Raising a glass to IT at the GCN Awards Gala

Government community keeps mission in mind while honoring its own

The government IT community took time out to celebrate some of its own last night at the 23rd annual GCN Awards Gala, but even among the glitter, agencies’ missions held the spotlight.

The black-tie crowd packed the ballroom at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in McLean, Va., and heard award winners talk about the importance of IT’s evolving role in serving citizens and soldiers.

John Garing, inducted to the GCN Hall of Fame after a long, distinguished career in the military, in the private sector and at the Defense Information Systems Agency, talked about the evolution of technology and efforts to bring it into defense operations. Garing, who retired as DISA’s CIO and now is a principal consultant for Suss Consulting, recalled the technologies “we used at home but seemed to be a bridge too far within the Department of Defense.” Many of those technologies are in use today.

Industry IT Executive of the Year Bruce Klein, senior vice president of U.S. Public Sector Theater for Cisco, offered an example, saying that one of the rewarding experiences he’s had was working on a project to connect soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan with their families through high-definition video systems. He told of one soldier, deployed for 14 months, who shared the first birthday of his daughter using the technology. The baby, who hasn't yet met her father, touched his image on the screen, Klein said.


See photos from the Gala on GCN's Facebook page

10 agency teams deliver 21st century projects

Defense IT Executive of the Year Gary Winkler, program executive officer for Army Enterprise Information Systems, thanked his team and others at the Defense Department — “Nobody wins an award by themselves,” he said — and also thanked his family for, among other things, letting him telecommute at nights and on weekends.

Roger Baker, assistant secretary of information and technology at the Veterans Affairs Department, broke the crowd up in accepting the Civilian Agency IT Executive of the Year award, but also focused on what IT is delivering to veterans.

“This is truly an honor, and kind of my Sally Field moment,” Baker said. He talked about how VA’s Program Management and Accountability System, under which VA suspends or cancels underperforming projects, had become ingrained in the department, to the point that it had developed a “PMAS language.”

Projects that perform well are “PMASeratis,” so-so projects are “PMAZdas,” and poorly performing projects are “P-Yugos,” phonetically shorted to “P-U projects,” he said. Some managers also have “PMAS envy” when they see other project manager who have resources they don’t have.

Aside from the jokes, Baker thanked his staff and VA employees for serious work they do in serving veterans. “I appreciate this award,” he said, “because it means the changes we’re making at VA are becoming real.”

In many ways, the main event at the Gala is in honoring agency teams that demonstrated excellence and innovation in IT projects, many of which this year involved cross-agency collaboration and delivered services not only to their own agencies but to others and the public in general.

Keep reading for details on this year’s GCN Agency Award winners.

U.S. Postal Service, Office of Information Technology Solutions
Project: USPS Full Service Program

Full Service uses a combination of barcodes, electronic mailing data from customers, information about the mail from USPS operations and mail-quality feedback to provide interactive, real-time reporting on mail service. Built to handle 500 million pieces of mail and 1 billion transactions a day, Full Service was implemented in seven months. One component is the Seamless Acceptance and Service Performance application, which uses the SUSE Linux open-source operating system running on IBM z10 mainframes.

Health and Human Services Department, Federal Health Architecture
Project: Connect Program.

Connect is open-source software that lets health organizations securely share information through health information exchanges based on standards established by the National Health Information Network. CONNECT was built on open-source components and released as open-source software. It uses open-source infrastructure technologies such as the Glassfish application server and NetBeans.

Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board
Project: FederalReporting.gov.

The board, created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to provide transparency on and prevent misuse of recovery funds, worked with the Office and Management and Budget and the Environmental Protection Agency to create FederalReporting.gov. The board and OMB chose EPA’s Central Data Exchange and the best existing system for collecting data from fund recipients to feed the Web site, which, along with Recovery.gov, provides extensive information and analysis tools for tracking spending.

Federal Emergency Management Agency, Recovery Directorate, Disaster Assistance Improvement Program Project Management Office
Project: Disaster Assistance Improvement Program.

In response to Hurricane Katrina, DAIP, a partnership among 17 federal agencies led by FEMA, used FEMA’s first service-oriented architecture in establishing DisasterAssistance.gov, a single point for survivors to access and apply for federal assistance and obtain information from federal, state and local sources.

Air Force and Director of Defense Research and Engineering’s Software Protection Initiative, LPS Team
Project: Lightweight Portable Security project.

Derived from a very small, minimal-services Linux distribution and other open-source software, LPS temporarily turns almost any x86 computer (Windows, Mac or Linux) into a trusted node for secure Web browsing, cloud computing and network access. It boots from a LiveCD and install nothing, running in RAM without mounting the hard drive, which bypasses any local malware. LPS-Public, released in 2008, has a 124M image that fits on a mini CD, and requires only a Pentium II or newer CPU and 384M of RAM.

Army Department, Project Manager DOD Biometrics
Project: Biometric Identification System for Access Dayworker Solution.

After the Mosul Dining Hall bombing in Iraq in 2005, the Pentagon resolved to implement a biometric access control system for bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. BISA vets non-U.S. applicants for work at bases by collecting biometric information and comparing it against a database of known or suspected terrorists – including fingerprints found at the sites of bombings – and FBI criminal files. Approved workers are given smart card-based badges with public-key infrastructure certificates. Since the first pilot in May 2009, the system has been established at 12 bases and has enrolled about 26,000 individuals, several hundred of whom have been matched to terrorist watch lists, FBI criminal files or Iraqi criminal files.

Army, Product Director of Transportation Information Systems
Project: Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network Globe Services.

The NGS system brings Google Earth to warfighters, for planning routes or tracking cargo. Security and customization had been two obstacles to using Google’s technology in the field, but NGS runs in the .mil environment, allowing users to download a Defense Department-certified version of Google Earth. It can be customized to show only what warfighters need for their missions and requires no training to use. The application also has a lot of potential across DOD, civilian and state and local agencies.

Health and Human Services Department’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,  Office of Information Services, Enterprise Databases Group and Division of Information Reporting Services
Project: CMS DashboardBETA.

Part of CMS’ business intelligence strategy and transparency effort, the DashboardBETA provides statistical views of CMS’ Inpatient Prospective Payment System in a much speedier fashion than was previously available. It taps the agency’s Teradata warehouse, which handles billions of claims, to make spending data available to the public. The time it takes to publish quarterly data, for example, has gone from 18 months to less than three months after the end of a fiscal quarter.

U.S. Coast Guard, Operations Systems Management
Project: Alert and Warning System 2.0.

The upgrade to the original AWS is a bi-directional system that lets the Coast Guard issue alerts to maritime partners (and receive them) via multiple channels, among them phone, Short Message Service, e-mail and fax. By taking advantage of IP communications, AWS 2.0 eliminated the need for more than one alert system at any port or unit, simplifying training and support, and provides a single, nationwide, Web-based system secured by Secure Sockets Layer Version 3 encryption.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of the Chief Information Officer
Project: NOAA’s Geospatial Platform.

The response to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico at first lacked a common operating picture; there was no geospatial visualization tools that would support federal, state, local and private-sector operations. NOAA redeployed its Environmental Response Management Application – a geographic information system tool that on its own could not handle the magnitude of the response – into its Data Center environment. NOAA scaled EMRA to handle more than 600 data layers and feeds, many of them updated in real time. The GeoPlatform site’s data ranges from oil spill trajectories to wildlife observations to the locations of research and response vessels. In addition to providing a common picture for all response organizations, the project potentially saved millions of dollars that would have been spent on a new solution.


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