Info sharing CIOs' top priority, says Pentagon official

Agencies will have difficulty sharing information as long as federal IT executives regard sharing and security as mutually exclusive, said Dave Wennergren, the Pentagon's deputy chief information officer.

Information sharing is the "top imperative" of federal chief information officers, said a top Defense Department IT official on Monday. But progress will be stifled as long as agencies regard information sharing and security as mutually exclusive, said the Pentagon's deputy chief information officer.

Comment on this article in the forum.The latest innovations in networking operate on the premise that the Internet is dynamic, not static, and that it enables the exchange of information in real time. This concept, known widely as Web 2.0, has not been lost completely on the federal government. In 2002, President Bush included in his management agenda an e-government strategy that identified governmentwide initiatives to integrate agency operations and information technology investments. Two years later, he initiated lines of business to encourage integration and consolidation in key IT areas of government.

Federal employees recognize the opportunities for cost savings and improved efficiency through such efforts, but are often reluctant to relinquish ownership over information and applications. They view security and information sharing as a balancing act, which is the wrong analogy, said Dave Wennergren, Pentagon deputy CIO, during a panel discussion at the Information Processing Interagency Conference.

"You make data discoveries [and] change the world very quickly," he said. "That's the power... [But] there's this cultural issue about willingness to share information. We're getting it, but it's hard. [As] the fabric of the organization changes, we need to change our mindset."

Indicative of such change is the prevalence of social networking Web sites and the foresight in industry and pockets of government to recognize their potential. Most large IT vendors maintain a presence in the virtual world Second Life to market their capabilities and recruit employees, and IBM created a page for its developer community. Storage vendor EMC hired communication coaches with backgrounds in psychology and human resources to help those resistant to change acclimate to the new environment. "It's like learning how to swim," said Chuck Hollis, EMC's senior vice president of strategy. "We're working people into the pool slowly, a little at a time."

Government is moving gradually in that direction as well, with agency MySpace pages growing in number. But the government's tendency to block access to information to maintain security stymies progress, Wennergren said.

"The easy security answer is 'nothing goes out and nothing comes in.' But [by] definition, this is a self-afflicted denial-of-service attack. If you think Second Life is a game, you may be missing the point," said Wennergren. "This idea that 'we'll just limit what our employees do' is very simplistic. We have to think differently if we're going to get over the hump."