Dan Verton


Posts by Dan Verton

A new app for Android devices called, will read your favorite Websites and blogs to you, freeing your hands (via Bluetooth) while driving. But it also holds out a promising solution to those who have difficulty seeing or reading small text on a smartphone or tablet screen.

Available free of charge through the Google Play store, Web2go, developed by Tel Aviv-based Volacent Inc., introduces what the company calls Artificial Reading Intelligence (ARI). ARI allows the application to streamline the reading process so that the app reads only the relevant text in an article, skipping over superfluous information such as long lists of menu items, photo captions on advertisements and other data points that are not part of the story or blog entry. Keep reading →

It’s been a little more than a year since Admiral Thad Allen (USCG-Ret.) joined Booz Allen Hamilton as a senior vice president after a storied career with the U.S. Coast Guard, and serving as National Incident Commander for the Department of Homeland Security in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

Breaking Gov contributor Dan Verton sat down with Allen to discuss the importance of innovation and the challenges frontline federal government managers face when trying to implement new innovations. He also discussed some of the priorities for the future of homeland security outlined recently by Booz Allen Hamilton, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Breaking Gov: How important is the concept and practice of innovation to the Department of Homeland Security as we look toward the next 10 years of the homeland security mission?

Adm. Thad Allen: I don’t think there’s any doubt that innovation has been the key to the success of this country since our revolution. The ability to innovate, create new things and bring them to market progress the country along.

I think the real issue is how do you enable innovation in a government department or across the government? How quickly can you recognize technologies and bring them to bear on the problems you’re dealing with?

We have a whole host of regulations and federal acquisition regulations. We’re concerned about who we sell business to in the federal government. There are groups that we want to help and encourage, such as small business and the middle class. We need to figure out a better way to identify innovative capabilities that we can bring to bear in the homeland security area.

I don’t think right now the current acquisition procedures or requirements development procedures are mature to the point where we can move as rapidly as we need to.

Is it just the acquisition side of the equation, or is it the federal culture that does not encourage innovation from frontline managers?

Allen: The whole notion of innovation is a challenge across the government. What you have is a set of regulatory requirements that take time [and] they’re difficult to work through for new and challenging technologies. And then there’s a question of whether or not the people in government are technically qualified to understand those new technologies.

I think there’s a dual challenge. One is a process challenge. How do we make the process simpler? But there’s a content challenge. If you don’t understand the technology regarding cloud analytics [as an example] or what a cloud reference architecture can do, or what high performance computing can do, then you don’t make real good decisions about the acquisition of technology or make policy and budget decisions that enable that.

Are efforts such as the FedRAMP process helping agencies to innovate and adopt new technologies?

Allen: In the current budget environment, we can’t afford to have multiple stovepipe systems, multiple licensing fees, and multiple costs for software platforms. The downward force on funding is going to force the integration of software and data sets.

Then, once you get them in one place, it’s easier to make a fundamental change in how you actually manage the data. It’s something we’re going to have to do and it’s going to be required for mission execution.

More importantly, I don’t think we can operate the systems we’re operating right now and stovepipe them in proprietary systems in the current budget environment.

Our theory is, it takes a network to defeat a network.”

How do you see future of Homeland Security changing?

Allen: I believe terrorism is nothing more than political criminality; so you’re really dealing with a criminal organizations involved in criminal activity. The things all criminal organizations need to succeed is …they need to have a source of financing, they have to talk, they have to move, and they have to spend money to be successful. That is a network.

When you look at our law enforcement organizational structure and how we deal with terrorism, we tend to focus particular threat streams on particular agencies, and that’s how we employ them, like the Drug Enforcement Administration; (the Bureau of) Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the US Secret Service; Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Our theory is, it that takes a network to defeat a network. And if we’re going to do that properly, we’re going to have to break down the walls between those jurisdictions, particularly with regards to how we share information.

Read more from Thad Allen in an op-ed he wrote for Breaking Gov last year on the importance of separating the value of public service from the politics.

Open source software has long been touted as the antidote to monolithic, buggy, and security-challenged software packages developed by the industry’s 800-pound gorillas.

But a presentation from the National Security Agency (NSA) during a technology symposium last week presented a stark warning for the proponents of open source software: Get your house in order because sooner or later government and industry customers are going to demand verifiable information about where your software came from, who developed it, who had access to the code, and whether or not you can vouch for its security. Keep reading →

A new narrative is emerging in government innovation and it goes something like this: Truly great leaps in innovation are almost never possible with monolithic, proprietary approaches to software development, and many small innovations, when taken together, often lead to large, game-changing paradigms.

That was the message delivered by both government and private sector IT professionals at the Red Hat Government Symposium on Oct. 23. The event, sponsored by Red Hat Inc. focused on the importance of transparency, open sharing, and collaboration to the success of the Obama Administration’s Open Government Initiative, as well as how open source software can help agencies accomplish their missions in a time of dwindling resources. Keep reading →

It is one of the most challenging times in American history to be part of a government bureaucracy. A dysfunctional congress offers little or no support; agency budgets face gutting as the nation stares down a fiscal cliff; hiring freezes and the looming shadow of furloughs threaten to turn the government’s talent pool stagnant.

But if you’re an innovator, this is – in a strange and unfortunate way – good news. Keep reading →

What if you could call your city public works department, located about 45 minutes from your home, request a recycling sticker, and have a city worker show up at your door 18 minutes later? That’s the power of Boston’s new City Worker App.

Piloted last year, the new mobile app integrates seamlessly with the city’s existing 311 system for non-emergency information calls and service requests. It takes all of the service requests made by citizens for potholes, graffiti, streetlight outages, and even recycling stickers, and routes them to the Android-based mobile device of the nearest work crew from the responsible department. Keep reading →

On May 1, 2010, when al-Qaeda sympathizer Faisal Shahzad attempted to detonate an improvised explosive device hidden in a parked car in the middle of New York’s Times Square, first responders had to rely on their knowledge of evacuation guidelines that for decades have only been accessible via bulky, hardcopy binders.

Although Shahzad’s bomb failed to detonate, the lessons from the response to that potentially deadly attack were not lost on the Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology Directorate (S&T). Keep reading →

New York City has entered into what it’s calling a strategic technology partnership with Microsoft Corp. to aggregate and analyze public safety data in real-time, and provide law enforcement officers with a comprehensive view of emerging terrorist threats and criminal activity.

Announced today by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly during a press briefing inside the Lower Manhattan Security Command Center, the new Domain Awareness System will feed real-time data from the city’s existing infrastructure of security cameras, radiation detectors, license plate readers, and 911 calls onto a dashboard of large screen displays located at the command center. Keep reading →

Police and other emergency management officials in four cities around the country got a glimpse of what the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) might look like once the infrastructure begins to take root.

Five months after Congress passed a law that granted public safety organizations the much-needed mobile broadband spectrum (the so-called D Block in the 700 MHz band), Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris Corp. conducted the first live test of a real-time first responder network. The test, conducted July 12, spanned four states and leveraged 700MHz band LTE (Long Term Evolution) technologies. Keep reading →

The District of Columbia got a little bit safer on Thursday thanks to the deployment of a new, enhanced 911 system.

Speaking at a launch event hosted by the Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced the availability of Smart911 throughout the city. Keep reading →

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