As we say goodbye to 2018, Nextgov's executive editor revisits some of our most impactful and important stories from the previous year.
Biometric facial recognition starts being deployed at airports. The Pentagon releases a sneak peek of its risk-based approach to replace common access cards and goes full Star Wars with its JEDI cloud procurement that became a spectacle. And all the while, the government faces a crisis in a lack of technical talent.
2018 was a wild year across the government’s tech landscape, and at Nextgov, we covered it all. As the year comes to a close, we wanted to showcase some of our most important stories and scoops over 2018 before we kick into gear for the new year.
Facial Biometrics Employed at Airports, Border Crossings
In August, Washington Dulles International Airport began using facial biometrics technology to identify international passengers. Within three days, the airport became the first to apprehend an alleged imposter using the facial recognition program—a 26-year-old Congolese man attempting to enter the U.S. using a French passport. The system ultimately helps the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency meet a 15-year-old Congressional mandate to utilize biometrics at the nation’s borders.
Three months later, Nextgov reported on the success of CBP’s biometric system, which the agency said prevented 26 alleged imposters from entering the country. Washington Dullest International Airport employed the biometrics program to stop three alleged imposters from entering the country, but the program had its biggest impact at land border crossings, apprehending 23 people. All those individuals were taken into custody at the southwest border in Arizona.
The Pentagon’s Next-Generation ID Card Will Do Some Cool Stuff
In May, the Pentagon previewed its plan to solve identity verification—which it aims to do within two years—and the plan is pretty cool. For starters, the technology would be embedded in a smartphone’s hardware and would analyze a variety of identifiers unique to an individual. The smartphone could measure the hand pressure or wrist tension of the user, or even the user’s peculiar gait while walking, and combine those identifiers into a “risk score” that—if it is low enough—would lock users out of a building, system or from downloading sensitive files.
At the moment, an unnamed company is developing several dozen prototypes for the Defense Information Systems Agency to work out bugs. Once bugs are exercised, major companies are expected to begin embedding necessary tools within the chips that power smartphones, and smartphone producers would then have to update phones to use the tool. DISA officials estimate the tech could be available in a couple years, which means the millions of cleared personnel who use CAC cards could soon have some new hardware.
The Defense Department Becomes One with the Force
At the end of 2017, the Pentagon declared its intent to develop a war cloud with the Star War-dubbed acronym JEDI, short for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure. Valued at up to $10 billion over 10 years, the contract—out for bid as of October—became among the most consequential and controversial Pentagon contracts in recent memory. The department plans to award a commercial cloud provider a contract to build an IT fabric that stretches to troops at the “tactical edge,” secure enough to host the military’s most sensitive classified data.
While the battle for the contract is currently in court, Nextgov, with our sister publication DefenseOne, reported on what might be the most interesting JEDI development of all: The secret, behind-the-scenes war to win the contract, replete with shady-sounding dossier full of rumors and allegations.
Where You At, Young Techies?
We knew the government workforce was getting older, but some of the statistics from the Office of Personnel Management’s FedScope portal still managed to surprise.
Sifting through the data, Nextgov found only 3 percent of the government’s 84,000-plus tech specialists were less than 30 years old, while 14 percent of the government’s IT employees were over the age of 60. Written another way, that means federal technologists at retirement age outnumbered their 20-something counterparts 4.6 to 1.
That is an alarming statistic because in 2010, the ratio of 60-plus to under-30 IT specialists was only 1.9 to 1, suggesting the government is on the wrong end of a trend line. The most damning statistic in our research? The Veterans Affairs Department employs more than 19 over-60 IT employees for every one under-30 employee. The agency defended itself, however, by stating it had an “experienced IT workforce.”
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