Tech Roundup

Reaction to counterfeits, big data's big day and USDA cuts its phone bill.

Chain Reaction

Counterfeit materials increasingly endanger the military supply chain. Because technology often touches many hands in foreign countries before reaching a contractor, malicious actors have multiple opportunities to taint materials.

In March, the Government Accountability Office announced its undercover investigators had ordered military-grade parts from online portals and received 40 price quotes for bogus part numbers—all from vendors located in China. 

To guard against compromised technology, which potentially could fail or harbor malware, acquisition specialists are forging new relationships with the intelligence community, says Mitchell Komaroff, Defense’s director of trusted mission systems and networks.

The Defense Intelligence Agency has conducted about 500 analyses for military purchasing programs, he said during a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing. A robust trusted systems and networks strategy for limiting supply risks is expected to be operational by fiscal 2016, he added.

GAO’s online shopping experiment focused on defense components that are hard to find, including those used in weapons systems. When the auditors asked vendors for invalid part numbers that GAO had concocted, the firms sent the auditors bogus parts labeled with the invalid numbers. In other words, the Chinese suppliers offered to sell parts that do not technically exist. The trial ran from August 2011 through February 2012.

Separately, a 2010 Commerce Department survey found that of 387 defense contractors, 39 percent had encountered counterfeit electronics during a four-year period. And those military suppliers witnessed a more than 140 percent increase in incidents during that period.

-Aliya Sternstein

Big Data’s Big Day

Science agencies across government are investing $200 million in new research and development related to the mining, processing, storage and use of big data.

The National Science Foundation, for instance, announced a $10 million grant to build new algorithms and tools to sort through petabytes, terabytes, exabytes and zettabytes of data. The National Institutes of Health plans to put a data set of the human genome project in Amazon’s EC2 computer cloud with tools to make the information easily accessible to researchers.

Zachary Lemnios, the assistant Defense secretary for research and engineering, says the Pentagon plans to develop tools that can use big data to make “truly autonomous” defense systems that “can learn from experience with very little training and learn the limits of their own knowledge.”

The initiative was sparked by a June 2011 report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which found a gap in the private sector’s investment in basic research and development for big data. 

- Joseph Marks

Cutting the Phone Bill

The Agriculture Department has saved about 20 percent of its mobile phone costs by consolidating mobile service contracts. The total savings amount to about $400,000 per month, an Agriculture spokeswoman said. “Over the past year, USDA has moved from over 700 separate mobile service plans with three carriers that account for the largest portion of USDA cellular services to 10 service plans in three contracts at an estimated 18 percent to 20 percent savings,” she said in an email.

The new slate of contracts is costing USDA about $1.2 million per month compared with about $1.6 million for the legacy plans.

Joseph Marks

What’s Brewin: Combat Computing

The Defense Department may develop forward- deployed data centers to handle computing requirements for forces operating outside the United States, Teri Takai, the Defense chief information officer, told lawmakers in March. 

Takai said she envisions “the possibility for some forward-deployed/deployable data centers. The centers will be flexible and will hold both regional and enterprise services and data, all tailored to the mission situation and to the speed and reliability of the connection to the more fixed portions of the network.”

A number of outfits already offer containerized data centers, which require only power and network connections to operate. This gives a whole new meaning to the concept of plug and play.

- Bob Brewin

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