Not your frequent-flier miles; trust but verify; merging onto the info highway; back to New Orleans; no beards here.

Not your frequent-flier miles
Taking a page from the grocery and airline industries, the Census Bureau has developed a new idea to get people to respond to the upcoming 2006 National Survey of Recent College Graduates. The bureau will send $5 and $10 incentive/gift cards with surveys to encourage people to complete and return the questionnaires.

Being the analytical agency that it is, the bureau plans to assess the impact of the gift cards on response rates. Officials plan to spend $250,000 on the project and award a blanket purchase agreement to the winning vendor.

The plan calls for about 5,000 cards to have a $5 value and another 5,000 cards to have a $10 value. And if it works, the bureau is planning to expand the project.

Trust but verify
More cybercriminals are pretending they are government agencies to fool people into providing confidential information or downloading malware. Alfred Huger, senior director of development at Symantec Security Response, the company’s division that hunts and cures viruses, said many phishing scams involve impersonating the Internal Revenue Service, especially during tax season.

One scam requires people to provide personal information on a convincing replica of the IRS Web site to learn the status of their tax refunds, Huger said. Another requires users to fill out a personal information form to collect their refunds. The IRS warns consumers to be aware of phishing scams, and we second that warning.

Merging onto the info highway
Only 69 percent of American Indian households on tribal lands in the continental United States have telephones, far below the national average. A new report by the Government Accountability Office said the government has not collected new data on the subject since 2000 and has no information about how many American Indians connect to the Internet.

The Census Bureau is working on a survey to provide more current data, but the results will not be available until 2010. In the meantime, American Indians are tapping into various federal grant programs, conducting long-range planning and establishing private-sector partnerships to improve telephone and Internet service.

They are also encouraging wireless providers to compete with traditional telecommunications companies, according to GAO.

Back to New Orleans
Now that the floodwaters have receded and the cleanup continues, the Department of Veterans Affairs is planning a state-of-the-art medical center in New Orleans. VA officials recently signed an agreement with Louisiana State University to create a partnership for medical care.

The VA and Louisiana State officials signed an agreement last week in Baton Rouge to create a partnership that would bring state-of-the-art medical care to downtown New Orleans.

“Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the hospital we will build in New Orleans will be significantly better than the one we left behind,” said Dr. Jonathan Perlin, the VA’s undersecretary for health, in a statement. VA officials were forced to evacuate the hospital on Perdido Street after Hurricane Katrina hit last August.

“We will replace an aging, outdated facility built in the 1950s with a state-of-the-art medical center to provide care for veterans well into the 21st century,” Perlin added.

No beards here
Controversy has surrounded port security in recent days, and it does not just involve the plan for a company from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to manage terminals at six U.S. ports.

While union officials are concerned about job loss and port security, they are also vexed over the dress code. In a statement on the National Treasury Employees Union’s Web site, Colleen Kelley, the union’s president, said the dress code is ridiculous and is forcing “the most irrelevant and unnecessary rules on the men and women of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.”

Among them, CBP workers cannot wear beards or uniform shorts, even in warm climates, and they cannot live in Canada or Mexico if they work along U.S. borders. Is that any way to run an operation?

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