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Presidents Commentary

It’s Time to Get Government out of the Conference Business

July 1, 2013
By Kent R. Schneider

This time it is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that has demonstrated bad judgment and lack of a full understanding of the rules governing large meetings. The revelation of extravagant IRS spending on meetings follows similar issues with the General Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This waste shines a light on bad judgment for sure—but it also reveals a larger problem. For the most part, government personnel who are planning and coordinating government-run events do not do this as their primary function. They do not run events often enough to fully understand the travel and conference policies or the ethics and gift regulations. This leads to frequent errors and, when combined with bad judgment, to significant waste.

Government should not be in this business. The potential for failure and waste of taxpayer money is too great. For decades, the defense community has had a set of defense-related associations (DRAs), nonprofit organizations whose sole function is to support the defense community and bring together government, industry and academia. These are organizations such as AFCEA, the National Defense Industrial Association, the military service associations and functional groups that support one or more of the military services and defense agencies. Similar associations serve the civil side of the federal government and state, local and tribal governments.

These organizations possess decades of proven performance; thoroughly understand the communities they serve; understand in-depth conference policies, ethics regulations and gift rules; and have high ethical standards embedded in their structures. In addition, because they are nonprofit organizations, any positive net derived from the presentation of an event is reinvested in the community through scholarships and grants, training, studies and other forms of service to government.

The Continuing Journey to Fully Effective IT Acquisition and Management

April 1, 2013
By Kent R. Schneider

Those of us who have been involved with government information technology (IT) for some time clearly remember the many efforts to improve IT acquisition. All certainly remember Vivek Kundra’s IT Management Reform Program, the 25-point plan. Most would agree that progress has been made, but some would argue—correctly I believe—that work remains to be done.

The U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), posted a draft federal IT acquisition reform act on its website last fall. As part of the review and revision process for this bill, the committee invited comments from a broad set of sources. It asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study progress and issues related to IT acquisition and management, and it also held several hearings. Testimony at the most recent hearing, held February 27, revealed progress and disappointments.

The GAO report, delivered to the House committee on January 22, argues that billions of dollars are being wasted in execution of the nearly $80 billion annual unclassified federal IT budget. Most of this waste comes either from unneeded duplication in federal programs, systems and infrastructure, or from failed or ineffective federal IT programs.

While many reasons may exist for the duplications and failures, lack of effective communication seems to be at the heart of the problems. Government managers are not talking to each other, which results in stovepipes along organizational or functional lines. Government and industry are not communicating effectively, resulting in suboptimum outcomes and, often, yesterday’s solution. Do you remember the “Myth Busting Campaign” that Dan Gordon set up when he was administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy? That was all about separating the real obstacles to effective procurements from those imagined by the legal and other communities. The GAO report separates some of that fact from fiction.

Teamwork Defines Homeland Security Success

February 1, 2013
by Kent R. Schneider

Homeland Security and the global effort against terrorism are incredibly complex activities. The organizations and individuals are just as complex. The homeland security establishment in the United States—as the collection of government agencies at the federal, state, local and tribal levels and the affected industries are referred to—numbers in the thousands of entities. There are 22 agencies in the Department of Homeland Security along with numerous others at the federal level, including the Department of State, the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, the intelligence community and many others. Now add in the Homeland Security agencies, law enforcement agencies and other first responders at the state, local and tribal levels. Still more complex is the industrial base that supports the homeland security establishment and those in industry that own and/or operate the critical infrastructure in the United States.
 

In case those outside the United States are breathing a sigh of relief that they do not have to put up with such a structure, they should not be so hasty. Most other nations have similarly complex national structures, and Europe also has the security apparatus of the European Union.

So what hope is there that this complex structure could work to provide the necessary security? This truly is a team effort. The team is international, as countries necessarily share information on possible threats. A tremendous amount of information sharing and coordination takes place continuously. The many threat vectors require a multidisciplinary approach.

Everyone Is Going Digital--Including AFCEA International

January 1, 2013
By Kent R. Schneider

When you travel, as we all do, how many paper books, magazines and newspapers do you see on the plane or train these days? If your experience is like mine, the answer is, “not many.” Those few publications that are not available in digital form give you no other option, but many people now are opting for digital formats they can use on their mobile device of choice. Personally, I love my iPad and my iPhone, and I read everything I can on those two devices. I take them everywhere. If the FAA would stop requiring me to turn them off for the first and last 10 minutes of every flight, I could eliminate paper entirely.

AFCEA International and many of the AFCEA chapters globally have been leveraging the digital environment for a long time, but we have accelerated our efforts in this area over the past year to give everyone the flexibility and mobility they seem to want. For those of us that continue to like to read SIGNAL Magazine in its print format, let me put your concerns to rest immediately. We will continue to print SIGNAL for the foreseeable future. We recently invested in a content management system that allows us to develop content once, but publish to a variety of formats and platforms.

While headquarters has told you about these things as they were developed, let me review some of the most significant additions to the media products we have introduced.

In This Period of Change and Challenge, Engagement Is Key

December 1, 2012
By Kent R. Schneider

In our professional lives, most of us have not seen an economic environment or a budget climate such as those we face today. We are approaching the ramp-down of the longest period of continuous conflict in U.S. and allied history. Technology is changing at an unprecedented pace, and to help address budget declines, we are relying on some of these technological advances—enterprise networking and service approaches, cloud computing, data center consolidation, more effective cybersecurity and better use of mobility solutions. The U.S. defense strategy is changing with a rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region. NATO is undergoing the most fundamental restructuring in its history, impacting headquarters structure, force structure and agency reform. Most of us do not remember a time when the government information technology budget was not growing year over year. This paradigm changed in 2012, and it will change more as new budgets reflecting debt reduction take effect. If sequestration occurs, an additional 11 percent will be cut from every budget line item, further aggravating the problem.

Since its start in 1946, AFCEA has been committed to an effective and ethical dialogue among governments, industry and academia to ensure that critical decisions are informed and that options are understood. It seems to me that the requirement for focused information exchange is greater today than ever before, because more uncertainty exists than ever before. Many of you have heard me say that we need to step up engagement at every level in order to understand the need fully and to respond effectively.

Mission-Focused and Effective Conferences Always in Demand

October 1, 2012
by Kent R. Schneider

 

Since the U.S. General Services Administration scandal over a training conference in Las Vegas, reinforced by concerns regarding two expensive Department of Veterans Affairs conferences, fear has spread across government and industry that government-related conferences are now a thing of the past. This is just not the case—nor should it be.

If government leaders make bad decisions with respect to conferences—or other areas within their job scope—they should be held accountable. Controls should be in place to minimize future abuses. Organizations that support government in conferences that recommend or support such abuses similarly should be penalized.

The May 11, 2012, memo from the Office of Management and Budget applying controls to travel and conferences clearly had two objectives. The first was to direct a management approval process for all federal agencies to ensure consistent review of proposed travel and conferences, along with adherence to policies. The second was to achieve spending reductions of 30 percent in travel and conference costs from fiscal year 2010 levels. Implementing guidance from federal agencies has reinforced these objectives, directing the leadership at every level to focus conferences on mission needs and to ensure government requirements are met at these conferences in a cost-effective way.

Identity Verification and Biometrics Loom Large

September 1, 2012
by Kent R. Schneider

Security has become all the more important at the user level. Verifying the validity of an individual’s access to a network is vital to preventing cybermarauders from getting into a system to purloin or sabotage important information. Biometrics can play a key role in identity management, particularly in cross-enterprise implementations.

Approaches to identity management are maturing in both government and the private sector globally. Whether for physical or logical access, public key infrastructure (PKI) and biometrics are surfacing as common denominators to add strength and flexibility to the authentication processes. The difficulty remains a lack of consensus on processes, application of standards, and management of attributes across enterprise boundaries. For example, in the United States, federal standards are clear but often applied differently among federal agencies—and certainly at the state, local and tribal levels and within the private sector. Similarly, in Europe, the European Union (EU)/European Council have adopted standards, but implementation varies from country to country, even within the EU or NATO frameworks.

Federated approaches to identity verification and attribute identification are helping to bridge enterprises. Agreements on the acceptance of PKI certifying authorities, biometrics as a strong element of authentication, and acceptance—in a federated environment—of credentials from multiple approved sources all are facilitating the establishment of trust relationships across enterprises.

A Taste of Reality Puts the Focus on Critical Infrastructure

August 2012
By Kent R. Schneider, SIGNAL Magazine

As I write this, we are experiencing some nearly unprecedented oppressive weather in the Washington area. About one week ago, we had a series of violent thunderstorms that caused extensive damage and knocked out power to more than 1.5 million electrical customers—comprising millions of people—in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Many communications systems also failed, either because of damaged infrastructure or loss of power. This includes telephone, cable and cellular systems along with their accompanying processing and switching facilities. Credit and debit cards, along with ATM cards, were useless in many places just when people needed them to buy vital goods for surviving the blackout. More seriously, the 911 emergency call system ceased to function in areas where it was needed the most. And, in some locations, potable water was a problem because power was lacking for pumps and water treatment.

Smart Defence

July 2012
By Kent R. Schneider, SIGNAL Magazine

"Smart Defence" is a NATO concept and policy that involves national burden-sharing on a broad range of developments, including information technology and cybersecurity. The European Union has a parallel initiative called Pooling and Sharing, and it similarly is aimed at sharing the cost of critical infrastructure. All of this, of course, is driven by the need to modernize, coupled with the global economic crisis, which has reduced defense and security budgets dramatically.

It Is All About Integration and Synergy

June 2012
By Kent R. Schneider, SIGNAL Magazine

At the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Mission Partner Conference in Tampa, Florida, last month, the discussion focused on the enterprise and jointness and coalition. If it did not cause attendees to have an epiphany, it certainly should have triggered a re-awareness.

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