This weekly feature surveys top government IT-related news -- involving all levels of government, from the federal to state and local, and international news. It is designed to give readers a primer on current trends and developments affecting the industry's major and interesting players, surveying news headlines from around the world. Washingtonpost.com's Cynthia L. Webb pens the feature. E-mail Cindy Webb Cindy Webb's Daily Filter Column
Written by washingtonpost.com's tech policy team, the e-mail version of this weekly feature includes an original news article and links to policy and cyber-security stories from the previous week. Click Here for Free Sign-up Read E-letter Archive
Accenture Ltd. was the talk of contracting circles last week when it was awarded the huge U.S. Visit contract, a high-tech border security program that could wind up costing $10 billion. Well, the celebrations are getting cut short pretty quick. A House committee yesterday voted to block the contract award. The Chicago Tribune said the vote is "intended to punish the company for incorporating in Bermuda to reduce its U.S. tax burden. Reflecting rising concern in Washington about U.S. businesses moving abroad, the amendment also would prohibit other companies that have incorporated overseas from participating in U.S. government contracts." Accenture says it pays taxes on work it does in the U.S.
The Wall Street Journal had more details on the congressional action yesterday: "The House Appropriations Committee approved a $32 billion Homeland Security budget after attaching provisions to bar a multibillion border-security contract awarded last week to a coalition of companies led by the U.S. unit of Bermuda-based Accenture Ltd. ... The 35-17 vote reflects the bipartisan resentment in Congress toward companies whose parents locate offshore to limit their U.S. tax liability. With powerful allies in the House Republican leadership, Accenture still hopes to strike the restrictions before the spending bill becomes law, but the level of anger underscores the staying power of the expatriate tax issue in this presidential election year."
The DHS is not wavering in its decision, Washington Technology reported. "Based on our review of the bid by DHS legal counsel, all bidders were U.S. companies under law and therefore qualified to bid on the contract," said DHS spokeswoman Kimberley Weissman. National Journal's Technology Daily noted that the House Rules Committee "will decide if the provision should remain in the legislation before it is brought to the House floor for a vote."
DHS End Notes
In other DHS news, the General Accounting Office slammed the department for its overall IT planning. "The Homeland Security Department's sluggish progress on an IT strategic plan, enterprise architecture, capital planning and investment control are jeopardizing billions of dollars of systems investment, the General Accounting Office said in a May 25 report," Washington Technology reported on Monday. One suggestion? The GAO says the DHS should give CIOs more say in what goes on. "Congress is reviewing legislation that could strengthen the CIO's authority," WT said.
Meanwhile, the DHS is dealing with some employment woes. The department said a hiring freeze would stay in place since recruiting needs for this fiscal year have been met, GovExec.com reported. "Earlier this year, DHS stopped hiring agents and officers at the bureaus of Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Citizenship and Immigration Services because internal audits showed the departments might be on track to exceed their budgets. After a review, DHS officials determined the projected budget shortfall was actually a result of mismatched accounting systems," the article said.
Yet another official is calling for e-voting machine makers to spill the beans on the software code powering their machines. The latest request might actually get some notice, since it's from the head of the federal voting commission. "DeForest Soaries, chairman of the Election Assistance Commission, or EAC, said disclosing the source code--the line-by-line instructions that make up an electronic voting machine's software--would help to restore public trust in the elections process. Vendors should not 'have the right to keep this source code a secret,' Soaries told a dinner gathering of Maryland election officials," CNET's News.com reported. Reuters also covered Soaries' remarks.
The Associated Press reported that Soaries isn't quite ready to embrace another much-proposed e-voting reform: In "an interview before the speech, Soaries said the issue of paper ballots that voters can verify -- perhaps the most-debated aspect of the controversy over electronic voting -- requires more study and that calling for such receipts by November would be unrealistic. He said it was possible the panel would recommend paper ballots in the future. 'If there was unanimity among scholars and scientists on the paper issue it would be a more compelling case,' Soaries said. 'All of the research, all of the testimony we've received, all the writings that I've read argue for more research.'"
Linda Lamone, administrator of Maryland's elections, is in the camp that paper trails are not necessary. "Most folks do not understand the tremendous amount of testing and security procedures that we do in Maryland," Lamone told Government Computer News. "We have used electronic voting equipment for 30 elections, and we haven't had a single problem with the equipment. People don't like change, and when we switched from paper ballots to lever machines or from lever machines to punch card machines, we went through the same hysteria."
And a small victory for critics of Diebold: The voting technology manufacturer, "criticized last year for selling voting machines while its chairman raised money for Republican political candidates, has banned its senior executives from making such donations. The company's board of directors last week passed an amendment to its business ethics policy, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission," The AP reported.
Part of the Solution ... or the Problem?
California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley's passionate fight to improve e-voting technology in his state isn't winning him friends in some circles. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that "some county registrars, who contend he's jeopardizing their ability to run a smooth and accurate election in November, say Shelley deserves the blame. 'California was considered a good example of cooperation between local elections officials and the secretary of state up until January 2003,' when Shelley took office, said John Tuteur, registrar of voters in Napa County. 'The deterioration of the relationship of the local election community and the secretary of state's office is solely due to the actions and even personality of the secretary of state.'" More from the piece: "But many registrars ... say Shelley makes little effort to consult them on key issues, including how to spend millions of dollars the state received from Washington to improve voting systems. And some registrars, accustomed to being treated as colleagues by the secretary of state, say they are offended by his personal style." Shelley told the paper he has asked for input and wants California's election to run smoothly.
Microsoft Woos Asian Gov'ts
Microsoft is doing everything it can to convince customers not to make the switch to Linux. The Associated Press reported that the software giant is trying to keep Asia-based customers by offering special deals. According to the AP, "in Southeast Asia, the software giant seems more like an ardent suitor, wooing governments with sweet promises and gifts -- such as unprecedented bargain prices on its Windows operating system. Microsoft executives suggest that pricing policies for government-promoted PC sales pioneered last year in Thailand and used again in Malaysia this year presage a new marketing approach for emerging markets."
But can Microsoft cut prices enough? "The relatively higher cost of license fees for using Windows is a key factor driving regional governments to consider Linux, said Sun's Asian sales director, Terence Ng. 'The amount of money paid for proprietary software licenses can help governments in some developing markets like Malaysia and Vietnam build a bridge or even buy a plane,' he said," Reuters reported. "Linux distributor Red Hat Inc says the savings can be as much as 80 percent, but such figures are hotly disputed, and some studies say the total cost of deploying Linux can exceed that for Windows," the article said.
Other Noteworthy Government IT News:
* Some Silicon Valley small businesses are getting hands-on instruction today on how to pitch their products and services to the government (and yes, it's different than an elevator pitch to a venture capitalist). The San Francisco Chronicle yesterday reported that a conference in Palo Alto today will feature "[r]epresentatives from the Department of Homeland Security and the federal General Services Administration" who are expected to meet with workers from some 80 companies. "Silicon Valley's larger firms learned long ago how to master the federal government's spending cycles and byzantine purchasing rules. But small and mid- size businesses often find those obstacles daunting. 'The concept is to take the mystery out of selling to the government,' said Tim Priest, director of business development at the Greater Washington Initiative, which organized the event. 'It's not simple, but it's not rocket science.'" There's more information on the conference at www.greaterwashington.org.
* Are you looking for money in all the wrong places? The federal government's new Grants.gov Web site is slick, but it is not netting a lot of applications. "The Office of Management and Budget is aiming for the portal to receive 15,000 grant applications in its first year, but since it went online in March, Grants.gov has received only 327," Government Computer News reported.
E-mail government IT tips, comments and links to cindyDOTwebbATwashingtonpost.com