Google's Washington presence keeps growing

Company unveils search tool, the latest in a series of products that attract federal agencies.

Internet search giant Google has been steadily increasing its presence in Washington as the company seeks to capture a larger share of the federal market for information technology products and services. Google officials discussed the company's increasing involvement in the government space on at an event on Tuesday.

At the event Matthew Glotzbach, director of product management for Google Enterprise, unveiled Google Search Appliance 6.0, the latest version of the company's enterprise search tool that many federal agencies use. The company declined to provide information on the amount of business it does with the government or the specific agencies involved, but Director of Federal Sales Mike Bradshaw said the Google Search Appliance is used across the government by both civilian and defense agencies. The technology is used on agencies' public Web sites as well as to search internal databases.

Google has generated headlines recently as several former employees left to join the Obama administration, generating concern about the company's rising influence on the Hill. Bradshaw, who has spent more than 20 years in the federal market, said Google's Washington. operation has grown from five employees to 20 since he joined the company three years ago, but he would like to keep the staff "relatively small."

Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer for McLean, Va.-based consulting firm FedSources, said Google's opening of a second Beltway office in August was a sign of its increasing interest in the federal market.

"It's a strong statement in itself to get a Silicon Valley company to establish a physical office in the D.C. area," Bjorklund said. "It says they are ready, willing and able to do business with the federal government."

In addition to marketing its search tools to agencies, Bradshaw said the Obama administration has encouraged Google to focus on newer technologies and is particularly excited by the potential of geospatial and cloud computing technologies. Bradshaw said the company has initiated small pilot programs at various agencies to test its cloud-based Google Apps service in the federal government.

Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra has been a strong proponent of cloud computing and adopted Google Apps for the District of Columbia government while he was chief technology officer there.

"Cloud computing is one of the most exciting areas for the federal government," Bradshaw said. "The government has been interested for a while, now it's just a matter of getting the various certifications."

He also was excited about the possibilities of geospatial technologies such as Google Earth and Google Maps, which use satellite-based images to depict the globe. The company already provides defense and intelligence agencies with a secure, behind-the-firewall version of the service that provides greater detail and more data than the version accessible to the public.

Bjorklund said Google's unique ability to access and coordinate information online is appealing to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which have struggled in the past with those functions. He said the company is involved in intelligence projects, but details understandably are hard to come by.

Google has purchased at least two software applications that were partially funded by In-Q-Tel, the nonprofit venture capital firm created to provide the CIA with the latest technology. Those applications were Keyhole, which eventually became Google Maps, and the 3D modeling tool SketchUp.

Bjorklund said putting information in a three-dimensional context could create whole new ways of analyzing data, while Bradshaw said geospatial overlays could revolutionize the way data is presented.

"With Google Earth, we're beginning to see maps as a way of displaying information. Data is more compelling on a map," Bradshaw said. "You can layer information, such as data on poverty or pollution and look for relationships. We've very excited about the government response."