Tech Roundup

Radio plan hits static, digital savings and destination Pinterest.

Radio Static

The Homeland Security Department spent $430 million on a fruitless plan to enable radio users departmentwide to communicate on the same frequency, according to an internal audit released in November 2012.

Of 479 radio users the DHS inspector general tested, only one knew how to tune in to the common channel, the report stated. Employees either were unaware the channel existed, could not find it, or switched to an outdated channel inherited from the Treasury Department.

“Personnel do not have interoperable communications that they can rely on during daily operations, planned events and emergencies,” acting IG Charles K. Edwards wrote in the report.

About 123,000 employees use the handheld and mobile radios. Homeland Security this spring shelled out $3 billion for new tactical communications to serve the entire department, along with the White House and the Interior, Justice and State departments.

The root of the disconnect, according to the report, is top department leaders have provided little guidance and no enforcement to ensure personnel use the channel. The shift to a single frequency began when the department formed in 2003.

The department rejected the IG’s recommendation that leaders create an office with the power to ensure users across agencies can communicate with each other. In an undated response to a draft report, DHS officials explained they already have such an entity overseeing interoperability, called the Joint Wireless Program Management Office.

The IG replied that the office is toothless.

“The structure, based upon cooperation and not authority, is the same management approach that proved ineffective in the past,” Edwards wrote. “The department has a high probability of repeating past mistakes.”

-  Aliya Sternstein

Digital Savings

The $34 million Federal Citizen Services Fund, which pays for tools such as a template for writing federal
purchase orders and the USA.gov website, saved the government nearly twice that dollar figure in fiscal 2012, officials say.

The fund pays for much of the work done by the General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies. The $64 million in savings comes primarily from using free or low-cost services provided by OSCIT and from eliminating duplicative purchases, according to the office’s annual report

Some highlights:

- The government’s search engine Search.usa.gov has more than doubled the websites it supports to 1,100. 

- Federal agencies signed 728 service agreements with 58 social media providers and GSA negotiated agreements with Foursquare, Google Plus, Storify, Tumblr and others. 

- Officials working on the office’s First Fridays project tested the usability of 26 federal websites, 61 percent more than in 2011.

- Joseph Marks

Destination Pinterest

The Obama administration joined the social media site Pinterest late last year by pinning a registration form to attend a White House “holiday social” in December.

The White House also posted its first set of pinboards that day, and administration officials sought advice from commenters about how they should use Pinterest.

The administration is likely to post “pins and boards that range from inspiring images and quotes to infographics that help explain key issues to details about the life inside the White House,” a blog post said.

The General Services Administration has penned a service agreement with Pinterest that other agencies can adopt.

- Joseph Marks

Easing Into Civilian Life

The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments have beefed up their Transition Assistance Program for troops leaving the armed services. They have set up a one-stop website with the Labor Department replete with resources to ease the way from military to civilian life and careers.

These include online career transition courses, an employment hub with tips on how to craft a résumé and handle job interviews, a resource directory for ill or wounded troops, and a guide on how to file disability claims early.

I had none of these resources available to me when I left the Marine Corps in 1967. My transition amounted to heading back to New York City on my lonesome. The development of this website is a sign that bureaucracies can change for the better.

- Bob Brewin

NEXT STORY: Computing On the Fly

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