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5 min read

I finally got a reply from Sen. Brown regarding an email I sent him during the shutdown.  Here it is:

Thank you for getting in touch with me about the government shutdown and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Despite the costs to our economy, the majority in the House of Representatives chose to hold the federal government hostage in an attempt to defund or dismantle the ACA. Without a spending bill in place, the federal government shut down on October 1, 2013.
Even though shutting down the government did not stop the implementation of the ACA, the majority in the House of Representatives continued to hold the federal government hostage for 16 days. In the weeks following October 1, hundreds of thousands of government workers were furloughed, and many government services were shut down or curtailed.
The consequences of the shutdown were felt across the country. Seniors could not apply for Social Security benefits. Widows of veterans were denied death benefits. National parks and monuments were shuttered. Food inspections were halted. Head Start preschools closed their doors. Government-backed mortgage applications were stalled. Cancer patients were turned away from the National Institutes of Health. Despite the shutdown, the implementation of the ACA continued, because the majority of ACA funding does not come from Congressional spending.
The shutdown was also extremely costly. It led to the largest drop in consumer confidence since the 2008 financial crisis. Economists estimate that the shutdown has cost tens of billions of dollars and will significantly slow economic growth in the quarter, affecting employment, business earnings, and borrowing costs.
A bipartisan agreement to fund the government and lift the debt ceiling without defunding or delaying the ACA was agreed to on October 16, 2013. The agreement reopened the government at current funding levels through January 15, 2014, and lifted the debt ceiling through February 7, 2014. It also provided back pay for all federal workers who were furloughed, and called for broader budget talks by December 13.
Like most laws, the ACA is not perfect, and I will continue to work with my colleagues from both parties to make this law better. Americans deserve access to affordable, comprehensive insurance coverage without fear of losing coverage, and those who can pay for their own coverage should do so.
The reckless extremism and political brinkmanship over the ACA that caused this shutdown are no way to govern. This kind of manufactured crisis hurts our economy and distracts from the important work before us. With stopgap bills in place, we can sit down and work together to find common ground on ways to address our fiscal challenges and strengthen our economy.
Thank you also for sharing your concerns regarding how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) applies to Members of Congress and other employees of the federal government.
Like most working Americans, Members of Congress and other federal employees receive health insurance through their employer. The federal health insurance program, known as the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHB), allows federal employees, retirees, and their survivors to choose among a range of different insurance options, from catastrophic risk protection with higher deductibles to fee-for-service plans.  
In general, employer-provided health insurance is unaffected by the ACA.  This is true for most of the millions of workers and retirees in the federal health plan.  But Congress enacted a provision within the new law to require that Members of Congress and their staffs participate in the new health exchanges created by the law.  The intent and effect of this decision was to ensure that Members of Congress and their staffs would go through the same process and have the same choices as the millions of American expected to be provided insurance through the ACA.
I support this decision, since health reform legislation should provide Americans with the same type of insurance options that Members of Congress currently receive.  This is something that I have felt strongly about since coming to Congress in 1993.  Until the passage of health reform, I refused to accept health insurance through the FEHB program because too many Americans had no coverage at all.
Beginning in 2014, the new health reform law will enable Americans who lack insurance, who work for small businesses, or who have individual coverage to opt in to an exchange to purchase affordable health insurance.  Some 80 to 90 percent of these individuals will be eligible for assistance in the form of tax credits or subsidies.  Lawmakers and Congressional aides, since they receive a subsidy from their employer, will not be eligible for the tax credits and subsidies that will be available to many other individuals who buy private insurance in the exchange.  If you are interested in more information on the new law, you may want to visit
Thank you again for being in touch with me. Please do not hesitate to contact my office in the future regarding this or any other matter of concern to you.
                         Sherrod Brown
                         United States Senator

Did you see the last paragraph?  The first line says "Beginning in 2014, the new health reform law will enable Americans who lack insurance, who work for small businesses, or who have individual coverage to opt in to an exchange to purchase affordable health insurance."  I guess by "enable" and "opt in" he really means "must under penalty of a fine."  Heh...what a way to wordsmith that.

Do Taxes Equal Stealing?

2 min read

Bright Bike STOLEN!

Some people think taxes are nothing more than stealing.  Others disagree.  What do I think?

First off, there are certain things (national defense and making the states work together on interstate commerce) that the federal government is mandated by the constitution to do.  There are other things, such as libraries, where it makes sense for the government to offer the service.  There are other things, like jails, that ONLY the government can do.  I don't think funds--the tax revenue--to pay for goods and services such as this are stealing.  I also don't have a problem with taking care of people who cannot work and cannot take care of themselves.  I also don't have a problem providing basic support for a very limited period of time (4 weeks, perhaps) to people who, for example, just lost their job (basic support means they won't die from exposure, walk around naked, or starve).

What I do think is stealing is taking money from me (or anyone else) and giving it to people who can and should be working.  99 weeks unemployment?  free phones?  $60,000 for being on welfare? Support those who want to murder their children?  No way no how.  To force me, or anyone else, to take our money and give to those who simply won't work because they choose to is flat out theft.  The government forces us, with threat of jail, to pay our taxes.  

To those who think my attitude on taking care of people is "unChristian," I want to point out 2 Thes 3:10:

"...if any would not work, neither should he eat."

Read it in context.  Yes, it really does say that.  Yes, Christians are commanded to take care of each other, supply for each other's needs, help each other out, and give each other the benefit of the doubt.  But we aren't supposed to enable bad behavior.  Anyone who says otherwise is taking the entire council of scripture out of context.

Image from michael mandiberg via flickr

Privacy Idea -- Step 3a

13 min read

This is part of my privacy series.  Main post is here.

I haven't written about steps 1 or 2 yet.  Step 1 is fairly easy:  get a server.  Right now, I have a VPS through 1and1 (the same company that currently hosts

Step 2 doesn't make sense on a vps with limited disk space.  Although, part of me says I should try.  But, it may be easier with real disks so I'm planning to wait.

This is what I did to get OpenVPN installed and working.  YMMV.

Text in the Courrier New font is what you should type in.
Text in the Comic Sans MS font is output.
Text in italics are notes.

No, I'm not going to show you how to SSH into your server, install putty, or use the command line ssh.  Go google those things. Ask if you need help (I won't not help) but I consider those things prerequisites for this howto.

  1. Since this is a new server, I ran "yum update" to make sure my server was up to date.  It was.
  2. I ran the command "passwd" and set the password for the root user to something strong
  3. run "cat /dev/net/tun" to make sure that my vps supported TUN (required for openVPN).  If this command returns "cat: /dev/net/tun: File descriptor in bad state" if TUN is supported.
  4. "yum install nano" . Yum is a text editor on linux.  You can use anything you like.  The guides I reference below do all the installs at once with a -y at the end.  I don't trust computers (and you shouldn't either).  Read the output, make sure they are doing what you want and you understand what is going on!
  5. "yum install openssl" You need this package as a prerequisite for openVPN
  6. "yum install lzo" another prerequisite for openVPN
  7.  "yum install pam" yet another prereq
  8. At this point, I thought I could find an up-to-date rpm for openVPN and install it.  I only was installing the minimum I needed (or thought I needed).  I futzed around for a while here trying to find a binary and get it installed.  No luck.  I also futzed around adding some yum repositories to my config.  I did sort of succede in getting a binary...but I kept getting an error:  Requires:  I fiddle-farted around for a bit trying to solve that on it's own.  
  9. "yum install gcc make rpm-build autoconf.noarch zlib-devel pam-devel openssl-devel" this command installs gcc; make; rpm-build; dev tools for zlib, pam, and openssl; along with autoconf.  This is a bunch of dev tools I was trying to avoid installing by simply getting binaries
  10. "wget" this is a binary for lzo from openVPN
  11. "wget" I have no idea but the instructions I was following said I needed it.
  12. "rpmbuild --rebuild lzo-1.08-4.rf.src.rpm" this rebuilds the lzo binary I downloaded earlier.
  13. "rpm -Uvh lzo-*.rpm" this installs the lzo binaries
  14. "rpm -Uvh rpmforge-release*" this installs the rpm downloaded from rpmforge above
  15. "yum install openvpn" -- finally we get to install openVPN
  16. I ended up and got openVPN 2.3.2 which differs from 2.2.2 and earlier in a significant way:  it doesn't include the easy-rsa application used to generate keys.
  17. "yum install easy-rsa" will install this.  If you get an error, you'll probably need to run steps 18, 19, and 20
  18. "cd /etc/yum.repos.d"
  19. "wget"
  20. "wget"
  21. openVPN has been "installed" into /usr/share/doc/openvpn-2.3.2/
  22. easy-rsa has been "installed" into /usr/share/easy-rsa/
  23. copy the easy-rsa files into /etc/openvpn/:  "cp -r /usr/share/easy-rsa/* /etc/openvpn/"
  24. now go into that directory:  "cd /etc/openvpn/"
  25. you can edit the vars file.  it is used to set up the defaults you need to generate your keys.  I changed a few things.  This step is optional...but if you edit it, you can just go through some future steps hitting enter.
    export KEY_SIZE=2048 (default was 1024.  Bigger is better)
    export KEY_COUNTRY="XX" (your country)
    export KEY_PROVINCE="XX" (state)
    export KEY_CITY="XXXXXXXX" (city)
    export KEY_ORG="XXXXXXXXX" (organization)
    export KEY_EMAIL=XXXXXX@XXXXXXXXX.XXX (email quotes)
  26. Now run it "./vars"
  27. Run "./clean-all" to make sure there's no junk around
  28. Run "./build-ca" to start the process of making your "master" certificate.  This will take a while since you are making a 2048 bit key.  Let it run.  Mine took about 5 min or so to finish
  29. When it finishes, build the key for your server "./build-key-server server"
  30. Build the keys for each client you want "./build-key client1"  You can replace client1 with whatever you want the client called.  It just needs to be unique
  31. Copy the sample server config file into /etc/openvpn/.  "cp /usr/share/doc/openvpn-2.3.2/sample-config-files/server.conf /etc/openvpn/server.conf"  When I did this at first, I put it into a subdirectory called conf.  Don't do this.  Just put your conf file into /etc/openvpn/.  This becomes important when it comes time to run it as a service.
  32. Now, edit the file "nano server.conf"
  33. You'll have to make some changes in the file.  Read the comments and everything should become clear.  Here's my file:

    # Sample OpenVPN 2.0 config file for #
    # multi-client server. #
    # #
    # This file is for the server side #
    # of a many-clients <-> one-server #
    # OpenVPN configuration. #
    # #
    # OpenVPN also supports #
    # single-machine <-> single-machine #
    # configurations (See the Examples page #
    # on the web site for more info). #
    # #
    # This config should work on Windows #
    # or Linux/BSD systems. Remember on #
    # Windows to quote pathnames and use #
    # double backslashes, e.g.: #
    # "C:\\Program Files\\OpenVPN\\config\\foo.key" #
    # #
    # Comments are preceded with '#' or ';' #

    # Which local IP address should OpenVPN
    # listen on? (optional)
    ;local a.b.c.d

    # Which TCP/UDP port should OpenVPN listen on?
    # If you want to run multiple OpenVPN instances
    # on the same machine, use a different port
    # number for each one. You will need to
    # open up this port on your firewall.
    port 1194

    # TCP or UDP server?
    ;proto tcp
    proto udp

    # "dev tun" will create a routed IP tunnel,
    # "dev tap" will create an ethernet tunnel.
    # Use "dev tap0" if you are ethernet bridging
    # and have precreated a tap0 virtual interface
    # and bridged it with your ethernet interface.
    # If you want to control access policies
    # over the VPN, you must create firewall
    # rules for the the TUN/TAP interface.
    # On non-Windows systems, you can give
    # an explicit unit number, such as tun0.
    # On Windows, use "dev-node" for this.
    # On most systems, the VPN will not function
    # unless you partially or fully disable
    # the firewall for the TUN/TAP interface.
    ;dev tap
    dev tun
    tun-mtu 1500
    tun-mtu-extra 32
    mssfix 1450

    # Windows needs the TAP-Win32 adapter name
    # from the Network Connections panel if you
    # have more than one. On XP SP2 or higher,
    # you may need to selectively disable the
    # Windows firewall for the TAP adapter.
    # Non-Windows systems usually don't need this.
    ;dev-node MyTap

    # SSL/TLS root certificate (ca), certificate
    # (cert), and private key (key). Each client
    # and the server must have their own cert and
    # key file. The server and all clients will
    # use the same ca file.
    # See the "easy-rsa" directory for a series
    # of scripts for generating RSA certificates
    # and private keys. Remember to use
    # a unique Common Name for the server
    # and each of the client certificates.
    # Any X509 key management system can be used.
    # OpenVPN can also use a PKCS #12 formatted key file
    # (see "pkcs12" directive in man page).
    ca /etc/openvpn/keys/ca.crt
    cert /etc/openvpn/keys/server.crt
    key /etc/openvpn/keys/server.key # This file should be kept secret

    # Diffie hellman parameters.
    # Generate your own with:
    # openssl dhparam -out dh1024.pem 1024
    # Substitute 2048 for 1024 if you are using
    # 2048 bit keys.
    dh /etc/openvpn/keys/dh2048.pem

    # Configure server mode and supply a VPN subnet
    # for OpenVPN to draw client addresses from.
    # The server will take for itself,
    # the rest will be made available to clients.
    # Each client will be able to reach the server
    # on Comment this line out if you are
    # ethernet bridging. See the man page for more info.

    # Maintain a record of client <-> virtual IP address
    # associations in this file. If OpenVPN goes down or
    # is restarted, reconnecting clients can be assigned
    # the same virtual IP address from the pool that was
    # previously assigned.
    ifconfig-pool-persist ipp.txt

    # Configure server mode for ethernet bridging.
    # You must first use your OS's bridging capability
    # to bridge the TAP interface with the ethernet
    # NIC interface. Then you must manually set the
    # IP/netmask on the bridge interface, here we
    # assume Finally we
    # must set aside an IP range in this subnet
    # (start= end= to allocate
    # to connecting clients. Leave this line commented
    # out unless you are ethernet bridging.

    # Configure server mode for ethernet bridging
    # using a DHCP-proxy, where clients talk
    # to the OpenVPN server-side DHCP server
    # to receive their IP address allocation
    # and DNS server addresses. You must first use
    # your OS's bridging capability to bridge the TAP
    # interface with the ethernet NIC interface.
    # Note: this mode only works on clients (such as
    # Windows), where the client-side TAP adapter is
    # bound to a DHCP client.

    # Push routes to the client to allow it
    # to reach other private subnets behind
    # the server. Remember that these
    # private subnets will also need
    # to know to route the OpenVPN client
    # address pool (
    # back to the OpenVPN server.
    ;push "route"
    ;push "route"

    # To assign specific IP addresses to specific
    # clients or if a connecting client has a private
    # subnet behind it that should also have VPN access,
    # use the subdirectory "ccd" for client-specific
    # configuration files (see man page for more info).

    # EXAMPLE: Suppose the client
    # having the certificate common name "Thelonious"
    # also has a small subnet behind his connecting
    # machine, such as
    # First, uncomment out these lines:
    ;client-config-dir ccd
    # Then create a file ccd/Thelonious with this line:
    # iroute
    # This will allow Thelonious' private subnet to
    # access the VPN. This example will only work
    # if you are routing, not bridging, i.e. you are
    # using "dev tun" and "server" directives.

    # EXAMPLE: Suppose you want to give
    # Thelonious a fixed VPN IP address of
    # First uncomment out these lines:
    ;client-config-dir ccd
    # Then add this line to ccd/Thelonious:
    # ifconfig-push

    # Suppose that you want to enable different
    # firewall access policies for different groups
    # of clients. There are two methods:
    # (1) Run multiple OpenVPN daemons, one for each
    # group, and firewall the TUN/TAP interface
    # for each group/daemon appropriately.
    # (2) (Advanced) Create a script to dynamically
    # modify the firewall in response to access
    # from different clients. See man
    # page for more info on learn-address script.
    ;learn-address ./script

    # If enabled, this directive will configure
    # all clients to redirect their default
    # network gateway through the VPN, causing
    # all IP traffic such as web browsing and
    # and DNS lookups to go through the VPN
    # (The OpenVPN server machine may need to NAT
    # or bridge the TUN/TAP interface to the internet
    # in order for this to work properly).
    push "redirect-gateway def1"

    # Certain Windows-specific network settings
    # can be pushed to clients, such as DNS
    # or WINS server addresses. CAVEAT:
    # The addresses below refer to the public
    # DNS servers provided by
    push "dhcp-option DNS"
    push "dhcp-option DNS"

    # Uncomment this directive to allow different
    # clients to be able to "see" each other.
    # By default, clients will only see the server.
    # To force clients to only see the server, you
    # will also need to appropriately firewall the
    # server's TUN/TAP interface.

    # Uncomment this directive if multiple clients
    # might connect with the same certificate/key
    # files or common names. This is recommended
    # only for testing purposes. For production use,
    # each client should have its own certificate/key
    # pair.

    # The keepalive directive causes ping-like
    # messages to be sent back and forth over
    # the link so that each side knows when
    # the other side has gone down.
    # Ping every 10 seconds, assume that remote
    # peer is down if no ping received during
    # a 120 second time period.
    keepalive 10 120

    # For extra security beyond that provided
    # by SSL/TLS, create an "HMAC firewall"
    # to help block DoS attacks and UDP port flooding.
    # Generate with:
    # openvpn --genkey --secret ta.key
    # The server and each client must have
    # a copy of this key.
    # The second parameter should be '0'
    # on the server and '1' on the clients.
    ;tls-auth ta.key 0 # This file is secret

    # Select a cryptographic cipher.
    # This config item must be copied to
    # the client config file as well.
    ;cipher BF-CBC # Blowfish (default)
    ;cipher AES-128-CBC # AES
    ;cipher DES-EDE3-CBC # Triple-DES

    # Enable compression on the VPN link.
    # If you enable it here, you must also
    # enable it in the client config file.

    # The maximum number of concurrently connected
    # clients we want to allow.
    max-clients 3

    # It's a good idea to reduce the OpenVPN
    # daemon's privileges after initialization.
    # You can uncomment this out on
    # non-Windows systems.
    user nobody
    group nobody

    # The persist options will try to avoid
    # accessing certain resources on restart
    # that may no longer be accessible because
    # of the privilege downgrade.

    # Output a short status file showing
    # current connections, truncated
    # and rewritten every minute.
    status openvpn-status.log

    # By default, log messages will go to the syslog (or
    # on Windows, if running as a service, they will go to
    # the "\Program Files\OpenVPN\log" directory).
    # Use log or log-append to override this default.
    # "log" will truncate the log file on OpenVPN startup,
    # while "log-append" will append to it. Use one
    # or the other (but not both).
    ;log openvpn.log
    ;log-append openvpn.log

    # Set the appropriate level of log
    # file verbosity.
    # 0 is silent, except for fatal errors
    # 4 is reasonable for general usage
    # 5 and 6 can help to debug connection problems
    # 9 is extremely verbose
    verb 4

    # Silence repeating messages. At most 20
    # sequential messages of the same message
    # category will be output to the log.
    ;mute 20

  34. you can now run the server by "openvpn server.conf"

I'll do another post detailing firewall changes and then a third detailing client configuration.

References: -- main guide I used -- another howto I used -- openVPN docs I referred to -- big BIG huge help with getting iptables set up right

[Update 2013-06-30 07:14:07] Edited step 34

[Update 2013-06-30 07:53:27] I've finished step 3b detailing firewall changes with iptables and starting the server as a daemon

Website Changes

1 min read

1List icon (400x300)

As you can tell, I've made some changes to the website.  More will come over the Christmas break.

Here's my current TODO List:

  1. https enable the thing -- Done as of 21 Dec.  You can use to view the site now.  However, until I update all our flickr image links to use https you may get warnings about insecure content.
  2. get comments back -- done.  But comments don't work if you use https.  This is a problem with disquis.
  3. Update flickr images to use https -- Done 22 Dec
  4. disquis via https -- done
  5. Force https through redirect -- Done.  Only the https version of the site will work now.
  6. Verify rss feed -- Done as of 21 Dec.  RSS should still work
  7. update the look/feel a bit

[Update 21 Dec 2012 08:48] Crossed off completed items

[Uodate 21 Dec 2012 08:54] Added image.  From studioamanga via flickr

[Update 22 Dec 06:55] Crossed more items off

[Update 2012-12-25 03:49:01] To see why I did this (and how) have a look at my blog post on SSL.

[Update 2012-12-26 08:12:01I'm getting mixed content warnings.  I can't see what's wrong...can anyone help? Fixed


2 min read

Passwords are like Pants...

I assume this is ok to mention (meaning I don't think the bad guys can get anywhere with it).  At the start of 2011, Google introduced two-factor authentication.  Over the summer, I enabled it for my Google account.  What's the difference or extra?  I'm glad you asked.

Basically, two-factor authentication is based on two "things."  In my case, it is something I know--my password--and something I have--a code from Google.  When I attempt to login using a google account, I am not only asked for my id and password, but I get prompted for a verification code.  Where do I get the code?  Google has an app that I installed on my phone that generates them.  So, not only do I have to have my keypass (what I use to generate strong passwords) but I also have to have my mobile phone.

So far, the only problem this has caused was when I tried to sign-on using Google's stand-alone talk application.  I spent a good 30 min trying to figure out why I couldn't log in.  I was trying to sign-on with a google app account so at first I thought that was the problem (it looked like it was stripping off my domain).  After some Googling, I decided I needed to give up and get back to work.  The next day, I decided to give it another go.  This time, I remembered that Google offers to generate application specific passwords for things that aren't two-factor compliant.  I generated a new one and, sure enough, it connected straightaway.

If you want to know what I did to enable two-factor authentication, let me know, and I'll post a HOWTO.

Image from Richard Parmiter via flickr

Admin Shares and Vista

1 min read

Well, our computer died a few months ago and we got a laptop to replace it.  It came with Vista (joy of joys).  After trying (yes, I really tried) to get used to UAC, I turned it off (what a stupid feature.  I know...I is supposed to make it more secure, but I fail to see how.  Everyone is just going to click yes or allow to every stupid dialog that comes up.  I digress....).

Anyway, vista doesn't set up the admin shares by default (you know, the C$, D$, etc... shares).  Well, that isn't so much of a problem (I'd rather have to enable them than turn them off) but instead of a nice setting (set up admin share or something nice), I've got to add a registry key?!

 For more info, read this article .

2005 LMCO Amount

2 min read

The IMB released the stats for the 2005 LMCO. Here is the text of the e-mail I received:

We have just closed the books on the 2005 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. We are overjoyed to report that Southern Baptists gave $137,939,677.59 to this important offering. Not only is this a 3.03% increase over last years offering, it is 1.28% more than our previous record offering received at Christmas 2003.

We know that you support the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering both financially and in what you do here at the IMB. We appreciate the vital contribution that each of you have made to this record outpouring.
While the offering was a record, it did fall short of our $150,000,000 goal. However, it did exceed the amount we had in the operating budget by almost $1 million. This will enable us to do some things overseas that we might not otherwise have been able to do.

We appreciate each of you and all that you do to enable the International Mission Board to lead Southern Baptists to be on mission with God to see all the peoples of the world come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

So, $137 million was given. Good, but I think Southern Baptists could do better. If you do the math, you'll find out that this works out to about $8.50 for every SB (137 mil/16 mil). I think we could work ourselves to $160 mil. Imagine what SBs could do if we looked to God's provision? Imagine every SB giving $100 to the offering! That would be over a trillion dollars!

You say you can't give $100? Think about the ways you could get $100:

  • Go to Starbucks 1 less time every other week: $5/trip * 26 weeks = $130
  • Eat out one less time per month: $10/meal * 12 months = $120

Anyway....I applaud everyone who gave. My prayer is that SBs will give an offering that God will find honorable.

Remember, 100% of the LMCO is spent in the IMB's overseas budget.  None of these funds are used for Administration here in the states.

BTW, last year's (2004 LMCO) offering was $133,886,221.58.

NiSource Outsourcing Information

3 min read

This URL went around the office today. It is an article talking about NiSource Outsourcing. Just in case it gets taken off line, here it is:

U.S. Utilities Intensify Outsourcing Plans — NiSource Raises the Bar

Interest among U.S. utilities in BPO remains high, with at least six large utilities actively evaluating proposals from vendors. At Accenture's recent International Utilities and Energy Conference, a roundtable of industry executives discussed lessons learned from previous BPO engagements, particularly in the United Kingdom, where companies such as Welsh Water serve approximately 1 million customers with only 130–140 employees, and explored the justification and process related to major outsourcing decisions. Without announcing the choice of a vendor, NiSource presented an overview of its BPO initiative, which expands the scope beyond that of previous initiatives such as the TXU/Capgemini deal signed last year or the BC Hydro/Accenture deal signed the previous year.

NiSource decided to evaluate outsourcing primarily for financial reasons — as an opportunity to reduce operations and maintenance (O&M) costs while maintaining or improving service levels and to redeploy capital to growth areas such as gas storage. Additionally, the company wanted to explore the opportunities to transform key business processes and their supporting technology and to enable the company to focus on its core business. Processes chosen for outsourcing needed to satisfy certain criteria:

  • The process is transactional in nature.
  • The process requires significant amounts of medium to low-skilled labor.
  • The process is currently fragmented and needs to be consolidated and/or transformed.
  • Management is not willing or able to invest in change.
  • The process has been successfully outsourced before.

Based on these criteria, NiSource decided to outsource significant portions of finance and accounting, human resources, supply chain, customer care and billing, and work management. The work management outsourcing, which goes beyond the scope of previous utility BPO deals, will not include any union labor and will focus on scheduling and dispatching processes.

NiSource met with legislators and regulators early in the process to ensure political issues were resolved up front. For example, although the customer call center will be outsourced, it will not be moved offshore. Also, regulatory "clawback" of any achieved savings will not be an issue because the outsourced processes are not part of the utility rate base.

We believe that interest in BPO among U.S. utilities will continue to be driven primarily by financial pressures including the need to achieve M&A synergy savings and the friction between a "back to basics" business strategy, which decreases the ability to grow revenue, and earnings growth objectives of 5–10%, which require a sharp focus on cost cutting.


We predict that business process outsourcing will become the norm instead of the exception, especially for shared services such as finance, HR, supply chain, and IT, as well as for customer service and billing.