Inside the Reporter’s Notebook: A deeper dive into the 2014 budget

News and buzz in the acquisition and IT communities that you may have missed this week.

Welcome to my new feature, “Inside the Reporter’s Notebook,” where every two weeks I’ll dispatch news and information you may have missed or that slipped through the cracks at conferences, hearings and the like.

This is not a column nor commentary — it’s news tidbits, strongly sourced buzz and other items of interest that have happened or are happening in the federal IT and acquisition communities.

As always, I encourage you to submit ideas, suggestions, and, of course, news to me at

The annual budget release day is like Christmas in February, err, April for some of us. Once you get past the thousands of pages of numbers and charts, and the fact the White House’s breakdown is dead-on-arrival on Capitol Hill, there is a host of exciting policy and programmatic initiatives buried in there.

Here are a few technology related items:

  • Under the data center consolidation initiative, agencies closed more than 400 since 2011. The Office of Management and Budget will refine agency metrics and incorporate the data into the new reports required under the PortfolioStat version 2 program. OMB issued that memo in late March.
  • The TechStat process has resulted in an acceleration of technological capabilities on average to about eight months from 24 months for those 60-plus sessions led by OMB.
  • OMB estimates spending on mobile devices and wireless services to be about $1.2 billion across 1.5 million accounts. OMB expects both of these figures to increase as more agencies move services to the mobile platform. Mobile devices and services are among the first set of contracts coming over the next two years under the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative.
  • The Homeland Security Department will assess the operational readiness and cybersecurity risk of federal civilian unclassified networks. DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate is asking for $810 million in funding for cyber programs, including $44 million for the enhanced information sharing program under the cyber executive order and $300 million to continue to implement continuous monitoring services.
  • The Treasury Department is taking over the management of the portal from GSA. GSA Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini was a bit surprised by the news when asked during the agency’s press briefing. He said, “I was aware of the nature of the discussion, but I didn’t know the White House budget had made that final statement.”

    The budget stated it “capitalizes on Treasury’s extensive financial expertise by having the department assume responsibility for operating and expanding Treasury will increase the transparency of governmentwide programs by improving the publicly-accessible database that communicates financial information to the public and agencies.”

    A Treasury spokeswoman said the budget proposes $5.5 million in additional funding for Treasury to operate USASpending.

    “Treasury will conduct an analysis of the operation and information in USASpending and determine what changes in the medium or long term may be warranted,” a Treasury spokeswoman said. “Finally, the collection of government-wide financial management information is closely aligned with Treasury responsibilities.”

  • Treasury also cut the number of paper claims it processes down to 41 million in 2012, down from 195.5 million in 2007. OMB said that saves the government $100 million annually.
  • The Patent and Trademark Office has decreased the patent backlog as of February 2013 by more than 200,000 since January 2009.
  • And speaking of backlogs, the Social Security Administration reduced average processing time for a hearing before an administrative law judge to 362 days as of September 2012 — down from 532 days in August 2008.
  • Be on the lookout for new strategic plans for each agency’s high-priority goals. The budget stated agencies will assign ownership of each of the goals more clearly by identifying a lead office for each objective.
  • The administration says it wants to reinvigorate research and development evaluation efforts. The budget stated an interagency working group is sharing best practices around procurement, common evidence standards and improving evaluation and performance measurement efforts.

One of the more intriguing and energetic chief information officers slipped out the door March 5. And, NO, I’m not talking about Richard Spires despite some in the community who are gripped by his “surprising” vacation.

Eric Perakslis, the Food and Drug Administration’s head of the Office of Information Management and CIO, decided after more than 18 months of commuting from Pennsylvania, he had enough of sleeping away from home four nights a week, and decided to leave the post.

In an email, he said, “I am enjoying some much needed time with family. I have not decided on my next gig but I am fortunate to have more than a handful of very attractive offers. I assume I will make decisions by end of this month and start back to work by early June.”

A FDA spokeswoman said in an email that Walter Harris will serve as acting CIO until a permanent selection is made. Harris also is FDA’s chief operating officer.

“Eric brought a new and strategic direction to the office that has not only resulted in the first FDA IT Strategic Plan, but also has resulted in many project, program and team successes,” the spokeswoman wrote.

Perakslis emerged over the last year as one of the most articulate and innovative CIOs. The recently released FDA IT Strategic Plan attempts to shift the agency toward a data-centric approach to how it meets its mission.

He also implemented an agile approach to development and pushed to give FDA employees more access to mobile devices and applications to do their jobs in the field.

Wondering if like many private-sector executives who come to the government for the first time, whether he just got frustrated with the pace of change and the red-tape of acquisition and process? Unfortunately, too often that is the reason why career-private sector executives leave after coming to the government for a short time. FierceBioTech first reported Perakslis’ departure.

In the flurry of memos and pages of budget documents the Office of Management and Budget issued over the last few weeks, one that you may have missed is some interesting guidance from Danny Werfel, OMB’s controller, on how to avoid Anti-Deficiency Act violations for using third-party social media sites.

The basis of the memo comes from a Justice Department decision from March 2012 about whether a federal employee violates the Anti-Deficiency Act (ADA) if they sign a terms of service agreement that includes an open-ended indemnification clause. Justice ruled that if an employee with contracting authority enters into an open-ended terms of service agreement, they would be violating the ADA.

One source familiar with the memo and the issue said if an agency is using the social media tool for official business, the person with a contract warrant cannot accept the risk of being sued for copyright infringement because they are committing the government and accepting risk that they don’t have the authority to accept.

The General Services Administration took care of many of these terms-of-service agreements — 66 in all — over the last few years, including most recently with Pinterest. But with the continued growth and emergence of new tools, the memo serves as a warning against agencies just jumping on the bandwagon without first asking a few important questions. One of the most popular sites, for instance, without a federal-friendly terms-of-service agreement is Instagram.

OMB wants agencies to look at their terms-of-service agreements for each official social media account, develop an inventory and make sure if they don’t have a federal-friendly agreement, either create one with GSA, their general counsel and the provider, or stop using that account.

OMB also asked the Federal Acquisition Regulations Council to amend the regulations requiring contracting officers to put contractors on notice that any terms-of-service agreement or other end-user license agreement requiring the government to indemnify the contractor against damages, costs or fees incurred is unenforceable against the agencies or end-user, and will be taken out of any agreement.

The source says one thing to keep in mind is many of these agreements can take as much as a year to finalize.

Out & About

Shameless promotional plug: Northern Virginia Technology Council is holding a members-only “Meet the Press” event in Reston, Va. on Tuesday with a few of the areas “hot” niche journalists, including yours truly, Jill Aitoro from the Washington Business Journal, Nick Wakeman from Washington Technology, Dan Beyers from the Washington Post’s Capital Business and Patrick Thibodeau of Computerworld.

The Coalition for Government Procurement is holding its spring training procurement conference on Wednesday. Among the big name speakers are Joe Jordan, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, Tom Sharpe, GSA Federal Acquisition Service commissioner and Shay Assad, the Defense Department’s director of Defense Pricing and Acquisition Policy.

AFCEA’s Bethesda chapter hosts its annual IT budget breakfast on Friday, anchored by federal CIO Steven VanRoekel.

MORE FROM “Inside the Reporter’s Notebook

March 22 – A deeper focus on strategic sourcing, boosting acquisition and cyber workforces

March 11 – Barry West returns, two CIOs leaving, Einstein cyber initiative faces delay

Feb. 11 – OPM personnel changes, Tangherlini gets more than 210 days

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