Federal leaders for government-wide acquisition and information-sharing initiatives have joined forces with technology suppliers to hammer out a new set of recommendations to identify and use the government’s information sharing standards and requirements.

The goal of the recommendations is to enhance national security, increase efficiency and reduce costs by improving collaboration between government and industry in developing open interoperability standards and incorporating them into commercial products

The joint effort represents a significant coming together of those who set government acquisition policies and those from industry who contend many of those policies hamper the ability for suppliers to show government buyers what products and solutions are available.

The recommendations were released by the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) but reflect the desire of U.S. General Services Administration and the Office of the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (ISE) to address concerns on improving and incorporating interoperability standards in government acquisitions and grants.

Chief among the recommendations was a call for increased transparency of interoperable exchange standards to industry prior to responding to a government acquisition.

“Secure and cost-effective information sharing is critical to our mission as the federal government strives for greater IT agility during a time of shrinking budgets,” said GSA’s Kathleen Turco, associate administrator, Office of Government-wide Policy. “We rely on trusted information sharing for homeland security, defense, intelligence and our economy.”

Kshemendra Paul, ISE program manager, echoed Turco’s comment, adding “We must continue to work together and identify technology standards early in the development process that can be adopted government-wide.” ISE is assigned to the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) but has government-wide authority for developing information sharing standards.

Paul highlighted in an ISE blog the primary recommendations developed by the ACT-IAC working group, which have been released in a white paper titled: “Responsible Information Sharing: Engaging Industry to Improve Standards-Based Acquisition & Interoperability.” The recommendations include:

  • Focus on streamlining governance for interoperability standards. A repeatable standards governance process is necessary to define interoperability requirements and coordinate standards development activities across mission areas and governmental jurisdictions.
  • Develop a standards roadmap. In order to encourage adoption of interoperability standards, the government needs to clearly describe its target state vision for how interoperability will be achieved and the standards that will enable it.
  • Leverage standards conformance testing and pilots to minimize risk. Reusing standards that have been developed collectively, tested for standards conformance, or piloted within a certain mission area or IT platform, will minimize risk prior to implementation.
  • Incorporate standards requirements into all strategic management processes. Beginning with strategic planning, government’s interoperability standards requirements need to be clearly defined and the potential return on investment from using standards needs to be captured.
  • Enhance training and outreach. Enhancing training to create a cross-trained workforce and improving outreach with industry and other stakeholder groups will garner great dividends and help ensure expected results.

“We are extremely interested in any additional ideas and insight you may have into the use of information sharing standards in IT management lifecycles, including capital planning, acquisitions, and systems development,” Paul said.

Turco, in an interview with Breaking Gov, said what was different about developing this paper through ACT-IAC was the engagement her office’s staff had with representatives of industry.

“We were doing strategic management of standards and driving it from the top down, and the staff has struggled in terms of setting standards,” she said. “I found it incredibly useful,” she said, referring to the access her staff had to talk directly with industry representatives in developing a set of standards recommendations.

“We must continue to work together,” Paul said, ” and identify technology standards early in the development process that can be adopted government-wide. We need and welcome industry’s help in this ongoing effort.”