« June 2012 | Main | August 2012 »

22 posts from July 2012


Federal cyber security: Giving a hand up to nation's hackers, not so much to you

Government securityPeople "needlessly" spend about $3.5 billion a year on identity theft protection, according to Consumer Reports. Needless, that is, unless you happen to give your personal information to the federal government.

A new federal report highlights weaknesses in government agencies’ shoddy information security programs. In non-geek speak, that means they're pathetic and/or incompetent. 

Illustration: In 2010, federal agencies reported 13,017 security incidents involving personal information. A single incident can involve thousands of people.

Last year, that number climbed to 15,560, a 19 percent increase, according to the report by the Government Accountability Office.

Some examples of federal, state and private company data intrusions follow. Tums Alert: This list may Tums
induce nausea:

In May 2012, 123,000 participants of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board has personal info access, including 46,587

individuals’ names, addresses, and Social Security numbers.

• In April 2012, hackers breached a server at the Utah Department of

Health to access thousands of Medicaid records. About 280,000 people had their Social Security  numbers exposed.

• In March 2012, the Facebook account of the senior commander of the NATO was hacked, with in an attempt to spy on potentially sensitive information.

• In March 2012, it was reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee paid $1.5 million to settle with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over potential violations stemming from the theft of unencrypted computer hard drives containing protected health information of more than 1 million people.

The feds are hit too: Federal operations, assets and people have been put at risk as security breaches placed sensitive information at risk. In 2006, there were 5,503 such incidents. In 2011, the number rose to 42,887, an increase of a MERE 680 percent

Your elected congressmenAs usual, the government ignores its own advice. Over the past several years, investigators have continued to warn that federal agency systems are vulnerable to cyber attacks and the potential to compromise personally identifiable information.

With luck, someone will hack the GAO’s computers and send a copy of the old reports to Congress.


-- Darren Barbee


Texas biz to pay for firing obese man they thought posed a danger to others

Is being morbidly obese a disability? A federal agency says so and a Houston-area company agreed to More to lovesettle a discrimination lawsuit for $55,000 but admitted no violation of any laws, according to court documents.

BAE Systems Tactical Vehicle Systems, LP, fired the employee because they regarding his weight as substantially limiting activities including walking, standing, kneeling, stooping, lifting and breathing, according to a suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The company does business in Sealy, west of Houston.

The EEOC contended in its lawsuit that the man could perform the “essential functions” of his position as a materials handler.

In October 2009, the man was told to report to human resources where officials told him the company had reached the conclusion he could no longer "perform his job duties because of his weight and he was therefore terminated,” the suit said.

The man was replaced in his position by someone who was not morbidly obese, the suit said.

The company responded by saying the man was not disabled under the law and that he could not perform his job “without posing a direct threat to perform the essential functions of his job,” according to court documents.

Morbid obesity is a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008. (A 6-foot man who weighs 300 pounds would be considered extremely obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

A consent decree approving the settlement was made to avoid the expenses of litigation and that BAE’s agreement with the government did not constitute an admission of any legal violation.

“The  law protects morbidly obese employees and applicants from being subjected to  discrimination because of their obesity,” said Kathy Boutchee, the EEOC’s  senior trial attorney in Houston. Eeoclogo 

BAE Systems, Inc. is the U.S.-based segment of BAE Systems plc, with  headquarters in Arlington, Va.  As of 2010, the company employed about 39,000 people in the United States. An attorney representing the company could not immediately be reached for comment.

Are you obese? Click here to find out.

-- Darren Barbee


Childcare company fine with kids, not so much the pregnant employee, feds say

Good babyAn Oklahoma childcare company effectively told a pregnant woman to “get back in Pregnant thumbs down the kitchen,” but don’t fret, it was an employee, not a costumer, according to a federal complaint.

This week, Kids R Us, which owns child care facilities in Sooner country, agreed to pay
$75,000 to settle a pregnancy bias and retaliation suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The employee was an assistant facility director in 2010 when she informed an owner she was pregnant.

Later that month, the woman was demoted from her full-time position to part-time cook because, she
was told, she had “decided to get pregnant,” according to the suit. An attorney for Kids said her change to part-time status was at her request. The company denied all of the accusations.

Scullery(See typical modern woman, left)

After the woman filed a charge with the EEOC, Kids transferred her to a facility far enough away that it required to her to resign, the suit said. The company then fired her sister and cousin, who also worked at the company, without explanation.

“We hope this settlement will serve as an example to all employers that this agency takes seriously the right of people to complain about illegal job discrimination and that we will vigorously enforce the prohibitions against pregnancy discrimination,” said Barbara Seely, a regional attorney for EEOC.

This company has employed several women while they were pregnant, including some (pregnant) more than once," said Elaine R. Turner, an Oklahoma City attorney for the company.

Court documents say the settlement is not a judgment on the merits of the suit or an admission of liability by Kids R Us. The settlement was made to save litigation costs, Turner said.

"This was a financial decision, and that's all it was," she said.

Kids R US LLC is not related to the defunct clothing stores previously operated by Toys R Us.

-- Darren Barbee


A man 's get out of jail card, a judge says, is a promise to take his wife to eat lobster.

And not just any dinner but dinner at Red Lobster AND a night of bowling. That was the condition for jail release that a trial judge in Florida placed on a defendant in Florida. Hopefully ... the man's wife likes to eat seafood and swing the bowling ball ... At any rate, the topic of jail release was part of a NYT op-ed by two law professors discussing an assortment of weird conditions some judges place on a defendant's release from jail. The professors say that judges are imposing "the values of the temperance movement on the criminally accused." George Zimmerman was recently released, for example, on the condition that he not drink alcohol and adhere to a 6 p.m. curfew, even though his charge has nothing to do with alcohol. That's another example of how ridiculous some of pretrial conditions are getting, the profesors claim. A part of the problem, they say, is that state and municipal judges don't get a lot of scrutiny. Most of their decisions aren't blasted all over the news. To top that off, the professors say that most defendants don't have attorneys to pester the judge during the bail stage of the process. And of course, who doesn't want to get out of jail as fast as they can? So it's hard to complain about an imposition that might not sound reasonable.

Check out their op/ed: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/14/opinion/not-yet-tried-but-sentenced-to-red-lobster.html




Audit: Texas agency repeatedly busted deadlines, overspent on IT project

Texas has another black eye for an IT project, this one at the agency that helps the blind and provides rehabilitation services. It wanted a web-based case management system and said $2.4 million in federal funds would do the trick. The "ReHabWorks" system was supposed to be up and running by August 2007.

Five years and many millions of dollars later, the system still doesn't work, a state audit found. Now, the agency says the system will be completed by April 2013, at a cost of $18.3 million.

DARSbannerWhy did it take the state so long to notice? Maybe because the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services reported in August 2010 that the project was complete. By reporting that, the agency no longer had to file quarterly monitoring reports on the project's status and costs. But the audit says that only one of six critical components was actually completed then. And the system lacked more than 80 functions that previous systems had and among the missing pieces was a function that could cause the system to crash. 

Meanwhile, the agency tapped other federal funds to cover mounting costs and chalked up to "maintenance" other capital expenses beyond what was authorized. It couldn't even keep track of all the costs - and failed to mention to the state $10.9 million in associated costs for personnel to actually work on the system, the auditors reported. 

In the auditors' words, "The Department exceeded the budget and time line for the development of the ReHabWorks System primarily because the development effort lacked sufficient planning, change control monitoring, and project documentation. Weaknesses in the process to establish system requirements resulted in insufficient development of the project scope, budget, and time lines."

If this sounds familiar, recall efforts to get an integrated system for public assistance programs. It had cost more than a half billion in taxpayer money by 2007 and was riddled with deficiencies, according to an inspector general report. Or consider the Texas debacle with IBM for a data center partnership. Busted deadlines, server crashes, lost information forced the governor to shut it down for a while. - Lois Norder


North Texas residents accused in foreclosure rescue scheme

Four Texans and a Brit are accused of involvement in a fraud scheme with a new twist. Prosecutors say that the Texans, all with the last name Williams, were involved with a company called Applied Investment Strategies in McKinney. Its spiel: It could rescue people's homes from foreclosure. Clients believed the company would rent out their homes to pay the mortgage. Instead, according to a federal indictment, the Williamses took clients' personal identification information to send fake military orders to lenders to claim relief from foreclosure under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Yet another part of the scheme, which began in 2007, involved buying cars and using the Servicemembers Act to forestall collection on the loans.

Prosecutors say they got 38 homes in the scheme, including ones in Allen, Plano, Frisco, McKinney, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston. The indictment says that one of the homes, in Van Alystyne, was used to grow marijuana, which was how the Englishman came into the operation. Eighteen criminal counts have been filed in the case, being handled by prosecutors in the Eastern District of Texas.


Join Treasury, collect gifts, enjoy free golf outings

U.S. TreasuryTrue or false: Federal employees with the U.S. Treasury Department:

1. Golfed with bank employees during bank examinations

2. Socialized with contractors and accepted gifts from them.

3. Got a loan from a bank that the employee regulated

4. Used federal travel card to pay for hotel encounters with prostitutes

5. Steered contracts to favored firms and had sex in a stairwell

1. True: From 2006-2008, when banks were up to the eyeballs in risky investments, a national bank examiner for the Comptroller of the Currency in Florida spent office hours golfing with employees of a bank, accepting golf fees or food and reporting on his time card that he was working. The golf outings took place during bank examinations. That's what Treasury watchdog investigators found, according to documents obtained by Governmentattic.org. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Georgia decided not to take action, the documents show.   

2. True: A comptroller employee involved in selecting a contractor didn't disclose that her husband could benefit. An employee also took gifts that exceeded the annual limit. And a couple OCC employees socialized with contractors, exchanging gifts such as flowers, a limousine ride and meals. Then they lied about it to investigators, despite photographic evidence contradicting them. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland declined civil or criminal prosecution.

3. Also true: A national bank examiner accepted a loan from an institution for which he had oversight. A U.S. Attorney's Office in New York declined prosecution on that one.

4. And this is true, too: A human resources specialist for Treasury's Office of Thrift Supervision misused resources for sexual encounters with prostitutes advertising on Craigslist. He paid for hotel rooms with his OTS-issued travel card on at least three occasions, investigators reported. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia declined to take that case.

5. Not true (apparently): A director in the Treasury's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency hires his BFF for a headquarters job. An architectural contractor got blackballed for an OCC contract because of a 40-year-old dispute. Two employees had sex in an office stairwell. At least the Treasury couldn't find evidence to substantiate these concerns, according to the heavily redacted documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. 

How did you score? Probably not as well as federal employees who avoided criminal charges.



$43,000 embezzled out from under nose of FBI

Fbi-seal-plaque20l-2Not everybody can be a paid snitch for the FBI. First, the case agent proposing to operate a confidential informant must complete an Initial Suitability Report and Recommendation addressing 17 different factors, such as the person's motivation and truthfulness. To make sure the FBI is getting its money's worth, it also tracks the "statistical accomplishments" of snitches - such things as the number of indictments, convictions and search warrants for which they get credit. Finally, when an FBI agent pays a snitch, another agent is supposed to go along to sign a receipt.

At least, that's how you do it by the books.

So the FBI might have some explaining to do, after a special agent in Oklahoma managed to carry on an embezzlement scheme for four years, taking more than $43,000 from the agency's confidential informant fund. On Friday, Special Agent Timothy Klotz pleaded guilty, the Justice Department reports. He worked in classified counterintelligence, the Oklahoman reports.

You might have seen this one coming, though. After all, 87 percent of the confidential informant files examined by the inspector general for the FBI failed to meet the agency's guidelines, according to a 2005 report. Among the failures, information corroborating the extent to which the informant's help would be relevant was missing from a number of files. And Congress was told in 2007 that there was potential for abuses in the program.

In Klotz's case, he submitted 66 false confidential informant payment receipts on which he forged the signature of either FBI special agents or the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.  The U.S. Attorney's Office for North Texas handled the investigation after auditors discovered discrepancies. - Lois Norder  Download F.B.I.



Texas pensions threatened with dreaded 'intensive review'

If any of Texas' 360 public pension plan are in dire straits, don't count on the state's watchdog agency to know. The Pension Review board gets too little information and too late, warns a new report by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. Perry scoldingBesides, even if the board spots problems that put taxpayers and plan members at risk, its only power is public shaming. The board provides what Sunset calls the oxymoron of "non-regulatory oversight" - all talk, no action.   

But Sunset doesn't recommend that Texas lawmakers fix that. Its remedy is to require Texas public pensions to provide information when it is due and to turn over to the board audited financial reports and experience studies - if the pension chooses to perform those studies.  

Then, if the board detects threats that could imperil benefits to the millions of public employees and retirees or leave taxpayers on the hook, the board can really swing into action. It can conduct the dreaded "intensive review" to assess the situation and "make the system and its sponsoring entity aware of any problems." Talk about over regulation.



DOD reports to Congress shrink to 10 pages, hopefully written at 5th grade level

Short and sweet is apparently the new watchword of the military, but considering who they're reporting to, that might be just about right.

The Department of Defense has told Congress that strategic reports to the widely disliked body of lawmakers won’t leave out key information, despite “guidance” that reports be just 10 pages long.

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs George Little issued a statement July 11 saying New DOD report format that the guidance to keep reports about the same length as the Goodnight Moon children’s book (possible examples, left) will “not in any way seek to restrict information provided to Congress.”

A quick look at some recent DOD reports shows that a nuclear weapons management report was 108 pages. A report on stability and security in Iraq was 81 pages. Heck, even a report on Arctic operations and the North West passage was 32 pages.

"Across the department, we continually strive to provide Congress with the information and analysis it needs to fulfill its vital oversight role, and to do so in the most readable and usable format possible.  We also seek to do so in a cost effective manner,” Little said. 

A CNN blog reported that Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, led a group of Republicans in a news conference attacking the Defense Department for its scantily clad

Chairman mao report about China's military.

The report is 19 pages long with and additional 33 pages of appendixes, CNN said.

"I think that is outrageous," said McKeon, R-California. "We can't do our job if the department doesn't give us adequate information to do the things that we are required to do."

To be fair, though, the report does have about a dozen “maps” of China — kind of like place-mats at a low end take-out joint. Two maps contained actual information, one providing data on nuclear attack submarines, diesel subs, destroyers, frigates, amphibious ships and so on.

If only we could cut the length of presidential campaigns using this method. In, say, comic book form.

Oh, wait. Obama comic Mccain comic


Finally, for your reading enjoyment, from Stanford.edu here's the 

The Top Nineteen World's Shortest Books

19. Famous Italian War Heroes

18. Al Gore: The Wild Years

17. Amelia Earhart's Guide to the Pacific Ocean

16. America's Most Popular Lawyers

15. Career Opportunities for History Majors

14. Detroit - a Travel Guide

13. Different Ways to Spell "Bob"

12. Dr. Kevorkian's Collection of Motivational Speeches

11. Easy UNIX

10. Ethiopian Tips on World Dominance

 9. Everything Men Know About Women

 8. Everything Women Know About Men

 7. French Hospitality

 6. George Foreman's Big Book of Baby Names

 5. How to Sustain A Musical Career by Art Garfunkel

 4. One Hundred and One Spotted Owl Recipes by the EPA

 3. Staple Your Way to Success

 2. The Amish Phone Book


 1. The Engineer's Guide to Fashion

-- Darren Barbee