Can new mobile government plans overcome old problems?

The federal mobile strategy unveiled May 23 punctuated the digital change already afoot across the government, but will the new standards help agencies overcome age-old challenges?

There are familiar hurdles as the government looks to transform in the digital era, but new initiatives and new momentum – including the mobile strategy – could help agencies overcome some decades-old obstacles, according to a panel of government officials.

“This is an exciting time… this strategy reflects where we are today with technology. We’re witnessing the transformation from a fully paper-based world to a fully digital world,” said Ron Ross, senior security scientist, computer security division and fellow, National Institute of Standards and Technology. “At the same time, we’re looking at a very significant threat space out there. We’re building an incredibly complex IT infrastructure…we’re going to have to manage that complexity.”

Ross and other federal officials, speaking at an AFCEA Bethesda event in Maryland, acknowledged there are trials ahead in carrying out the digital strategy across government. But they outlined some key plans for moving forward, many of them focused on mobile.

The Homeland Security Department is developing a mobile security reference architecture that will help agencies address security issues as they consider new mobile strategies, according to Sean Donelan, program manager of the national cybersecurity division, network and infrastructure security, DHS. The goal will be to secure mobile devices much in the way computers are handled today.

Donelan noted the architecture will be customizable to agency-specific needs and is expected to be released for public comment this summer.

The architecture is a foundational element of a number of mobile-focused efforts – pilot BYOD and device-agnostic programs and mobile data management were some highlighted at the event – and the hope is that they can be part of solutions to problems that are both new and old, panelists indicated.

“Sharing is an ongoing challenge. It’s not that we don’t want to do it; it’s that we have structures that aren’t necessarily built for sharing,” said Gwynne Kostin, director of the General Services Administration’s Digital Services Innovation Center. “We need incentives. One of the biggest we have forcing this cultural change is that we can’t do it alone. If all of us are on a deserted island together with limited resources, I’m hoping we’re going to help each other rather than kick people off the island.”

Other panelists agreed that government’s silo culture continues to be a thorny issue, but said there are other modern-day factors that are accelerating progress, including mounting budget pressure, the wide-scale move to enterprise architecture and the fast-paced technological culture external to government working as a forcing factor.

“Changing the behavior and also, frankly, changing the understanding . . . it all comes back to the information and how to share. We’ve all operated in little stovepipes and this is how our systems were designed,” said Darren Ash, CIO and deputy executive director for management at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “It’s not the technology; it’s the decision-making.”

Kostin stressed the need to give the strategies and new practices time to take hold and come together.

Successful programs "don't come fully formed out of Zeus' head," she said. "These are investments that we're making; the payoff is not going to come shortly. Sometimes you need patience . . . to let the spaghetti sauce simmer."

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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