Hill to shine spotlight on federal IT this week

House panels to probe Census Bureau's handheld computers, high-tech federal ID cards and sale of sensitive military technologies on the Internet.

Census Bureau officials will face fresh fire over management missteps at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Wednesday on the 2010 Census.

Comment on this article in The Forum.The hearing follows the Commerce Department's announcement last week that Census has dropped a plan to use the handheld computers for follow-up with residents who do not respond to mailed inquires.

The bureau is facing mounting congressional criticism for a $3 billion cost increase caused in part by the change of plan. Attention has focused on a $600 million contact Census gave to Florida-based Harris Corp. to develop the handheld devices.

Despite reduced duties, Harris stands to receive increased fees of about $1.3 billion. Committee aides said the hearing will examine Harris' "cost-plus fees" contract, as well as questions about the Census Bureau's ability to successfully complete the 2010 count under its new plan.

Harris Corp. and Census officials have met recently with committee staff and other lawmakers to offer their views on events leading to what Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., last week called "one hell of a mess."

After Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez declined to testify, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., on Friday asked Gutierrez's office to provide all documents related to the Harris contact.

Meanwhile, a Government Accountability Office finding that a program to require federal employees to use standard identification cards "is incurring high costs but providing little or no benefit to date," will be the focus of a House Oversight and Government Reform Government Management Subcommittee hearing Wednesday.

The subcommittee will address the impact background checks required for the Homeland Security Department program, often referred to as "HSPD-12," are having on an existing governmentwide security clearance backlog.

The House Oversight and Government Reform National Security Subcommittee Thursday will hear the results of an undercover GAO investigation into sale of sensitive military technologies on the Internet. At the hearing, a GAO special investigations team will show items they were able to purchase on-line.

Defense Department and eBay representatives are scheduled to discuss whether existing controls are adequate.