Solyndra’s Silver Lining
The congressional investigation into alleged mishandling of a $528 million Energy Department loan guarantee to the now-bankrupt solar energy company Solyndra was bad news overall for the department. But there was one positive outcome: Energy developed an innovative tool to search for all the documents investigators were demanding.
When the probe began, the department’s Loan Programs Office was using a collection of clunky search tools to find sought-after documents, according to Chief Technology Officer Peter Tseronis. That resulted in “GS-15s standing at printers hitting print, print, print, copy, copy, copy for emails, attachments, PDFs—information that was just voluminous,” he says.
Acting Chief Financial Officer Owen Barwell took the problem to Tseronis and within a few weeks, the CTO’s office had worked with the search vendor Reperio Concepts to retrofit an enterprise Google search tool the department already was using to index and sort through emails, attachments, Word documents and PDFs. That drastically cut down Energy’s workload, Tseronis said.
Now that the enterprise search tool is built, officials can use it elsewhere in the department, either for legal discovery or records management, and the process will be useful background knowledge if Energy builds or buys a new records management system.
Crisis is often the mother of invention, especially when funds are short. “The neat thing behind the scenes is it caused us to take a look at a process and say that needs to be improved because now we’re a bit under the gun and we have to make this more efficient,” he says.
That Was Quick
The Air Force Special Operations Command canceled its planned acquisition of Apple iPad tablet computers in February, two days after receiving a query from Nextgov about the inclusion of Russian-developed encryption and documents reader software specified in procurement documents.
The command didn’t provide any explanation for the move. Officials originally planned to acquire 2,861 iPad 2 tablet computers to serve as electronic flight bags, storing digital versions of paper navigation charts and technical manuals. The procurement specified the use of GoodReader software, developed in Russia, to meet security requirements.
Bernie Skoch, a defense industry consultant and a retired Air Force brigadier general with extensive security experience, says with mission-critical applications every line of source code must be examined for malicious code. It does not take much imagination “to conjure the catastrophic consequences” that could result from malicious code in an electronic flight bag, he adds.
The Homeland Security Department plans to scrap a second attempt at a failed $1 billion virtual fence if officials are unable to find suitable technologies already on the market. The initiative involves deploying camera-studded towers along the U.S.-Mexico border capable of flagging illegal activity under the harsh conditions that foiled the project’s predecessor, the Secure Border Initiative network.
The department notified contractors in February that DHS does NOT—in all caps—want unproven technologies. “First and foremost, CBP is NOT interested in any kind of a system development,” the notice said. “CBP will cancel the solicitation rather than procure an ineffective or high-risk offering.”