25 and counting - Abridged version

How do you sum up 25 years of earth-shaking developments in government information technology? As GCN celebrates its silver anniversary, we decided to ask some of the people involved: feds, former feds and industry leaders whose work ' whether on a grand scale or in the details ' has helped push the ball forward. They responded with their personal views on the technologies, policies, events and people with the greatest impact on their own work and that of the government. The answers on these pages are just a sample. Click here for their complete answers, by individual.

'What technology had the biggest impact on your work in the government ' or the work of government ' in the past 25 years.?'

1980s: New PCs with Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect.
1990s: Web 1.0 and writable CDROMs and DVDs. 2000s: Web 2.0 and 3.0 (Wikis and semantic technology).

' Brand Niemann, senior enterprise architect at the Environmental Protection Agency and chairman of the CIO Council's Semantic Interoperability Community of Practice.

(Note: Many respondents echoed all or parts of this list.)

1980s: The migration of mainframe computing to desktop or personal computing. With desktop computing, the information technology community no longer depended on IT gurus who were removed from the rest of the workplace, working in elevated, highly air-conditioned rooms behind community became the IT gurus; all the applications we needed were now on our own desktops.

'Robert Carey, Navy Department chief information officer

Packet data. In general, the Internet, but more specifically, information that is not bound directly to a specific application interface. Over the past 25 years, we have gone from an environment where the norm was a collection of stovepiped applications to the true ability to create integrated solutions and work with data fusion.

'J.F. Mergen, chief technology officer, Verizon Federal Network Systems

What individual had the biggest impact on your work in the government ' or the work of government?

Rep. William Clinger and Sen. William Cohen gave the IT department a seat at the table. Without that opportunity, no meaningful relationship between the mission of government and the tools available to government would have been possible.

' Bill Vajda, Education Department chief information officer

Marc Andreeseen and his work with the browser. I remember using Mosaic to show users how/what was available out on the Internet for their use.

' Karen Evans, Office of Management and Budget administrator for e-government and IT

The path we all now travel was preceded by visionaries...like the late Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski. He was an early champion of the decisive warfighting advantage that comes with shared information. Adm. Cebrowski challenged us to believe in the tremendous positive impact of net-centric operations and reminded us of our responsibility to ensure each soldier, Marine, sailor information they need to complete their mission and return home safely.

'Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Croom, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency and commander of the Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations

Robert Philip Hanssen had the biggest impact on the FBI. He compromised numerous human sources of the U.S. intelligence community, many classified U.S. government documents, including top-secret and 'codeword' documents and technical operations of exceptional significance. His actions showed us how susceptible we were at the time, but because of this, we've become stronger and better. Today, there is a comprehensive Security Program Plan, Information Assurance Plan modeled on the best practices of the intelligence community, and we've instituted new audits and reviews to further assist in deterring and detecting espionage activities.

'Zalmi Azmi, FBI CIO

What technology had the biggest impact on your work in the government ' or the work of government ' in the past 25 years?

In the late 1980s, a fellow named Harry Forsdick was working at BBN Technologies on early Internet applications. No one really understood what he was doing, and he was exploring an area where no one had gone before. One particular application was called ' as I remember ' the PIN or Personal Internet Newspaper. Using a scripting language that foreshadowed JavaScript and Google scripting, one could build an automatically generated newspaper based on the content of a very large number of sites. When this was shown to a number of potential customers, there was almost a universal lack of understanding. However, it really made me think about how little we know of the potential of this growing network, and it obliterated a number of conceptual walls.


Paul Strassmann, Defense Department Director of Information [in the early 1990s]. Paul built one of the initial environments of trust and collaboration among the IT players in DOD for the purposes of joint warfighting and information sharing.

' Mimi Browning, president of Browning Consulting Group and former principal director of enterprise integration at the Army Chief Information Officer Office

What IT product(s) had the biggest impact in your work in the government ' or the work of government?

1990s: Whether we like it or not, PowerPoint has influenced the way information is communicated and even how projects are conceived. The reduction of many decisions to a collection of bullet points can be traced to this useful but pervasive tool. In too many cases, the structure of an idea is forced into the familiar format before it has had a chance to be fully developed.

2000s: Portable text messaging (BlackBerry). Useful, intrusive, the friend of operational managers and the enemy of contemplative thought, nearreal- time wireless e-mail has extended the work day and shortened response times.


Repeal of the Brooks Act, followed by the Clinger-Cohen Act, dramatically changed and improved the acquisition process for IT.

' David Songco, chief information officer at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health.

Establishment of the Clinger-Cohen Act.


The event has to be 9/11. Although tragic, it brought to focus the need for collaboration and information sharing at all levels of government ' federal, state and local ' across just about all verticals ' such as justice and public safety, health and human services, and transportation.

' Mark Johnson, senior vice president at Oracle Public Sector

The decision not to tax Internet business. As a result, there has been a huge incentive to use the Internet to deliver Industrial Age services, as well as to embrace new business models without the distortion of government regulation or intervention.


Many of us dreaded that day when Mark Forman made the announcement about where we were moving with the Quicksilver egovernment projects and how they evolved into our government initiative. But, by and large, I think they have been extremely successful in terms of moving government in a different direction and in a different time in terms of the services that we provide to citizens.

'Ira Hobbs, principal at Hobbs and Hobbs, and former Treasury Department CIO

The decision by the Office of Management and Budget not to fund any Y2K remediation. This forced federal agencies to evaluate their IT investments, then modernize the strong systems and eliminate the unnecessary ones. Although portfolio management seeks to do the same, it will never have the same urgency and effect as did Y2K in overhauling government systems.

' Browning

The first major federal Web defacement in August 1996, on the Justice Department Web site, in which Janet Reno's picture was replaced by the picture of Adolf Hitler. Why: because it forced Karen Evans [OMB administrator for e-government and IT, who then was at Justice] to become an expert in the technical aspects of cybersecurity, and she has subsequently had more positive impact on federal cybersecurity than almost any other federal official.

' Alan Paller, SANS Institute research director

One of the big turning points'was that the soldiers and units themselves created the demand to bring the business systems with them, to bring laptops and PDAs with them, and the ability to access the information they needed from their home base. The other turning point was in the medical area. We really had no digital medical records until this war. Now a medic has a handheld with soldiers' records on it. And when injuries occur, we now can keep that record and pass it before the soldier gets back to Germany or the United States or wherever they're being deployed for further medical conditions.

' Kevin Carroll, former Army program executive officer for enterprise information systems

Moving the Internet into the public domain from its research world was the biggest change in the 25- year period. It created the flat communications structure that allows the anywhere-to-anywhere Internet to work. Without it, the PC would still be used in the home for games and cataloging recipes.

' Bob Woods, president of Topside Consulting and a former commissioner at the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service.

What event or government IT decision had the biggest impact for the worse?

A-76 gives the appearance of having reduced the head count, but in fact the federal staff was reduced while total head count, including contractors, went up.

' Songco

As the network becomes the platform for transforming business, education, politics and nearly every way in which we work, live, learn and play, our long-term competitiveness will hinge, in large part, on our broadband build-out. Unfortunately, the United States has lagged behind other nations in this effort.

' John Chambers, Cisco Systems chairman and chief executive officer

Lack of a national credentialing process. As a result, consistent information security and a single face to U.S. citizens are far more complex and challenging to achieve.

' Vajda

One of the most important issues with which we have to deal today is privacy. Unfortunately, the bad guys ' those who steal and use publicly identifiable information inappropriately and for criminal purposes ' have significantly impeded a number of good government efforts such as telework, information sharing and improved government transparency.

' Kim Nelson, director of eGovernment and Health and Human Services at Microsoft Public Sector and former Environmental Protection Agency chief information officer

What technology do you think will have the biggest impact during the next five years?

The deployment of IPv6 will forever change the Internet and will allow for innovation in areas we cannot even imagine.

' Evans

Web 2.0 and 3.0 (Wikis and semantic technology).

' Niemann

We have taken the BlackBerry and made it into an indispensable tool for agents. The Black- Berry gives agents wireless access to Web sites such as the Terrorist Screening Database, National Crime Information Center, LexisNexis and ChoicePoint through a secure program called Sensitive But Unclassified Mobility. Since August, we have issued 8,000 BlackBerrys and intend to issue 4,000 more by January 2008. The BlackBerry will continue to expand the abilities of agents to catch terrorists and criminals.

' Azmi

Collaboration tools, including blogs. ' Blogs let contribution be the value, rather than your rank or your place in the chain of command. The blog started to separate the idea of chain of command from chain of information.

' Marine Corps. Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Wireless broadband holds great promise. This comes in the local and metro flavors. While the local version promises to bring higher bandwidth without the hard-wiring needed today, it is the metro or last-mile version that promises to bring broadband to the masses.

' Woods

IPv6. Convergence of media and expansion of new capabilities within home, work and society.

' Vajda

At Google, we see the current emergence of Software as a Service (SaaS) as a significant paradigm shift in the way that government agencies will access data and applications. For mobile government employees, the importance of having data available anywhere cannot be overstated. SaaS also strengthens teamwork, from virtual groups that represent actual working teams to allowing users to share their data in ways that have previously been difficult or impossible.

' M.J. Pizzella, senior business development manager at Google Enterprise and former General Services Administration associate administrator for citizen services and communications

Stay Connected

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.