The Feds Tackle Mobility Head On

Carl Weinschenk

The government, just like business, has to keep up with technological changes, but the feds are notoriously challenged when it comes to making significant transitions. It’s particularly difficult in the case of mobility, an inherently threatening communications conduit that is changing at the speed of light.

Using new mobile technologies is vital, but any new platform or procedure must be vetted with extraordinary care. It’s a recipe for hesitation, delay and, ultimately, inaction.

In other areas, the Obama administration deserves points for trying to get beyond this dynamic. The administration has long been a proponent of telecommuting, though the results have been middling. More recently, according to U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel, the feds have taken steps to embrace cloud computing.

Those good intentions form a backdrop for announcements that were made last week on mobile computing. The mobile announcements clearly are part of the big picture on federal computing. In a Q&A at FedTech, VanRoekel commented that the main program aimed at ensuring security in a cloud environment -- the Federal Risk Authorization and Management Program (FedRAMP) – purposely doesn’t have “cloud” in the name because the idea is to make the framework extensible to other areas.

Mobility may be the biggest computing issue the government has bitten off. Last week, the Feds released a great deal of information on how they want that world to evolve for them. Three of the main documents are The Mobile Computing Decision Framework, the Mobile Security Reference Architecture and the Government Mobile and Wireless Security Baseline.

InformationWeek’s Wyatt Kash suggests that both the specifics of the program and the proactive nature of the government involvement are important:

The documents are significant not only in spelling out ways for agencies and industry to develop safer mobile products for use on government networks, but also because of the active roles played by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in developing them, VanRoekel said in a press briefing with reporters.

The bottom line is that setting standards that will keep information secure but, at the same time, enable much of the benefit of mobile computing to be realized, is tricky.

Set this all against the price of failure on one hand and the massive landscape of the federal government on the other and the true size of the task at hand becomes clear: The feds must establish guidelines that are generic enough to give departments and bureaus a general roadmap, and granular enough to produce real advice on what devices, operating systems and other hardware and software is and is not appropriate in given circumstances.

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