Schmidt: E-government expertise on tap

Google's CEO is always ready to share his insights with federal officials

Eric Schmidt and Karen Evans are something akin to the 21st century version of pen pals — they have regular e-mail exchanges.

Yes, Schmidt runs a megabusiness that spans the breadth of the Internet, yet the chief executive officer and chairman of Google makes time to communicate with Evans, administrator for information technology and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget.

“She’s a customer,” Schmidt said in an interview with Federal Computer Week. However, clearly Schmidt does not talk to all of Google’s customers.

Schmidt said he is intrigued by the challenges facing government agencies and their leaders. The government’s IT leaders are trying to change the world, particularly how the government operates internally and interacts with the public, said Schmidt, who was named Google chairman and CEO in 2001. “It’s important to talk with them,” Schmidt said. “Government IT is the holy grail.”

Schmidt and Google have contributed to federal IT and e-government initiatives on a variety of levels, and federal e-government officials say they appreciate Schmidt’s responsiveness and personal commitment.

“He reads my e-mails and writes back to me,” Evans said.

“There’s never been a time when I’ve asked [him] a question that he hasn’t responded.”

Schmidt’s involvement goes beyond e-mail exchanges. In February, Schmidt sat down with members of the President’s Management Council and more than 100 leaders from various federal interagency councils, including the CIO Council.

One official who attended the session said Schmidt urged them to continue efforts to achieve their e-government goals. IT innovators should lead and bring the rest of the government with them, he said.

Government IT is among Google’s major challenges because of its scale, Schmidt said. “I think it’s a huge opportunity for us,” as the government develops strategies for making greater use of the Web.

More departments and agencies are taking advantage of Google’s software-as-a-service offerings, through which Google provides the back-end support for an agency’s Web-based applications, including development, maintenance and management of the software.

For example, the Navy and Google have worked out a deal for the service to use Google Apps for its Maritime Domain Awareness program.

The Navy licensed Google Apps Premier Edition for 5,000 users for two years.

Maritime Domain Awareness aims to pool information from multiple sources about ships, cargo, people, environmental data and other factors Navy commanders need to consider when making decisions about potential threats at sea. This type of information is needed for traditional military operations or during humanitarian or disaster responses.

Google Apps will enable the Navy to better coordinate humanitarian assistance and disaster-response activities in working with nontraditional partners, such as foreign governments and nongovernmental organizations such as the Red Cross and the World Food Program.

The awareness program will also benefit from a project to integrate Google Apps with a large-scale, grid-computing implementation of Google Earth Enterprise, the company’s 3-D visualization software.

David Wennergren, deputy chief information officer at the Defense Department, said the era of building systems is passing and a new era in which agencies buy Web services will take its place.

“It’s really about the data,” Wennergren said. “You don’t have to build a new system. You have to go to services.”

As government shifts its acquisition practices, Google says it wants to provide the services that government needs.

“We’re all about solving people’s problems,” midt said.  

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