GCN honors projects, ranging from USDA's satellite-based anti-fraud program to the world's biggest public-sector hackathon, for excellence in IT innovation and performance.
Fifteen public-sector IT projects — showing technical creativity, a willingness to test emerging technologies and the perseverance to push for big, cross-agency IT improvements in an era of budget and cost cutting — have been named winners of the 2013 GCN Awards for IT achievement.
GCN Award Judges
The winning projects were chosen by a group of judges from across the public-sector IT community, including:
Elizabeth McGrath, Deputy Chief Management Officer, Department of Defense
Sonny Hashmi, Deputy CIO and CTO, General Services Administration
Terry Halvorsen, CIO, Department of Navy
Kshemendra Paul, Program Manager, Information Sharing Environment, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Simon Szykman, CIO, Commerce Department
Sasi Pillay, CTO, NASA
Natalie Givans, Senior Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton
Tim Young, Principal, Deloitte Consulting
The winning projects ranged from an Agriculture Department project that uses satellite imagery to help bust crop insurance fraudsters, to the world’s biggest software and system hackathon organized for the needs of government.
“Even in a time of budget austerity, there is a lot of innovation and creativity being demonstrated by our local, state and federal workforce,” said Navy CIO Terry Halvorsen, one of eight judges of the awards.
Another judge, Kshemendra Paul, program manager of the Information Sharing Environment in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said the nominations “reflected major innovation,” especially in the area of big data, where he was “impressed with the information-driven decision-support systems we saw and with how they [were working] in operational settings.”
Here are the 2013 GCN Award winners, followed by a list of five Honorable Mentions also picked by the judges. (Note: Although the projects are numbered here 1 through 15, there is no hierarchy among the winners.)
- International Space Apps Challenge, NASA
- Distributed Common Ground System - Army Standard Cloud, Army
- DataBridge and Analytics Warehouse, New York City Mayor’s Office
- Crop Insurance Compliance Data Warehouse, Agriculture Department’s Risk Management Agency
- Digital Vehicular Video System, City of Austin, Texas, Police Department, Communication and Technology Management Office
- 4G Long-Term Evolution Network Ship-to-Ship Communications, Naval Air Systems Command
- How’s My Waterway, Environmental Protection Agency
- Self-Service Logon Remote Proofing, Defense Manpower Data Center
- Medicare.gov Responsive Design, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
- Tactical Mesh Node Network, U.S. Coast Guard
- Automated Secure Alarm Protocol, City of Richmond, Va., Department of IT
- Cloud-based E-mail, National Archives and Records Administration
- Homeland Security Information Network, Homeland Security Department
- Theater Requirements Generation Tool, Defense Department, Expeditionary Business Operations
- FinCEN-Bank Secrecy Act IT Modernization, Treasury Department
- IRS Enterprise Storage Services, Internal Revenue Service
- CountyClick311 Citizen Service Request System, Prince George’s County, Md.
- Biometric Matching of a National Security System Using 10-Print Matching, Homeland Security Department
- Corridor Internal Professional Networking Service, State Department
- InterAct’s Law Enforcement Data Delivery System, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The winning projects and their teams will be featured in the October issue of GCN and honored at GCN’s annual awards gala dinner and reception.
Read more about the winning projects on the following pages.
1. International Space Apps Challenge
In an April event spanning 83 cities and 48 countries over a two-day period, NASA staged the largest hackathon in history and the first to focus on the needs of government. The global innovation pot-luck drew 9,147 people – 2,200 in virtual settings – who tackled 58 application challenges and produced 770 proposals. The space agency said many of the submitted solutions, “had direct tangible benefits” to existing NASA programs, including 40 apps for NASA’s Asteroid program and 37 for its Spot the International Space Station challenge.
Participants designed mini-satellites (CubeSats) for NASA’s Mars mission, data visualizations for the national air traffic control system and the “first interplanetary weather app,” using Mars science data. Other highlights included an underwater planetary rover using lights, thrusters and video cams and a proposal to steer the craft using Skype and a keyboard. Incredibly, NASA said a team of only four people envisioned, planned and implemented the project in six months, earning NASA a return on investment estimated at more than $15 million.
2. Distributed Common Ground System - Army Standard Cloud
For an Army squad, a successful mission requires the right intelligence at the right time. The Army says its biggest challenge is not gathering raw data in the first place but in extracting usable intelligence on the fly. The Distributed Common Ground System - Army Standard Cloud, the first theater-mounted big data cloud instance at DOD, helps the Army over that hurdle. The latest version of DCGS-A Standard Cloud stores and indexes over 75 million intelligence items from more than 400 source feeds. With it, soldiers can visualize timelines, analyze links and display advanced analytics. Queries take less than a second, providing analysts with near-instantaneous answers. Analysts report that DCGS-A Standard Cloud makes it possible to detect subtle patterns of behavior that the enemy may not be aware of, enabling soldiers to fight only when they must and to deter hostile activity before it has begun.
The cloud removes barriers to accessing the data, the Army said. Soldiers consequently share more information more readily, often using social media. Meanwhile, software development previously done in isolation is now conducted in a shared environment, which encourages interaction among developers and leads to better software, sooner.
3. DataBridge and Analytics Warehouse
New York City Mayor’s Office
Taking advantage of emerging data analytics tools, eight members of the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA) created a common data infrastructure, called DataBridge, that helped the office spot obscure patterns across agency datasets and use that information to improve city services and curb expenses.
In one case, MODA was able to assemble a data portrait of city buildings at greatest risk of a catastrophe by correlating historical data on city fires with records signifying poor building maintenance. MODA also spearheaded efforts to pass a progressive open data law that led to the creation of a portal through which the mayor’s office is now receiving a terabyte of raw information daily. With it, the city claims it has been able to steer overworked housing inspectors to at-risk buildings, speed removal of trees destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and double the hit rate on stores selling bootlegged products.
4. Crop Insurance Compliance Data Warehouse
Agriculture Department’s Risk Management Agency
The sheer scale of the Agriculture Department makes it a target for con artists, especially those skilled in the more polite deceits of insurance fraud. The Federal Crop Insurance Corporation provides 1.3 million crop insurance policies to farmers, and even a small amount of abuse in the program can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. USDA turned to the Center for Agribusiness Excellence (CAE) at Tarleton State University to create a system using satellite, weather and remotely sensed data to analyze claims filed by farmers for signs of behavior that may indicate fraud.
The team built a data warehouse that draws from more than 170 data sources and contains some 250 terabytes of data. CAE, collaborating with the Stennis NASA Space Center for Applied Sciences, integrated satellite data into the data mining process. USDA’s Risk Management Agency now can quickly mine hundreds of millions of records from more than 20 years to help analyze the crop insurance claims filed by farmers. Using the new big data tools, the RMA estimates it cut insurance fraud by by $838 million and has seen a return of more than $23 for every dollar spent on data mining since inception.
5. Digital Vehicular Video System
City of Austin, Texas, Police Department, Communication and Technology Management Office
Austin’s police department installed a digital video recording system in its police car fleet that gives officers total confidence that their interactions with the public will be recorded. In replacing a nine-year-old VHS tape system that had to be manually activated, the Austin PD put in place a system “that goes beyond state-of-the-art,” according to the department.
Activated by a door-trigger, the system starts recording without officer intervention but still allows officers to enter case numbers and other supplementary notes. It can transmit up to 4 terabytes of video every 24 hours via a high-throughput IEEE 802.11n outdoor wireless network to a centralized data processing and storage center.
A new storage managmenet device also helps the department meet record retention requirements without needing to add additional physcial storage, which Austin estimates will save the city $3 million in storage costs over five years.
6. 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) Network Ship-to-Ship Communications
Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR)
With no commercial cellular networks to link to on the high seas, the Navy tried to create one of its own, setting up a sea trial in which the USS Kearsarge and the USS San Antonio were equipped with a microwave-based wireless wide-area network (WWAN) to augment existing satellite-based communications. Each ship had its own cell network providing a tactical area of 4G LTE communications — and air platform coverage capable of expanding the tactical area of coverage. The LTE network lets personnel on the ships receive real-time video streaming from air nodes mounted on a helicopter. LTE allows the NAVY to leverage all of the advantages of smart phones and commercial broadband, said Larry Hollingsworth, NAVAIR’s national director for avionics R&D. “NAVAIR is trying to address a critical requirement for the VBSS [visit, board, search and seizure] mission, but in addition the sailors are already finding the network useful in their day-to-day work.
7. How’s My Waterway
Environmental Protection Agency
Are streams in my community polluted? Can the pollution harm me or my pets? Does it harm the environment? The answers to such questions have been publicly available in EPA databases for years. But “publicly available” doesn’t always mean accessible, until lately. “How’s My Waterway” is a platform-independent mobile website and app that helps users find information — in plain English — on the condition of their local waters and remediation efforts, using a smart phone, tablet or desktop PC. In less than a year and within a modest budget, a project team worked together to create the program: Now users can rapidly view localized information about waterways in map and list format by simply entering a ZIP code or place name. How’s My Waterway became a highlight of the Clean Water Act’s 40th anniversary on Oct. 18, 2012; after its first month, it often had more than 1,000 users a day.
8. Self-Service Logon Remote Proofing
Defense Manpower Data Center
The Defense Department was looking for an identity authentication method to provide access to both Veterans Affairs and Defense department websites for service members and their families unable to use the Common Access Card. Officials decided that a single logon credential would be both convenient for users and reduce the costs of duplicate ID processes.
With the new system, called DS Logon, DOD and VA self-service websites no longer had to create stand-alone credentials or dedicate resources to support those credentials. The new credential also reduced “password fatigue” for users having to manage multiple credentials. And it saved money, producing 51 percent cost savings in credential distribution to service members, their families and veterans and increasing the performance and speed of Web transactions. With over 2.5 million active credentials, the project produced $15 million in savings has had a growth rate of over 10 percent quarterly.
9. Medicare.gov Responsive Design
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
In March, media outlets reported that worldwide sales of smart phones and tablets exceeded PC sales for the first time. For CMS, whose mission depends on keeping 47 million beneficiaries invested in their own health care, it underscored the need for open data and an any-place, any-device strategy for health information. Two projects took big strides in that direction. The first, a citizen-centric redesign of Medicare.gov, upgraded the information architecture, navigation and look and feel of the website using responsive Web design principles and providing content to any user device. A second project, Assets.CMS.gov, gave the agency a reusable framework for Web services, 508-compliant code libraries and style guides.
Both initiatives began with the redesign of the Medicare.gov website, which aimed at creating a lightweight, more user-centric interface and tapping the same data and code base regardless of the device. A central repository was also created to store all resource files for the open source community. With an estimated $9.50 in savings for each self-service inquiry and continued increases in website use from both mobile and desktop users, CMS expects to save at least $19 million in costs for 2012 alone.
10. Tactical Mesh Node Network (TRIDENT)
U.S. Coast Guard
Sometimes a good idea has to wait until the right opportunity comes along to prove its worth. In 2011, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Ryan Kowalske volunteered to lead a team to test uses of MANETs, self-configuring mobile networks of ad hoc devices. The team demonstrated a MANET covering 3,600 square miles of Coast Guard operations off the coast of Boston, configured to view real-time, full-motion video from aircraft, and which allowed observers over 1,000 miles away to talk over standard line-of-sight radios to units outside the network.
Based on the demo’s success, TRIDENT was named a Coast Guard disaster response capability, and plans were made to roll out its features on a national basis. When Hurricane Sandy struck in October 2012, the TRIDENT team was able to deliver a 20 megabits/sec connection to the damaged Coast Guard command center within five hours. The TRIDENT network carried all Coast Guard network traffic and helped the port open five days earlier than would have otherwise been possible. More than six months after Sandy’s passage, the “temporary” TRIDENT network was still providing connectivity to some areas that did not had landline T1 service restored. The Coast Guard is now reassessing how much satellite service versus MANET capability it needs, a reassessment that could lead to over $1 million a year in recurring savings.
11. Automated Secure Alarm Protocol
City of Richmond, Va., Department of IT
In the world of emergency services, call center operators are required to answer 911 calls first, but giving those 911 calls priority can delay the hand-off to responders when a call comes in from an alarm monitoring company. The city of Richmond, Va., in partnership with York County, Va., and working with alarm firm Vector Security, helped develop the Automated Secure Alarm Protocol, a new alarm interface, to solve this problem.
Developing a custom data exchange template and using message broker technology conforming to XML and National Information Exchange Model standards, the system has cut down on the number of calls between alarm monitoring companies and 911 centers. All electronic exchanges have been free of errors, and in at least four cases, when the police arrived on the scene of a burglar alarm that was delivered to Richmond’s 911 center via the data exchange, they found the perpetrator still on the premises.
12. Cloud-based E-mail
National Archives and Records Administration
Few agencies are more steeped in tradition than the National Archives and Records Administration. That’s why a project it underook last year to move to a cloud-based e-mail and collaboration system has been more disruptive – and tranformative – than most. Responding to a 2011 Presidential memo on government records management, NARA had a broad set of requirements to meet that included cloud e-mail functionality, mobile device management and support in addition to robust archiving and records management capabilities. One of the unique technology aspects of the project was the integration of multiple clouds into a single system presenting a unified solution to the end user.
Ultimately, the agency gained a state-of-the-art suite of e-mail, collaboration, archiving and records management with full search capabilities and seamless integration with NARA’s authentication system. The solution is 100 percent cloud-based, built on open standards, with 99.9 percent up-time.
13. Homeland Security Information Network
Homeland Security Department
HSIN has gone from near cancellation to becoming the information sharing tool of choice for the national network of intelligence fusion centers and other high-priority projects, including supporting security for the 2012 Super Bowl and Phoenix Open, the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing and the response to natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. A platform for trusted sharing of sensitive but unclassified information across a super network of federal, state, local and international organizations, HSIN underwent a major migration in 2013, a significant technology step-up that included providing a common approach to identity management.
Now all partners in the DHS enterprise that want to share sensitive but unclassified information have a single identity to be used by all partners authorized to access HSIN data across DHS systems. The technology refresh also ensured the information sharing requirements of Homeland Security operators are under local stewardship and originator control. All in all, the HSIN moved more than 40,000 users to the new system, transferred millions of documents and created over 140 customized communities of interest.
14. Theater Requirements Generation Tool
Defense Department, Expeditionary Business Operations
In the early days of the Afghan war, a heavy reliance on cash flooded the theater with U.S. currency. In an effort to get cash off the battlefield, the Office of the Deputy Chief Management Officer worked with the Army to develop a set of business intelligence tools to tackle the problem, which has led to a focus on proactive management of theater assets. The Theater Requirements Generation Tool helps create accurate requirements through the use of checklists and drop-down menus. TRGT also ensures that offices “articulate their requirements,” and that new requirements are properly validated. Since October 2012, TRGT has improved visibility of more than 1,900 requirements with a combined value of $6.7 billion, according to the office.
A second tool, the Theater Requirements, Contracts and Execution Reconciliation, is a dashboard designed for tracking contract data. TRCER aggregates contract and financial data to help track expenditures and obligations and support better decision-making, according to the office, which estimated the tool led to more than $110 milion in cost savings in fiscal year 2012. A third tool, the Acquisition Common Operating Picture, helps track the status of construction and other contract actions across the Afghan theater. Altogether, the business intell tools have led to the improved visibility of billions of dollars and millions in cost savings, says DOD.
15. FinCEN-Bank Secrecy Act IT Modernization
The health of the economy depends on the ability of the government to deter crime on the nation’s financial networks. A key piece of that strategy is the Bank Security Act (BSA) Electronic Filing System, which supports the electronic filing of reports over the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) via a secure network. In the last year, the BSA IT modernization program established an enterprisewide information management and analysis system that lets law enforcement and regulatory agencies search millions of records, flag potential violations and analyze trends in a fraction of the time. The enhanced tools are expected to result in improved detection of financial crimes and new patterns of criminal behavior. Moreover, the upgrade helps improve the analytical features of the network. FinCEN now provides a “one stop shop” for users to access FinCEN data and applications via the FinCEN Portal; uses modern Web technologies to support sophisticated searching via FinCEN query; and streamlines the financial filing process via new FinCEN reports.