Wyatt Kash | The security conflict

Editor's Desk

Balancing the need to share data against requirements to maintain security standards has been a constant struggle'not just for federal IT managers, but for many who rely on government information systems.

A recent incident at the Veterans Affairs Department made that painfully evident, illustrating how proven technology tools can be blunted by competing security procedures and how federal workers are often caught in the middle.

VA doctors, responsible for treating wounded soldiers and Marines, in late January were suddenly denied access to the Pentagon's Joint Patient Tracking Application. Digital medical records have become a critical tool in tracking a patient's progress as the wounded are moved from the battlefield to military and VA hospitals.

VA and the Defense Department have been widely credited for their pioneering work in developing technology systems to support electronic medical records. But delivering on security procedures apparently hasn't kept pace.

VA doctors were denied access to the JPTA system after the Pentagon's director of Deployment Health Systems concluded that, without data use agreements and access controls in place, it was illegal for VA to access the records.

Efforts to sort out the competing needs for information and for security assurance escalated quickly. It wasn't long before Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho)'chairman and ranking Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee'were writing to David Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel, to express their concern for the doctors' and soldiers' plight.

It took nearly four weeks, but the matter was ultimately resolved, with VA physicians regaining access to the tracking system.

No doubt, it helped that the welfare of American troops was on the line. But how many similar conflicts languish for weeks or months, due to hardheaded bureaucrats?

There's no question, as threats to governmental and military networks intensify, security measures need to be explicitly defined and rigorously enforced. But the system to support those controls needs to keep up with and be better aligned with the rollout of technology tools that help federal workers work smarter and more effectively.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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