Eyes are on feds

Do you know the term “cosa
nostra”?


Roughly translated, it means “our thing.” Mobsters allegedly coined it back
in the early 1950s to express solidarity with one another, implying that whatever the
crime families did to one another was of no concern to society at large.


Luckily, that sentiment isn’t widespread among systems professionals in the
federal government. Most feds express a keen sense of the public nature of their work.


Because GCN goes exclusively to government readers and a few companies that do business
with the government, we don’t often hear from those outside cosa nostra—that is,
the citizens who interact directly with government systems.


But a recent story, posted on our Web site at http://www.gcn.com,
drew a response that shows just how much folks out there care about what you do.


That’s the benefit—and the curse—of the Internet. Whatever you post on
it is there for the whole wide world to see. And it turns out that the material we send
you in print form is eagerly read by a much wider audience on the Web.


Many people deal with computers, and most people interact with government from time to
time. So it stands to reason that governmental computing is of wide interest.


The story in question was about the Navy’s Smart Ship program. It detailed how
software failures disabled the fly-by-wire USS Yorktown [GCN, July 13, Page 1]. Since that story appeared, e-mail letters have been pouring in,
proving that the story is rocketing around software programming circles via the Net.
Reporters from other publications have called the paper to ask us about it.


But the biggest response has come from technicians. Programmers and software engineers,
like artists, are among the most opinionated people you’ll find. Some vow with moral
certainty that the Yorktown’s network operating system was to blame; others
indignantly put the blame on poor programming.


Blame-fixing and speculation are not a newspaper’s mission.


But the incident is a good reminder of the importance of government work and a
barometer of how carefully the public monitors that work.


The great thing about public service is that it is, well, public service.
Unfortunately, it also means you must work in a fishbowl— with lots of critics
watching what you do.


Thomas R. Temin
Editor
editor@gcn.com

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