Dec 31 2009

Why Technology and Innovation Are Key to Your Agency’s Success

Agencies capitalize on IT innovation efforts.

Feds often get a bad rap when it comes to technology and innovation.

Beyond the Beltway (and even sometimes inside it), there’s a perception that the government is a technical backwater, a place just getting by on legacy — or at the very least dated — information technology. And as to creating breakthrough applications, well forget it.

But that perception is far from reality. The government pours $130 billion into R&D annually, much of that into technology research. And it remains the IT budget behemoth worldwide, pumping $75 billion annually into its systems and communications programs. But beyond designated research and IT funding, agencies more and more are looking for unique ways to use IT or apply it to cause change and reap benefits.

That’s not to say that there isn’t some old equipment and code out there. Hey, the Army just recently dumped MS-DOS programs it had still been running to support logistics. And federal IT folks readily acknowledge that they work in a risk-averse environment and that a large part of their budgets go to O&M — operations and maintenance — to keep current programs and missions merely on track, not breaking new ground.

Hotbed for Brilliance

Yet Uncle Sam’s vast workforce shouldn’t be overlooked as a source of ingenious tech ideas. In this issue of FedTech, we look at some cool IT efforts under way in government.

For the cover-story package “Vision Revealed,” beginning here, we detail how the Coast Guard is trying to radically change its border operations by applying biometrics. Then, two feds and an innovation think tank leader offer insights on what the government can do to breathe life into innovative IT ideas — from the critical (hampering terrorists) to the mundane (creating online national park tools).

But ideas that you can “borrow” for your agency don’t begin and end with those articles. Look elsewhere in this issue, and you will find other nuggets of resourcefulness (providing headquarters officials with real-time access to field inspectors’ data — here) and outright jaw-dropping ideas (a $100 self-healing and portable network node in development at DARPA — here) that might help your agency apply technology in a disruptive way.

Don’t sell yourselves short: Great ideas are everywhere; it’s bringing them to fruition that takes gumption. Are you up to the challenge?

Vanessa Jo Roberts


<p>Photo: Forrest MacCormack</p>