Agency to standardize on mobile tech

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, looking to improve the security, mobility and manageability of its IT infrastructure, has decided to standardize on three notebook computers for employees to use at work or in the field.

The three models -- two by Dell and one by Hewlett Packard – were the only ones to meet all of FEMA’s specifications, as outlined in a March request for information. A fourth model, by Lenovo, made the first cut, but was dropped because of a security concern with its startup program, according to a FEMA statement released July 19.

At present, FEMA has identified more than 24 different models on its network, which has proven difficult and costly to manage.

“Unnecessary heterogeneity in the FEMA infrastructure increases the cost of delivering IT services,” in such areas as product support, vendor management, integration and security infrastructure, FEMA officials said.

The standard will be effective for three years, although the agency plans to update it as necessary to reflect new technology options.

The policy is part of FEMA’s One-on-One initiative, in which the agency will equip all of its employees with a lightweight bundle of technology that will enable them to work securely whether they are at the office or in the field.

As part of the program, each employee will receive a smart phone, an encrypted data storage device and a notebook computer, along with a docking station for use in the office.

The initiative aims to fix two common complaints about mobile technology: too much weight and too little security. Notebook computers usually bought as desktop replacements tend to be hefty, but FEMA limited the options to systems weighing five pounds or less.

Portable computers also are seen as security risks, because they are much easier to steal than cumbersome desktop systems. As part of One-on-One, the encrypted data storage devices will be used both to boot the systems and to store files.

Smart phones will enable FEMA employees to access e-mail messages without even bothering with the notebook computer. However, the smart phone also will enable users to provide their notebook with Internet access in the field, according to the plan.

About the Author

John S. Monroe is the editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week.

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