Tech Roundup

The FBI's Photo Shop

The FBI by mid-January 2012 will activate a nationwide facial recognition service in select states that will allow local police to identify unknown subjects in photos, bureau officials told Nextgov.

The multiyear, $1 billion overhaul of the FBI's existing fingerprint database aims to help officials identify suspects more quickly and accurately, partly through applying other biometric markers, such as iris scans.

Today, an agent would have to know the suspect's name to pull up a mug shot from among the 10 million stored in the bureau's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. Using the new Next-Generation Identification system under development, analysts will be able to upload a photo of an unknown person and receive identified mugs to inspect for potential matches, says Nick Megna, a unit chief at the FBI's criminal justice information services division.

Michigan, Washington, Florida and North Carolina will test the new search tool this winter before it is offered across the country in 2014.

Immigrant rights groups worry that the Homeland Security Department, which exchanges biometric data with the FBI, will abuse the service. Currently, a controversial DHS immigrant fingerprinting program runs FBI prints from booked offenders against DHS' IDENT biometric database to check whether they are in the country illegally.

"This doesn't change or create any new exchanges of data," Megna says. "It only provides [law enforcement] with a new service to determine what photos are of interest to them."

Aliya Sternstein

Pricey Radios

The cost of a new, slimmed-down Army program to field tactical broadband radios will run between $1.5 billion and $1.7 billion, according to Army Brig. Gen. Michael Williamson, executive officer for the Joint Tactical Radio System program.

In October, the Defense Department canceled a $15.9 billion decade-old Boeing Co. project to develop a broadband Ground Mobile Radio. Williamson says both Defense and the Army want to replace those radios with ones developed by industry.

The Army aims to spend $150,000 or less per radio and intends to buy between 10,000 and 11,000 of them, Williamson says. Army spokesman Maj. Christopher Kasker, says the service wants to run a procurement in 2012 and field the new broadband radios in 2014.

The new radios, like those developed by Boeing, will run Wideband Networking Waveform software owned by the government. Williamson says at least four companies can port that software to radios they developed on their own.

-Bob Brewin

Building Better Apps

A successful mobile app, whether it aims to educate, aid or entertain, has about 30 seconds to sell users on its utility and to make a case for why it should live on your phone, experts say.

Making that sale calls for a simple design that doesn't crowd a 3.5-inch screen, a no-nonsense interface that is both more and less than a mobile website, and, most important, compelling content people will want to return to again and again.

Visit www.nextgov.com/top-mobile-apps to see how three private sector app entrepreneurs rate a dozen federal government apps on a scale of one to five, with one being a flop and five being Angry Birds.

-Joseph Marks

Defense IT: What's Brewin
Yucca Mountain Revisited

President Obama zeroed out funding in 2010 for the Yucca Mountain, Nev., site the Energy Department had spent decades and $9 billion to develop as the country's sole storage site for nuclear waste. Now the Government Accountability Office has a few ideas about what to do with it.

The site includes a five-mile tunnel bored into the mountain, and GAO said an unnamed "stakeholder" suggested the tunnel would make a dandy place for secure control of Predator unmanned aerial vehicles currently managed from Creech Air Force Base, some 40 miles away.

Another suggestion: Turn the tunnel into a secure data storage facility.

Alas, it turns out that much of the infrastructure is 30 years old, has not been maintained very well and would require considerable spiffing up before being converted for any other use.

Bob Brewin

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