Opening the Data Floodgates

Part of the President's Management Agenda (PMA) calls out leveraging data as a strategic asset for more effective government. In support of this, several pieces of legislation and policy have been created to better enable and even incentivize agencies to make their data available and open for use across government and by citizens.

Federal CIO Suzette Kent recently said that the Federal Data Strategy will be released soon and will prioritize datasets that could help stimulate the economy, protect the nation, and continue important research. The guidelines will present principles that prioritize data security, privacy, and transparency.

This Federal Data Strategy follows the passage of the Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act at the beginning of the year. This law requires that all non-sensitive government data be made available in machine-readable formats by default. It also creates a Chief Data Officers Council that will address data governance across agencies.

Even before these laws and guidance were released, we've seen how access to data can impact communities. For example, in Asheville, NC, BeLoved Asheville, an activist group of homeless people, launched the Homeless Voice Project. This project filters public crime data using arrestees' addresses. They were able to show that the homeless population was being disproportionally targeted and arrested by highlighting the number of homeless shelter addresses being used. In Norfolk, VA, community groups are using data to show the impact of re-development on communities, highlighting the size of population displacement that would come with gentrification. These groups are finding there is less "shouting across the table" and common ground is easier to find when arguments are backed with data. Continue reading

Agile Acquisition

Don't let the title mislead you, today we're not talking about acquiring Agile services (though, that plays a role) but rather about how government is making their procurement process more flexible and dynamic to meet the needs of federal teams and citizens alike. We've written here about the challenges in government acquisition--from the retiring workforce, to concerns of end-of-year spending, to incompatibility with modern technology. Given these challenges, we've seen a shift in recent years from the "that's the way it's always been" mentality to one of innovation.

There is some guidance on making changes to procurement including the introduction of Other Transaction Authority (OTA), a way to more quickly carry out certain prototype, research, and production projects. OTAs incorporate business practices that reflect commercial industry standards and best practices into its award instruments. But, what is having a greater effect is agencies taking risks and trying new procurement methods on a one-off basis to see what works.

Lesley Field, the deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said in an interview, "I see a lot of appetite out there for taking risks, calculated risks and bringing our industry partners along." She went on to talk about how agencies should be willing to try new ways of acquiring goods and services and be willing to learn quickly from mistakes and change course. Also communicating those lessons learned across government is crucial to government-wide procurement reform. Continue reading

Virtual Reality Prepares Federal Employees for Workforce Realities

With a focus on automation and digitization in government, there is a perceived fear that, just like the science fiction films and books warned, robots will take over our jobs (and potentially later, the world). The reality is that while some manual jobs will be "taken over" by machines, there is still a huge need for people to train and double check those technologies. In automating rote functions, we are letting machines do what they do best - quickly capture and compute data -- and freeing humans to do what they do best - make sense of the machine's outputs.

Government agencies are committed to training employees to reskill them into higher value jobs that allow them to not only keep their job, but elevate their skills and place in the organization. It is not surprising that technology will also play a big role in that training.

Virtual Reality (VR) training is not new to government. The Defense Department has been using it for years to create a realistic environment for training soldiers on expensive combat equipment and preparing them for new terrains and environments. Civilian agencies have begun using VR and Augmented Reality (AR) to better connect with citizens, making interacting with government services feel like playing a video game. Taking the lessons learned from Fortune 500 companies, the government can now extend their use of VR to general workforce training. Continue reading

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.

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