Tech Roundup

Eyeing employee emails, passing on PCs and the data center energy drain.

Inside Job

The Transportation Security Administration is shopping for a computer program to snoop into the online activities of agency employees, including their keystrokes and emails, for signs of potential leaks. TSA’s solicitation for an “enterprise insider threat software package” in June coincided with an Office of Special Counsel memorandum to federal agencies warning against targeted email monitoring. The memo followed a Food and Drug Administration retaliation case in which FDA allegedly spied on the private correspondence of whistleblowers.

Many government offices, particularly those in the intelligence and defense communities, are embracing employee-surveillance technology to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of federal information. TSA is specifically looking for a tool that can track keystrokes, chat messages and email, file transfers, and other activity—all without tipping off the employee. 

Spokesman David A. Castelveter says, “as the agency whose serious responsibility it is to deal with national security, TSA must remain vigilant to safeguard sensitive information in order to secure the nation’s transportation systems. This software is intended to assist in carrying out that mission. This initiative will be used in accordance with all federal laws and will be reserved for specific instances that meet TSA’s qualifications for an insider threat.”

FDA early this year ran into trouble with email monitoring when employees sued for allegedly bugging their government-issued computers after they informed the Office of Special Counsel about the agency’s approval of unsafe medical devices.

In her memo, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said agencies should evaluate their monitoring practices to ensure they don’t impede employees from using appropriate channels to disclose wrongdoing.

Aliya Sternstein

End of an Era

Veterans Affairs Department Chief Information Officer Roger Baker predicts that within five or six years VA no longer will furnish employees with computers. Instead, they will use the devices they own to connect to department networks. He also believes VA has issued its last desktop PC contract, a $477 million deal for up to 600,000 desktops awarded to Dell in April 2011. 

Baker would like to see VA get out of the business of providing its roughly 300,000 employees with hardware to access department networks and said he backed a policy that would allow employees to bring their own devices to the job. Asked how VA would manage the financial aspect of that type of policy, Baker says, “that’s a [human resources] issue.”

It will take a “massive investment” to ensure data is protected before VA can proceed with a widespread bring-your-own-device plan, Baker says. Managers and employees also would have to ensure that personal applications are free of viruses and malware before they are connected to the department’s computer systems.

Bob Brewin

Energy Drain

One barrier to gauging progress in the government’s data center consolidation effort is the fact that federal agencies aren’t measuring energy costs for some smaller data centers. 

It’s especially difficult to meter data centers that occupy only part of a building’s space and use a limited amount of energy, says Robert Harden, who works on IT efficiency for the Navy.

The Energy Department faces similar challenges, says Emily Stoddart, a program analyst with its Sustainability Performance Office. Officials are trying to determine which resources to put into small data centers that will likely be consolidated or closed. “We want to document a baseline for these data centers, but we’re wary of investing in a formal metering project,”
she says.

Joseph Marks

Pentagon Needs a Family (Cellphone) Plan

Buried deep within the Defense Department mobile device strategy released in June is a suggestion for a long overdue cost-saving idea: a centrally managed cellphone expense management system.

Outfits like The Bill Police help commercial enterprises centrally manage their cellphones—including ways to reallocate unused minutes from one phone to another—and Defense probably could save big bucks with the same approach.

I read FedBizOpps every day, and at least once a week some outfit in Defense has posted a cellphone service procurement. That’s an inefficient way to buy minutes for the world’s largest enterprise.
-Bob Brewin

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