Monday, October 19, 2009

Don't worry about the government, the uGov edition

I am not one of those people who lives in constant fear that the FBI and the CIA and the BBC, B.B. King, and Doris Day are all going to conspire against me in a Big Brother sort of way and exchange secret data about me to be stored in the Brussels supercomputer.

Why am I not afraid of this? Because I grew up in the Washington, DC area, which taught me that government agencies don't LIKE to cooperate with each other.

And even after I moved away, I haven't seen anything to change my view - especially when I've been to meetings where two people from the SAME agency were sniping at each other because they were from different departments.

I don't care if you create a unified Department of Homeland Security, a unified Department of Defense, a unified Department of Education, or whatever - government bureaucrats are going to fight. (And, for the record, private industry bureaucrats will fight too.)

As the latest piece of evidence to support my position, I present this from InformationWeek:

Federal intelligence officials have decided to shut down a Web-based, unclassified e-mail system, sparking debate within the intelligence community about whether the move will hamper collaboration.

While U.S. intelligence agencies generally operate their own e-mail systems, thousands of intelligence analysts and other government employees also use uGov, a Zimbra-based e-mail system. When it was launched, uGov was seen as an important step in the intelligence community's drive for better information sharing after 9/11....

Sounds like a laudable effort. What happened?

A spokeswoman for the Directorate of National Intelligence cited security among the reasons for phasing out the uGov system...

Quoting Bill Cosby, "RIIIGHT."

...but it's unclear exactly what security issues were considered troublesome.

One former intelligence IT official blamed bureaucratic thinking, rather than security, as the cause of uGov's demise. "Security had nothing to do with this," he said. "You have people saying, 'We really don't need this. Everybody has e-mail. Why not just kill it?'"

OK, here's what really happened, at least until someone proves me wrong. Sarah Smith was a GS-14 IT professional with the Comprehensive Analytics Division of the National Agency for Secure Technical Implementation, or NASTI. (I think she's a consultant now.) But about a year ago, her boss called her into a conference room in which three other people were present, including an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) person who was the uGov representative.

As Sarah entered, her boss introduced her to the assembled people and stated, "Sarah Smith is the sharpest person in this unit, with a thorough knowledge of TCP/IP, HTTPS, and TQ-8QF. I am assigning her to be the coordinator and interface of the NASTI uGov Improvement Project 2008, or NUIP8."

After some additional conversation, the meeting adjourned, and Sarah went to her boss' office.

"First, what is TQ-8QF? I haven't heard of that?"

"I made it up. You understand what you're supposed to do with this uGov thing, right?"

"I'm not sure."

"Bury it. I don't pay you to work for other people's problems. Work on our own systems and blame the other agencies for the uGov failure."

"Sure, boss."

(Picture source, license)
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