Dec 31 2009

What? IT's Not a Stump Issue?

Photo: Comstock/Jupiter Images

Come next February, you can expect to hear plenty from the new president about government management issues and technology. But for now, it’s pretty slim pickings.

To keep up with what the presidential candidates are saying about federal management topics, including information technology, go to The site, run by the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government in Philadelphia, gathers information from the candidates’ documents and speeches to shine light on how each would run the federal government.

For instance, it quotes Rudy Giuliani as saying, “We would replace those [retired employees] with technology or with figuring out how people can be more productive.” Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton says she would reinstate the defunct White House Office of Technology Assessment.

But there’s not too much detail about IT on the site. Yet, the institute clearly views technology as a major factor in the next administration’s success: “The challenges of redesigning processes to take advantage of technology and helping personnel and citizens to get the most out of new systems is both significant and continuously changing.”

The institute lists six IT challenges the next administration will face:

  • IT competency of the federal workforce: training, personnel management and contractor expertise;
  • project selection and management;
  • Web-enabled services and e-government;
  • Web 2.0, specifically social networks and advanced interactivity;
  • technology security;
  • hardware and advanced networking technologies.

It’s a Service World — Even for the Feds

It’s not surprising that federal systems chiefs continue to identify security infrastructure tools as the most critical technology. That’s what they reported in the latest Federal CIO Top 10 Challenges Survey from the Association for Federal Information Resources Management. But what is a shocker is that using information technology to improve services jumped from the 13th spot to third on CIO to-do lists.

The survey report, issued just before the end of the year, suggests that the leap results from the Office of Management and Budget’s emphasis on measuring customer service using the Performance Assessment and Rating Tool. The items that rank ahead of this challenge are hiring and retaining skilled staff (No. 1) and aligning IT and mission (No. 2). Delivering adequate service shared the third spot with obtaining funding for IT programs.

Clearly, CIOs are concerned about security and the ability to protect their agencies’ data. In a separate survey done by Cisco Systems and released just before the AFFIRM findings, 200 government IT professionals identified spyware and bots as their chief day-to-day worries. The AFFIRM survey results show that IT chiefs view federal systems as more at risk of attack.

E-Gov Scores Drop Slightly, While Service Overall Falters

In 2007, federal e-government services generally maintained or improved their customer approval ratings, but the government continues to lag behind the private sector in overall service reviews.

The final numbers for the year issued by the Federal Consulting Group in the Treasury Department show that agency online services in the final months of the year received a 72.9 rating out of 100 points, using the ForeSee Result’s American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Sites that have historically done well — including benefits sites at the Social Security Administration and health sites at the National Institutes of Health — continued to outperform the ACSI aggregate for government. A handful of SSA and NIH sites all rated scores of 85 points or more.

Compared with the third quarter of the year, the ACSI rating for 40 percent of sites rose, 33 percent dropped and 23 percent remained unchanged.

In looking at how well federal services meet customer demands generally, the government’s overall score of 67.8 fell behind that of private-sector organizations, at 74, and far behind manufacturers, at 81.2.

Photo: Cherie A. Thurlby/DOD
Defense Secretary Robert Gates observed a bomb-detecting robot during one of his trips to Iraq.

In the Army Now

Over hill, over dale: The Army plans to make intense use of robots to keep soldiers out of harm’s way. Already, the service has sent more than 300 into the field across Iraq to detect and disarm bombs and other explosive devices. Now, it plans to create a platoon of 3,000 of the robots.

Built around an 8-bit RISC processor, the Warrior x700 is just 18 inches tall when stowed. The little robot has its own Geospatial Positioning System module and supports any Ethernet radio for communication. The Army can create unique mission add-ons using the 250-pound robot’s multiple USB ports.

The folks from iRobot, the creators of robot mops and vacuums, crafted the warrior with development funding from the Technical Support Working Group of the interagency Combating Terrorism Technology Support Office.