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Search Tags: Meeting Mission and Goals through Technology
The FAA has been studying whether tablet devices can replace paper aeronautical charts in the cockpits of planes. And for at least one charter jet company, the answer is yes. The agency has given the go-ahead to a large executive aircraft operator to use iPads equipped with a special app to display charts to pilots electronically through all phases of flight. The decision follows three months of testing - including an in-flight decompression test at 50-thousand feet - in which the device held up just fine.
The Army is working on keeping deployed soldiers connected to each other - and to the network using commercial, off the shelf technology in smartphones. The Multi Access Cellular Extension program is developing phones that can operate securely on cellular data networks around the world or on Wi-Fi hotspots. If neither of those are available, the phones will be designed to form their own local network and keep soldiers in a small unit at least connected to each other. The army wants the devices to handle voice, data, and specialized military apps.
The Department of Homeland Security already has real-time access to biometric data maintained in the FBI's huge database of criminal records. Soon, agency officials say they'll be able to share similar data with the Defense Department. Biometric information - mainly fingerprints - can be shared between DHS databases and the criminal records the FBI holds at its Criminal Justice Information Services Division in West Virginia. DoD's database will be in the loop within the next year - among other things - letting customs and immigration officials instantly know if someone trying to enter the country has been on the battlefield against the US military. The technology could potentially come into play even if the Defense Department hasn't positively identified that person. That's because the database also includes latent fingerprints taken from improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afganistan. DoD and DHS say it'll be a big improvement over the limited information sharing they conduct now, using slow, manual processes.
The Health and Human Services department wants researchers and IT developers to use its vast storehouse of data to make new apps. And it's trying to make it easier for that to happen. The department has created what it calls a Health Indicators Warehouse - a collection of databases on health indicators, along with application programming interfaces built on Web 2.0 technologies. HHS hopes programmers will come up with innovative ways to use the information it's built up in its databases and make it more relevant and more widely available. The agency says the data sets available through the new APIs include 1200 different health indicators from 170 data sources. To get the ball rolling, HHS started developing some of its own apps using the data last year, as part of the Community Health Data Initiative. The apps, and the APIs, are available at health indicators.gov.
Federal IT policymakers say the days of agency employees having one cell phone for work and other for personal use could soon be a thing of the past. The same could be true of laptops. They're exploring the idea of letting federal workers use their personal devices to do their jobs, rather than segregating their work lives onto separate devices. The idea, according to Federal CIO Vivek Kundra is that many employees are already using newer, better technology in their personal lives than the equipment their agency issues them. Under the idea, workers would get a stipend to help pay for technology that they buy on their own, rather than agency-issued devices, and Kundra says federal CIOs can overcome the security challenges. He says as I-T needs continue to become a bigger and bigger part of agencies' missions, keeping up with the latest technology will rack up unsustainable costs.
A new report from the Office of Personnel Management says federal agency employees were already increasing their use of telework, even before a new law designed to encourage the practice kicked in. OPM's Status of Telework Report says there were 11,000 more teleworkers in the federal government in 2008 than in 2009. That translates to around 10 percent of all agency workers who are eligible for telework, and 5 percent of the overall federal workforce under an established telework policy. But based on surveys, OPM says 22 percent of all federal workers teleworked to some extent - the agency says some of them did so through informal agreements with their supervisors. The Telework Enhancement Act, passed last year, requires every agency to designate a Telework Managing Officer. And by June, every federal employee should be told whether or not they're telework eligible.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says a new automated system for processing benefit claims has cut the time vets have to wait for education benefits in half. VA faced a big challenge when it was charged with implementing the new GI Bill for veterans who served after September 11, 2001. The new bill was much more complex than the original Montgomery G.I. Bill, and VA says it had no way to get its older IT systems to process the claims in an efficient way, so they resorted to doing much of the work on paper. So they partnered with the Navy to build a new system from the ground up. VA says they're building the system in increments, trying to gradually bring more of the system online every few months. When they started, they were processing 2,000 claims a day. Now, they're managing 10,000.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has rolled out another online mapping tool - this one focusing on rural and small-town America. The website looks, and functions a lot like the Food Environment Atlas that USDA launched a year ago. But this version aims to bring together data on several facets of the nation's rural communities, so policymakers can make smarter decisions about where to direct federal resources. The department uses county-level data from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic analysis as well as its own data. The Census numbers are drawn from the first round of numbers coming from the American Community Survey. Users can click on a county and see information on demographics, jobs, agricultural data and other economic indicators. In addition to seeing that data, users can download it in spreadsheet form and use it in on other applications.
The Department of Health and Human Services is awarding more than $140 million in grants to states across the country to help them develop IT systems that will run the new health insurance exchanges. The state-based exchanges, created as part of the healthcare reform act, are designed to be one-stop shops for individuals and small businesses to compare and buy health insurance online. The exchanges don't kick in until 2014, but HHS says it wants to give seven states a head start on developing reusable, transferrable IT systems so they can be used as models, and HHS can show other states the best ways to create their own IT infrastructure to support the exchanges. The grants will go to Kansas, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Wisconsin and a consortium of New England states.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is rolling out a new phase of its food environment atlas. The Web tool was originally designed a year ago to let users click on any county in the country, and get data on the local food choices and diet quality that influence an individual community's health. IT was developed as part of the first lady's Let's Move campaign. The latest rollout almost doubles the number of data points for each county in the atlas. It now considers 168 different indicators. USDA says the updates they've just made to the web tool will also let the agency and the site's users track changes in food choice over time. It includes data on everything from the concentration of farmers markets vs. convenience stores in a given community, to the average distance to the nearest grocery store. The site has already logged 100,000 visitors.