It’s no secret that I am contractor who spends a lot of my time attempting to develop software for defense users. I’ve been doing this for a long time, though I have added other customers to my portfolio over the years. The process of development in this arena gets more frustrating by the day. Recently, for example, a group policy update was pushed that removed any browser other than Internet Explorer from our development machines and rolled Internet Explorer back to version 9. These are just the latest such setbacks to productivity and they represent every stereotype we’ve ever heard about Federal Government computing.
Thankfully, there are countervailing examples which point to how things could be. One such example is the Technology and Innovation Fellowship at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). This two-year fellowship program provides an opportunity to show how Federal software can be developed, with an open-source-first approach, and also how software development can occur, via remote teams and distributed collaboration. These are not new concepts in the overall marketplace but are still fairly exotic in the Beltway region. Ultimately, the fellowship holds out the possibility of building technology that actually helps government work better and shows how modern tools and working arrangements be applied in the Federal Government.
I was clued into this fellowship program via a tweet by Mike Byrne, who has already helped show the way via the National Broadband Map at the FCC, and who is now at the CFPB. There are very few people I’ve met in the Federal Government who have a better vision for modernizing IT development and acquisition, coupled with the ability to get things done. If you’re of a technical bent and looking to work inside the Federal Government, this fellowship program may be something you want to check out.
One of the most compelling recent success stories for open-source geospatial tools in the Federal Government has been the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) National Broadband Map initiative. It has been a very visible example of the stability, scalability, flexibility, and power of open-source geospatial tools.
The Woodrow Wilson Center will be hosting a case study of National Broadband Map on October 15th, 2012. The event’s page also includes a link to the full paper (PDF), authored by Zachary Bastian of the Wilson Center and Michael Byrne of the FCC.
The full paper, in my opinion, is recommended reading for anyone working with geospatial technologies in the government space. While the Broadband Map has rightfully garnered significant attention based upon its success, especially in terms of performance and scalability, the paper does a good job of reminding us that the map is not an end goal in itself, but a step toward the larger policy goal of expanding broadband access. The paper does an excellent job of illustrating how top-level policy goals were broken down into actionable parts that resulted in a concrete product such as the Broadband Map. In so doing, it walks us through the introduction and fostering of an open culture within the FCC that resulted not only in the Broadband Map but also in the development of open APIs and the availability of FCC tools as open-source projects themselves.
In its conclusions, the paper also makes compelling observations about the power of focused policy goals to drive the use of technology standing in stark contrast to generic overarching technical policies, such as the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) which are disconnected from specific policy goals and achieve little traction.
If you are interested not only in geospatial technologies, but also the link between policy and technology implementation, and the cultural change that can be brought about by open-source technologies, you should consider attending the event at the Wilson Center on the 15th. While not a universal blueprint, the National Broadband Map makes a compelling case study.
It is time again for my annual plug for the ESRI Federal User Conference (FedUC). Last year, I blogged as much as could. It’s no secret that I thought last year’s FedUC was the best they had done. It was the first one where I felt that there was more content than I could get to. It was a good mix of technology and real-world user implementations. Additionally, I had a lot of side meetings so it has become a good place to get some business done. Continue reading “Looking Ahead to the 2009 ESRI Federal User Conference”