Blockchain: Are We There Yet?

Implementations and pilots of blockchain continue across government. The benefits of blockchain, including decentralization, immutability, security, and transparency, are appealing in government as they relate directly to mandates around security, privacy, and data openness. It is these needs that will drive further acceptance and use of blockchain.

As this article points out, innovation is not found in just one technology alone - it is a combination of inventions that when used together toward a specific goal create a new way of doing something. The example cited is the airplane. Human flight was made possible by the desire to travel faster and the combination of technologies and discoveries such as the gasoline engine and aerodynamics. Similarly, the goal of peer-to-peer transactions powered by blockchain will be achieved when the technology is combined with other innovations and processes. Some early successes fueling the wide application of blockchain include:

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A Look Back at the Decade: Government Tech Edition

With the closing of the decade, we thought it would be interesting to look back at the top technology headlines of 2009 and compare them to where the market is today.

Data on the Rise

Big news was the launch of data.gov in late May of 2009. The site was championed by the country's first Federal CTO, Vivek Kundra, as a way to enable citizens to access federal data. In addition to making the government more transparent, the hope was that private sector could use the massive amount of federal data in research and to create innovative programs and solutions. The site launched with 47 data sets and as of the last reporting (June 2017) it now holds approximately 200,000 datasets, representing about 10 million data resources. Beyond these numbers, data.gov's impact has been significant.

Thousands of programs can point to the site as the basis for their development. More importantly, it launched a new way of thinking in government. Agencies stopped being as territorial about their data and slowly but surely became more open to sharing it with one another and with the public as they saw what innovation can happen with simple access. In 2019, the vision of data.gov expanded with the Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary Government Data Act, requiring that nonsensitive government data be made available in machine-readable, open formats by default.

Cloud First to Cloud Smart

In 2009 the Obama administration established the Cloud-First mandate that changed the way agencies looked at acquiring and modernizing their systems. Each agency had to look first to a cloud solution to see if it fit their needs better than a traditional on-premise or hardware-based solution. Email and communication applications were some of the earliest systems moved to the cloud.

While there were many concerns about the security of cloud, acquisition processes proved to also be a huge stumbling block. Because of the consumption model of cloud, traditional procurement language and processes did not "fit" this new technology. The FAA was an early cloud adopter finding a way to acquire and manage cloud solutions for security, capacity, and application performance.

With minds open to cloud and administrative barriers removed, the government has moved from Cloud-First to Cloud-Smart, an evolution we've covered here on the blog.

Cybersecurity in Focus

President Obama issued a national cyber policy review in May 2009 that included 24 recommendations, including the need for a national cyber coordinator. Hiring for this position proved problematic and delayed the implementation of many of the recommendations by a year or more. Once the building blocks were in place, the government has spent the last 10 years getting organized around cyber defense and strengthening the nation's cybersecurity posture.

We've written here about the progress of the Continuous Diagnostic Mitigation (CDM) Program moving the government from identifying who and what was on their networks (and subsequently cleaning and tightening them up) to better reporting and proactivity related to cyber threats and incidents.

These are only three areas that have changed drastically in the last 10 years. There's also of course the rise of mobile and apps, the continued focus on improving government "customer" service, and the application of technology in the healthcare field. We'd love to hear your picks for the biggest tech or policy evolution over the last decade. Share your thoughts in the comments.

Air Force announces new ways of learning digital skills, working on faster apps

From time to time GovEvents will come across information we feel our members and audience would benefit from. Here's something we wanted to share:

 

Airmen may see faster apps and a new way to learn about cyber and coding in the near future, according to the Air Force's deputy chief information officer.

The Air Force is preparing to invest in what it's calling Digital U, an online schoolhouse similar to Udemy or Codecademy that will let airmen learn basic cyber skills or challenge themselves to learn coding languages.

"Digital U is embedded in every single mission area if you're an HR professional or a logistician," Bill Marion, Air Force deputy CIO told Federal News Network in an interview. "We wanted to break the norm and truly democratize the training. This is where online and live media training can help you get to scale."

Marion said with about 700,000 active, reserve and guard airmen, giving them all cyber training in a classroom is not feasible.

Digital U uses commercial technology to bring training to airmen.

The training will cover everything from basic cyber hygiene to something as complex as making codes. The Air Force plans to gamify the training process, allowing airmen to level up and earn badges, to incentivize them to continue learning.

"We want them to be able to do advanced analytics and write a basic algorithm that goes against a dataset that they may know natively," Marion said. "If I'm a flight line technician, the tools can help me with fuel flow. How much money can we save by saving 1% of fuel when we are the world's largest fuel consumer? We can make some very significant moves by an airman knowing how to write a basic query on a dataset."

Marion said the Air Force hopes to eventually recruit, retain and even incentivize airmen with bonuses through Digital U.

The online classes let airmen take education into their own hands and learn as much as they want, even taking steps to becoming a data scientist.

The Air Force plans to contract the program out using other transaction authority (OTA) -- an acquisition method geared toward fast procurement with nontraditional defense companies.

"It's not just a one-size-fits-all," Marion said. "There's differing vendors in this space that provide everything from much lower point, but every entry-level training, to some vendors with a little higher price point, but more advanced training. The OTA is allowing us to look at how much we throttle on the lower end, the upper end and in the middle so we can scale at the 700,000 airmen level. It will not be a one-vendor thing based on our market research. It will be an ecosystem of tools."

Making apps faster

While the Air Force is priming its airmen for more digital engagement, it's also trying to make their current experience with the digital world less of a pain.

Marion admitted the way the Air Force goes about cybersecurity is redundant and slow.

"We've layered so much security that the user experience is down," he said. "We need to get that down to the right number of layers. There is security there that should be baked in there, but we've done it three, four, five times. I joke that once I've scanned for a social security number; I don't need to scan another time, another time and another time in the same transaction and we are doing that in some cases."

The Air Force is looking at the apps that its airmen use and testing how long it takes to access apps, and how many clicks it takes to complete an action.

For example, Amazon has one-click buying, something customers find convenient -- and possibly dangerous. Some airmen are finding they need to click 48 times to complete an action. Marion is looking into both the access and clicks issue.

Outside of that, the Air Force is moving more toward a zero-trust model -- that's where an organization never trusts a device connecting to a network and always requires verification.

Marion said that involves the Air Force retooling its applications inside a native cloud environment.

"We've done that with a couple dozen applications, we've got a ways to go with others," Marion said.

The education, cybersecurity and ease of use are all part of the service's Digital Air Force plan it announced in August. The plan is supposed to unfetter the force from an industrialized way of thinking, open itself to faster networks, better weapons systems and make the service a more attractive employer.

 

View the full article by Scott Maucione at FederalNewsNetwork.com: https://federalnewsnetwork.com/air-force/2019/12/air-force-announces-new-ways-of-learning-digital-skills-working-on-faster-apps/?fbclid=IwAR0It1bj3v8GGBBGkgSSCvbJPlkIk1gU1QNutJJP8JIskdTEH_mpZzyeo5A

Exposing the Supply Chain is a Matter of National Security

The phrase "Supply Chain" may make you immediately think of retail giants like Amazon and Walmart or manufacturers like GM and John Deere, but government is highly reliant on security supply chains. A supply chain is the network of all the people, organizations, resources, activities and technology involved in the creation and sale of a product. It encompasses the delivery of source materials from the supplier to the manufacturer, to its eventual delivery to the end user. In government, supply chains have come front and center with the Trump administration's rulings banning government use of products from certain Chinese manufacturers citing security concerns that products could contain ways for the Chinese to spy on the U.S. Companies selling technology to the government have to be able to trace the source of all elements of their products to ensure nothing originated with the banned distributors.

Being able to do this requires a mature supply chain process and solution. Interagency committees have been established to determine best practices in securing increasingly complex supply chains. Understanding supply chains is an expensive undertaking and one survey found that small and mid-sized businesses are opting out, counting on the fact that they will not be the ones called out to defend their supply chain to government. This mentality may not be an option for long.

DoD is getting more and more prescriptive in their security and supply chain guidance, adding the review of contractor purchasing systems as part of bid reviews. GSA has also explored banning the use of refurbished IT, since that includes products where a supply chain cannot be re-created.

The rules and regulations around supply chains can seem just as complex as the chains themselves. Luckily, it's a topic of discussion at a number of upcoming events.

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AI 2020 – Artificial Intelligence Making an Impact in Government

Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to dominate tech headlines. Now, rather than learning what the technology could mean for government, we're reading about where it's being implemented, and the results being achieved. A recent report found that AI is no longer considered optional, but rather a critical component to managing and using large amounts of data. IT leaders in government are looking to AI to automate routine, data-oriented tasks, ease access to diverse sets of data, prioritize tasks based on the benefit to the organization, and generally keep track of ever-growing streams of data.

The Intelligence Community (IC) has long been a top consumer and analyzer of data in government. Not surprisingly, they have embraced AI technology to supplement the work of analysts by reducing the amount of manual data sorting with machine-assisted, high-level cognitive analysis. AI is being used to help triage so the highly-trained analysts can spend their time making sense of the data collected by looking at the most valuable and seemingly connected pieces.

Health and Human Services (HHS) implemented an AI solution when they needed to quickly procure Hazmat suits to meet the response to an Ebola outbreak. Procurement officials were able to use AI to make like-to-like comparisons among products. After the initial tactical analysis, the acquisition teams were able to use the data gathered on department wide pricing and the terms and conditions to better define parameters for ten categories of purchases.

Despite the successful implementations in many agencies, AI is still in the pilot and introductory phase. The Air Force is making it easier to begin experimenting with AI. Because the DoD has strict rules about what can be put on their networks, it is difficult to introduce new technologies into the production environment. The Air Force has created a workaround with the Air Force Cognitive Engine (ACE) software platform, a software ecosystem that can connect core infrastructures that are required for successful AI development (people, algorithms, data, and computational resources).

HHS is looking to use AI to analyze dated regulations as part of their AI for deregulation project. The pilot has found that 85 percent of HHS regulations from before 1990 have not been edited and are most likely obsolete. Using AI to flag regulations with the term "telegram," for example, will begin the prioritization of data that needs to be looked at by humans.

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