ATF mulls virtual desktops for contractors in cost reduction effort

Friday - 7/20/2012, 5:05am EDT

Ruben Gomez, reporter, Federal News Radio

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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is considering providing virtual desktops instead of physical computers for contractors to access its systems as a way to reduce its costs.

ATF currently spends about $3,000 per user each year on computers for contractors and state and local law enforcement officers who augment the agency's workforce, said ATF CIO Richard Holgate. Most of those individuals use the systems for basic functionalities, such as email.

"Whether it's their home agency, whether it's the office of the contractor … giving them a dedicated piece of hardware in that kind of a use case doesn't make a lot of sense," he said Thursday at an 1105 Government Information Group event about mobility in Washington, D.C.

Richard Holgate, chief information officer, ATF

Virtual desktops would let users who do not need physical machines use their own devices securely on ATF networks, thus saving the agency money.

ATF mobility strategy

Holgate said the concept is one of many his agency is considering under an ongoing mobility strategy to improve the way ATF provides core functionalities to employees and contractors.

"Clearly the number one driver for us for mobility is better operational capability for our special agents and for our industry operations investigators that are out there in the field," he said. "Can we give them better tools to get their job done?"

Agencies also are looking at mobility as a way to address budget pressures, Holgate said. Smartphones, tablet computers and laptops make it easier for employees to telework, reducing the need for office space in some cases.

To address security concerns, the administration wants agencies to focus on protecting data instead of devices. The concept is part of the Office of Management and Budget's digital government strategy released May 24.

In that spirit, ATF is evaluating its support infrastructure for employees, Holgate said, "knowing that it will probably be much less device-dependent and probably less dependent on government provided devices."

Agencies also must avoid making data security a complicated proposition for end users, said Rodney Dilts, director of security technology - network based security engineering and development in AT&T's Chief Security Office.

"And the goal of this service is to say, 'Put a client on the device, on any [operating system,]'" he said. "That client literally has two buttons on it for the users to do something with it. And that's it. But all the work is done in the network. Everything from the mobile security for the device resides in the network."

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