Watching the Taxpayer DIME

One area getting bipartisan support in Congress is the oversight of federal spending on travel. Two recently introduced bills look to curb ethics violations in terms of travel spending.

It's been over seven years since Congress looked this closely at federal travel following the excessive costs associated with a GSA conference in Las Vegas. This renewed look is in response to the high profile travel scandals of senior administration officials including Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke, former Veterans Affairs Department Secretary David Shulkin, and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Scott Pruitt.

The 2019 Taxpayers Don't Incur Meaningless Expenses (Taxpayers DIME) Act would require federal agencies to report to Congress each quarter on the travel of any senior official on government aircraft. Bill sponsor, Rep. Tom O'Halleran said, "We must hold our government leaders to the highest standards, and with so many high-profile ethics violations in the past years, it is clear we have failed to do that. No matter who controls Congress or the White House, we have to hold everyone accountable."

Another bill looks beyond senior officials, ensuring that all federal employees traveling are spending taxpayer dollars at facilities that have proven to have ethical practices. It specifically encourages employees to stay in hotels that have taken action to reduce human trafficking on their premises. To do this, GSA would create a list of hotels that have taken proven steps to train their workforce to recognize and report human trafficking.

So what does this mean for event planners and attendees?

When planning events, keep in mind that government attendees will have to abide by these rules and keep the locations easily accessible by commercial travel options. Look at policies of hotels and venues around how they educate staff on human trafficking (and other social issues) and choose those that have defined plans and programs in place. For attendees, it's more important than ever to fully investigate and vet travel plans and expenses to ensure that there are no violations, or even perceived violations, of ethical standards.

Let us know your thoughts on this pending legislation and how you ensure compliance with federal travel regulations. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Pay-As-You-Learn

You are likely familiar with the pay-as-you-go model of cloud computing. The idea is to charge for technology services much like utilities are billed. Users are billed for only the computing resources they use as opposed to paying a flat license fee to own and use the software or service. This model has proven to be more cost effective for organizations with inconsistent needs in terms of computing and storage power, allowing them to scale their use up or down as the work demands. Now, this same idea is making its way into the training and event space.

A survey of healthcare professionals found more than three-quarters of respondents would only participate in a meeting that could show a good return on their investment of time and money. Measuring that ROI can be tricky, but attendees across all industries tend to look to events that provide: Continue reading

Is IoT a Superhero or Villain?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is made up of webcams, sensors, thermostats, microphones, speakers, cars, and even stuffed animals. All of these connected devices can help individuals and organizations stay connected across geographic distances, keeping tabs on and managing assets from miles away. The data they collect can be combined with other data sets to create actionable advice for better management and service.

This holds incredible promise for local governments and federal agencies charged with maintaining safe operating fleets and facilities. There's also the application for improving the routing of field technicians as well as traffic flow in general. But, as every superhero knows, with great power comes great responsibility.

As with any technology, IoT standards need to be developed for effective and safe use as well as to enable interoperability. NIST has been working on defining standards and recently released Considerations for Managing Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity and Privacy Risks, but no federal agency is currently claiming jurisdiction over IoT policy and rule-making. In this vacuum, the legislative branch is getting involved. This past November, the House passed the SMART IoT Act that tasks the Department of Commerce with studying the current U.S. IoT industry. A Senate bill was introduced to manage what types of IoT devices the government can purchase, ensuring that all IoT tech in government is patchable and has changeable passwords. Finally, states are even weighing in on the proper use of IoT in government. California passed the first IoT cybersecurity law, making device manufacturers ensure their devices have "reasonable" security features. Continue reading

The Face in the Machine: Facial Recognition Application in Government

When your grandma is using her face to unlock her iPhone, you know a technology has gone mainstream. Facial Recognition "is a biometric software application capable of uniquely identifying or verifying a person by comparing and analyzing patterns based on the person's facial contours." In the last four years, there has been a jump in the use of the technology as vendors have begun to use convolutional neural networks (CNN), a deep learning methodology and algorithms, for model training. A National Institute of Standards and Technology test of vendors in 2018 showed a 95% reduction in error rate compared to a similar test completed in 2014. Applications of facial recognition in government include security (access to devices, data, and physical locations), law enforcement (matching video footage of a crime to a database of suspects), and identity verification for travel.

While the technology has come a long way, many argue it still has a way to go before it can be used widely in areas as critical as criminal justice and security. There are calls for regulation by the FTC and other federal entities. While there are accuracy benchmarks that vendors must pass to be used in government, in many cases, the groups used in benchmarks are not as diverse as those that the system will interact with once fielded. Regulation proponents argue that much of the facial recognition technology was designed with the majority of subjects being white males. When the system faces (pun intended) women with dark skin, the accuracy they promise plummets significantly.

With these challenges both in technology and policy, there are a number of events to help sort out the next steps in introducing facial recognition. Continue reading

Let’s Go to the (Job) Fair!

Looking for a new job may be a goal for 2019, a result of feeling job (or pay) insecurity, or perhaps out of necessity. In today's job hunting process, a lot of the searching (and even interviewing) happens online. But even in the age of LinkedIn, Monster, and Skype, there's still a huge place for job fairs as they benefit both job seekers and employers alike. In-person job fairs provide the efficiency of online sites and the face-to-face connection of video interviews.

Job fairs are a great opportunity for recruiters to build up their resume pipelines and an efficient way to knock out initial interviews. In the government market especially, job fairs prove to be a critical way to make sure that contractors can staff up quickly to get started on new contracts. Connecting with people that already hold key clearances and specialized skills ensures that when the opportunity arises, they will be able to tell the customer, "Yes, we have someone that can do that."

For job seekers, job fairs are also a great use of time to be able to meet with a large number of potential employers at one time and get a feel for what companies have to offer. Having access to dozens of people that want to look at your resume provides an opportunity for amazing feedback on what you have to offer. Talking to a variety of companies can give an individual a range of perspectives. First, it's a great way to get a pulse on the job market - what jobs are out there and in demand. Second, it is a smart way to survey the market and figure out areas in your experience that stand out and areas where you need more development. Continue reading