Buzz of the Week: Change is in the wind

The Hurricane Information Center certainly sounds like the name of a government Web site. The site  includes weather maps showing the projected paths of active storms, links to government resources to help prepare for storms, and maps of evacuation centers and routes.

However, the site’s not a government effort, and once you see it, that quickly becomes apparent. The site’s primary maps come from WeatherBug. com, a commercial service, and its primary news feeds come from Google. As Hurricane Gustav approached the Gulf Coast, the site featured bloggers from New Orleans and neighboring areas who reported on the unfolding situation.

Blogger Andy Carvin, the primary force behind these efforts, and other volunteers coordinate their work by using forums on the site itself. For example, shortly after midnight Sept. 4, as Tropical Storm Hanna approached the eastern seaboard, one user posted a to-do list for the site’s companion wiki (, while another user posted questions about how to incorporate new maps into the wiki.

This site, with its fluid evolution and transparent governance, captures the social-networking mind-set that is quickly reshaping the Internet. It is that mind-set, rather than any particular feature, that makes it clear that it is not a government Web site.

Why can’t government agencies work this way? Numerous federal, state and local agencies have expertise and resources to offer. Why can’t they take advantage of some basic social-networking tools to create a Web site as rich and varied as the Hurricane Information Center?

Perhaps such a service is best left to the social networking experts in the blogosphere.  Or perhaps this is just a missed opportunity, the result of a failure of imagination.


#2: Intelligence agencies eye virtual worlds
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is looking at virtual worlds as a potentially important tool for intelligence analysis. ODNI is about to start a project called the Analysis WorkSpace for Exploitation (A-SpaceX) that will examine how virtual worlds can be used to create the workspace of the future for analysts.

By creating their own virtual world, rather than using existing virtual worlds such as Second Life, the analysts can develop their own tools and techniques without having to work around anthropomorphic wolverine avatars. Unless that’s who they’re spying on — and really, that might be wise.

#3: Networx: Voluntary, unless you want to use something else
When the General Services Administration developed the Networx program and awarded the contracts, one of the characteristics of the program was that it wasn’t mandatory. Like its predecessor, FTS 2001 — and in sharp contrast to FTS 2000, the forerunner of FTS 2001 — agencies would use their preferred contract vehicle for services, whether that was Networx or something else.

The Office of Management and Budget has now changed that. In a memo issued in late August, OMB said agencies must use Networx for services they’ve been getting through FTS 2001 and must justify any decision not to use Networx for any requirements that arise in the future.
Sounds mandatory to us.

#4:We can’t agree on the fingerprints, eh?
The United States and Canada may be friends, but they couldn’t agree on cross-border border protection, says the Government Accountability Office. Homeland Security Department officials and their counterparts in the Great White North negotiated for two years, from 2005 to 2007, about a possible shared office in Fort Erie, Ontario.

The talks ultimately broke down because of several major points of disagreement, including the use of fingerprints. U.S. officials insisted on the right to take fingerprints from anyone entering the United States, but Canada’s border protection officers can collect travelers’ fingerprints only if they volunteer or are charged with a crime.

DHS wanted to share the office because their nearby office in Buffalo, N.Y., is unable to expand. The Canadian bacon they could have eaten on the job was never an official part of the discussion.

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