Government IT Developments
Friday, March 10, 2006; 12:00 PM
PostNewsweek Tech Media's Tom Temin was online to discuss government technology trends and insights from this week's FOSE trade show.
A transcript follows.
PostNewsweek Tech Media publishes Government Computer News and Washington Technology and produces the FOSE government technology trade show. PostNewsweek Tech Media and Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, publisher of washingtonpost.com, are divisions of The Washington Post Company.
Portland, Oregon: Recently there was a large theft of PIN numbers. The growing flood of theft of intimate personal information has produced a level of theft by fraud growing by billions of dollars annually. What are the latest technological solutions being considered?
Tom Temin: The "something you know"--passwords--is giving way to a combination of "something you know" and "something you have" such as a smart card, encryption device, or password generator in a fob or USB stick. One technology at FOSE claims to be able to sense people's typing patterns--speed, volocity and strength of strokes--to know whether it's really the correct person using a password.
Washington, D.C.: I am hearing more about government departments and>groups using blogs, to collect their work, share it, archive it, organize it. Have you heard this? What do you think?
washingtonpost.com: Related Discussion Transcript: Blog Buzz (Thursday, March 9, 2006)
Tom Temin: It may be, but I haven't seen it that much. In the technical areas of government, people often use Wiki sites, such as the people concerned with ontologies for this or that domain. Blogs can be a bit of a scare thing for the government culture, even though as individuals they are a savvy bunch.
Minneapolis, MN: What software does the government use and do all the branches use differenct stuff, e.g. MS Outlook or lotus notes for mail and calendar.
Tom Temin: The government is like industry in that microsoft is dominant in desktop OS and productivity suites. In servers and data centers, it's way more diverse. There is a lot of Linux coming in during recent years.
Gaithersburg MD: As a deadline looms for smart card ID systems, what is the government doing to speed mandatory background checks for contract employees? Thank you.
Tom Temin: Well, it's sure talking a lot about it. But the backlog remains. The problem is that multiple agencies have multiple processes.
Tampa, FL: Re open source:
Governments in Europe and Asia seem to take open source very seriously, especially Linux. Have you seen any such movement by the feds or state and local gov'ts?
Also, the feds keep documents foever. My former agency used WordPerfect but switched to MS Word. Now they have trouble using old documents and templates. Would moving to OpenOffice ensure availability of documents 20 years down the road?
Tom Temin: I don't have figures, but open source is growing steadily in goverment servers and data centers. Fujitsu, Sun, IBM, Hewlett Packard--they are all shipping data center-grade products with Linux or at least a variant of Unix that is pretty close to open source. The desktop remains fairly tightly locked up though.
Arlington, Va.: Tom,
I'm wondering how much emphasis was placed on IPv6 at FOSE?
Tom Temin: In the DOD pavilion there was lots of talk about IPv6. Probably the military is ahead on trying to get with the IPv6 program. By the way, we're creating an IPv6 topic area on the gcn.com web site.
San Francisco, CA: It seems like the government repeatedly buys systems that require Microsoft Windows and/or Internet Explorer? Does the govt. have any awareness that this should change?
Tom Temin: The government seems to have two heads. On the one hand, everyone wants competition and open systems. On the other hand, commodity councils and multiple-award contracts stress lower and lower prices for PCs and either Microsoft prices or products that run over Windows. My feeling is why not try StarOffice or something similar. A big issue with Word and really, any proprietary word processor, to take an example, is the metadata which people are mostly careless to strip out. Since the goal in many government instances should be to publish documents without metadata. That means saving it as a PDF or a tif anyway, so who cares what it was created in? Personal view.
Norfolk, VA: What steps are being taken to integrate the disparate coalition networks, allowing closer liaison between strategic HQs.
Tom Temin: I think one of the more interesting projects is replacing Global Command and Control System with the JC2 project, which takes us from client-server to IP-based, Web services model. This allows must more ease in data sharing, and equally important, scaling up to hundreds of thousands of users. If you want critical information available to the smallest tactical unit, you need a Web model. The debate is over push or pull.
Arlington VA: Are federal agencies searching for a software solution to the problem of potentially sensitive metadata being released in public documents? Surely they aren't planning to just train people and hope for the best.
Tom Temin: See my earlier reply. The answer is of course they are. One of the Best of FOSE products I looked at was from a company called EDAC, a redaction tool that saves without any metadata trail. You could use the tool that way even without redacting. Corel's X3 version of the WordPerfect suite has a "save without metadada" option natively, not requiring a 3rd product. (See my First Take blog on www.gcn.com).
Gaithersburg, MD: I've seen numerous articles regarding the large numbers of federal workers retiring and/or about to retire, but I don't see an increase in the number of federal IT openings in USAJobs. Thoughts?
Tom Temin: Whew, that's a big question. There is no one answer. At one level, there are few openings because the people haven't actually retired yet. Also, a growing amount of IT work is being done by contractors. The growth in jobs in the government side will probably be in program oversight, project management, that sort of thing. They'll need people with deep technical insight, but it may not appear as an IT job.
washingtonpost.com: Tom Temin's First Take Blog
Brywood, MO: "Also, the feds keep documents forever. My former agency used WordPerfect but switched to MS Word. Now they have trouble using old documents and templates."
Actually, all agencies have destruction schedules for almost all documents--it's just that many don't follow their own rules. We made the WP-Word conversion years ago AND brought our templates and saved documents up to date--it is part of the life cycle planning and carry through.
Are you aware of the Social Security Disability electronic file procedure and the attempt to go fully electronic that incorporates the medical evidence electronically from a claimant's own doctor, electronically. Actually, the driving reason for it is to reduce the need to mail medical records and folders all over the place--and a built in method to destroy such electronic records once they are no longer needed--as built into the archive business?
Tom Temin: I am now.
Minneapolis, MN: What was new at the FOSE show this year?
Tom Temin: We had something like 500 exhibitors. Our editors looked at 200 products nominated for Best of FOSE awards. Lots of new versions, incremental improvements. Lots of new products in the emergency response/contingency communications areas. Also lots of what I call integrative products--things that take several functions or even several devices and integrate them into more streamlined appliances. Some new rugged and semirugged portable PCs. Sorry to tout, but check www.gcn.com for the detailed day-by-day FOSE coverage, and the Brad Grimes/Joab Jackson technology blog.
Arlington, Va.: RFID was a hot topic at FOSE this year. How is the government handling deployment differently than some retailers, who generated public controvery with their efforts?
Tom Temin: That's a big topic you've hit on. RFID is hot, hotter than most organizations' ability to implement it competently. The government's need for RFID looks technologically like that of the commercial world--I mean, you track things and try to increase the efficiency and integrity of your supply chain. But the government use will be fundamentally for its own purposes, so the privacy issues are less likely to come into play. That is, the government isn't selling to the public such that it needs anyone's buying patterns. It is trying to influence standards in RFID application in the drug supply chain and in patient records via RFID wrist bands. This is being tested in the military.
Inside the Beltway: The federal government is a huge software customer -- Do you think there are ways that it's pushing the industry to change how it approaches software development, or is the government just a prisoner of longstanding contracts and ongoing customer relationships to use its leverage? Or maybe just not monolithic enough to have leverage?
Tom Temin: The government is, over time, buying more software development services than developing its own software. (One exception is the Air Force, which likes "blue suit" coders.) So gradually agencies are requiring contractors to be certified in the Software Capability Maturity models. And they are moving, albeit stumblingly, towards so-called performance contracts that in theory clarify and simplify both requirements generation and development. I don't know anyone who will honestly say software development is where in needs to be on the scale from witchcraft to predictable science.
Kailua, Kona Hi.: I have been e-mailing everyone (FCC, congressmen, tech writers). Would like to know the government's stance on the use of e-mail in a national emergency. Who should I contact with my ideas?
Tom Temin: Contact the GSA folks who run the Firstgov.gov portal, which gets a high rate of access during emergencies. In general, first reponders are open to using whatever means they can to notify people. But the government isn't in a position to opt-in everyone in the country.
Tom Temin: Thanks for tuning in. Government Computer News (a Washington Post Company property) has extensive technology coverage online at www.gcn.com. --Tom Temin
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