Government as a Platform?

Data, data, data. This is the answer for government in this new world of Government 2.0. Making government available to the citizens by building platforms for change. These are the ideas bandied around when the Silicon Valley Warlords came to Washington, D.C. this week to put on the invitation only Gov 2.0 Summit and teach Beltway insiders how their successes in the Valley could be instituted in the center of government.

The center of government. The center of politics. The center of policy. Of course, if the warlords have their way, the center of technology.

The concept of government as a platform is a good one on the surface. The idea that making government a series of, for lack of a better words, APIs to help the citizen understand and access their government officials and services better is a noble one. However, it is naive, and this is where the native-understanding of Washington comes into play.

The rest of the country looks at Washington as a city that is always in-fighting. That the entire ecosystem is made of bureaucratic citadels of power that never accomplishes anything. Incompetent politicians who all lie, lie, lie.

For those of us inside the beltway, we recognize that partisanship is a means to an end. That policy takes a long time to change, policy makers remain embedded as established government for years and even decades, and that politicians come and go. This is part of the expectation in our Washington. The agencies exist, made up of rank and file – the foot soldiers, if you will – and the policies in place in those agencies come from decades of precedent in some cases.

Some of it needs to be changed, and to the extent that OpenGov and Gov 2.0 can open up the doors to this change, then it will. However, some of this will never change and it’s not necessary to try to change it. Precedent generally exists for very sound reason.
lincolnmemorial

What will fail, however, is the replacement of the Washington system made up of politics, policy and also data by a fraternity-style, easy-money lifestyle of the west coast. While they talk billion dollar valuations on startups, we talk about billion dollar annual budgets for Level C agencies. Two different worlds. We have a much bigger stake, and therefore, we’re less likely to change how we do things because they suggest we should.

My suggestion is to O’Reilly and Camp: Come back to Washington, D.C. I know you’ll be back for Gov 2.0 Expo in the spring, but come back for a Summit too. Instead of dictating how the event goes, however, open it up. Make sure 50% of tickets are available for free for any verifiable government employee. (General consensus is the attendace was around 70-30, Private-public, a guess since O’Reilly Media declined to comment on attendance figures). Double the price for the private sector tickets to compensate. Here’s a hint: The federal fiscal year doesn’t begin until Oct 1. Budget money isn’t available to pay for the agency employees to attend your event. This isn’t the private sector. Money needs to be accounted for, especially during a recession. If you want this to be about government, ensure that the Feds can go free of charge and charge the Private sector double.

Secondly, allow questions from the audience. There was extremely little interaction with the audience by speakers. This needs to change if it’s going to be a learning environment.

I’d also suggest the need for a competitive event. With everyone who has dipped their feet into the Government 2.0 kool-aid, precious few have kept their noses clean from federating around this very failed event. I said in November that few of anyone has this industry figured out yet, yet the money flowing in from the Valley has caused almost everyone to sacrifice their independence and free-thinking (How many of you on that Gov 2.0 Summit Advisory Board are free to do a competitive event?)

I’d encourage some of the historically free-thinkers who have given up their independence to think about how government can really be assisted (let’s not talk about fixing government – they innovate much better than we do, actually) in different ways. I think there is room for events that will avoid the thumbprint of previous event and will federate around real ideas, not just inspiration speeches.

* Photo Credit: Big Berto

Space: The Final Frontier

Today is July 20th and it signifies a very important day in the history of mankind. It is the day we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the moon landing and, in many ways, the culmination of the advent of the technology age. 40 years ago today, we began a journey into space that has not receded (though we have not recently returned to the surface of the moon).

Much is being made of this anniversary today. WeChooseTheMoon.org, a fascinating real time re-enactment of the mission, including the days leading up to the pivotal moment, is a project of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

It was Kennedy, in an address to a joint session of Congress in 1961, that called on Americans, with a specific mandate to NASA, to put a man on the moon by the end of that decade. An excerpt of this speech:

Finally, if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides–time for a great new American enterprise–time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.

I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshalled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

<snip>

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations–explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon–if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.

369227main_aldrinLM_full
Since then, the United States and the world have gone through vast technological breakthroughs, often in greater haste than the 8 years it took to put a man on the moon. For instance, consumer electronics continue to progress at a staggering speed, particularly with the advent of the iPhone.

The internet burgeoned from a 5 hours monthly dial-up plan with AOL to saturation of broadband in many areas of the world.

Companies like Google continue to harness computing power to create vast databases of information.

Currently, NASA has the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter (LRO) circling the moon in advance of a new moon mission by the end of 2020. The LRO is trying to map the entire moon surface (including the notoriously unknown “dark side of the moon”) to determine resources and terrain for the construction of a manned lunar outpost.

Many companies, news sources and blogs (including this one), are commemorating the moon landing with special logos, graphics or other site modifications. It’s just our way of saying “Wow”.

"A New World Awaits"- Obama on Cybersecurity

This is a guest post that I solicited today after President Barack Obama’s major cybersecurity announcement. I felt it was important to get the views and opinions of someone in the field. Enjoy! ~editor

Today President Obama announced the creation of a White House cybersecurity coordinator position and discussed the 60-day Cyberspace Police Review conducted by Melissa Hathaway. He repeated his mantra regarding transparency and accountability, and touched on the many aspects of cybersecurity that impact America- economy, infrastructure, military, open and efficient government operations. He certainly displayed his tech-saavy and awareness of information security terms. Yet, what changes is he really talking about? What practical actions can we expect to see?

He calls our cyber infrastructure “œthe backbone that underpins a prosperous economy and a strong military”. Right away he acknowledges that the lag in consumer confidence in online transactions and electronic networks is a strong factor in our slumping economy. Recognizing the economy and the military importance in a single sentence like this emphasizes that the idea that online transitions and communications should be able to be trusted equally by consumer and intelligence community alike. The fact that this new position, which oversees the new cyber security policies, is part of the National Economic Council and the National Security staff is the practical embodiment of this idea. Recognizing that securing online transactions and communications are critical not only to security, but the economy, ensures that he will be able to use greater budgetary discretion when bolstering funding for cyber initiatives. While he focused on the importance of consumer confidence, I was surprised that the exact figure regarding the billions of dollars lost due to fraud every year was not emphasized here. His bottom line is that we are losing money due to fraud, but we are losing even more money because of the fear of fraud.

The president then declared that, “œFrom now on, the networks and computers we depend on every day will be treated as they should be — as a strategic national asset.” This is an acknowledgement that the infection of these privately owned devices can seriously compromise the security of an entire nation- and not necessarily our own. When the cyber attack on Georgia occurred in September of 2008, the speculation was that the success depended largely on the infection of US PCs. These acted as a botnet to attack Georgia. Russian hackers certainly knew that Georgia was not prepared to cut off traffic from the United States. The President seems to acknowledge that they can no longer ignore the threat that comes from the computers of average citizens. Part of this is addressed by his motion to create an education campaign to address business, educators, and the average American. I believe he wants to educate people to the risks they present to the nation when they ignore an infected computer or leave their internet connections open and unprotected. On a business level, I believe these comments spring from the Aurora experiment, which demonstrated the vulnerability of our power grid. He is placing a responsibility and forcing the industries to acknowledge that their reliance on cyber systems is both an asset and a risk. He is careful to emphasize that the solution is not to eliminate or control the asset, but to mitigate the risks.

The president promised the new position would “œ”¦work with”¦state and local governments and the private sector to ensure an organized and unified response to future cyber incidents.” His focus here is on being transparent, issuing warning and updates and most of all- creating a format that is not “œad hoc”. This is something that security breach specialists have been calling for- a uniform procedure and response. There is too much variation in the thresholds, requirements, and regulations regarding the reporting, disclosure and handling cyber incidents today. I expect that companies can expect to see an outline of thresholds and reporting guidelines for reporting incidents. I also expect that notification will be required far earlier into the discovery of a compromise, so companies will not be able to “œgather all the facts” before informing the public and appropriate agencies of the incident. I would expect that more details will be provided, and agencies will be encouraged to coordinate in efforts to address vulnerabilities rather than keeping them secret until a solution can be found. Promoting the sharing of information about vulnerabilities should be seen as a benefit to the entire sector and not as a liability for the individual company. How  or if Obama plans to protect companies and agencies from the losses that may occur during the interval between sharing a vulnerability discovery and its “˜unified response’ will make or break this initiative. This is consistent with the recommendations in the Cyberspace Police Review.

Speaking on that note, the President stated, “œWe will strengthen the public-private partnerships that are critical to this endeavor”¦ let me be clear, my administration will not dictate security standards for private companies”. This will be the most difficult of his agenda items to live up to, and the one that he will be most criticized for. Many private companies fear information sharing, vulnerability sharing and full disclosure of data breach details. It will be a long and difficult road to convince the private sector that it is in their best interests to cooperate. The Cyberspace Police Review calls for a neutral third-party agency to take information and share it appropriately, but I doubt that will be enough to change the habits of the industry unless it is mandated. It will be difficult to maintain his other goals without some industry pressure or regulation. The market simply does not correct itself when it comes to matters of information security and commerce. I personally believe this speech was intended to hint that it is in the private sector’s best interests to cooperate with this collaboration if they want to remain as unregulated as they currently enjoy. I believe that the current amendments to privacy and security legislation are an attempt to ease changes into the industry by simply “œtweaking” aspects of current accepted regulations and rules.

Finally, his emphasis remained that they “œwill not”¦ will not include monitoring of private sector networks or internet traffic”¦ I remain firmly committed to net neutrality, so we can keep the internet as it should be- open and free”¦ A new world awaits, a world of increased security and greater potential prosperity”. This is an important distinction to make, and another subtle hint that the open and free market of the internet is critical to our economy and safety. He demonstrates his understanding that greater security does not mean the compromise of privacy or civil liberties, and therefore regulating the internet is not the answer. Recognizing net neutrality as a part of his cyber security efforts was a great way to try and smooth any ruffled feathers by the greater internet community. Since many of these initiatives address technology not widely used or available, it is more important for President Obama to emphasize what would not change as a result of this new position.

Ending his speech President Obama focused on the leadership we experienced in the 20th century and promised leadership in the 21st century. This has been another mantra of his- that we are able to lead, that we are leaders, even in this economy. Given the changes he is trying to make across government and industry, the belief that we are leaders in privacy and security is more important than the reality. I believe he stayed away from drawing comparisons internationally for this reason. Americans still have a bit of the cowboy spirit, and the best way to harness it is to convince the public that we are blazing a new trail of cyber security and policies. The spirit of innovation is obviously an important cultivation in this endeavor, and he makes no bones about his willingness to invest in education, training and programs necessary to nurture it. Practically, we should expect to see more government grants and funding in math, science and technology. Scholarships, research projects and grants are on the horizon as incidents to strength the public-private partnership. The question is- with what strings attached?

Rachel James is a licensed private investigator and cybercrime specialist at ID Experts. Her views do not necessarily reflect the views of ID Experts. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.