Countdown: Pay freeze, open season, WikiLeaks

On this week’s Federal News Countdown:

Molly O’Neill, Vice-President and Federal Energy and Environmental Industry Lead, CGI
Debra Roth, Partner, Shaw, Bransford and Roth

Molly O’Neill’s stories
#3 Issa sets tone for Government Reform Committee
From Federal Computer Week:

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the telework bill that is likely to become law soon only brings bureaucracy into agencies and doesn’t reflect the message voters sent Congress and the president in the recent midterm elections.


“This will be the first vote after the American people said no to government waste, fraud and abuse, government growth and government spending,” he said.

Issa’s reaction to the Telework Enhancement Act (H.R. 1722) gives a sense of how he might lead as the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Issa said the legislation lacks many of the safeguards necessary to prevent employees from taking advantage of the lack of direct manager oversight. Furthermore, the bill does not require agencies to prove how much money they’re saving when they let employees work from home, and it creates no new teleworking jobs.

#2 U.S. Rethinks Access to Data
From Wall Street Journal:

U.S. officials condemned the release of a quarter-million diplomatic messages by the website WikiLeaks and pledged to review how U.S. government agencies protect sensitive information.

The Defense Department, which has also seen its documents released by WikiLeaks, is focusing on shoring up its computers and networks. New measures include disabling small portable drives on many military computers, better physical oversight of classified material, and accelerating the deployment of software that can detect unusual data access and downloads.

Restricting access inside the government to sensitive information could help prevent future breaches, but it would also hamstring recent government efforts to share more crucial information among agencies. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were facilitated in part by government agencies’ inability to share critical information.

#1 Deficit Panel Leaders Unveil “Moment of Truth” Plan
From CBS News:

The leaders of President Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission released their official plan for deficit reduction today, standing by their controversial proposals to double the gas tax, raise the retirement age to receive Social Security payouts, cut Medicare and lay off hundreds of thousands of federal workers.

Commission co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles are presenting the final plan in a public meeting of the 18-member commission this morning. In order for the plan to have a serious chance to come up for a vote before Congress, 14 of the 18 commission members need to approve it. Simpson and Bowles acknowledged yesterday to reporters that their fellow commission members may not approve the report. However, they declared that their efforts have already been proven successful by the level of discussion about deficit reduction in Washington.

Debra Roth’s stories
#3 In open season for insurance plans, look beyond premium
From Washington Post:

Open season, the period when federal employees can choose health insurance plans, runs through Dec. 13.

Employees are always concerned about the amount they pay for insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. But the premium isn’t the only thing to examine.

Walton Francis, a health economist and primary author of “Checkbook’s 2011 Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees,” says they should also focus on out-of-pocket costs, the various types of plans, their particular health situation and the insurance companies their doctors use.

#2 Countering WikiLeaks could stifle information sharing
From Nextgov:

The government can’t do much, from a technical standpoint, to thwart the inappropriate interception of classified information by internal personnel — without imposing controls that would stifle information sharing, former Justice Department officials say.

In the aftermath of the latest release of secret government documents on the WikiLeaks website, the challenge of containing sensitive data while fostering intergovernmental collaboration looms larger than ever. The hundreds of thousands of pages of materials posted on the website over the weekend include secret State Department cables detailing sometimes blunt and pointed diplomatic conversations with foreign governments.

Former national security officials say deploying software to scan for unauthorized transmission of private data will not restrain people bent on exposing data. Rather than using cyber defenses, they say, the government should take action on the front end to alter the behavior of human beings.

#1 Pay freeze prompts concerns in Congress
From Government Executive:

In the wake of the Obama administration’s decision to freeze federal employees’ pay for two years, lawmakers are cautiously expressing concern about its impact on the government workforce.

The president on Monday proposed a pay freeze for 2011 and 2012 that will apply to all civilian workers, including Defense Department employees, but not to military personnel. Workers who are promoted to a higher General Schedule grade still will be eligible for pay raises, officials said.