Latest posts


Quick Study

By Brian Robinson

View all blogs

Britain plans to take Gov 2.0 to the next level

It’s something that’s being floated just months away from a general election, so keep that in mind, but the British government seems to be really trying to break the barriers to online interaction with the country’s people.

As part of a far-reaching plan announced today by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, every British citizen would get a personal Web site in the next year through which they could find out about what local services are available to them and do business with government.

Brown touted the personal Web site as a way for making interaction with government as easy to do as banking over the Internet or shopping via Amazon.com. Sir Tim Berners-Lee — the “father” of the Web — is the most prominent of the advisers who have been pushing this program.

Along with that specific suggestion, Brown also pushed the notion of “superfast” broadband that would finally bring a digital economy to the country and create another 250,000 skilled jobs by 2020 — minus, that is, the tens of thousands of public servants that would lose their jobs because of the personalized Web pages. But I guess they could use their own personal pages to more quickly apply for unemployment benefits.

The plan, at least in intended reach, seems very similar to the one that the Obama administration and Congress are trying to develop for the United States, and which finally became public last week. It follows just a few months after the United Kingdom launched its own version of Data.gov.

Then there’s the little question about how all of this will be paid for: apparently through some measure of taxes on landline telephony, plus surplus funds from the fee everyone in has to pay to watch BBC TV shows. That should become clearer when the next budget is presented on Wednesday.

The bigger question, however, is whether any of this will ever happen. It will probably start, since the Conservative Party is also committed to broadband, if not along the same lines as Brown’s Labour government. So whoever gets into power after the election will have a promise to live up to.

How it will end is the big point. As the example of the National Programme for IT (Britain’s attempt to digitize health) shows, government tech programs are not easy to take to a conclusion.

Sound familiar?

Posted on Mar 22, 2010 at 9:03 AM0 comments


A NATO for cyberspace?

British lawmakers are trying to make a case that the current state of cyberspace security, which is under constant attack from criminals and government adversaries, requires an international consensus on global regulations to govern it.

According to a Reuters report, the Brits feel that efforts at building security are now entirely ad hoc and work only “with loose groupings of people from relevant parts of industry coming together to address particular incidents.”

That’s probably true, but the idea of some kind of governmental superbody controlling even some aspects of the Internet runs contrary to the online ethos, which from the beginning has affirmed that cyberspace should be open and free from political influence.

However, cyberwar – whether or not everyone agrees on the term -- seems to be changing a lot of minds. It was one thing when cyber threats were mainly from spotty teenagers out for a lark. Now it’s sophisticated criminals, government-driven espionage and advanced persistent threats (APTs).

Some people in the U.S., while not yet going as far as the Brits, are increasingly calling on the government to get involved. The Internet has become just too important to the country’s economy and continued existence, they argue.

If, for the sake of argument, we agree that all of this is true, what kind of body should oversee this new effort at Internet governance? A cyber NATO? Perhaps not a good model, given NATO’s current level of dysfunction. A cyber U.N.? Some would argue that’s even less of a functioning body.

Whatever it is, given the reach of the Internet, it has to be truly global to be effective. Cyberspace stretches from the northernmost Inuit to entrepreneurs in Tierra del Fuego. Gone are the days when the Internet could be influenced by the equivalent of the G-7. Now it would be the G-196, depending on how many countries you think there are in the world.

One really interesting thing to come out of this, however, is that such a body would perforce likely have to operate through cyberspace. It’s also only fair, given that it’s about governance of cyberspace. Now, that would be something!

Posted on Mar 19, 2010 at 9:03 AM0 comments


FCC's broadband plan is out; now for the hard part

The Federal Communications Commission has finally published it’s much awaited plan for making the U.S. a broadband nation but, really, you didn’t expect that to be anywhere close to the final say, did you?

It’s going to be many months, if not years, before we see just where this plan leads. Between here and there lie many pit stops, potholes, re-evaluations and outright negativity that will delay, hijack and perhaps re-direct the whole thing.

Here are just a couple of the early indicators of what this plan faces.

Cliff Stearns, the top Republican on the House Communications Subcommittee, launched a pre-emptive salvo at the end of last week that showed what kind of ride he expects to give the FCC’s plan once it gets to his panel.

From what he’d seen so far the plan represents nothing more than “the success of the national broadband plan that we already have,” he wrote in a letter to the FCC. He also said he expected the plan to be based on private investment – the old free-markets-know-best routine – and that he hoped the plan would not be “littered with hidden agendas.”

Stearns also said he wanted to know what the FCC spent in coming up with the plan. How’s that for putting someone on the defensive?

Another possible fly in the soup is a Congressional waiver for agencies to defer from releasing details of their spectrum use, if by doing so it would harm national security or public safety.

The Radio Spectrum Inventory Act now being considered by Congress is needed for the FCC to identify spectrum it can provide to the wireless industry, given the squeeze that’s becoming apparent because of burgeoning broadband needs for video etc.

However, if there are swatches of data missing on various parts of the spectrum used by agencies, how can the FCC identify if it can be reallocated? And – my suspicious mind at work here – what’s to stop agencies who don’t want to give up the spectrum declaring it subject to the national security exemption, even it might not be worthy of it?

Like I said, there are still miles and miles to go.

Posted on Mar 16, 2010 at 9:03 AM0 comments


NIST guidelines: Broccoli and cheese

For government agencies, complying with new security guidelines from the National Institute of Science and Technology can be the equivalent of eating broccoli: It’s good for you, but that doesn’t mean you enjoy it. With recent announcements, however, there’s a heaping of tasty melted cheese included in the form of potentially saving big bucks.

In a GovInfoSecurity.com interview, NIST’s Federal Information Security Management Act project leader, Ron Ross, shows how agencies can team with other agencies -- or candidly piggyback on their work -- to hack away at the time and effort needed to qualify IT products and services for purchase.

That’s a part of NIST Special Publication 800-37, a guide for agencies to apply risk management techniques to harmonizing IT certification and accreditation across the government. That was just one of a number of announcements NIST made about security issues in late February.

Ross said there are now three distinct types of IT authorizing approaches agencies can use, starting with the traditional single authorization where an agency official does all the work to authorize each system. Now there is also a joint authorization, where multiple authorizing officials can work together to authorize something like a service that many agencies will be using.

And then there is something called a leveraged authorization, where agencies can use the documentation and evidence that other agencies have created as the basis for their own risk decision.

Ross said there has been a change in the culture over the past few years that has required these kinds of changes, together with technological innovations such as cloud computing, that require a more collaborative environment. Civilian, military and intelligence agencies are much more inclined to cooperate and share on these kinds of things.

That all makes sense, but I guess we’ll have to see how this rolls out in practice. Kumbaya has not proven to be a very practical philosophy in the past.

And, by the way, in case people feel like complaining, the lead was inspired by George H.W. Bush. I. actually. like broccoli.

Posted on Mar 15, 2010 at 9:03 AM0 comments


Be careful of those hard drives, XP users

This post is for those that are still, and will be for a while, users of Windows XP. If that isn’t you then look away – or maybe gloat a little.

It seems that XP users could hit a tricky patch if they intend to update their hard drives to take advantage of the new Advanced Format drives that apparently will be standard by early 2011.

According to this BBC story, those drives need to be formatted into 4 kilobyte sectors as the minimum that the drive can write data to, whereas XP follows the 30 year old DOS convention of formatting disks for just 512 byte sectors.

This Ars Technica story goes into a bit more detail about the history of all of this. God forbid but, since I used to write about this stuff way back when, it actually makes sense to me!

The change is needed to keep up with the humongous sizes of today’s hard drives, which are rapidly heading towards a terabyte as standard, a big difference from the early days of DOS when a megabyte actually meant something.

The Ars Technica piece also talks about the 2 Terabyte partition limit that XP users are subjected to.

Anyway, it seems that XP users need to be aware of all of this and of potential workarounds. If you don’t do something the new drive will still work under XP, just incredibly slowly. That actually might bring computers more into line with the speed that most of government works at, but it’s not what people want out of IT these days.

This also goes for Linux users, by the way.

I might assume that the tons of much-smarter-people-than-me in government have been aware of this problem for some time and are way ahead of the game. But the first rule of journalism is assume nothing.

‘Nuff said.

Posted on Mar 11, 2010 at 9:03 AM1 comments


Managers beware: The millennial workforce under the microscope

A lot has been written over the past couple of years about what the effect of the influx of millennials will have in government, mostly anecdotal stuff. You can infer from this that newer workers have a different way of working from their baby-boomer bosses, and that’s particularly true in the way they use technology.

It’s an area ripe for actual research and, behold, it’s started to arrive. One article in the Journal of Management (this is a limited time download) takes a multidecade look at the generations and comes up with striking differences between them, and it’s not just about how they handle Web 2.0 and digital tech.

One of the biggest gaps, for instance, is how boomers and the “Generation Me” folks look at leisure. The habits of the notoriously overworking, overachieving boomers don’t cut it with the newer folks, who, the study says, really value their leisure. The way the paper’s authors puts it, this sounds like a negative:

“However, given that GenMe values extrinsic rewards more than boomers did, the combination of not wanting to work hard but still wanting more money and status verifies the sense of entitlement many have identified among GenMe. ... Valuing leisure (e.g. not wanting to work overtime) while still expecting more status and compensation demonstrates a similar disconnect between expectations and reality ... narcissistic traits have risen over the generations, and narcissism is strongly linked to overconfidence and unrealistic risk taking.”

It’s just one paper, of course, but if other research that follows backs this up it suggests government managers – who are still mostly boomers – should consider much more drastic changes in the way they deal with the incoming workforce. And that government may have to change a lot in the way it operates in the future.

Posted on Mar 10, 2010 at 9:03 AM2 comments


Defense Systems eNewsletters