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US Citizenship and Immigration Services to Host Twitter ‘Office Hours’

By Frank Konkel // August 31, 2015

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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services wants to get more social with prospective immigrants.

USCIS will host its first-ever Twitter office hours Tuesday from 3-4 p.m. using the #AskUSCIS hashtag. Agency officials hope to provide another avenue for customers to ask questions and receive real-time feedback, according to a USCIS blog post.

To participate, customers just have to follow @USCIS on Twitter, use the hashtag and ask away, although the blog post makes clear staff won’t answer case-specific questions and case status updates.

The post also warns Twitter users not to post Social Security numbers, receipt numbers or any other personally identifiable information.

“With Twitter office hours, we want to help you – either as you’re preparing forms or after you’ve filed,” the blog post states.

USCIS will post a transcript of the questions and answers to its blog following the Twitter office hours, and if the concept is successful, the agency plans to host the sessions on a regular basis.

The agency's social outreach plan is part of broader effort among federal agencies to improve customer experience.

This particular variant of digital engagement mirrors an effort championed by the Office of Federal Student Aid. FAFSA...

DISA Issues Pentagon-Friendly Cloud Computing Guide

By Frank Konkel // August 25, 2015

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The Defense Department’s information technology arm has unveiled a guide for IT shops in the defense and military space planning a move to the cloud.

Released by the Defense Information Systems Agency, the guide is aimed at DOD “mission owners” wanting to migrate an existing information system from a physical environment to a virtualized cloud environment. The framework is based on real-world cloud pilot efforts within DOD.

The contents are not official DOD policies, security requirement guides or security technical implement guides, but rather “a collection of best practices discovered during the DOD [chief information officer] cloud pilots effort for the benefit of the DOD community.”

While somewhat technical, the best practices guide is worth a read. It contains a short intro to the cloud, impact-level requirements, a breakdown of available cloud services and a detailed section dedicated to understanding shared security responsibility within the cloud – vital reading considering the recent data breach headlines.

A portion of the document also details how to achieve high availability (i.e. limited downtime) and the importance of the risk management framework, which recently became DOD’s default model for information security.

Finally, there’s also a “useful tips/lessons learned” section that...

$11 Billion Next-Gen Weather Satellite Launch Delayed

By Frank Konkel // August 20, 2015

Artist's conception of GOES-R environmental satellite.
Artist's conception of GOES-R environmental satellite. // NOAA

The launch of the first of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s next-generation geostationary weather satellites has been delayed for the second time in as many years.

The first GOES-R satellite (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) had pushed its original launch date from October 2015 to March 2016, and “schedule risks” found by NOAA, NASA and main contractor Lockheed Martin have slipped the launch again to sometime in the fall, likely October.

NOAA, NASA and Lockheed Martin identified schedule risks that have affected the current launch date for GOES-R, NOAA spokesman John Leslie told Nextgov.

“After extensive review by NASA and Lockheed Martin, NOAA has decided it can best avoid these risks to the mission by moving the launch date from March 2016 and to pursue a potential launch slot in the fall 2016,” he said. “We expect a decision on this in the very near future. NOAA will continue working with its partners to conduct thorough reviews of the GOES-R system and revise the satellite delivery schedule during the coming weeks.”

The launch delay isn’t particularly surprising. Despite timely instrumentation deliveries, GOES-R has had management problems for quite some time.

A slew of audits from both the Commerce...

QTS Sets Eyes on Federal Market with Carpathia Acquisition

By Frank Konkel // August 17, 2015

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QTS, a national data center solutions company, has its eyes set on the growing federal market for cloud services.

The Kansas-based company, which already services many federal customers through 12 nationwide data centers, spent $326 million acquiring Carpathia, a well-known cloud services provider. Carpathia already has a slew of federal customers and 13 worldwide data centers of its own, including one nearby in Ashburn, Virginia, which will complement QTS’ massive 1.3 million-square-foot Richmond data center.

The net result, according to Dan Bennewitz, QTS’ chief operating officer, is a company better positioned to compete in the government’s growing cloud services market. In early 2015, the Obama administration estimated that 8.5 percent of next year’s $86 billion IT budget would be spent on provisioned services like cloud computing.

In its acquisition of Carpathia – with its many government authorities to operate and partnership with virtualization behemoth VMware – QTS is not so subtly announcing itself as a big contender for future cloud services contracts.

“When we look at Carpathia, they give us additional capabilities,” Bennewitz told Nextgov. “It’s important to us that we know our customers operate in changing and heterogeneous environments. And we can offer customers portfolios that...

The Road to Improving Customer Experience for Veterans

By Frank Konkel // August 5, 2015

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There are some challenging jobs in government, and then there’s the job Tom Allin recently stepped into at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A former chief executive officer of a large Asian-based foods corporation, Allin’s position was created to dramatically improve the agency’s relationship with its customers – the millions of veterans VA serves.

In a keynote speech Wednesday at the Customer Experience Summit – hosted by Government Executive and Nextgov – Allin laid bare the vast challenges his office has undertaken.

“We have over 1,000 websites in VA,” Allin said. “If a veteran is on Google, it’s just about impossible to get something done.”

For a veteran beginning his or her customer journey with VA, going through a thousand websites for information is not ideal. Nor is picking and choosing from another 950 toll-free numbers to VA facilities and health centers. Allin said VA has been working with personnel from the recently created U.S. Digital Service to consolidate its enormous amount of websites into one portal. It’ll do the same kind of consolidation with its phone numbers.

“Our goal is to make it easier to be a VA customer,” Allin said. “Our goal is to...