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Getting More Out of Technology

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All About Face Time

Since 2009, Brandon Friedman, director of online communications for the Veterans Affairs Department, has helped launch a VA blog, 150 Facebook pages and 70 Twitter feeds, all of which have garnered a wide audience of veterans.

Though Friedman, a former Army infantry officer who served with the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq and Afghanistan, has many high-tech tools at his disposal, he has a simple mission: “Get the right information to the right veteran at the right time.”

That means using social media to provide the most basic information to vets in a new way, he says. VA’s blog, launched in 2009, is a prime example. Friedman says the most popular post on VAntage Point, by then-Deputy Undersecretary for Benefits Tom Pamperin in January 2011, served as a primer on the filing of a disability claim. It drew 676 responses.

Friedman, who wrote the memoir The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War in 2007, views VA social media as a key component of the coming home process, allowing vets to easily keep in touch with their comrades. Since VA hospitals are such a familiar institution for vets, Friedman ensured that 150 of the department’s 152 medical centers launched Facebook pages in 2011 as another form of outreach.

VA has only begun to tap the power and potential of this modern form of communication. While the department has developed a means to pump out information, Friedman says his next goal is to figure out how to harvest the material vets post on VA sites to help them even more. - Bob Brewin

Cutting the Phone Bill

The Agriculture Department has saved about 20 percent of its mobile phone costs by consolidating mobile service contracts. The total savings amount to about $400,000 per month, an Agriculture spokeswoman said. 

“Over the past year, USDA has moved from over 700 separate mobile service plans with three carriers that account for the largest portion of USDA cellular services to 10 service plans in three contracts at an estimated 18 percent to 20 percent savings,” she said in an email.

The new slate of contracts is costing USDA about $1.2 million per month compared with about $1.6 million for the legacy plans. Joseph Marks

Combat Computing

The Defense Department may develop forward-deployed data centers to handle computing requirements for forces operating outside the United States, Teri Takai, the Defense chief information officer, told lawmakers last month. 

Takai said she envisions “the possibility for some forward-deployed/deployable data centers. The centers will be flexible and will hold both regional and enterprise services and data, all tailored to the mission situation and to the speed and reliability of the connection to the more fixed portions of the network.”

A number of outfits already offer containerized data centers, which require only power and network connections to operate. This gives a whole new meaning to the concept of plug and play. - Bob Brewin

 

Bob Brewin joined Government Executive in April 2007, bringing with him more than 20 years of experience as a journalist focusing on defense issues and technology. Bob covers the world of defense and information technology for Nextgov, and is the author of the “What’s Brewin” blog.

Joseph Marks covers government technology issues, social media, Gov 2.0 and global Internet freedom for Nextgov. He previously reported on federal litigation and legal policy for Law360 and on local, state and regional issues for two Midwestern newspapers. He also interned for Congressional Quarterly’s Homeland Security section and the Associated Press’s Jerusalem Bureau. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Wisconsin and a master’s in international affairs from Georgetown.

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