Recovery.gov IT staffers talk about agility, mobility
Agency that oversees stimulus spending prepares to release second mobile application
The board that oversees the Recovery.gov federal stimulus law transparency website is unusual in how it handles its IT, and the results are paying off, senior officials said.
Because the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board was created as an independent agency under the 2009 stimulus law, it had no legacy systems to maintain, so the IT staff was able to start fresh with a clean slate.
And with deadlines built into the law, the board was forced to move quickly into working with vendors and getting the back-end systems and website up and running, Jimmy Jones, the board’s chief program officer, and Paul Nauroth, its chief technology officer, said at a seminar Aug. 11.
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In recent months, the board has relied on incremental development techniques, cloud computing, social media and vendor support contracts to maintain operations and ongoing customer service, while also creating two new mobile applications.
“We used critical path and agile development methods to meet the schedule,” Nauroth said. Both techniques allow for incremental scheduling in project development.
About $750,000 in savings was generated by moving the website to the cloud, and the money was repurposed for additional accountability goals, including mobile applications, Jones and Nauroth said.
In March, the board released the Recovery.gov Mobile App on the iPhone and iPad that allows users to access spending data via geographic areas shown on maps. A user can submit a city, state or ZIP code to view all spending in those areas. Data is available to show federal grants, contracts and loans. Users also can report suspected waste, fraud and abuse.
By the end of August, the board expects to release its second mobile application, Recovery.gov Explorer, for iPhone and iPad, which will allow users access to all the spending data and functionality that is available on the Recovery.gov website.
The next phase of mobile activity will involve making data available on additional types of mobile devices, Nauroth said.
The board worked with several vendors, including SAP Corp., Verizon and Smartronics Inc., to develop software for the website and the mobile applications. Both mobile applications were created and are being maintained using SAP software solutions, Nauroth said. This was described at the seminar as “mobile as a service,” similar to “software as a service.”
The board has relied on a staff team to ensure usability and accessibility of the mobile applications to comply with Section 508 requirements for people with disabilities.
Using cloud computing and mobile at the same time worked well together, they said. “Using cloud allowed us to scale to meet the increasing demands of mobile technology,” Nauroth said. For example, at certain times when usage spikes, the cloud can absorb the additional usage more easily, he said.
Veda Sims, chief information security officer for Recovery.gov, said the board drew on private-sector help from Amazon, Smartronics and other vendors to learn from industry best practices to ensure security in the cloud. She also said in some ways, displaying data in the cloud is more secure.
“If our site was hacked, the cloud offers us redundancy so we can maintain availability,” Sims said.
In preparing for mobile applications, Sims said the iPhone and iPad systems were chosen partly because of Apple’s strong security policies in reviewing applications allowed to operate on its systems.
In related developments, the Recovery.gov board recently bought about 15 iPads for use by about staff members to allow them more mobility and the ability to access data from home, Nauroth said. The devices are allowed to access Recovery.gov networks because security settings have been configured and are in place, he said.
Advised that many other agencies, such as the Veterans Affairs Department, have been working for several months to meet all federal security requirements and develop acquisition plans for iPads for their staffers, Nauroth said the board treated the acquisition of iPads for staff as similar to buying other devices.
“It really was not too much of a big deal,” Nauroth said.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.