Government’s Mobile Nightmare


Image via Federal Computer Week

Imagine someone working in a government security clearance environment (defense, international affairs, homeland security, etc.). They need to balance their workplace restrictions and national security with their desire to chat with friends online.

Multiply that individual by hundreds of thousands of people, and their personal smartphones with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest apps loaded up.

Welcome to the federal government’s current nightmare.

And it’s not just the government, but also the many contractors serving it throughout the country who have to adhere to the same restrictions.

As the above chart shows 93% of surveyed government officers are concerned about security risks. The fear is real as evidenced by the many Wikileaks scandals experienced by the Obama Administration’s various agencies.

Image via Federal Computer Week

Worse yet, most agency officials don’t think their employees are complying with guidelines, in spite of policies, forbidden apps, training, etc.

Mission Conflict

The Office of Management and Budget released its digital strategy for mobile devices (phones and tablets, hooray!) earlier this year. It has three core objectives:

  • Enable citizens and the growing mobile workforce to access high-quality digital government information and services anywhere, anytime, on any device.
  • Put into operation an information-centric model for interoperability and openness to deliver better government digital services at a lower cost.
  • Update and implement policies to procure and manage devices, applications and data in smart, secure and affordable ways.

These initiatives are Supposed to be enacted by mid-year 2013. But consider the eGov Act of 10 years ago still hasn’t been fully enacted, so there’s little hope for this newest set of requirements.

The latter bullet point makes the first two objectives very difficult, simply because people are people and they use their phones against federal policies with social media.

Security centric federal agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA) are considering provisioning employees with super encrypted smartphones as a possible solution. In reality, the costly nature of networks, tablets and phones makes bring your own device (BYOD) the most likely scenario outside of hyper-secure situations like intelligence and military operations.

That creates information assurance issues, which the government acknowledges, but cannot seem to address.

In my opinion, the government faces the ultimate Pandora’s Box with social media on mobile and portable devices. The Box was open in the workforce’s personal lives well before the government realized it.

It’s too late, security risks and triaging leaks will become a regular part of government communications. The best agencies can do is train, clearly state policies, monitor and listen online, and then act when infractions occur.

There’s another aspect to this. The need to make government more transparent, the great promise of the 2008 Obama campaign. Oh well.

What do you think about the government’s mobile nightmare?


  • “…the eGov Act of 10 years ago still hasn’t been fully enacted, so there’s little hope for this newest set of requirements.”

    This is the real problem with government. I used to work in state government and it’s so backwards as far as how people digest information today it’s no wonder why people have such a negative view of it.

    The move to mobile just exacerbates the problems government has communicating with the public. It barely has it’s fingers on social media. How is anyone supposed to expect they will get their hands on mobile anytime soon?

    This will haunt federal and state government for years.

    • I think government has proven to be the slowest moving of any type of organization when it comes to embracing social much less mobile media. It’s really unfortunate because we can all benefit from it. At the same time the national security issues are legitimate.

  • “Put into operation an information-centric model for interoperability and openness” what does this mean? in our quantum metaverse; everything is possible; there are no gates…..

  • I actually just did a talk about this not long ago. Yes, the government is seemingly slow to adopt new tech like social and wireless, but a lot of that is driven by security concerns — especially in the military. On a recent Army exercise, I was able to find grid coordinates for the headquarters buildings of two battalions by using Foursquare. Then I was able to track down the mayors of those buildings just by showing their pictures around in the smoke pits on base. Now imagine information like that in the wrong hands. Add me to the list of very concerned…

  • The government is working on this as fast as it can, but there are a lot of moving parts, people and entities to deal with. It is not a matter of stupidity, unwillingness to change/adapt.

    When you have so many different players it becomes quite challenging to make some things happen.

    • Having lived and worked in DC for a long time, the policy and nature of government make it ineffective in my opinion. It is too large and unwieldy to make successful policy in these areas, and is always going to lag behind others…

      • I don’t think we are far apart on this, if at all. Government work is a central part of what I do so I am well familiar with this.

        It is a common discussion we have about how to streamline processes and overcome some of the challenges because it is unwieldy.

        But I have spent lots of time in the corporate world and see similar issues.

        For example, the company purchases a new CRM system and fights to have all departments use it. Compound that by having people refuse to use it in the same way and it only gets worse.

        There is a lot to be said for being smaller and more agile.

  • the problem is not the “moving parts”;but those parts of the gov that are frozen in the 70’s. humans will continue to blab secrets like the General Petraus scandal in Tampa involving two crazy jealous women and power seeking men. mobile devices are straw dogs in a cornfield of confusion and do nothing government officials.

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