So many consumer devices are being brought in by federal workers that Rep. Darrell Issa (R- Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, recently voiced his concern about authorized uses in a rather surreal hearing, in which he held up an iPad and asked a White House official, “Are any of these carried into the White House?” When the official answered yes, Issa replied, “So people carry a product which circumvents your entire system by going to the AT&T network on a daily basis in the White House, isn’t that true?” Eventually, the official conceded that was true. Issa said he is concerned about what it means for presidential recordkeeping. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
Kundra’s answer to the issue of people using unauthorized devices is simple: Give them what they want. Like many federal workers, he carries two devices — a BlackBerry (for work stuff) and an iPhone (for personal stuff). And like many people, Kundra says he wants to be a “one-device guy.” He recently began pondering a radical idea with federal agencies: Let workers use whatever mobile device they want, apply strict security settings, and have the government pay a stipend for service. Agencies and cabinet departments, with the help of companies like Agilex, could then build apps for internal employee use and distribute them on private app stores.
The shift to consumer technologies is also about controlling costs: By moving to cloud-based e-mail with Google, the GSA says it will cut expenses by 50 percent over the next five years by not having to maintain its own servers and pay for expensive updates to software. The Agriculture Department is also moving its
e-mail to the cloud, though with a competing product from Microsoft, which is going head-to-head with Google on many cloud initiatives. The USDA says it will save about $6 million a year with the switch.
The new system is “always updated,” said Casey Coleman, the GSA’s chief information officer. “It’s always refreshed. It’s always modern.”
And GSA workers can easily access their e-mail from iPhone or Android devices, which the agency is testing.
The adoption of these consumer devices, though still modest in size, has been widespread across a variety of agencies.
At ATF, there are about 50 iPads or iPhones in use, and the number could increase to 100 soon. At the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the 1,000 BlackBerrys used last year have dropped to about 700 as workers picked other smartphones. The State Department is testing iPads. Congress now allows iPads and iPhones on the House floor.