Last month GovTechWorks published an excellent article highlighting seven government IT trends to watch under the new Trump Administration. Despite the fact that 140 technology leaders warned prior to the election that electing Trump would be bad for IT innovation, it would seem logical that increasing government efficiency through better IT is a non-partisan issue.
The article highlights seven major tech trends:
• Acquisition Reform
• Artificial Intelligence
• Identity Authentication
• Cybersecurity Talent Development
• Software-Defined Everything
• Big Data
In this article we’ll do a deeper dive into three of these trends, starting with Identify Authentication.
DHS knows the importance of strong identity protection. Last year the agency implemented a new backend attribute exchange to their Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN). HSIN supports intergovernmental information sharing and collaboration, and now streamlines identity management by keeping users’ security credentials stored on local systems.
It also makes this information accessible from other network locations, and allows users to verify their identities at HSIN outposts – without their credentials having to move insecurely between the locations. The new exchange supplies a more efficient, more secure way for the visiting agency to verify the necessary information.
“Ensuring the identity of network users is critical to sharing information securely,” said DHS Under Secretary for Science and Technology Dr. Reginald Brothers when this was implemented last year. “By strengthening data security, this innovation will better enable collaboration between DHS and our partners in support of our homeland security mission.”
More than 55,000 people currently use the 10-year-old HSIN for planning, response and daily operations. Users include federal, state and local officials in a wide-range of disciplines such as law enforcement, public health, emergency services, infrastructure protection, port security and other functions. In addition, private sector organizations are allowed to use the HSIN.
Too many federal agency networks are using legacy technology that hampers innovation and the development of new services. To become more efficient and to better support the agency mission, federal IT must embrace the principles of Software-Defined Everything.
Software-defined is an over-arching term that encompasses the principles of software-defined networking and software-defined data centers. Almost any IT function that previously relied on hardware can be made faster and more economical by replacing with software.
In the legacy networks that dominate government IT, routers and other network devices are managed individually, with the focus being on devices rather than end user applications. Taking a software-defined everything approach abstracts the control from individual devices, giving administrators end-to-end visibility and the power to optimize traffic paths via policy rather than hardware. This flexibility to control data flows eases manageability, supports automation, and helps administrators more quickly deliver the customized services that are critical to transform government IT.
From the GovTechWorks article:
“NIST is working to develop test and measurement techniques ‘to advance the state of the art in network virtualization, network service function chaining, software defined networks, technologies and techniques to address robustness safety and security of virtualized network services’ and to explore and support machine to machine communications, advanced mobility and cloud computing. NIST’s Advanced Networks and Technologies Division is developing acquisition tools and secure deployment guidance for emerging network function virtualization (NFV) and SDN technologies.”
The government needs to innovate faster, and unfortunately the current acquisition process holds agencies back. And the failure to innovate is one of execution more than design. That’s because the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) is supposed to encourage “competition to the maximum extent possible.” That’s right, that’s the goal! If the federal acquisition process described by the FAR was actually followed, federal IT would look very different today.
But as any government IT and contractor knows, current acquisition practices do not follow the prescribed process. Requirements documents are often too prescriptive, and rather than describing the IT need attempt to scope the solution. Some even specify brands, though this supposed to be a violation of the FAR. There needs to be far better alignment between IT requirements and mission outcomes.
A “cut and paste” culture drives an acquisition status quo that serves no one well – agencies, contractors or citizens. The passing of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) in 2014 was a positive step, since it should give CIOs more authority over IT budgets and purchasing decisions. Here are three additional things that could dramatically improve the federal IT acquisition process:
1. Increase the market research done for each contract, and directly link requirements to agency mission outcomes – features, functions, capabilities and service levels.
2. Embrace multivendor IT implementations. This is an effective way to increase flexibility, innovation, and competition.
3. Train and educate the federal acquisition workforce to embrace and encourage competition by harnessing the FAR as it was intended.
Through actions such as the federal hiring freeze, the Trump Administration has signaled that it wants a more efficient and productive federal workforce. That cannot happen without continued efforts to improve and transform federal IT.
Politics aside, we’re confident that process will continue. Some of the steps outlined here can ensure it does so. And we’ll continue to highlight the work of GovTransformers throughout 2017.