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The Federal Government Turns To Silicon Valley for Tech Support
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Posted On October 20, 2015
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In international news, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled the Safe Harbor data transfer agreement governing data transfer between the European Union (EU) and U.S. invalid, affecting more than 4,000 U.S. companies that rely on Safe Harbor to transfer personal information from Europe to the U.S. for processing. According to Export.gov, the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor framework helps U.S. organizations avoid business interruptions with the EU by self-certifying that the organization provides adequate privacy protection. The court’s ruling calls the agreement into question, putting millions of transactions into jeopardy. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker has indicated that regulators on both sides of the Atlantic will work to “clarify privacy standards.”

A Matter of Age

The federal government’s IT budget has reached $80 billion, and the majority of that funding goes to supporting outdated legacy systems. Beyond the waste and the fact that older systems are more vulnerable to cyberattacks, it’s also more difficult to do what citizens expect the government to be able to—connect with the public—and to fulfill agency commitments of responsiveness to requests for information and assistance. Many government IT workers are older and nearing retirement, so unless there is adequate knowledge transfer to younger workers soon, there will be no one left to support the outmoded systems.

The Obama administration has noticed these issues and concerns. Several efforts are underway to make it easier for agencies to hire IT professionals, including a modification of the vetting process, education and experience requirements, and salary caps. For example, the Department of Defense (DoD) Information Technology Exchange Program (ITEP) is a temporary exchange of personnel (for 3 to 12 months) that allows DoD staffers to work in the private sector and private company employees to work at the DoD. These types of exchanges are particularly important as federal agencies wrestle with Big Data and the shift to the use of mobile devices.

Open Government and Big Data

Soon after being elected, President Barack Obama promised the nation that his would be the most transparent administration in U.S. history. In many ways, his government has not lived up to the promise, but in others, there is significant change from previous administrations (e.g., the launch of Data.gov and the encouragement of agencies to commit to transparency and report their activities to the nation). According to a Pew Research Center survey, 37% of adults use the internet (or an app) to get information or data about the federal government, but less than half of the respondents (44%) think the federal government is “somewhat effective” in sharing information it collects with the public.

The government has opened channels for those wishing to tell it how to become more open and transparent. For example, the public can chime in via Hackpad as the government develops the nation’s third Open Government National Action Plan. Topics include open data, open innovation, fiscal transparency, public participation in policymaking, FOIA, whistleblowers, foreign intelligence surveillance, foreign assistance, and records management. The release of the third “Civil Society Progress Report” shows that issues remain, particularly when it comes to the responsiveness of agencies to FOIA requests, disclosure of data such as the number of phone and email accounts affected by surveillance programs, clarification about what has or has not been declassified, issuance of privacy guidance, and transparency of foreign assistance provided.

What’s on the horizon? Instructions from the Obama administration to agencies that are developing their FY2017 budgets provide some insights into priorities, which include multi-agency R&D investments, technology transfer, and scientific-collection management of Big Data.


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Barbie E. Keiser is an information resources management consultant located in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.

Email Barbie E. Keiser

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