Feds learning data-sharing lesson

Schoolchildren are taught that sharing is the right thing to do, but federal agencies' ability to share data within their own organizations and elsewhere in the government has encountered obstacles of every kind — from regulatory to political to cultural.

But since Sept. 11, the defense, intelligence and civilian communities are anxious to put that basic lesson into practice while also increasing the government's knowledge management capabilities, according to federal officials speaking Oct. 23 at the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association's Vision Conference in Alexandria, Va.

Alex Bennett, deputy chief information officer for enterprise integration at the Navy, said agencies must unite through increased communications, and technology is a key factor in making that happen.

"We are not single organizations," Bennett said. "We need to interact in ways we've never done before...but they need to be as simplistic as possible" to thwart future attacks.

Terry Balven, director of information planning at Air Force headquarters, echoed those thoughts and said the Air Force, like the rest of the Defense Department, is focused on transforming its IT infrastructure and capabilities, but has been forced to reprioritize in the past month. "It's a common problem, and there is enormous opportunity for common solutions."

Bennett also said the new Office of Homeland Security doesn't simply aim to secure IT, but is set up to secure communications between the public and its government, and vice versa, by including local governments, utilities and all other industries involved in protecting the nation's infrastructure.

"We need more knowledge management and more interconnections among us," she said.

But that won't be easy, according to Miriam Browning, the Army's principal director of enterprise integration. "Knowledge sharing horizontally across agencies is a behavior we're not used to, and frankly, we're uncomfortable with it," Browning said, adding that a culture must be established to make sharing happen.

Nathaniel Heiner, chief knowledge officer at the Coast Guard, said his agency is spending $1.5 million per day over projections, mostly on port security and safety measures. He said there is a "new operational tempo" in the government and that "interchanges with other departments and agencies" are critical for long-term success.

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