Bold Leaders

By Katherine McIntire Peters

November 15, 2013

When we launched the Nextgov Bold Awards earlier this year to recognize innovation in federal technology we frankly didn’t know what to expect. Would enough people respond? Would the nominations be of sufficient quality? Would companies try to turn the program into a platform to promote their products? Happily, the answers to those questions were a resounding yes, yes and no. We received nearly 200 nominations, most of them very impressive. The 19 individuals and teams from a dozen agencies selected by our editorial staff as finalists exemplify the kind of creative problem-solving, technical acumen, ambition and persistence we frequently hear about in the private sector but too seldom learn about in government.

These are men and women who saw a better way to do something and then did it, drawing on the power of technology to do so—in some cases on their own time, with little or no additional funding. They took on difficult technical challenges and sometimes their own bureaucracies because they knew there was a more effective way to care for severely injured veterans, deliver humanitarian aid, safeguard nuclear weapons, warn people about deadly storms and protect endangered species.

Their efforts have made air travel safer, helped diplomats operate more effectively overseas and transformed information sharing at the highest levels of government. They have improved our national security as well as our national standing. They’ve also cut waste and saved taxpayers millions of dollars.  

We’ll be honoring the Bold Award finalists Nov. 20 at Nextgov Prime, our annual technology conference in Washington. A panel of independent judges has selected several winners among this notable group, and we’ll be announcing those at Prime as well as a People’s Choice winner selected by Nextgov readers. In the meantime, you can meet the finalists in the following pages. Joshua Anderson

Behavioral Detection Officer

Transportation Security Administration 

Joshua Anderson independently and on his own time developed a tracking system to evaluate and improve security screening at airports. While he initially identified 41 data collection points, the system continues to expand. Agency leaders can sort data to identify effectiveness and trends by date, security checkpoint, work shift, specific detection point, technology used and threat items missed. At the request of field officials, he was able to provide front-line managers with an online version of the tool that allows them to drill down to specific weaknesses and take immediate corrective actions.

Brett Baker

Assistant Inspector General 

National Science Foundation

Brett Baker developed and implemented the first automated, risk-based system for overseeing federal grants. Previously, using traditional auditing techniques, after reviewers selected an audit candidate, they tested two to three awards and 20 to 30 transactions per award. The approach instituted by Baker expands audit coverage to 100 percent of the grant dollars in the audit scope, increases the accuracy of expenditure analysis, improves planning, and reduces the time and the cost of audits. The first audit conducted using this data analytics-driven approach flagged more than $6 million in questionable costs.

William “Sonny” Biddix

Management Analyst

Defense Post Office 

William “Sonny” Biddix designed and developed a system for digital mail delivery at the Pentagon. The program has improved security and cut delivery time and costs. His innovative approach was to combine an existing tenant database to control and track commercial deliveries for the Pentagon with state-of-the-art, off-the-shelf industrial sorting and scanning hardware and software to digitize the delivery of official mail. As the program continues to be rolled out, approximately 2,500 users are now having official mail delivered to their email inboxes, cutting delivery time by one-third. 

Joshua Campbell

Geographer and Geographic Information Systems Architect 

Humanitarian Information Unit

State Department

Joshua Campbell worked through legal, technical and community-building hurdles to build a system for creating and sharing geographic data to improve humanitarian assistance. Using commercial satellite imagery disseminated through online map services and leveraging the volunteer OpenStreetMap community, Campbell developed Imagery to the Crowd. The infrastructure, dubbed the CyberGIS, is built completely from free and open source software and hosted in a cloud environment, making it inexpensive, scalable, robust and sharable. It has been deployed seven times, significantly improving the effectiveness of U.S. aid and public diplomacy.

Deborah Diaz

Deputy Chief Information Officer

Nicholas Skytland

Program Manager

NASA

DeborahDiaz and Nicholas Skytland led NASA’s Open Innovation team to create the International Space Apps Challenge, the largest hackathon to date. The event delivered on a high-profile U.S. commitment to the international Open Government Partnership. It took place over a 48-hour period in 44 countries on seven continents, bringing together more than 9,000 people to collectively tackle 58 challenges, and create software, hardware and data visualizations that addressed real-world problems. An impressive 770 solutions were submitted. The return on investment for NASA and its partners was significant, conservatively estimated to be more than $15 million.

Maj. Kenneth N. Bourque

Director of Operations 

608th Air Communications Squadron

Air Force

Maj. Kenneth N. Bourque and his 17- member team developed a secure communications system to receive target and threat updates during B-2 bomber strike operations. On a shoestring budget, using only spare equipment, the team engineered, tested and validated a secure network that gave combatant commanders situational awareness and the ability to communicate with bombers during missions without having to send operators to forward locations to relay secure communications. The system significantly enhanced military capability and efficiency and yielded $900,000 in materiel savings alone. 

Kathleen Frisbee

Co-Director, Connected Health Program/Web and Mobile Solutions Team

Veterans Health Administration

Dave Peters

Assistant Deputy CIO for 

Development Management

Veterans Affairs Department

Kathleen Frisbee and Dave Peters served on the team that created multiple applications that have improved veterans health care. Those include the Family Caregiver Program, which provides 1,100 caregivers of severely injured vets iPads loaded with apps to help them access and share health information with clinicians. The Veteran Appointment Request Program allows vets to make medical appointments using mobile devices or desktop computers. The Mobile Health Clinician Program improved productivity by giving medical personnel  mobile access to patient information. 

Mike Gerber, Mark Paese, Robert Bunge and Gregory Zwicker

National Weather Service 

National Oceanic and Atmospheric 

Administration

This National Weather Service team developed the HazCollectExtended system, which pushes 90-character geotargeted alerts to cellphone users over the new Wireless Emergency Alerts service. The team overcame multiple technical issues and collaborated with many stakeholders, including wireless carriers, emergency managers at all levels of government and the public. In less than a year, the National Weather Service pushed more than 3,700 highly targeted warnings for various weather hazards, including flash floods and tornadoes. The technology has saved countless lives, many cases of which are well-documented.

Brett Gittleson 

Director, Office of Information Resources Management, Executive Secretariat

State Department

Brett Gittleson and his team developed a Transition Reader Application that allowed then-Secretary of State designate John Kerry to receive, review and annotate briefing documents on tablet devices. In just nine weeks, using an iterative prototyping and development approach, the team modernized a manual, paper-based information delivery process, overcoming significant security requirements, especially for protecting data at rest. This effort, which required compiling mission-critical data from multiple sources, has transformed executive access to information and provides a platform for near real-time information exchange at the highest levels of government.

Kimberly Hancher

Chief Information Officer 

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Kimberly Hatcher launched a successful “bring your own device” initiative that has been a model for other agencies, dramatically cutting costs and improving productivity. She established a framework and identified critical factors for success to allow risk-based decision-making. Through rate plan optimization and BYOD, the agency cut spending on government-furnished mobile devices by roughly 50 percent. In addition, EEOC employees and contractors can now use their personal smartphones and tablets at work. She blazed the trail for agencies and is a sought-after consultant for other government organizations working to adopt mobile technologies. 

Jessica Klein

Program Specialist

Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance 

State Department

Jessica Klein was the driving force behind foreignassistance.gov, an accessible database for information about foreign aid spending. The project involved harnessing disparate information systems and ways of explaining information and turning them into something that not only met a range of congressional and administration directives, but also told a story. By creating a universally recognizable and accessible source of information with sectoral, country, regional and global comparisons that journalists, citizens and interested parties can use, it has enhanced transparency, made government more accountable to taxpayers and reduced redundancy.

Peter Kuzmak

Computer Specialist

Office of Information Technology

Veterans Affairs Department

Peter Kuzmak developed a process to import digital medical images from the Defense Department and other providers into VA’s electronic health records system. It replaced a manual process that took 15 to 20 minutes per image with one that takes about 1 minute. Kuzmak redesigned and automated the process for importing images, setting an industry standard. In addition to creating a more efficient process, patient records are more complete and duplicate radiology tests are avoided, which has improved patient safety and reduced costs.

Mary Mitchell

Biologist

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Mary Mitchell developed a process of using high-resolution aerial photography to monitor conservation easements. She prepares the flight plans, retrieves the raw digital photography from the pilot, processes the photos within 24 hours and provides them to law enforcement staff to review for potential violations. This has allowed the Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor thousands of acres of easements in Minnesota and Iowa to ensure the integrity of these areas for breeding and migrating waterfowl and other water birds. The program saves staff time and money, improves compliance and reduces the burden on landowners. 

Jonathan Rubin

Director

First Fridays Usability Testing Program 

General Services Administration

Johnathan Rubin has expanded the First Fridays Usability Testing Program well beyond GSA, enhancing digital and citizen services across government. The program provides scalable, practical, high-impact solutions that can be quickly implemented. First Fridays has tested more than 80 online government services, most of which have national reach. The program has involved more than 900 participants and observers, as well as volunteers from all Cabinet-level agencies. It provides demonstrations and teaches people how to test their own websites. The program has saved an estimated $2 million in cost avoidance by offering this practical, no-cost shared service.

James Shuler

Manager, Packaging Certification Program 

Energy Department

James Shuler developed a licensed radio frequency identification technology for tracking and monitoring nuclear and other radioactive hazardous materials in real time. The technology monitors and records the status of tagged containers of nuclear materials to assess seal integrity, temperature, humidity, shock, radiation field and battery strength. Deviations from sensor thresholds instantly trigger an alarm that notifies responsible parties to take action. The customizable RFID surveillance tags are designed to operate without a battery replacement for up to 10 years. The program has saved money, improved safety and attracted global interest for its broader potential.  

John Wallace

Program Analyst, Informatics 

Veterans Affairs Department

John Wallace developed an application that automates inspection of non-VA medical care payments to ensure accuracy prior to payment. The application replaced a labor- and time-intensive manual process and is now being used at five consolidated payment centers and 12 decentralized business offices. In addition to providing prepayment inspection of claims, managers use the reports to discuss common payment errors with their teams and identify necessary training. Preliminary data show the system has averted almost $6 million in improper payments thus far. 

James West

Information Management Specialist 

State Department

On his own time, James West designed, developed, tested and deployed an application to schedule motor pool operations in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The user-friendly program replaced a complex, cumbersome scheduling system and has had significant impact, especially for female diplomats, who are prohibited from driving in Saudi Arabia. The application saves the consulate about $200 a week in scheduling costs; reduced the time it takes to organize transportation, vital in emergencies; improved the accuracy of dispatch requests; and dramatically increased user satisfaction, both for dispatchers and diplomats.  

David Wiley, Leila Hatch 

and Michael Thompson 

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary 

National Oceanic and Atmospheric 

Administration

This NOAA team created Whale Alert, which provides up-to-date information about the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, displaying data on nautical charts via iPad or iPhone platforms. To protect right whales from ship strikes—the leading cause of death—NOAA has promulgated a suite of rules and voluntary measures that affect East Coast shipping. Prior to Whale Alert, information was delivered to ships in piecemeal fashion, making compliance difficult and resulting in industry fines. With more than 17,000 downloads, the app has been highly successful in improving conservation. 

Allison Wolff

IT Labs Lead

NASA

Allison Wolff spearheaded the creation of a world-class IT innovation program that has fostered collaboration and technology prototyping across the agency’s 10 centers and headquarters offices. The program has funded more than 30 projects that range from creating a common collaboration search portal (which is transitioning to NASA enterprise service use), implementing a Google Apps prototype for users across the agency, using radio frequency identification tags to save labor in IT equipment inventory and evaluating emerging techniques in mobile device management.


By Katherine McIntire Peters

November 15, 2013

http://www.govexec.com/magazine/features/2013/11/bold-leaders/73874/