Wednesday federal headlines – August 14, 2013

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear Federal Drive hosts Tom Temin and Emily Kopp discuss throughout the show each day. The Newscast is designed to give users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • The Obama administration has lost its top intellectual property official. Victoria Espinel led an aggressive campaign to beat back IP theft over the last four years. The White House confirms she left Friday. The president named Regulatory Chief Howard Shelanski as acting intellectual property enforcement coordinator. Espinel was the first IP coordinator ever. She was confirmed by the Senate at the end of 2009. She led the effort to create the first Joint Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement. It came out in 2010, and the White House issued an update this past June. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Homeland Security Department awarded 17 companies spots on a contract for cybersecurity products. The blanket purchase agreement, worth a up to $6 billion, specializes in tools for continuous monitoring. Among the winners are some of the biggest names, including Booz Allen Hamilton, CSC, IBM, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. The General Services Administration will run the program. It plans to set up a web site for ordering. It will charge a 2 percent fee for usage. The vendors will provide tools, hardware and software so agencies can implement continuous monitoring as a service. (Federal News Radio)
  • The Homeland Security Department will pay $95 million for a new system for employee talent management. The contract went to Visionary Integration Professionals. It will cover 250,000 employees at eight agencies within DHS. Because the company’s software is cloud-based, it will partner with CGI federal, which operates a cloud data center certified as secure under the FedRAMP program. Agencies covered are Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Secret Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. (Visionary Integration Professionals)
  • BP has gone to court to win back the chance to nab federal contracts. The Houston Chronicle reports, the company has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Houston. In it, BP argues that it should not be debarred. The Environmental Protection Agency suspended BP from new federal contracts to supply fuel and other services after the company pleaded guilty to manslaughter, obstruction of Congress and other charges stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. (Fuel Fix)
  • A federal court has ordered the Obama administration to revive consideration of the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste project in Nevada. The move breathes new life into a controversy dating back decades, the Wall Street Journal reports. Congress voted to establish the repository at Yucca back in the 1980s. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the White House decided to abandon a storage license submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory commission by the Bush administration. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit says that amounts to flouting the law. Reid, who is the Senate majority leader, says the court ruling is “fairly meaningless” because Congress has cut nearly all funding for the project. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Does the government hide too much behind a “top secret” label? The Government Accountability Office is launching a review of agencies’ actions after receiving multiple requests from Capitol Hill. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) suggests the government may be classifying too many of its national security documents. He wants GAO to determine whether narrowing classification requirements would reduce the need for 5 million people to hold security clearances. The Federation of American Scientists has posted both Hunter’s letter and GAO’s response online. (Federation of American Scientists)
  • For the second time this year, an Air Force unit responsible for nuclear missiles has failed an inspection. Nuclear forces chief, Lt. Gen. James Kowalski tells The Associated Press, the failure involved the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana. Kowalski wouldn’t give details, citing security concerns. But the failure occurred in one part of a so-called surety inspection. Later, Pentagon Spokesman George Little said the group had earned excellent or outstanding ratings elsewhere in the 13-part test. The 341st is one of three wings controlling the nation’s fleet of ICBMs. The Air Force discovered readiness problems with a missile wing at Minot Air Force base last spring. (Associated Press)
  • The Air Force is shutting down a 52-year-old space surveillance program because of sequestration. The system transmits radar energy vertically into space, hence the nickname “space fence.” The Air Force estimates ceasing operations will save $14 million a year. Officials say the service won’t lose space capabilities. They are developing a replacement. But experts tell Space News this fence does a lot of “heavy lifting.” Without it, they say, accuracy will suffer. (Air Force)
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is back online. It took 10 days to restore the servers following a cyberattack. The New York Times reports, the public once again can access agency documents on auto recalls and other safety issues.The Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team describes the attack as limited in scope. It says no sensitive information was leaked. (New York Times)
  • Microsoft issued three critical security fixes as part of its monthly Patch Tuesday. One is for the Explorer web browser, one for desktop Windows and one for Exchange Server. The Explorer patch fixes 11 vulnerabilities. The worst of them could allow remote code execution if a user visits certain malicious web pages. The Windows patch covers a weakness relating to malware buried in OpenType fonts. And the Exchange patch fixes three weaknesses that could allow a remote system takeover. Microsoft also issued five patches deemed important. (Microsoft)

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