Inside the Reporter’s Notebook: Barry West returns, two CIOs leaving, Einstein cyber initiative faces delay

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

Jason Miller | April 17, 2015 4:46 pm

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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 neither 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 jpmiller@federalnewsradio.com


Maybe it’s just the time of the year, but the game of musical chairs across the government technology community continues to churn.

Barry West is back for his fourth stint as a chief information officer.

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Jeff Huskey and Jill Singer are out as CIOs.

Scott Quehl has taken his green eye shade home.

And the Office of Management and Budget’s right-hand man is calling it a career.

Let’s start with West. Sources confirmed he will take over at the CIO at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation on March 25.

West had been an executive vice president with SE Solutions since January 2008. The company provides management consulting services and technology services.

This will be West’s four gig as a CIO, previously he led the technology offices at the National Weather Service, FEMA and the Commerce Department.

At PBGC, he takes over for Vidhya Shyamsunder, who has been the acting CIO for the past few years.

Just as West is returning, Huskey is leaving the Federal Trade Commission and Singer is leaving the National Reconnaissance Office as CIOs, respectively.

Both agencies confirmed changes at the top of the technology org chart, but a spokesman from each agency couldn’t offer any more details on the why, where each is heading next and who takes over even in the interim.

Huskey joined the FTC in March 2011 and previously spent time with the Navy Installations Command. During his tenure, Huskey led the effort to update FTC’s infrastructure to better support telework and be more efficient.

Singer has been the CIO at the NRO since January 2010. She also worked at the State Department and for the CIA during her career.

Quehl decided three-plus years as chief financial officer and assistant secretary for administration of the Commerce Department was enough and left at the end of January.

This was his second stint in government, having worked for OMB as a special assistant to the controller during President Clinton’s administration.

Quehl wore many hats, but has become known for his collaboration with Commerce’s CIO Simon Szykman to save more than $200 million in administrative costs over the last two years.

Finally, maybe the biggest loss is of Keith Thurston, the General Services Administration’s assistant associate administrator for electronic government in the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies. Thurston will retire in April after more than 37 years in government, including the last 23 at GSA.

Thurston long has been considered the go-to person for OMB to get technology and policy efforts moving forward. Thurston, who also worked at GSA’s Office of Governmentwide Policy before moving to OCSIT, has been the career executive OMB relied on to explain how to get things done, including Data.gov, Performance.gov and a host of other key IT initiatives over the years.

Cuts from sequestration are going to further delay the implementation of the Einstein cybersecurity program.

Homeland Security Department’s Secretary Janet Napolitano said during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing Thursday that Einstein 3, now known at E3A, will be delayed by about a year because of the across-the-board cuts.

“Sequester reductions will require us to scale back the development of critical capabilities for the defense of federal cyber networks,” Napolitano said. “It will disrupt long-term efforts to grow our cybersecurity workforce.”

DHS tested the technology behind E3A in 2010 and has plans to deploy it across the government. According to the Privacy Impact Assessment on the Initiative Three Exercise — the pilot of E3A — the purpose of the exercise is to demonstrate the ability of an existing Internet Service Provider that is a designated as a Trusted Internet Connection Access Provider (TICAP) to select and redirect Internet traffic from a single participating government agency through the E3A technology. Also, U.S.-CERT would apply intrusion detection and prevention measures to that traffic and generate automated alerts about selected cyber threats.

Napolitano also said major cyber exercises involving state and local governments, as well as international and private sector partners also would be canceled if cuts from sequestration take effect.

“In our U.S. CERT teams, we are looking at I think a 10-to-12 percent reduction there in terms of being able to fill vacancies,” Napolitano said.

The U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team has been busier than ever. Napolitano told lawmakers in 2012, U.S.-CERT processed approximately 190,000 cyber incidents involving federal agencies, critical infrastructure and industry partners. This represents a 68 percent increase from 2011.

In addition, U.S.-CERT issued more than 7,455 actionable cyber-alerts, and had more 6,400 partners subscribe to the U.S.-CERT portal to share information and receive cyber threat warning data.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is going after deadbeat federal contractors once again.

He and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) introduced the Contracting and Tax Accountability Act of 2013 (Hs.R. 882) on Feb. 28. The eight-page bill would not let agencies award contracts or grants to a contractor or grantee unless they certify in writing that they have no seriously delinquent tax debts.

It also would let the Treasury Department disclose to the head of the awarding agency information limited to describing whether the person has a seriously delinquent tax debt.

Additionally, the bill calls for the contractor or grant organization to be considered for debarment if they have a seriously delinquent tax bill.

Chaffetz and Speier define a contractor or grantee as a person, partnership or corporation, though not someone seeking assistance through a grant program.

The congressmen also define “serious delinquent” as any debt where a notice of lien has been filed in public records.

“Those who consciously ignore the channels and processes in place to fulfill their tax obligations must be held accountable,” said Chaffetz in a release. “Since federal contractors draw compensation and funding from taxpayer dollars, we must ensure that they are complying with the existing laws.”

The Coalition for Government Procurement said the bill would codify earlier Federal Acquisition Regulations rule requiring contractors to certify that they do not have a delinquent tax debt to the federal government. The FAR rule comes after President Barack Obama signed a directive in January 2010 ordering the IRS and other agencies to crack down on contractors who don’t pay their taxes.

The Government Accountability Office found in 2008 “1.6 million businesses owed over $58 billion in unpaid payroll taxes, including interest and penalties. Of that amount, 70 percent of all unpaid payroll taxes are owed by businesses with more than a year (four tax quarters) of unpaid federal payroll taxes, and over a quarter of unpaid payroll taxes were owed by businesses that accumulated tax debt for more than three years (12 tax quarters).”

Additionally GAO found in 2011 Recovery Act recipients owe more than $757 million in back taxes.

Chaffetz also spearheaded an effort in previous years to crack down on federal employees who owe taxes, with the House passing a bill last July making applicants who owe “seriously delinquent” back taxes ineligible for federal jobs.

The IRS reported Friday nearly 312,000 federal workers and retirees owed more than $3.5 billion in back taxes as of Sept. 30, 2011. The year before, about 279,000 workers and retirees owed $3.4 billion.

Out and About If there is one Defense Department related conference to go to all year, it’s coming this Tuesday. The McAleese and Associates and Credit Suisse 2014 Defense Programs Conference has one of the best lineups you will find. It includes Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.); DoD Deputy Secretary Ash Carter; Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics; Robert Hale, DoD comptroller; and many others.

Keeping on the DoD theme, AFCEA Northern Virginia is hosting its annual Army IT day in Vienna, Va., on Wednesday, featuring Army CIO Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence; Maj. Gen. Lee Price, the Program Executive Officer for Command, Control, Communications Tactical (PEO-C3T); and several others. And if you’re not focused on DoD, AFCEA Bethesda holds a big data half-day event on Tuesday and AFFIRM is featuring a discussion on developing a cyber workforce at its monthly lunch on Thursday.