For the fourth straight year, federal IT spending was about even with the prior year’s budget – and it seems very clear that trend will come to an abrupt halt in 2013. The Professional Services Council (PSC) stated the “Addressable IT Budgets” in Fiscal Year 2012 added up to $121.7 billion – a total the Council estimates will drop to $115.5 in FY13, with budgets for IT equipment expected to drop 19% in FY13.

With the so-called “fiscal cliff” looming, the new year began promptly with a deal that largely addressed the tax portion of the so-called “fiscal cliff” equation, but delayed measures addressing the spending portion of the “cliff” that include raising the debt ceiling and sequestration spending cuts. Keep reading →

GSA Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini said Wednesday that the “supply” agency is working with other agencies to plan for possible sequestration budget reductions since that would mean cutting back on everything from supplies to real estate.

“Our planning is really responsive to the agencies we serve and to get a better sense of how they are thinking about it,” Tangherlini told reporters following a speech at George Washington University. “One of the things we are trying to do is establish a continual framework of communication and see if there are ways we can help [other agencies] manage their way through it.” Keep reading →

The “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” report released today highlights NASA, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Surface Transportation Board among agencies with top rankings, but it also found growing discontent among public servants. Keep reading →

While the Obama administration and the federal government have worked to set up ways to share geospatial data between agencies, a new report from the Government Accountability Office finds that lack of coordination between departments is resulting in costly duplication and millions of wasted tax dollars.

While the GAO report said the extent of duplication in geospatial investments is unknown, it said billions of dollars are being spent across the federal government on duplicative geospatial investments.

Further, “many mission-critical applications, such as those used to respond to natural disasters-floods, hurricanes, and fires-depend on geospatial information to protect lives and property. Thus, it is important that the data acquired to support these critical functions be done in a timely and coordinated manner, with minimal duplication,” the report concluded.

The government has tried to coordinate the use of geographically-related data by setting up the Federal Geographic Data Committee, under the direction of the Office of Management and Budget. One of the FGCD’s tasks was to create a metadata standard to mark geospatial information and a clearinghouse to store and disseminate it.

But the GAO found that agencies that collect and use such data are not using the clearinghouse to identify geospatial investments, coordinate activities and avoid duplication. According to the GAO, the FGCD has not planned or launched an approach that allows agencies to manage and more effectively share geospatial data to avoid costly redundancies.

Additionally, the report said the FGCD’s master plan is missing key elements, such as performance measurements for many of its defined goals.

The three departments responsible for implementing and managing geospatial information government-wide – Commerce, Transportation and Interior – have only put some of the steps needed for national geospatial data sharing into effect.

Among the three departments, the only major goal that they all achieved was to make metadata available on the clearinghouse. Only the Interior Department has designated a senior official to oversee sharing geospatial information with other departments and agencies. None of the three departments has launched a strategy to share data and only the Commerce Department has partially established a metadata policy.

OMB, meanwhile, does not have complete and reliable information to identify duplication in agency investments, the report said.

One example of the lack of coordination cited by the report is that the Census Bureau, the USGS and the Department of Homeland Security are independently acquiring road data, which is reported to have wasted millions of tax dollars.

“Unless OMB, the FGCD and federal departments and agencies decide that coordinating geospatial investments is a priority, the situation is likely to continue,” the report said.

To improve coordination and reduce duplication, the GAO report recommended that the FGCD develop a national strategy to coordinate geospatial information, federal agencies follow federal guidelines to manage geospatial investments and that the OMB develop a mechanism to identify and report on geospatial investments.

The OMB and two of the departments have agreed with the GAO’s recommendations while one department has neither agreed or disagreed with the findings, the report said.

Keep reading →

The nation’s top military cyber commander offered his version of how government and military agencies are likely to work together when America suffers cyber attacks, and warned that industry needs to take a greater role.

“We have laid out lanes of the road,” Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency said, sketching them out in broad terms for an audience of security professionals yesterday at a symposium in Washington sponsored by Symantec. Keep reading →

Government agencies and departments are learning to live with travel restrictions and discovering innovative alternatives amid an anti-conference trend brought on by budget restrictions and well-publicized abuses.

But some managers fear the trend will inhibit federal workers’ ability to stay current with new technology field advancements or to consult with experts in the private sector via site visits, professional seminars and annual conferences. Keep reading →

“Our (cyber) adversaries are well equipped and agile. Our defenses must be equal to the
threat, and they are not.”

So concludes a new report from a group of former Office of Management and Budget officials and cybersecurity experts who argue OMB and the administration “have ample legal authority to adopt reforms that would materially reduce risk and enhance response” in protecting federal systems. The report urges OMB to take steps that would result in spending scarce taxpayer dollars on security programs that work. Keep reading →

The recent GFIRST Conference – a forum for incident response and security teams – covered the gamut of security topics with a surprisingly colorful and entertaining array of session titles. While my session title, “Continuous Monitoring 2.0” , may have lacked the bedazzle factor of “Hack the database…and other cocktail party tricks”, “Bad Karma Chameleon”, “Welcome to McSecurity, would you like fries with your scan?”, it did capture audience sentiment about the government’s CyberScope initiative and the push for continuous network monitoring.

So what’s causing the angst among federal IT security managers about CyberScope’s current state of play? Keep reading →

The future of the federal statistical system in an era of open government data was the subject of the recent Association of Public Data Users Conference (APDU). It gave me the unique opportunity to pose three questions about the ironic state of federal statistics to an august panel of experts.

The panel included: Connie Citro, Director of the Committee on National Statistics, National Academy of Science; Robert Groves, Director, US Census Bureau (until recently when he became the Provost at George Washington University, that allowed him to speak freely as you will see below); and Shirin Ahmed, Assistant Director for Economic Programs, US Census Bureau.

My three questions were:

Q: Why, when the current administration has spoken so much about data, hasn’t the federal statistical community leadership (e.g. OMB Chief Statistician Kathy Wallman) spoken up?

Answer: Because she is only an SES (Senior Executive Service member) and not a political appointee. (Connie Citro)

Q: Why didn’t a data agency like the Census Bureau get the job of hosting and managing

Answer: It fell victim to (former federal CIO) Vivek Kundra’s federal IT program and federal IT and statistics live in two different worlds. (Robert Groves)

Q. Why doesn’t the federal statistical community maintain when my analyses shows that it still has better quality data and metadata than does?

Answer: The current administration and political candidates are not talking about statistics and there needs to be a statafacts web site for this. (Robert Groves)

It is important to understand both the history of federal statistical data and the perception that statisticians have of open government data to understand the different worlds of the federal IT, and the federal statistical communities

I thought Connie Citro expressed it best with the title of her presentation: “The Federal Statistical System – A Crown Jewel, But Its History Makes It Harder to Meet Today’s Challenges.”

Shirin Ahmed articulated one of the key problems: There needs to be a legal basis for statistical agencies to share data and passage of the Data Synchronization Proposal by Congress will help.<

Then, Census Historian Margo Anderson, co-author of Encyclopedia of the US Census asked: Haven’t We Been Here Before? Historical Perspectives on the Federal Statistical System.

Anderson described the evolution from our basic founding principles to know who we are, to how are these data critical for job creation, poverty alleviation, and policy making. She described how the federal statistical system has periodically attempted to integrate administrative and operational records into the statistical system and how open data proposals before us now are different from the past.

Open data includes operational and administrative data used now by public agencies for statistical purposes. It’s changing the world of data users and producers alike.

Statisticians refer to their data as design data (data from survey’s designed to capture data that can answer questions with statistics with confidence levels) and open data as data that just turns up and becomes “big data” because it has no end, which a survey does, like the every 10 year census that lasts several months and then is done until ten years later.

So in answer to the question about bringing these different worlds of data together: Yes we have been there before, but it is definitely different from the past and in the words of Margo Anderson: “it is both brash and exciting.” 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 →

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