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5—
The Broader Context:
Information Technology in Government

The federal government depends on information technology (IT) to carry out the various missions of the federal agencies and to provide services to the public. Programs have been launched to "reinvent government," with a particular focus in the 1990s on leveraging information technology.1 IT can enhance productivity for existing missions and services, and it can also enable entirely new approaches to services. Effective deployment of new technology holds the potential for vastly enhancing citizen access to government information and for significantly streamlining current government operations. The rapid spread of the Internet and the ease of use offered by the World Wide Web have afforded particular opportunities for extending electronic access to government resources. As a result, the number of computers and communications networks in government has grown steadily in recent years.

Executive Order 13011 (July 16, 1996) established agency responsibilities and government-wide mechanisms to improve the acquisition and management of information technology. The executive order created the Chief Information Officers Council as the principal interagency forum for more effective management of IT investments, a Government Information Technology Services Board to ensure implementation of the information technology recommendations of the National Performance Review

1For example, Vice President Gore launched the National Performance Review, later renamed the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, with the intent of making government work better and cost less.



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Page 54 5— The Broader Context: Information Technology in Government The federal government depends on information technology (IT) to carry out the various missions of the federal agencies and to provide services to the public. Programs have been launched to "reinvent government," with a particular focus in the 1990s on leveraging information technology.1 IT can enhance productivity for existing missions and services, and it can also enable entirely new approaches to services. Effective deployment of new technology holds the potential for vastly enhancing citizen access to government information and for significantly streamlining current government operations. The rapid spread of the Internet and the ease of use offered by the World Wide Web have afforded particular opportunities for extending electronic access to government resources. As a result, the number of computers and communications networks in government has grown steadily in recent years. Executive Order 13011 (July 16, 1996) established agency responsibilities and government-wide mechanisms to improve the acquisition and management of information technology. The executive order created the Chief Information Officers Council as the principal interagency forum for more effective management of IT investments, a Government Information Technology Services Board to ensure implementation of the information technology recommendations of the National Performance Review 1For example, Vice President Gore launched the National Performance Review, later renamed the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, with the intent of making government work better and cost less.

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Page 55 (now the National Partnership for Reinventing Government) and to develop shared approaches and services across agencies, and the Information Technology Resources Board to provide independent assessment to assist in development of selected major information systems. Despite substantial investments, agencies still face many problems where today's information technology does not meet their needs, including in such areas as information integration, management, and retrieval; human-computer interfaces; collaboration and computer-mediated interaction; authentication, privacy, security, and reliability; network infrastructure, survivability, and adaptability; software assurance; wearable and portable computing; and modeling and simulation. IT researchers are actively working on questions that fall into these areas. However, historically there has been relatively little interaction between the IT research community and those who operate and develop government information systems or who run agency programs. Agencies tend to rely on what is available from vendors in the marketplace or to use internal staff to build customized systems to meet their needs. By promoting dialog between end users in government and those performing computing and communications research, it may be possible both to accelerate innovation in pertinent technical areas and to hasten the adoption of those innovations into agency infrastructure. The recent President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) report2 found that the federal government has underemphasized fundamental research in IT and has allowed research priorities to shift to near-term applications and problem solving motivated by immediate needs faced in mission agencies. A number of government application areas, including crisis management, were cited as significant areas for longer-term information technology research (Box 5.1). A key to addressing the needs and interests of both communities is the establishment of appropriate mechanisms for collaboration between the research community and government information technology managers. Such mutual gain is an objective, for example, of the Federal Information Services and Applications Council (FISAC) of the National Science and Technology Council's National Coordination Office for Computing, Information, and Communications R&D. One major challenge is the definition of mechanisms for transition, such as testbed systems, that respect agency concerns over investment in legacy systems and risk. Federal IT 2President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC). February 1999. Information Technology Research: Investing in Our Future. PITAC Report to the President, National Coordination Office for Computing, Information, and Communications, Arlington, Va.

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BOX 5.1 Crisis Management and the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee In a February 1999 report, the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) expressed concern that no agency claimed the strategic advancement of IT as a core mission, and that, in a budget squeeze, longer-term IT research might be cut if it seems generic or ancillary to an agency's core mission. More specifically, there was concern that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) had been squeezed by budgetary pressure to respond to specific near-term goals in a readily demonstrable way, and that fundamental and basic research, traditionally carried out mostly by DARPA and the National Science Foundation (NSF), had been reduced in recent years. In the area of crisis management, this underinvestment in fundamental and basic research has meant, for example, that the fundamental understanding required to build tools of interest to the crisis management community, such as those that would enhance, measure, or characterize the utility of software components in disasters, have not been developed. In his keynote address at the workshop, Henry Kelly related crisis management to the broader challenges of IT, as articulated in the PITAC report. Kelly pointed out that "this is a problem that absolutely goes to the core of society's ability to use IT. It certainly goes to the core of the problem of whether you can use it effectively in a crisis. This is not something that will be solved in someone's spare timer. . . . It needs to be a core mission of somebody's, and it is a 20-year challenge." As an example, Kelly expressed the need to develop software that is self-healing, fails gracefully, models its own defects, and can update itself. A second PITAC concern that is related to crisis management is the design of effective human-machine interfaces. How do human beings get the information they need, when they need it, and in the form they need it? In a crisis, users are stressed. They have less time and patience to express precisely what information is needed; they will not be able to read manuals to learn new features, and they will have difficulty understanding data that are displayed in a manner that is not absolutely clear. Although, ideally, they will have had day-to-day experience with many of the systems they will be using in a crisis, in some instances they will be using a system for the first time and will need to be trained to use it on the spot. A third major concern outlined by PITAC relates to the scalable infrastructure of computing and communications. The fundamental nature and role of computing in the working environment has been changing. Kelly noted that computer processors will be embedded everywhere—there are already 25 microprocessors in a Cadillac, 10,000 microprocessors in an offshore drilling rig, and a million microprocessors in an aircraft carrier. These processors are linked together in complex networks and interact with other processors on a potentially global scale. Few engineers understand their failure modes and how they relate to the systems in which they are contained. How can this type of network be managed, and how do these networks perform in a crisis when they are subject to extreme or unusual loads? Do they adapt gracefully, or do they manifest catastrophic emergent behaviors?These infrastructures and the software that runs on top of them will drive many systems that are important during a crisis—the financial system; police, fire, and safety teams; air traffic control; and emergency communications systems. These systems are also responsible for the physical operation of equipment such as forklifts or helicopters that may be used in an emergency. Explicit attention to critical infrastructure is an emerging national concern—what technology developments can help make this infrastructure predictable, robust, and reliable, as well as scalable and affordable? A fourth issue raised in the PITAC report is how to make the transition from a Cold War management paradigm, in which IT was supported was an adjunct to space technology or weapons production and development, to a new paradigm in which IT research encompasses a wide range of socioeconomic goals, and is explicitly managed for risk, sustainment of funding, and balance of fundamental work and applications. For example, it has been a challenge for NSF to be able to invest in larger and riskier projects that require sustained funding for 3 or 4 years, involve substantial experimentation and engineering, and entail extensive collaboration and teaming. PITAC was also apprehensive about how to manage the interface between basic and applied research, given the difficulty of managing long-term research and measuring its impact.1 PITAC recommended, among other things, a series of "exploration centers" that locus on particular applications, with a long-term emphasis. The Administration has been considering how to link interesting technology-related applications into the IT research community without diverting resources from fundamental research. In this context, Henry Kelly suggested that exploration of IT applications to crisis management could offer valuable learning experiences to the IT research community. ____________ 1This issue was discussed in the Brooks-Sutherland report. Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council. 1995. Evolving the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative to Support the Nation's Information Infrastructure. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. acquisition managers need mechanisms by which they can interact with the research community without exposing operational users to unnecessary risk. Whatever the specific mechanism, the process of incorporating new research ideas and technology requires spanning the cultural gulf between the practices of commercial systems integration and the work styles of the research community. Recognizing these needs and opportu-

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Page 57 nities, the National Science Foundation (NSF) launched a new Digital Government program in June 1998. To complement the workshop panels and breakout sessions that explored specific requirements of crisis management, several speakers were asked to describe what they saw as more generic challenges—what are the critical IT research challenges and by what process can IT innovation be better directed to fulfill long-term government application needs?

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Page 58 Information Technology Challenges across Government Crisis management is characterized as posing some of the toughest information technology challenges in the area of digital government. Because of the many analogies between the needs of crisis management and the sorts of capabilities that might be needed for other government efforts, a perception exists that if the research community can help in effectively addressing challenges of crisis management, these results will also contribute toward solutions to many other major, generic challenges faced by government agencies. Some of these challenges are listed below: • Many diverse players throughout government and the private sector. A major challenge in crisis management that is mirrored in many other government applications is the multitude of different entities—state, local, and federal agencies, as well as lots of private players. Each has its own information systems, data standards, operating procedures, and the like, so bringing these different organizations together to provide an integrated response to a crisis, or other government function, becomes difficult. • Wide range of capabilities of players. Crisis management activities in California, for example, must take into account differences in IT capabilities between urban Los Angeles County and rural Lake County. In some locations, a 5-year-old computer is deemed acceptable; however, in some counties, states, and federal agencies, the technology is at the leading edge. How can systems be built and procedures established that permit all these organizations and systems to work together effectively? • Validation, integration, search, and retrieval of large and diverse data sets. In the government arena, large amounts of data are collected, and these data are often of varying quality. Challenges include how to validate data sets; combine data, sometimes of different quality; and get a handle on the flood of information that is now available on the Internet, on CD, and in many other forms. • Heterogeneity of systems used by different organizations. Existing not only in crisis management but also across government, this challenge arises at all levels, from computing platforms to database systems to higher-level semantic issues that make integrating information that spans multiple agencies or organizations difficult. • Resource constraints. In crisis management, as well as in IT efforts throughout government, resources for investment in new technologies are limited. This constraint makes investing in new capabilities more difficult, even where the long-term payback may be significant. How can payback be better measured to justify commitment of resources? • Inflexible rules that interfere with exploitation of opportunities offered by

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Page 59 advances in IT. Many outdated, inflexible processes and rules are in place that were written in an era when systems were solely paper based. How can government take advantage of the new electronic media and revise obsolete rules? • Organizational structures that do not reflect changes in IT. For example, how can a response team be organized in an IT-rich response environment? Understanding such questions can require the involvement of people with other kinds of expertise, such as sociologists, anthropologists, and organization and management specialists. • Increasing public demands for information and responses. Citizens' expectations for responsive government greatly increase when they have new, more interactive channels for communicating with government. Michael Nelson noted, for example, that after the White House Web site was established, 1,000 e-mails a day were sent to President Clinton and Vice President Gore—not just "glad you're online" messages, but also substantive queries. Once easy-to-use, instantaneous communication channels have been established, responding accordingly becomes a major challenge. • Authentication. The lack of an authentication infrastructure poses challenges in government. For example, in the e-mail example above, replies to the e-mails were not sent electronically because authenticating that they in fact came from the President was impossible. Similarly, when the Social Security Administration launched a program to permit people to request their social security record via the Internet, there were concerns that requests could not be properly authenticated.3 • Unreliability of new technologies. Crisis managers will be reluctant to rely on a technology, such as a network, for mission-critical applications if they know that there is a significant chance that it might fail during a major disaster. Likewise, citizens will be reluctant to depend on a system that is perceived as unreliable. Similar challenges hold true throughout government. Achieving Innovation How to support IT research related to government missions and successfully transition the fruits of this research into government operations 3In 1997, the Social Security Administration launched a program to permit people to retrieve their Personal Earnings and Benefit Statement (PEBES) through an online, interactive system. Following expressions of concern that people's privacy could be violated using this system, the Social Security Administration suspended the interactive PEBES system. The PEBES system currently allows people to make online requests through a Web browser (using encryption) but the statements are delivered by U.S. mail.

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Page 60 was a prominent theme throughout the workshop. Some ideas considered by workshop participants follow: • Making support of R&D by mission agencies a priority. Successful collaboration between government agencies and the IT research community will require not only the support of NSF and other research agencies, but also the engagement of mission agencies. • Providing incentives for excellence and innovation in IT. In the crisis management context, a major challenge to innovation is that if an organization is successful in improving its systems and thus its ability to respond to a crisis, no one will notice. On the other hand, when a major crisis inevitably causes significant harm, blame may be placed on an inadequate response. The IT sector throughout government faces a similar challenge: When IT and other infrastructure systems are working properly, the people responsible tend not to receive much credit, but, when they fail, there may be serious repercussions. • Ensuring sufficient investment in IT to support innovation. Upper management does not necessarily know much about IT, and may not provide sufficient resources or other support to succeed. Another dimension of underinvestment is in compensation and career paths for people who run government IT systems, affecting government's ability to attract the best people—which often means shifting responsibility for innovation to contractors. • Establishing incentives and motivation for activity and collaboration. In order to introduce new technologies, one must be willing to take some risks and be in a position to understand the level of risk assumed. When a manager has a reasonable assessment of those risks, undertaking more experimental activities becomes easier. This issue applies particularly in contractual relationships with IT contractors. • Building communities committed to innovation. Although many individuals find ways to overcome organizational barriers to change, finding ways to build communities is particularly valuable—in effect creating an infrastructure of people and institutions committed to new ideas. An example of a group working to build a community is the National Coordination Office for Computing, Information, and Communications, which was formed to facilitate agencies working collaboratively. • Identifying the appropriate testbeds or skunkwork mechanisms. These mechanisms offer managers a way to deal with risks. Managers may not want to spend money on what is perceived as a risky endeavor; however, testbeds can be valuable as a means of obtaining insight into the future, which can help with decisions on whether to make investments in new technology. In addition to having a good technology or even a good testbed in which the technology has been tried, it is important to establish

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Page 61 long-term relationships between those developing the new technology and the people who ultimately have to evaluate and adopt it for operational use. In particular, it is important to set the scale of such activities appropriately. The scale of a testbed activity can be difficult to get right. On the one hand testbeds must to be of sufficient scale to fully test the technology and stress its capabilities. On the other hand, there is a danger that testbeds will become self-perpetuating. However, it can be argued that this is how the Internet evolved: A testbed was experimentally put into operational context and people would not let go of it. In the crisis management community, the goals should be to establish a dynamic approach that permits people to move in and out of testbed activities, and to set flexible goals for what people are to accomplish. • Finding ways of measuring success. An understanding of how success is measured, how these decisions are made at the various levels of government, and how those values can be fed back into the research community is critical. A related and ongoing question is how the effect of new technology or improved system design can be evaluated in the absence of a full baseline of information about how things work today.

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