COMMENTARY

Tear down self-imposed, bureaucratic hurdles to trust

The Justice Department is working on a secure way to allow police in different jurisdictions to share information

In my recent column in the Feb. 8 issue (“Google Gets It: Trust, But Verify”), I discussed how Google’s software developers were building a model for sharing and trust inside the Wave application. Wave and other collaboration platforms aim to use digital means to enable individuals to work together.

That makes a great deal of sense to free/open-source software developers such as those who built and continue to refine Linux, Apache and MySQL. In free/open-source software development, the idea is that individuals who are scattered across the world work on the pieces of the project they are best able to tackle, a sort of specialization by self-evident expertise. In addition, the entire community reviews the work and decides which pieces are desirable and what can be jettisoned. Furthermore, many people are looking at the software code, which helps with quality control.

Not surprisingly, the business of government does not function like a free/open-source software project. In government, there are clear divisions of power between branches, levels and agencies. Anyone who spent time in government is used to hearing, “That’s best left to the states,” or “Treasury’s the lead agency for that.”

Large companies often function that way, too. Division of labor and specialization are classic 20th-century concepts that were adopted because they worked pretty well. However, Henry Ford never figured there would be a community of practice for windshield installers or exhaust system engineers at his company’s plants. Yet that sort of horizontal activity, enabled by information technology, is exactly what’s going on in large organizations today.

The 2001 terrorist attacks were the impetus for the transformation of thinking in U.S. law enforcement and the intelligence community. After the attacks, agency leaders were criticized for not sharing information, and they pledged to do something about it.

The subject of information sharing in government deserves many book-length studies. But the key point to understand in making cool, collaborative work happen is that the most formidable obstacles are organizational, not technical. We’re getting pretty good at making information systems do some interesting things, but rewiring bureaucrats is much, much harder.

At the Justice Department, officials have been trying to correct that. They have been working on a tool to facilitate cross-organizational information sharing for law enforcement agencies — from the FBI and Secret Service to state and local police departments. The label is an awkward one, even for government, but Global Federated Identity and Privilege Management is a set of rules for allowing police in different jurisdictions to share their information resources. Although the tool naturally has some people concerned about privacy, GFIPM managers have been sensitive to those concerns from the start and have gone to some lengths to keep data resources with their rightful custodians rather than creating a central data repository.

If law enforcement agencies can make GFIPM work, they will move one step closer to the goal of knowledge management: delivery of the best possible information to decision-makers at the right time. Achieving that goal will help law enforcement professionals connect the dots on cases ranging from electronic fraud and car theft to gang violence and terrorism. GFIPM will allow them to make useful contributions by bringing experience into the policy process.

About the Author

Chris Bronk is a research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and an adjunct instructor of computer science at Rice. He previously served as a Foreign Service Officer and was assigned to the State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • Social network, census

    5 predictions for federal IT in 2017

    As the Trump team takes control, here's what the tech community can expect.

  • Rep. Gerald Connolly

    Connolly warns on workforce changes

    The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee's Government Operations panel warns that Congress will look to legislate changes to the federal workforce.

  • President Donald J. Trump delivers his inaugural address

    How will Trump lead on tech?

    The businessman turned reality star turned U.S. president clearly has mastered Twitter, but what will his administration mean for broader technology issues?

  • Login.gov moving ahead

    The bid to establish a single login for accessing government services is moving again on the last full day of the Obama presidency.

  • Shutterstock image (by Jirsak): customer care, relationship management, and leadership concept.

    Obama wraps up security clearance reforms

    In a last-minute executive order, President Obama institutes structural reforms to the security clearance process designed to create a more unified system across government agencies.

  • Shutterstock image: breached lock.

    What cyber can learn from counterterrorism

    The U.S. has to look at its experience in developing post-9/11 counterterrorism policies to inform efforts to formalize cybersecurity policies, says a senior official.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group