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By Brian Robinson

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The C-level goes green

Remember when at one time there was just the chief financial officer (CFO) at agencies? Then came the chief information officer (CIO) and, at least in some organizations, the chief security officer (CSO). To the gaggle of C titles we should add the CGO.

As in chief greening officer. I kid you not. At least according to this Federal Times note, the General Services Administration is looking for someone to take on this Harry Potterish moniker, and to be in charge of developing and executing “greening strategies” for the GSA’s buildings.

There is an important job behind this weird title, of course. Green is in throughout the government, and all agencies are under orders to be as alternative and as cost-effective as possible when it comes to energy use.

It also is a job that will inevitably affect IT because that’s now one of the biggest users of energy, as well as being one of the biggest polluters in the way it pumps out heat.

However, I do think GSA may be setting a precedent here, because greening is going to become the latest in-house competition among agencies. You can just feel the competitive vibes starting to rise. NASA was the latest to boast.

There was a discussion among the feds a few years ago about how the CIO really belonged in the same circle as the CFO, because that’s where the influence needed to be now that IT us such as important part of government operations. How long before each agency has its own CGO sitting in the circle?

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


Timing the pre-emptive cyber defense

It’s interesting to see the latest turn of events at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is apparently turning to the hacker community for its next level of cybersecurity development.

Peiter Zatko – “Mudge” to you hackers out there – will be a new program manager at DARPA in charge of conducting convention-breaking research into U.S. cybersecurity. Current technology isn’t doing the job, he said in this CNET interview, so he wants to promote revolutionary changes.

Zatko used to be one of those people who broke into various networks and turned government security folks’ hair gray. More recently, though, he’s become a respectable black hat, and was even the target of an online petition to try and get the Obama administration to appoint him as cybersecurity czar.

More to the point, I think, is that he’s an example of a developing line of aggressive thought in U.S. government about how to wage cyberwarfare. Just as waging pre-emptive war became the device for going into Iraq in 2003, pre-emptive cyber defense (as in the best defense is offense) is what the U.S. military is considering now.

I mean, they have to be thinking of something. Even the better technologies that are used for traditional defense seem to be falling behind, like here and here.

That seems to be at least part of the reason for DARPA’s own Cyber Genome Program. Why bother knowing about the origins of a cyberattack if that doesn’t also provide you with the ability to strike at the source?

If you know where an attack is coming from, the next step is getting to know where attacks are likely to come from. And if you know that, why not try to stop them before they happen? People like Mudge have the background and mindset to break through with that approach.

I’ll be looking for terms such as cyberdrones, cyberpredators and cybermissiles in future DOD missives.

Posted on Feb 12, 2010 at 9:03 AM0 comments


At least the military is serious about climate change

The kind of dramatic weather that Washington has been having this winter seems to bring out the loopier sides of the climate-change debate, from which you might deduce that the serious stuff is hibernating.

Not so, it seems. The Pentagon has decided to view climate change as a major global destabilizing force and, as a part of its Quadrennial Defense Review, will direct military planners to keep track of the latest intelligence about climate change, and to factor it into their strategic planning, according to a draft of the review that The Guardian newspaper got its mitts on.

This isn’t exactly a new thing. As the article points out, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed for the military to consider the impact of climate change when she was a senator. But now it’s becoming part of doctrine.

The military has been aware of the threat for some years, however, for the long-term security impact on various areas around the world, and the impact that the kind of energy insecurity that could result from this may have on military operations.

That’s the reasoning behind a new Marine Corps solar energy source for powering computers and communications in the field, which is expected to be deployed with fighting units soon. And that’s just a part of the Navy’s push on alternative energy sources.

The civilian side of government, by the way, is also looking to boost its activities with a proposed new agency, the NOAA Climate Service, that focus on providing government information on climate change.

This all posits a question. Rightly or wrongly the Republican Party – think Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and lawmakers such as Sen. James Inhofe – has become the party of climate-change unbelievers. However, it supposedly is also the party of national defense and strong support for the military.

When it gets a measure of decision-making power back in Congress, what will it say to our military commanders?

Posted on Feb 11, 2010 at 9:03 AM2 comments


After Snowmageddon comes the Mobilpocalypse

The future of government communications is increasingly mobile, or at least that’s the assumption of all of the stories we read. Just as in the broader public world out there, government information in the future will be data-driven, and more and more of it will go to handheld communicators/computers.

So take a look at this recent report put together by networking giant Cisco Systems. Government CIOs need to pay particular attention.

Mobile data traffic will double every year through 2014, Cisco says, at a compound annual growth rate of 108 percent. That traffic will reach 3.6 exabytes (3.6 followed by a huge number of zeros) per month by 2014.

By then, two-thirds of the traffic will be taken up by video, which Cisco says already has the highest growth rate of any application category covered in the study.

What does this mean for government? Well, for a start, the network contracts that agencies are signing up for now and in the near future probably won’t be nearly robust enough. And you can bet that prices will be going up.

As a GigaOM story points out, by 2014 the average mobile broadband connection will be at around 7 gigabytes a month, compared to just 1.3 gigabytes now. Government won’t be able to dodge the bullet.

(A tip of the hat to GigaOM, which came up with the great Mobilipocalypse term; damn them!)

Expect both workarounds and true networking innovations over the next few years as people start to come to grips with this. One of the latter is this development that MIT is looking at, which harnesses the power of random to produce radically new network coding techniques.

The next few years will be a headache for CIOs but nirvana for the propellerheads.

Posted on Feb 10, 2010 at 9:03 AM1 comments


Government has gone Tweeting mad!

Remember those cute shots last year of some members of Congress madly tweeting on their smart phones during President Obama’s first address to them, and all of the stories that followed that marveled at their groundbreaking audacity? That was so yesterday.

Seems like Twitter is already considered a part of the daily ritual for many in Congress. There’s even a first overview report on the power of Twitter in Congress called – naturally – Twongress, which is usually the first step towards respectability.

The Congressional Research Services also came up with its own report.

Roll Call recently got into the act with a fairly detailed piece on who and who is not using Twitter, and who is considered the best tweeter (twitterer?) in Congress. It talks about the best strategies for congressional tweets, and even comes up with a list of the various types of tweets available for people to use.

And even space heroes are getting into the act. There have been various recent stories about what may or may not have been the first tweets from space, for example, and now NASA is hosting a “Tweetup” later this month. It’s seventh!

However, all things are relative, and the Pew Research Center recently reported on what could be a showstopper. Kids and young adults no longer think blogging is cool (gasp!), and don’t bother to Twitter much.

If it’s the young folks’ expectations that are driving the use of new media in government, which is what we are constantly being told, then what value do we place on all of this Twittering, which is obviously already a pastime for dinosaurs?

Posted on Feb 05, 2010 at 9:03 AM0 comments


Federal IT budget heads for the cloud(s)

As this is the period for discussions about the government budget, it’s appropriate, I guess, to wonder what’s going to happen to the information technology billions that the Obama administration has proposed for fiscal 2011. Seems like they’ll be feeding the cloud.

At least that the first impression you get from some of the stories floating around the ether. This one from the online tech commenters at GigaOM, actually predicts that the government will be a big player in sorting out some of the interoperability and standards problems in the cloud arena because of the billions it’s likely to spend.

Government markets watcher Input says it’s taking federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra at his word about moving federal agencies to the cloud, and predicts a surge over the next five years to something above a $1 billion market. That's a small part of the overall government IT market, to be sure, but as the GigaOM piece points out, around 70 percent of the budget each year goes just to maintain what’s already there.

Input also says that, given the example of the Labor Department, agencies might be willing to bypass the pilot stage that Kundra is pushing and go right to large-scale implementations.

OK. But, as a long-time skeptic, I’d also point to this story from Stateline.org that details some of the problems that many government agencies have had and are having in implementing big projects. I know the cloud is supposed to help with that, but getting there will still mean that projects have to be managed, no?

As a resource for all you nervous nellies out there, Mitre Corp. has started an online forum where industry brains are grappling with the issues involved with implementing cloud programs.

Posted on Feb 04, 2010 at 9:03 AM0 comments


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