Dec 31 2009

Getting Personal

Photo: Mark Battrell

Everyone expects that if they give someone personal information, that person—a restaurant waitress, a doctor, a bank teller—will safeguard it. Citizens consider information gathered by the government, however, to be sacrosanct. The public must entrust agencies—from the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration to the Food Stamp Program and the Securities and Exchange Commission—with the most personal of information, and citizens expect it to be safe from tampering.

But the recent spate of disclosures by big businesses, and the General Services Administration, that personal information has been compromised raises concerns that personal data is safe nowhere.

The government wants to make sure that the information it stores by the terabyte about citizens is indeed secure. To that end, agencies are scrambling to meet an October deadline for rolling out governmentwide smart cards and accompanying identity management systems to control access to federal systems and facilities. It's a massive undertaking that requires agencies to rethink their identification programs and devise back-end systems for managing the data for the smart cards as well. To get the latest details about this challenge, turn to our cover story, "Multiple Identities."

While restricting access to federal facilities and systems makes sense, there's more to securing information technology than smart cards. The government is struggling to protect IT adequately, as the recent "D+" it received on the congressional security report card reflects. "Complying to Stay Safe" lays out the obstacles agencies must overcome to meet the Federal Information Security Management Act. The encouraging news: New trends in technologies and best practices are making it easier to comply with FISMA.

Compliance is a common government theme. Consider the latest procurement policy change related to assuring that disabled users have access to government systems and information. "The Search for 508 Utopia" lays out how agencies must now apply Section 508 to IT buys worth less than $2,500.

To keep up with procurement reforms is a never-ending task. Jim Shanks lets readers in on a cybersecret: There's a lot of help online when it comes to government buying rules and regulations. So flip to his "Speaking from Experience" column to bone up.

For the "CIO Interview", I talked with the Veterans Affairs Department's Robert McFarland. We discussed his change from the private to the public sector, the sense of urgency needed in government and the role of technology at VA. "Government is a business and should be run like a business," he says.

But McFarland also sees his job at VA as a way to repay a debt to the Army for helping mold his wilder younger self. Now, veterans returning wounded from Iraq are looking to VA similarly. A new department program, detailed in "Taking Care of Its Own", helps vets forge career paths in the civilian side of government.

We hope you gain value and insight from these articles—and many others—that you'll find in this issue of Fed Tech. As always, we're here to serve you.