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Tech + Tequila: Tapping into Tech Hubs

By Frank Konkel // September 27, 2016

Brent Hofacker/

If there’s one thing we can say about the Obama administration’s tech legacy, it’s that civilian, military and intelligence agencies have made significant inroads seeking innovation from tech hubs outside the Beltway.

Agencies with various missions—from the Pentagon’s national security imperative to the Federal Communications Commission’s regulatory duties—are turning to the nation’s private-sector tech hubs for funky new ideas, talent and perspective.

It makes sense.

New organizations like 18F, the U.S. Digital Service and the Defense Digital Service are using hiring authorities to staff offices in and outside Washington, D.C. full of private-sector and academic tech talent, initiating two-way flows of ideas and information.

Chris Lynch, who heads the DDS, affectionately refers to these stints as “a tour of duty for nerds,” and there’s no doubt their impact is being felt.

On Thursday, Sept. 29, we’ll explore the relationship between the federal government and tech hubs with several panelists who’ve been a part of this influx of innovation and ideas. And we’ll do it over beers and tequila because that’s how we roll here at Nextgov.

We’re hosting two panels from 5:45-7:30...

You Can Now Buy a USB Stick That Destroys Any Computer

By Frank Konkel // September 9, 2016

You can more/

As if hackers, state-sponsored cyber intruders and rogue insiders weren’t enough to protect against for federal agencies, you can now purchase a USB stick that will destroy any unprotected device it plugs into.

Called USB Kill and about the size of a ticket stub, the device “rapidly charges its capacitors from the USB power line,” and then discharges that power all at once to “instantly and permanently disable unprotected hardware,” according to the Hong Kong-based manufacturer.

They are available for the equivalent of $56, although the manufacturer is already “temporarily out of stock,” meaning penetration testers and hackers—and people who genuinely like to break stuff—are picking them up like hotcakes. You can also purchase a Test Shield product that allows for testing the device without ruining your own hardware.

I’m sure IT security offices across government can’t wait to deal with these new toys.

Facebook’s DC Office Seeks Analyst to Combat Hate Groups, Terrorist Content

By Frank Konkel // September 1, 2016

Gil C/

Facebook is upping its effort to combat extremist speech, creating a new position within its Washington, D.C., office aimed explicitly at better understanding how hate groups and terrorist organizations use Facebook and Instagram.

Specifically, Facebook seeks a bilingual (Arabic and English) candidate with a “multidisciplinary analytic background, the ability to identify broad trends, and be excited to delve into the details of understanding and mitigating propaganda networks employed by militant organizations.”

Global security and policy wonks may find the job attractive, as policy development, assessing geopolitical and security risks and tracking trends in social media use by militant organizations are all part of the gig.

Facebook’s efforts mirror those of other social media platforms in response to ISIS and other extremist organizations using their platforms for recruitment and spreading misinformation and propaganda. Twitter has suspended 360,000 accounts since midway through 2015 “for threatening or promoting terrorist acts primarily related to ISIS.”

Frequently Automated Questions: Is Artificial Intelligence the Future of FAQ?

By Frank Konkel // August 31, 2016

Willyam Bradberry/

In the near future, artificially intelligent chatbots may digitally engage citizens on behalf of the federal government.

Drawing on alternative rock band REM’s album “Automatic for the People,” Justin Herman, digital communities and open government lead at the General Services Administration, recently explained an early business case for AI in customer service.

No, these AI-laced chatbots won’t destroy you at chess or own you at “Jeopardy!” Rather, fine-tuned through machine learning, chatbots could automate some aspects of customer service. The chatbots could respond in real time to millions of questions and comments citizens make through a growing number of third-party platforms and provide federal agencies more accurate data about what services and information people actually want. (ICF has a great visualization illustrating the extent to which federal agencies use verified third-party platforms, such as Facebook, Google, Socrata and Github, to engage citizens).

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“If an agency gets 100,000 questions in a certain period, how many of those can be automated or responded to?” Herman said last week at a Digital Government Institute event.

Most of those questions distill to a few standard...

Survey: New IT Means New Complexity

By Frank Konkel // August 31, 2016

everything possible/

New technologies can do many things, including increasing the complexity of government organizations.

A new survey suggests 50 percent of public-sector employees believe new technologies like cloud computing and virtualization are adding complexity to their organizations, particularly when those organizations are cash strapped and anchored by hard-to-replace legacy technology.

“New IT paradigms are adding to complexity, and one of the things we found is that it’s harder to have that insight and holistic visibility,” said Ashok Sankar, director of solutions strategy, public sector and higher education at Splunk, in an interview with Nextgov.

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Splunk underwrote the survey, which was carried out by Clarus Research Group and polled 634 IT professionals at the local, state and federal level. 

More than 70 percent of the IT professionals surveyed said they want better insight into their organization or agency, suggesting that piggybacking new technologies onto old systems is sometimes problematic.

Budget remains the biggest challenge among top IT executives, with 45 percent unable to manage IT operations to the degree they want to because they lack funding. However, budget was the least challenging for IT execs...