet of a UVA statue,

f You operated the aircraft within approximately 50 feet of railway tracks.

g. You operated the aircraft within approximately 50 feet of numerous individuals.

h. You operated the aircraft within approximately 20 feet of a UVA active street

containing numerous pedestrians and cars.

i. You operated the aircraft within approximately 25 feet of numerous UVA


j . You operated the aircraft on at least three occasions under an elevated pedestrian

walkway and above an active street.

k. You operated the aircraft directly towards a two story UVA building below rooftop

level and made an abrupt climb in order to avoid hitting the building.

l. You operated the aircraft within approximately 100 feet of an active heliport at UVA.


10. Additionally, in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another, you operated the above-described aircraft at altitudes between 10 and 1500 feet AGL when you failed to take precautions to prevent collision hazards with other aircraft that may have been flying within the vicinity of your aircraft.


11. By reason of the above, you operated an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another. By reason of the foregoing, you violated the following section(s) of the Federal Aviation Regulations: Section 91.13(a), which states that no person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.


NOW THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED, pursuant to 49 U.S.C. §§46301(a)(l) and (d)(2) and 46301(a)(5), that you be and hereby are assessed a civil penalty in the amount of $10,000. You may pay the penalty amount by submitting a certified check or money order payable to the “Federal Aviation Administration” to the Office of Accounting, 1 Aviation Plaza, Jamaica, NY 11434. In the alternative, you may pay your civil penalty with a credit card over the Internet. To pay electronically, visit the web site at Iittp:// and click on

“Civil Fines and Penalty Payments” which will bring you to the “FAA Civil Penalty Payments Eastern Region” page. You must then complete the requested information and click “submit” to pay by credit card.


If you do not request a hearing before the National Transportation Safety Board within twenty (20) days after you receive this Order, the amount of debt assessed in this Order constitutes a

legally collectible debt owed to the United States. You will not have a right to seek review within the Federal Aviation Administration of the validity and/or amount of this debt. If this debt is not paid in full within thirty (30) days of your receipt of this Order, the debt is considered delinquent.


For delinquent debts, federal regulation (49 C.F.R. §89.23) requires us to charge interest, from the date this Order is issued, at a fixed annual rate of 5% along with an administrative charge of $12.00

per month, representing our costs of administrative collection. Furthermore, if the full amount assessed is not paid in full within 120 days of your receipt of this Order, we are required to assess an additional penalty at an annual rate of 6%, accruing from the date of delinquency. Delinquent debts may be reported to consumer reporting agencies or commercial credit bureaus, which could adversely affect your credit rating. Nonpayment of this debt may ultimately result in a referral to a collection agency, the Internal Revenue Service, the United States Department of Justice or, if applicable, to a Federal Agency for offset of debt against Federal pay.

Alfred R. Johnson, Jr.

Regional Counsel


Remember Trappys counsel filed a motion to dismiss last week.



SOCOM Wants an Iron Man Suit with Liquid Body Armor




Special Operation Command wants a suit its operators can wear that features liquid body armor, built-in computers and offers super human strength. Essentially, the Pentagon wants to outfit its special operators in Iron Man suits.

Officials from U.S. Special Operation Command issued a formal request to researchers to help them build this suit the military is calling the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS). The request comes right from the top — Adm. William McRaven, USSOCOM commander.

Some of America’s top scientists from labs such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology are pitching in on the project. MIT engineers are working on a liquid body armor made of magnetorheological fluids that “transform from liquid to solid in milliseconds when a magnetic field or electrical current is applied,” according to an Army statement.

But the liquid body armor is only a portion of the suit. Leaders of the project also want the TALOS to include physiological subsystems that can monitor core body temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, body position and hydration levels.

“[The] requirement is a comprehensive family of systems in a combat armor suit where we bring together an exoskeleton with innovative armor, displays for power monitoring, health monitoring, and integrating a weapon into that — a whole bunch of stuff that RDECOM is playing heavily in,” said Lt. Col. Karl Borjes, a Army Reserach, Development and Engineering Command science advisor assigned to SOCOM, in a statement.



Nighttime Solar Power Arriving in United States


Pete Danko

October 9, 2013


Arizona Public Service says plant developer Abengoa is now testing the Solana Generating Station, a massive solar thermal power plant that will be the first in the country to use cutting-edge heat storage technology to extend energy production into the evening hours.

An APS spokesman said the plant is expected to go into commercial operation this month, but already it is sending energy to the grid in the testing phase, include during periods when the sun isn’t shining on the nearly 3 square miles of row upon row of parabolic mirrors that have an aperture area of 2.2 million square meters.

Solana, backed by a federal loan guarantee of nearly $1.5 billion, will be able to generate 280 megawatts of power, which will make it a very big solar power plant, though not as big as the three-unit Ivanpah power tower plant that’s in a similar testing phase in the California desert. But Solana comes with up to six hours of energy storage.

“Solana is a monumental step forward in solar energy production,” Don Brandt, APS president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Solana delivers important value to APS customers by generating power when the sun isn’t shining. It also increases our solar energy portfolio by nearly 50 percent. This provides a huge boost toward our goal to make Arizona the solar capital of America.”

With most parabolic trough solar thermal systems, the troughs focus the sun’s heat on a tube that has a transfer fluid running through it. That fluid is used to boil water to make steam.

That happens at Solana, but the plant also can use some of the sun-heated fluid to heat molten salts, where the heat can be efficiently stored.

The molten salt storage technology is something that the plant’s builder, Abengoa, already has working, although in a somewhat different fashion, at the much smaller, 19.9-megawatt capacity Gemasolar plant in Spain. Like Ivanpah, Gemasolar uses a power tower system, with 2,650 mirrors (heliostats in the industry’s jargon) bouncing sunlight to the top of a 460-foot tower at the center of the circle of mirrors. But unlike with the trough system, there’s no intermediary fluid used — the heat goes directly to the molten salts.

This is a system that’s akin to what SolarReserve is working on in Nevada with the much larger Crescent Dunes plant. It’s expected to be operating before the end of this year, giving the U.S. the two largest solar power systems in the world that have energy storage capability.


How the shutdown affects departments

Washington Post

By Darla Cameron, Josh Hicks and Masuma Ahuja,

Published: Oct. 9, 2013


The burden of the federal government shutdown has not fallen evenly across federal departments. Here’s the percentage of workers who are furloughed at 16 Cabinet-level departments, arranged by size of each department’s workforce. The State Department and the Office of Management and Budget are not included because they did not list specific numbers in their contingency plans. Also missing is the CIA, which announced Tuesday that it would recall thousands of employees.


Defense Department

Furloughed workers 4%

800,000 total workers

On Oct. 5, the agency said it would recall nearly all of its 350,000 furloughed civilian employees. The roughly 1.4 million active-duty uniformed service members were never furloughed.


Department of Veterans Affairs 4%

332,025 total workers

About 92 percent of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s 13,000 employees are likely to be furloughed by the end of the month, when VA expects to run out of funds for issuing checks.


Department of Homeland Security 14%

231,117 total workers

The Transportation Security Administration, which handles airport screenings, has retained about

93 percent of its workforce.


Justice Department 16%

114,486 total workers

FBI agents and Drug Enforcement Administration field workers are still on the job.


Treasury Department 82%

110,000 total workers

Non-essential workers include nearly 90 percent of the Internal Revenue Service workforce.


Department of Health and Human Services 52%

78,198 total workers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday recalled about a dozen furloughed experts on foodborne illnesses.


Agriculture Department 66%

74,200 total workers

Only 10 of 22 components provided numbers to determine furlough percentages, so total is not comprehensive.


Interior Department 81%

72,562 total workers

Exempted workers have mostly law enforcement and security-related duties.


Transportation Department 33%

55,468 total workers

At the Federal Aviation Administration, workers whose jobs don’t involve the air traffic control system are furloughed.


Commerce Department 87%

46,420 total workers

The bulk of the non-furloughed employees are at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


Labor Department 82%

16,304 total workers

Those furloughed include employees at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, where monthly unemployment reports are on hold.


Environmental Protection Agency 94%

16,205 total workers

Only employees involved with military, law enforcement or direct provision of health-care activities are exempted.


Energy Department 61%

13,814 total workers

Exempted workers include those overseeing electric transmission lines.


Department of Housing and Urban Development 96%

8,709 total workers

The vast majority of HUD’s agencies are staffed by skeleton crews, with the exception of Ginne Mae, the mortgage-guarantee agency.


Education Department 94%

4,225 total workers

Initial plans said an additional 30 employees may be called to work if the shutdown lasts longer than a week.


Small Business Administration 62%

3,516 total workers

Nearly all of the exempt employees work in the agency’s Office of Disaster Assistance.


Ash Carter to Retire


Ash Carter, the Pentagon’s top budget official and deputy secretary of defense, will retire in December.

Carter’s decision, which comes as Congress grapples with the administration in a government shutdown, leaves a mountain of uncertain budget decisions for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the administration to manage.

In a statement, Hagel said he “reluctantly accepted” Carter’s decision on Thursday. “I will always be grateful that Ash was willing to stay on and serve as my Deputy Secretary. I have continually relied upon Ash to help solve the toughest challenges facing the Department of Defense.”

Indeed, Carter, who previously was the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, has long been considered the top man “in the building,” offering stability for the Defense Department and defense industry community as secretaries Robert Gates, Leon Panetta and Hagel cycled through office under President Obama.

“There are few people who understand the operations, mechanics and engineering, as well as the policies and the foreign relationships, like Ash carter. His departure is significant,” said a defense official.

Despite reports of that causing some tension between Hagel and Carter’s staffs, Hagel, in his early months as secretary, has clearly relied on Carter’s management skills.

“I think there was a way for both to benefit from one another. There were a few moments of real partnership. One was as Hagel was in Asia last week, as the shutdown was looming, and getting these deep updates from Ash Carter about how he was bringing the building together to address some of the immediate fiscal challenges. That was a pretty powerful thing.”

“He has trust in Carter to keep the building running the best we can under these conditions. Even yesterday, when Hagel was out [at Dover Air Force Base] with the families of the four who had fallen, it was Ash Carter who was closing the deal with the Fisher House.”

Carter just passed the two-year mark in his current job and took no break from his previous post as under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. By last year, he was on many short lists as a candidate for defense secretary before Obama tapped Hagel, last year.

The Pentagon has no succession plan for Carter’s position.

Here is the full statement from Hagel:

“Earlier today, I met with Ash Carter and reluctantly accepted his decision to step down as Deputy Secretary of Defense on December 4th, after more than four and a half years of continuous service to the Department of Defense.

“Ash has been an extraordinarily loyal and effective Deputy Secretary, both for me and Secretary Panetta. In his previous capacity as Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, he provided outstanding support to Secretary Gates and – most importantly – to our men and women fighting downrange. He possesses an unparalleled knowledge of every facet of America’s defense enterprise, having worked directly and indirectly for eleven Secretaries of Defense over the course of his storied career.

“I will always be grateful that Ash was willing to stay on and serve as my Deputy Secretary. I have continually relied upon Ash to help solve the toughest challenges facing the Department of Defense. I particularly appreciate his work spearheading the Strategic Choices and Management Review, which put the department in a far stronger position to manage through unprecedented budget uncertainty. He is a brilliant strategist and an excellent manager who helped enhance the department’s buying power, but Ash’s most recent tour of the department will be especially remembered for his tremendous efforts to provide more agile and effective support for our warfighters and their families. His compassion, love, and determination to overcome any and all bureaucratic obstacles earned him their abiding respect and appreciation.

“I am confident that the department, and the country, will continue to benefit from Ash Carter’s service in the months and years ahead. I am thankful that Ash will continue to be at my side for the next two months, helping the Department of Defense manage through a very disruptive and difficult time, and ensuring a smooth transition within the office of the Deputy Secretary. The department will miss him – I will miss him.”

Good enough for government work? The contractors building Obamacare

Sunlight Foundation

Friday, October 11, 2013

By Bill Allison Oct 09 2013 3:34 p.m.

The Obama administration dreamed that itshealth insurance exchanges–the websites that were supposed to make it easy to buy health insurance–would function as smoothly as online consumer sites like Expedia or But as head-scratching continues about how a famously web-savvy administration could have flubbed its Internet homework so badly, an examination by the Sunlight Foundation shows the administration turned the task of building its futuristic new health care technology planning and programming over to legacy contractors with deep political pockets.

One result: Problem-plagued online exchanges that make it all but impossible for consumers to buy insurance and hundreds of millions of dollars in the coffers of some of the biggest lobbying powerhouses in Washington. 

Citing the government shutdown, the Health and Human Services Department will not release a list of the estimated dozen or more companies tasked with building the site. But Sunlight reviewed contract award information from and, and found 47 organizations that won contracts from Health and Human Services or the Treasury Department to manage, support or service the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Among them were top contractors likeNorthrop GrummanDeloitte LLPSAIC Inc. General Dynamics and Booz Allen Hamilton. All fiveof those companies provided information technology services to either the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services or the Internal Revenue Service, the two agencies tasked with building back components of the health insurance exchanges.

All but one of of the 47 contractors who won contracts to carry out work on the Affordable Care Act worked for the government prior to its passage. Many–like the Rand Corporation and the MITRE Corporation–have done so for decades. And some, like Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, are among the biggest wielders of influence in Washington. Some 17 ACA contract winners reported spending more than $128 million on lobbying in 2011 and 2012, while 29 had employees or political action committees or both that contributed $32 million to federal candidates and parties in the same period. Of that amount, President Barack Obama collected $3.9 million.

Because the government provides brief, partial descriptions of contracts in, it is not possible to say which of the contractors with information technology contracts or project management contacts were involved in building the 36 federally run health insurance marketplaces, a responsibility tasked to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, known by the acronym CMS, or those assigned to develop the federal data hub, which would allow applicants to have their income and family size immediately verified by the Internal Revenue Service.

Media accounts note that CGI Federal, a longtime provider of IT services to the federal government, won the contract to build the exchanges. The federal data hub was shelved when the health insurance exchanges launched on Oct. 1; when it will come online has not been announced. 

Sunlight contacted a number of vendors that won IT and related contracts to implement portions of the Affordable Care Act. A spokesperson for SAIC, whose contracts with the Internal Revenue Service included one for supporting income and family verification procedures required by the health care law, said it had no role in building the federal data hub. Similarly, PricewaterhouseCoopers said its contract from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a multi-vendor award, to “analyze, evaluate and improve existing business processes and technology systems required under the Affordable Care Act,” had nothing to do with the health insurance exchanges.

Vangent, the company that won a $28 million contract to run customer contact centers for CMS — fielding questions via telephone, mail, email and web chats — is a subsidiary of General Dynamics, a company best known for making submarines, Abrams tanks and ammunition. While it’s not clear that Vangent was the company responsible, web chat responses for help for with the health insurance exchanges have been one of many targets of consumer ire.

There was no shortage of top flight consultants hired by Health and Human Services. Booz Allen Hamilton was awarded a $1.8 million task order to develop a plan to allow CMS to fully utilize electronic medical records. McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm that released a widely criticized study claiming that anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of large employers would drop employee health insurance because of the health care reform, had one contract potentially worth $13.8 million for project management planning with CMS. Deloitte LLP won a contract to support the IRS in its effort to “deliver world class implementation” of its technological requirements under the act.  

The Deloitte LLP contract was to service the project management office in the IRS, which had the responsibility of meeting the Affordable Care Act’s requirements. That contract was awarded two months after the Government Accountability Office found fault with the way the IRS was managing implementation of the act. 

And then there are the surveys, studies and reports. The National Opinion Research Center, a Chicago-based polling organization that also does the Survey of Consumer Finances, a Federal Reserve report that measures the assets and indebtedness of Americans, got a $300,000 task order from CMS for a study that “may be of assistance to the department in determining future needs” due to the impact of the Affordable Care Act. NORC’s lobbying firm, Drinker, Biddle & Reath, reported spending $200,000 in 2012 to lobby Congress and the Office of Management and Budget on funding for health and social science research and data. George Washington Universtiy won a contract to study the act’s impact on vaccine programs, while the University of California won a $12,000 contract to report on how minority women fare under the act.

Sunlight’s survey does not include awards to contractors that built the 14 state exchanges. For example, Xerox Corp. won a $72 million contract to help build Nevada’s exchange and one for $68 million to do the same in Florida. Not only is Xerox building the online marketplaces for some states, it’s also offering insurers the means to “fully take advantage of the nearly 30 million new members that will be shopping for health care on these exchanges.”

Peter Olsen-Phillips contributed to this report.







LOBBYING, 2011-12 


A. Reddix & Associates 





ABT Associates 















Booz Allen Hamilton 





CDM Group 


Office of Asst. Sec. for Health Except Centers 



CGI Federal 





Client/Server Software Solutions ( 





Computer Sciences Corp. 


Office of Asst. Sec. for Health Except Centers 



Computing Solutions 





David-James LLC 





Deloitte Consulting 





Genova Technologies 





George Washingotn Univeristy 





H.S.I. Network 





Humanitas Inc. 





ICP Systems LLC 





Information Systems Consulting Group Inc. 





International Business Machines 





Intertribal Council of Arizona 


Indian Health Service, HHS 



IQ Solutions Inc. 


Office of Asst. Sec. for Health Except Centers



JSI Research and Training Institute 


Office of Asst. Sec. for Health Except Centers 



KAT Video Productions 





Macro International Corp. 





Maximus Federal Services Inc.





McKinsey & Company 





Mitre Corp 





National Opinion Research Center 


Office of Asst. Sec. for Health Except Centers 



Northrop Grumman





Porter Novelli Public Strategies 










Quality Software Services Inc (United Health Group) 





Rand Corporation 


Office of Asst. Sec. for Health Except Centers 



Research Triangle Institute 


Office of Asst. Sec. for Health Except Centers 



Science Applications International Corp. 





Sentel Corp 










Social and Scientific System Inc. 





Soft-Con Enterprises 





Summit Consulting 





Thomson Reuters Healthcare Inc. (now Truven Health Analytics)





Unicom Logistics 





University of California (SF) 


Office of Asst. Sec. for Health Except Centers 



Urban Institute 


Office of Asst. Sec. for Health Except Centers



Vangent (General Dynamics) 





Verizon Business Network Services 





Weber Shandwick 


Office of Asst. Sec. for Health Except Centers 



Westcott, John






States Prepare Layoffs, Furloughs During Shutdown

State employees notified to prepare for furloughs, layoffs if shutdown persists


October 10, 2013 RSS Feed Print

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder talks with the news media during a town hall meeting at Wayne State University March 1, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, whose state could give up to 20,000 workers unpaid leave, and other state leaders are preparing for the worst as the federal shutdown strains state budgets.

States have started furloughing employees as the absence of federal funds is straining already tight state budgets, so more workers will be sent on unpaid leave or even laid off if the shutdown continues.

States running programs on cash reserves are uncertain whether the federal government will repay them for the absent federal funds and might cut back spending of state money if the shutdown continues, says Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASB). Approximately one-third of the $1.7 trillion that states spent in 2012 came from federal funds, he explains.

“If this goes on another few days you are going to see states begin to make announcements that they are going to have layoffs,” Pattison says. Those notices will likely set the end of October as a time when layoffs would occur, he added.

Some states have already laid off federally-funded employees or sent them home on unpaid leave in response to the shutdown, or sent them notices to prepare for layoffs or furloughs, according to a report published on Thursday by the NASB.

“States are also seeking information on any possible legal ramifications that could result from furloughing employees, such as jeopardizing reimbursement from the federal government or compliance with entitlement program requirements,” the report stated. “Several states have also issued formal or informal hiring freezes for federally-funded positions for the duration of the shutdown.”

Michigan’s government is preparing to place up to 20,000 workers on unpaid leave, says Kurt Weiss, spokesperson for the Michigan State Budget Office. Michigan state workers received advance furlough notice on Oct. 1 because union agreements with those workers require 30-day notification, Weiss says.

“I don’t know if some states without those union agreements might be able to make swifter decisions on furloughs,” Weiss says. “I don’t think we will furlough anybody until Oct. 30. Most of the unions here require a 30-day notice because of those bargaining agreements, which we definitely want to honor.”

The National Governors Association also sent a letter on Thursday to leaders of both parties in the House and Senate citing the shutdown’s damaging effect on states’ ability to recover from economic recession.

“States are not in a position to be the bank for the federal government,” the letter stated. “As this impasse continues, we call on Congress and the administration to commit to fully reimbursing states and territories for the federal expenses they absorb during the shutdown.”

The lack of federal funds is not as damaging to state pocketbooks as the damage the shutdown is causing to small businesses, with missing revenues, including sales taxes that could be damaged by lack of tourism as national parks are closed, Pattison says.

“States are very worried about economic impact that might decrease revenues, even a tiny amount,” Pattison says. “A small decrease in revenue might mean a few million, but that’s a lot of money for a state.”


New NIST cybersecurity standards could pose liability risks

Once passed, the standard will become the benchmark to measure critical infrastructure security programs

Jaikumar Vijayan

October 11, 2013 (Computerworld)


Critical infrastructure companies could face new liability risks if they fail to meet voluntary cybersecurity standards being developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The slated release of a draft of the standard on Thursday was delayed, apparently due to the federal government shutdown. NIST’s main website was shuttered on Thursday.

The standards effort was launched after an Executive Order by President Barack Obama earlier this year.

A preliminary version of the draft standard has been floating around for several weeks, however.

The formal draft version, when released, will be available for public review until February 2014, according to the original schedule. Once the review is complete, will release a final version of the standards that incorporates changes recommended by stakeholders.

The NIST cybersecurity framework is designed to serve as a security best practices guide for organizations in critical infrastructure sectors, like power, telecommunications, financial services and energy.

The framework was developed with input from industry stakeholders.

It is not designed to mandate specific security controls. Rather, it offers broad standards for identifying and protecting critical data, services and assets against cyber threats. It offers a set of best practices for detecting and responding to an attack, mitigating the fallout from cyber incidents and for managing risks overall.

Obama issued the Executive Order in February to address, what he said was an immediate need to protect critical infrastructure targets against cyberattacks. Administration officials said the order came only after repeated failures by Congress to pass meaningful cybersecurity legislation.

Participation in the standards program is voluntary. The Executive Order leaves it up to the federal agencies in charge of each critical sector to push adoption of the standards through a combination of incentives and other market driven means.

In practice though, critical infrastructure owners and operators will likely be left with little choice but to follow the standards, or at least show they have comparable security measures in place, said Jason Wool, an attorney with Venable LLP, a Washington D.C-based law firm.

Companies that ignore the standards and are breached will open themselves up to negligence, shareholder and breach of contract lawsuits along with other liability claims. The standards will likely be viewed as the minimum level of care and integrity within critical infrastructure sectors, Wool noted.

“You don’t have to adopt these standards. But the fact that this framework [spells out] activities that are recommended for cybersecurity, establishes a bar that companies need to meet,” Wool said. “The framework requires, at minimum, that owners and operators of critical infrastructure look at themselves and do a gap analysis.”

Even companies that don’t adopt the standards need to show what they are doing is as effective.

“If a company gets sued, it should be able to provide some evidence that they took a look at the standards, performed a risk assessment and were managing their risk in a reasonable manner, Wool said.

Scott Vernick, an attorney at Fox Rothschild in Philadelphia said that there is a good chance that the NIST standards will eventually become sector-specific regulations overseen by the federal agencies in charge of various critical infrastructure areas. At that point, covered entities will have no choice but to adopt the standards, he suggested.

Even if that’s wrong, “once NIST finishes its work, the Plaintiffs Bar will point to it as the standard,” Vernick said. Critical infrastructure owners and operators should, at a minimum, determine how their security measures stack up against the standard, he said.

Companies should also consider joining information sharing initiatives and other cybersecurity forums to show they are making an effort to understand new threats, he said. “This really is an area where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Ironically, even companies that do adopt the framework may not be free from liability risks, experts say.

For instance, some of the provisions for protecting personally identifiable information (PII), could be pose problems for critical infrastructure companies, said Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary for policy under the George W. Bush administration, in a blog post.

The privacy appendix would require that companies take extensive measures to protect PII while carrying out cybersecurity functions, said Baker now an attorney in the Washington office of the Steptoe & Johnson LLP law firm.

For example, companies that want to share threat-information with other firms will have to first scrub the data so it’s clean of personally identifiable information.

Baker said the requirements in the draft document are ambiguous and open to interpretation.

Companies that share threat information containing personal data, like IP addresses and email addresses, face few legal consequences as long as the government is kept out of the picture.

“Once the NIST privacy appendix takes effect, though, private cybersecurity sharing will slow to a crawl as lawyers try to anticipate whether every piece of data has been screened for PII and for relevance,” Baker noted. “In short, under the NIST framework, pretty much every serious cybersecurity measure in use today will come with new limits and possibly new liability,” he said.


Rasmussen Reports

What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Consumer confidence fell to a new low for the year at week’s end as Washington, D.C. continues to talk and talk and talk. 

Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Americans now think another financial industry meltdown similar to the 2008 crisis is likely. Sixty-two percent (62%) believe the U.S. government is likely to default on its debt in the next five years. That’s up 18 points from 44% six months ago. 

Congress and the president are now talking about a short-term deal to raise the federal government’s $16.7 trillion debt ceiling, and 53% think the best approach for dealing with the debt ceiling is to raise it as part of a deal that includes significant spending cuts. However, Democrats are unlikely to agree to the major cuts Republicans want, even though 62% of all voters agree it will be bad for the economy if the government defaults on its debt.

A similar partisan divide stands in the way of ending the federal government shutdown now in its second week. Fifty-one percent (51%) of all voters would rather have Congress end the shutdown by authorizing spending for the new national health care law at existing levels. Forty-one percent (41%) would rather continue the shutdown until spending for the law is cut. But a closer look finds that 82% of Democrats want to end the shutdown by continuing spending for the health care law at current levels, while 71% of Republicans would rather keep the shutdown going until the law is defunded.

So the talk continues.

Even as the shutdown and debt ceiling arguments go on, voters are giving President Obama better marks for his handling of deficit reduction issues, although a plurality (46%) still rates his performance in this area as poor.

With Democrats rallying to the president, Obama’s job approval ratings are now running at their highest levels since April.

But Democrats have lost their lead of the last two weeks and are tied with Republicans on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot

Just 17% of all likely voters now say the country is heading in the right direction, the lowest finding since early December 2011. 

Despite this pessimism, only nine percent (9%) of Americans say they have ever thought about giving up their U.S. citizenship

Just because four-out-of-five Americans think being a U.S. citizen is Very Important doesn’t mean they haven’t considered their options, though. 

Unfavorable reviews of the new health care law have fallen below 50% for the first time in several months. 

Perhaps in part that’s because 50% of Americans say they are paying more for health care now than they were a year ago. Still, 48% think the private sector, not the federal government, has the best chance of keeping health care costs down and the quality of care up.
Thirty-five percent (35%) have more confidence in the federal government to keep costs down and quality up.

Thirty-six percent (36%) report postponing a medical checkup or procedure to save money in the past six months, although that’s down from 43% two years ago. 

Twenty-eight percent (28%) think doctors make too much money

Several employees of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff went on trial last week, but just 14% believe the federal government has been aggressive enough in pursuing criminal behavior on Wall Street

On a lighter note, 34% of Americans, when asked which they would rather win in their dream world, say a Nobel Prize. Eighteen percent (18%) would rather win a Pulitzer Prize, while 14% would opt for an Academy Award “Oscar.”

In other surveys last week:

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie continues to lead Democratic challenger Barbara Buono by over 20 points in his bid for reelection. 

— With New Jersey’s special U.S. Senate election coming next week, Newark Mayor Cory Booker leads Republican Steve Lonegan 53% to 41%. 

— Twenty-nine percent (29%) of voters believe the regulations and actions of the Environmental Protection Agency help the economy, but 37% think the federal agency’s actions hurt the economy instead. 

Nearly two-out-of-three voters (62%) continue to view global warming as a somewhat serious problem, with 30% who consider it a Very Serious one. 

— California has become the latest – and biggest – state to authorize driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. But 68% of voters think illegal immigrants should not be eligible for driver’s licenses in their state

— Forty-five percent (45%) say if a family is not in the country legally, their children should still be allowed to attend public school. That’s a 13-point increase from the 32% who felt that way in August 2011.

— Voters for the first time are evenly divided over whether there should be a waiting period before a woman can get an abortion, but the importance of abortion as a voting issue has fallen to its lowest level in a year-and-a-half

— Fifty-two percent (52%) of Americans say they will get a flu shot this year


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