Daily Archives: March 24, 2012

DARPA Director Goes to Google But Probes into ‘Irregularities’ Continue

Dugan worked for DARPA in the 1990s, returned to the private sector and formed RedX, came back to head DARPA, and is now in the private sector again.

“That’s something we see quite a bit in the Pentagon, but it’s a problem with all the federal agencies.”

PCWorld  | Mar 24, 2012

By John P. Mello Jr.

Twin probes into possible irregularities in the awarding of contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars during the tenure of Regina Dugan at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will continue even though Dugan has left the agency for a position at Google.

Both special audits of the agency are ongoing, Bridget Ann Serchak, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General (DODIG), told PCWorld this week.

Serchak declined to comment on when the audits would be completed. “We never speculate on completion dates for projects,” she said.

Contracts Challenged

The DODIG’s office announced the first in a series of planned audits of DARPA in August 2011. The first audit will “determine the adequacy of DARPA’s selection, award and administration of contracts and grants awarded in FY 2020 and FY 2011 for research and development projects,” the DODIG’s office wrote in a letter to Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), a federal watchdog group.

It was POGO that waved a red flag over contract procedures at DARPA in a letter to DODIG Gordon S. Heddell. In the letter, dated May 9, 2011, POGO’s Brian wrote that her organization was concerned about possible conflicts of interest between Dugan and RedX Defense, a bomb detection firm that Dugan founded and where she retains a financial connection.

“RedX Defense has received approximately $6 million in contracts from DARPA since it was founded,” Brian wrote. “The company received about 30 percent of the $6 million, or $1.75 million, since Dugan became the Director of DARPA.”

Dugan, who was the first woman to head DARPA since its founding in 1958, publically stated at the time that she had recused herself from any decisions made by DARPA that would affect RedX’s bottom line. “POGO worries that a recusal may not be enough to ensure integrity in the contract process,” Brian wrote.

Dugan announced her departure from DARPA earlier this month to take a position at Google, where she will be joining another old DARPA hand, Vinton Cerf, also known as the “father of the Internet.”

At the time of Dugan’s departure, a spokesperson for DARPA said that the DODIG’s investigations played no role in the director’s decision to leave the agency.

Dugan’s move to Google exposes a systematic problem at the Defense Department, in particular, and the federal government as a whole, according to POGO Communications Director Joe Newman.

“It fits the pattern of the revolving door that we see at the Department of Defense,” he told PCWorld.

He explained that Dugan worked for DARPA in the 1990s, returned to the private sector and formed RedX, came back to head DARPA, and is now in the private sector again. “That’s something we see quite a bit in the Pentagon, but it’s a problem with all the federal agencies,” he said.

In addition to being credited with creating the Internet, night vision goggles, and GPS, DARPA has a reputation for research that borders on science fiction, a reputation that Dugan tried to tone down during her tenure at the agency by investing more money in projects aimed to meet the more immediate needs of the military.

Nevertheless, it is far-out projects like mechanical dogs, robot ostriches and cyborg moths that keeps the agency in the public’s eye.

Colder than normal spring weather keeping Ice Alaska park open through April 1

newsminer.com | Mar 23, 2012

by Tim Mowry

FAIRBANKS — It’s a sign that spring is not quite here yet.

Thanks to what has been a much-colder-than-normal March, the Ice Alaska ice park at the end of Phillips Field Road will stay open until April 1, a week longer than was planned. The ice park was originally scheduled to close on Sunday.

The week-long extension is a result of both the weather and public demand, said Dick Brickley, chairman of Ice Alaska.

“We’ve had numerous requests to stay open, including some from Anchorage,” he said. “So we said, as long as it’s safe and it still looks good, we’ll keep it open for another week.”

The cool temperatures have preserved the park’s 350 sculptures, as well as the slides and mazes in the kids park, which also will remain open.

“The sculptures are in great shape,” Brickley said. “We encourage people to come out and enjoy it.”

The ice park hours will remain the same — 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. — and season passes will be honored for the extended opening.

The temperature has not hit the freezing mark since the ice park opened on Feb. 28, though the National Weather Service said that could change by the middle of next week.

Through the first three weeks of March, the average temperature of minus 1 degree at Fairbanks International Airport was 9.5 degrees colder than normal, according to a statement released by the weather service on Thursday.

To date, it has been the coldest start to March since 2007 and the third-coldest start to March in the past 40 years.

The high temperature for the month so far was 25 degrees on March 6 and 7, the only two days of the month that were warmer than normal.

There have been eight nights this month with a low temperature of 20 below or colder, which is well above the average of three nights.

“This is the best year we’ve ever had,” Brickley said of the cool weather. “The single-block (sculptures) will last until the middle of June back in the trees.”

Though it means a delayed spring, the extended season is a blessing of sorts in that Ethel Stoneman, an Ice Alaska board member who missed this year’s event because she had to go Outside for cancer treatment, will get to see what she missed. Stoneman, who normally runs the front ticket booth at the ice park, is due back in town on Monday, Brickley said.

California Bill AB2109 Threatens Vaccine Freedom of Choice

Doctors who oppose vaccine freedom of choice have been frustrated for years over this issue. Finally, they will have the power to impose their beliefs on their patients.

huffingtonpost.com | Mar 23, 2012

by Dr. Bob Sears

The California legislature is currently considering a bill that would require parents to obtain their doctor’s signature on a government form prior to enrollment in public school if they wish to skip one or more vaccines for their child. Current law allows parents to decline vaccines by signing an exemption form at the school — no doctor’s signature needed. The new law would require “a written statement signed by a health care practitioner that indicates that the practitioner provided the parent with information regarding the benefits and risks of the immunization and the health risks of specified communicable diseases.”

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a bad idea. It will require parents to prove that they’ve had an informed discussion with their physician. Most parents already have such discussions anyway. However, what gravely concerns me is that some doctors will refuse to sign this form. I know how doctors think. Many doctors strongly believe that vaccines should be mandatory, and that parents should not have the right to decline vaccines. Some doctors are willing to provide care to unvaccinated kids, despite this difference in philosophy. But now the power over this decision will be put directly into doctors’ hands. He or she can simply refuse to sign the form. Doctors who oppose vaccine freedom of choice have been frustrated for years over this issue. Finally, they will have the power to impose their beliefs on their patients. Patients will be forced to find another doctor to sign the form, submit to vaccines, or get kicked out of public school.

Supporters of this bill believe that all doctors will be willing to sign this form, as the signature does not imply agreement with the parent’s decision; it simply signifies that the doctor has provided the parents with information regarding the pros and cons. I disagree. I know for an absolute fact that some doctors will not sign this form out of principle or over fears of liability.

Parents will be forced to “doctor shop” for another doctor to sign their form. This won’t be easy. Some doctors are reluctant to take new patients who don’t vaccinate. Many doctors will be unwilling to sign an exemption form for a new patient or a patient who is only there for one visit (just to get the form signed). Some doctors get financial incentives from insurance companies for having high vaccination rates into their practice; seeing patients to get their form signed will put such bonuses at risk. How many doctors will parents be expected to call? How many “no’s” will a patient need in order to be allowed into school? Natural and alternative health care providers can NOT sign the form; it must be a “regular” medical professional. Some families only see naturopathic or holistic health care practitioners instead of pediatricians. These families will have a difficult time getting the form signed. And what will happen to those kids who can’t get their formed signed? They will be denied entry into public school.

The sponsors of this bill may have some good intentions, as their primary “public” reason for the bill is to make sure that parents who don’t vaccinate their children are making an informed medical decision under the guidance of their doctor. But it isn’t difficult to see the REAL reason for the bill: to increase vaccination rates in our state by making it more difficult for parents to claim the exemption. But whatever the reason, this bill will likely NOT increase vaccination rates, nor will it create closer partnerships between doctors and patients. It will create anger, financial hardship, animosity, and further mistrust in our medical system.

For those patients who CAN find a doctor to sign their form, these “doctor-patient lectures” are not going to increase vaccination rates: Parents who are seeking a doctor’s signature have already made up their mind. The doctor isn’t going to change it during a ten-minute discussion. The time for a doctor to influence parents’ opinion and trust of vaccines is during the initial well-baby checkups, years before such exemption forms even come into play. By the time a child will enter school, the parents have made up their mind to decline vaccines. A lecture from a doctor at this point won’t matter. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and money. At a time when we are trying to decrease health care spending, this bill will add millions of dollars of extra health care visits for families every year. If this unfortunate bill passes in California, the rest of the country will be soon to follow.

And it’s a government intrusion into our personal freedom to make health care decisions for our children.