Michael Morgenstern

Tech Roundup

Boosting access to federal data, securing mobile devices, the joint health record mess.

Data Derby

Government agencies must collect and publish new information in open, machine-readable and, whenever possible, nonproprietary formats, according to a White House executive order and open data policy 
published May 9.

The idea behind the initiative is that information the government collects for the purposes of management, regulation and security can also be used by entrepreneurs to build products that aid consumers and turn a profit—much like the billion-dollar industry that has been built on government-supplied Global Positioning System information, for example.

What’s more, public access to government data can raise awareness of an issue or lead to smarter consumer choices. The website WeMakeItSafer, for example, aggregates government information about product recalls. 

“Starting today, we’re making even more government data available online, which will help launch even more new startups,” President Obama said in a statement. “And we’re making it easier for people to find the data and use it, so that entrepreneurs can build products and services we haven’t even imagined yet.”

Government contractors and the open government community both applauded the executive order.

Hudson Hollister of the Data Transparency Coalition trade association notes that better maintained government data could help contractors save money by allowing them to automate more reporting and compliance processes.

“Spending and programs would become more efficient, because data standards would permit the deployment of big data analytics to find waste and fraud,” he says. “Even our capital markets would benefit, because public regulatory filings converted into open data would be a more accessible source of actionable information
for investors.”

- Joseph Marks 

Secure Those Phones

The Office of Management and Budget sent agencies instructions for securing government-owned commercial smartphones and tablets in an effort to bring consistency to what had been an ad hoc patchwork of guidelines. The 104-page compilation of controls was accompanied by a manual for picking the most appropriate mobile device setup.

The instructions are part of a digital government strategy the White House laid out one year ago that called on agencies to “adopt a coordinated approach to ensure privacy and security in a digital age.” 

The departments of Homeland Security and Defense, along with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, developed the baseline protocols as first steps only. Later guidance, for example, might focus on continuous monitoring of controls, cryptography, securing the data instead of the device, and ensuring data is only shared with authorized users.

- Aliya Sternstein

Savings Shortfall

An initiative to consolidate federal data centers is well short of its goal of $3 billion in reduced spending by 2015, according to the Government Accountability Office.

 Only five of 24 federal agencies have reported estimated savings through 2014 and those total less than $700 million, according to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s panel on government operations.

The proposed savings, which GAO expects the White House will achieve eventually, will come from moving data to computer clouds and using more efficient centers.

- Joseph Marks

The Health Records Mess

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s decision to modernize the Defense Department’s electronic health record through the purchase of commercial software looks like a setback for development of an integrated electronic health record with the Veterans Affairs Department.

Except for a passing reference, the Hagel memo makes no reference to the iEHR, and seems more of the same go-it-alone approach favored by the Pentagon.

This approach could run into serious congressional roadblocks. On May 14, the House Appropriations Committee backed language in the 2014 Defense spending bill that said no funds could be expended on any EHR project unless it is an open architecture that serves both departments. 

In addition, Frank Kendall, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, says 20 vendors have products that could meet the Pentagon’s needs—and since they all have lawyers, protests are inevitable.  

- Bob Brewin 

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