Getting on the (Block) Chain Gang

We've been watching the use of blockchain growing in the government space as agencies look for ways to more efficiently and securely share their data. A Congressional Resolution was introduced to tout the promise of blockchain saying that, "blockchain has incredible potential that must be nurtured through support for research and development and a thoughtful and innovation-friendly regulatory approach." Following this encouragement from congress, it seems like each day there is a new application of the technology being tried and evaluated.

We've gathered a couple applications that we found interesting to help illustrate what blockchain is and what it can do.

  • Supply Chain - The Navy is looking to use blockchain to track aviation parts throughout their lifecycles, helping them better manage their supply chain. Similarly, the FDA is looking at how blockchain can better track the chain of custody of prescription drugs. In a related application, blockchain is also being considered as a solution for better tracking digital evidence in criminal cases.
  • Managing Public Records - State and local organizations are using blockchain to digitally distribute records, including marriage certificates, property titles, and business registrations.
  • Voting - Blockchain is being tested as a way to make it easier for service members and overseas citizens to vote. Last fall, 144 West Virginia voters living abroad were able to vote through their mobile phones via an app. Identities were confirmed by scanning a valid U.S. ID along with a selfie. Once the identity was confirmed, voters made their selections based on the ballot they would have used at their local precinct. Voters were then given a unique ID or hash that, once the vote was cast, allowed them to write on to the blockchain. Each submission was encrypted to the blockchain ledger, which gave election clerks the ability to conduct post-election audits.
  • Public Health - Blockchain can also speed the delivery of information as it relates to public health crises. The Food and Drug Administration is looking at how to use blockchain to share health care data securely and effectively in real time when epidemics like the swine flu threaten the health of the nation.

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The Why and How of Federal Event Attendance

Market Connections recently conducted a survey to understand how federal decisions makers view and use events as part of their professional development and daily work. The survey included input from technology decision-makers across defense and civilian agencies and aimed to find out how they make decisions about what events to attend and what they expect when they are there.

The survey found that the topic is the main driver for event attendance with 85% citing that as the key reason they decide whether to attend an event. Price and location also play a big role in the decision to attend an event or not. Interestingly, while the topic is important, who delivers that topic is not as critical. Keynote speakers did not rank high on the list of deciding factors. Similarly, while event planners may push the opportunity for networking, that is a "nice to have" for attendees rather than a reason to spend time and money attending an event.

With the topic being so key to attendance, the survey looked at what people are interested in learning about at events. Cybersecurity was the number one topic of interest in the survey. This mirrors what we see in terms of events on our site; cybersecurity typically has the most events listed year after year. The other topics in the top five were cloud services, digital government, AI/Machine Learning, and budget/cost control/fiscal management. Continue reading

It’s Not Enough to be First, You Have to be Smart – Cloud Smart

Over the past year, there has been a shift in the way government approaches the cloud. No longer are agencies asked to go "cloud first," they are now urged to be "cloud smart." This change is not just a matter of semantics; it is a different way of thinking. Rather than choosing a cloud solution to meet mandates, agencies are examining whether the cloud is the right platform for the application or system in question. Cloud Smart also means picking the right kind of cloud - public, private, or hybrid/multi cloud to meet user, administration, and security needs.

One way to be Cloud Smart is to follow FedRAMP guidance. While this program is not without its challenges (including the speed at which technologies get approval), it is still a valuable tool to ensure that industry standards and security protocols are met. Participation in the program is growing with 150 participating agencies and over 130 FedRAMP-authorized cloud service offerings.

While guidance around how to proceed to the cloud is evolving (along with the cloud technology), agencies are pushing forward and finding their smart path to cloud and, more importantly, creating new ways to interact with their constituents. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Farm Production and Conservation division made the shift to a commercial platform-as-a-service (PaaS) for Farmers.gov. This site "allows farmers, ranchers, foresters and agriculture producers to register their businesses electronically and gain personalized access to the services they need to manage their operations." By using cloud technologies, USDA found they could save their developers time, enabling them to focus on configuring, rather than coding.

There are several events that feature examples of these cloud successes and discuss how to overcome technical, policy, and cultural barriers to smart cloud adoption.

  • DC CloudWeek (June 3-7, 2019; Washington, DC) -- This SXSW-style citywide festival brings together thousands of government and tech leaders from around the nation to share how the cloud is transforming government, academia, nonprofits, and the private sector. It includes dozens of community conferences, events, and parties.
  • AWS Public Sector Summit (June 11-12, 2019; Washington, DC) -- This event brings together innovators who are changing the world with cloud computing to share their successes and lessons learned to guide wider cloud adoption in government. The conference aims to send attendees back to their office with new strategies and techniques for kicking off new projects, maximizing budgets, and achieving mission goals.
  • ATARC Federal Cloud and Infrastructure Summit (June 25, 2019; Washington, DC) -- This educational, one-day symposium will examine the cloud tools and techniques being used by the Federal Government to provide agencies with greater efficiency and cost savings. The morning session will feature speakers and panels with government thought leaders, while the afternoon includes the MITRE-ATARC Cloud Collaboration Symposium, where government, academic, and industry subject matter experts will examine cloud and data center challenge topics.
  • 2019 Cyber Security Brainstorm "Cyber Strong: Cyber's New Frontier" (August 8, 2019; Washington, DC) -- This half-day program will discuss integrating cloud and other next-gen technologies, strategies for building cyber strength, and preparing the workforce for these technological changes.
  • KubeCon | CloudNativeCon (November 18-21, 2019; San Diego, CA) -- The Cloud Native Computing Foundation's flagship conference gathers adopters and technologists from leading open source and cloud native communities to further the education and advancement of cloud

Let us know your go-to events for cloud information with details in the comments.

AI is Ready for Prime Time

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a hot buzzword being thrown around in technical as well as business circles as a way to increase the efficiency of organizations. More than just a buzzword or "next big thing," it is now official policy of the United States. This February the President issued an executive order directing federal agencies to invest more money and resources into the development of artificial intelligence technologies to ensure the U.S. keeps pace with the world in using AI (and related technology) for business, innovation, and defense.

On the heels of the executive order, the DoD outlined its AI plans which include using AI technology to improve situational awareness and decision-making, increasing the safety of operating vehicles in rapidly changing situations, implementing predictive maintenance, and streamlining business processes.

But with all of this focus and excitement around AI, there are many groups raising concerns. Paramount is the federal workforce who sees AI technology potentially taking over their work. A recent survey found that while 50 percent of workers were optimistic that AI would have a positive impact, 29 percent said they could see new technologies being implemented "without regard for how they will benefit employees' current responsibilities." Across government, technology leaders are working to ease fears, stating that technology will take on the rote, manual tasks that humans tend to dread, freeing up people to spend additional time on more strategic, meaningful work.

Another group wary of AI's broad impact are security experts who say that with new, more advanced technologies come new, more advanced threats. In an effort to get in front of these threats, DARPA has launched the Guaranteeing AI Robustness against Deception (GARD) program. This program aims to develop theories, algorithms, and testbeds to aid in the creation of ML models that will defend against a wide range of attacks. Continue reading

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