Buzz of the Week

Struggling with Web 2.0

Web 2.0 technologies can have a profound impact even on government. They provide a platform that lets people find the information they want rather than being told what information they need. The information can be in the form of blogs or wikis. It is complex and a challenge to manage.

The Defense Department has been perhaps the most innovative with its network-centric policy, which says that data should be posted before being processed. Such an approach gives frontline warfighters access to that data sooner rather than later, and it allows them to find the information most relevant to what they are doing while analysts are still assessing the data. It is very Web 2.0.

However, the Army illustrated some of the difficulty in dealing with this new world
by trying to revise its policies restricting soldier blogs.

Someone with the moniker Laughing Wolf posting on the Blog of War said, “Many in leadership and rear-echelon positions are not comfortable with Web 0.5, much less Web 2.0, a condition that applies to industry as well as government.”

And that’s probably true.Many people still distrust Wikipedia because it allows ordinary people to edit its entries. Some people, such as Don Tapscott, author of the new book, “Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything,” see Wikipedia as a way of tapping the wisdom of the masses. Others see it as a Pandora’s box open to anyone with a connection to the Internet. It is probably a bit of both.

We all say the only constant in today’s world is change.Web 2.0 technologies will undoubtedly create unforeseen challenges for government executives.

They will necessitate policy changes to address matters such as educating soldiers to be sensitive to topics they can — and cannot — blog about.

We live in a world of constant change, and it’s also more complex and becoming challenging.

The Buzz Contenders

#2: Seeing is not believing
The Office of Management and Budget released its annual report on competitive sourcing last week, and federal employee unions, some of the biggest opponents of competitive sourcing, wasted no time before declaring the report’s figures bogus.

The report projects net savings or cost avoidances of $1.3 billion in the next five to 10 years from public/private job competitions conducted in fiscal 2006, a claim that “strains credibility beyond the breaking point,” said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

Recognizing that others besides Kelley are skeptical about the savings claimed, OMB has asked agencies to begin independently validating the competitive-sourcing costs and savings they report to OMB.

#3: FEMA speaks frankly
Federal officials prefer bragging about their agencies rather than bashing them. But Vice Adm. Harvey Johnson revealed to an appreciative audience in Williamsburg, Va., last week that he is unafraid to speak frankly about the agency he leads.

As deputy administrator and chief operating officer at the lately tarnished Federal Emergency Management Agency, Johnson told the federal information technology community that FEMA’s IT infrastructure and business processes are a decade behind those of the rest of the federal government.

“It slows us down in everything we do right now,” he said after his keynote at the 46th annual Interagency Resource Management Conference. ”We are trying to catch up.”

He’s counting on FEMA’s fiscal 2009 budget to help make it happen.

#4: Can’t trust the government
Farmers who already distrust the government may not change their minds after reading about the Agriculture Department’s recent data privacy problems. USDA officials announced April 20 that they had unknowingly exposed names and Social Security numbers in publicly available databases for who knows how many years.

USDA is offering free credit monitoring to all citizens whose information might have been exposed through the Web site. It will cost the agency about $4 million, spokeswoman Terri Teuber said. It’s an expensive and time-consuming mistake for USDA — and for any other agency.

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