Focusing on six words: Helping government do its job better

Posts Tagged ‘DHS

USCG’s Adm. Thad Allen talks government 2.0

with one comment

USCG's Adm. Thad Allen (USCG photo)

USCG Adm. Thad Allen (USCG photo)

I mentioned that we spoke to Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen on Federal News Radio’s Friday edition of The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris. Our Internet editor Dorothy Ramienski turned the interview into a story. You can read that here. You can hear the interview here. [.mp3]

We actually spoke to Adm. Allen on Thursday, but that show was so packed, we couldn’t give the interview the attention that it deserved, so… we saved it for Friday.

The Coast Guard is a fascinating organization — one of the better managed government agencies. And I give a lot of credit to Allen for deciding to play a leadership role in government 2.0.

I think it goes clear back to the digitalization of our environments staring back in the 1980’s with personal computing and I believe there is a new pattern of behavior emerging in our society where people congregate and aggregate to do things differently using information technology. These are the people we want to bring into the Coast Guard and nurture.

As regular readers know, I’m fascinated by government 2.0 because I think there are very real opportunities here. There is a confluence of factors — the push for change, the swath of young people who will join the federal government, and then the scores of tools that are available out there now — easy to use tools. And then government is uniquely suited to tap into the power of these tools because government, in particular, needs to share information across a variety of groups — internally and externally. So there are real opportunities here. That being said, it does involve change.

I have heard at recent meeting people saying, ‘It’s about time government gets around to this.’ See this comment on an unofficial USCG blog,

Lets stop talking about this and get on with it. Off the self technology that is running on OPS (other peoples servers) can get you there today. Could we be saving more lives today if were would stop worrying about what a blog might or might not say or post. Move out, you have my support.

Most agencies aren’t behind the curve on this. In the private sector, there aren’t many organizations — outside of Google and Cisco, for example — that make collaboration a part of the way they do business. It isn’t as easy as it seems. And it can involve some real organizational changes. Given that government agencies are inherently slow to change, I give the ones testing it out real credit.

Agencies have to be careful and I think it is very wise to touch their toes into the water rather then just jumping into the deep end of the pool. All of that being said, leadership in these situations is essential, and I give Adm. Allen a lot of credit for his leadership role.

The Coast Guard didn’t ask, but… if I were to offer recommendations: Focus on a problem that it is looking to solve. Right now, many of these “government 2.0” applications work best when they have a somewhat focused goal. That lets one learn lessons in a specific application — and use those on other projects.

One think I did forget to ask: Adm. Allen is now on Facebook. What has he learned from using Facebook… what is his experience… We’ll talk to him again and I’ll ask again next time.

Written by cdorobek

October 19, 2008 at 10:10 AM

Today on the Daily Debrief: U.S. Coast Guard 2.0 with Adm. Thad Allen

with one comment

Update: We will be talking to Adm. Allen on Friday on Federal News Radio.

The U.S. Coast Guard has been one of the most interesting organizations to watch — generally well managed and yet often unafraid to try new things. And Adm. Thad Allen is jumping into the government 2.0 realm.

You can hear him yourself in his message, which he posted on YouTube.

We’re going to talk to Adm. Allen this afternoon on Federal News Radio’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris.

Anne Laurent, who oversees the blog The Agile Mind, wrote about the Coast Guard’s Web 2.0 initiatives a few weeks ago.

The message couldn’t be clearer: Coasties need to start social networking, right now! Yesterday on YouTube, in his firm, ramrod straight-arrow style, Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen ordered his entire service, and especially its leaders, to get into Web 2.0, double time.

Written by cdorobek

October 16, 2008 at 9:41 AM

DorobekInsider: The government’s newest blog… the U.S. Fire Administration

leave a comment »

The latest agency to join the blogosphere: The Homeland Security Department’s U.S. Fire Administration. You can find the blog at (And, to their credit, they have a link right from the top of the home page.)

According to the USFA’s release, “This blog will serve as a tool for the Fire Service to share comments, ideas, and success stories about fire prevention, preparedness, and response in America. In turn, USFA will post videos, outreach materials, and other helpful tools while charting feedback.”

The blog’s first post is headlined Fire Department Preparedness and it was written by Ken Kuntz.

Ken Kuntz is a Fire Studies Specialist with the National Fire Academy’s Administration and Delivery Branch. He is the Project Officer for the Major Fire Investigations-Technical Report Series project which provides reviews of select/significant incidents to identify salient lessons learned to be shared with the fire service and allied groups and organizations. has a collection of many of the government blogs.

And you can read the Fire Service’s full release after the break.
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by cdorobek

October 9, 2008 at 12:24 AM

Posted in DHS, Government 2.0

Tagged with , ,

DorobekInsider: TSA blog as a government 2.0 example

with one comment

TSA's Evolution of Security blog

TSA's Evolution of Security blog

Last week, I mentioned that I attended a forum on government 2.0 sponsored by the Industry Advisory Council titled “Evolution of the Web: How Social Networking is Changing the Way Government Does Business.” And I reported that one of the superstars of that panel was TSA and Lynn Dean, who is the manager of strategic and Web communications in the Transportation Security Agency’s Office of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs.

Last week, I posted about TSA’s Idea Factory, which is a wonderful example. But TSA has another really excellent example: it’s public blog.

I have to be very honest: I said privately — if not publicly — that I thought that concept of a TSA blog was… well, if I didn’t say foolish, it wasn’t far from it. My thinking then was that blogs build are a way to build community and why, after all, would somebody return regularly to the TSA blog?

But I have been proven abundantly wrong. The TSA blog is one of the most read government blogs and, perhaps more importantly, gets scores of comments.

Strangely, I underestimated the power of a blog. (Shame on me.) What the TSA blog has given the organization is something that is so important for government organizations — for most organizations: transparency. It gives the TSA an opportunity to talk about the issues that TSA officers deal with — and why they deal with the issues the way they do.

So yes, there are the obvious public outreach benefits, but there are also benefits for TSA, Dean said. “It is a great reality check to hear what people think,” she said. Many of those are misconceptions, but… that is important to know as well.

That transparency also has garnered some respect even among us cynical media type. A case in point: Remember the story earlier this year that said that authorities at the airport could confiscate your laptop without any reason. Needless to say, it freaked people out. AndTSA started getting pings. But it was TSA — it was Customs. And TSA got some praise in places such as Wired magazine’s blog for clearing up the misunderstanding.’s Threat Level blog even gave TSA some positive press.

Dean acknowledged that it was no small fete to get the TSA blog up and going. And the IT organization was no help — shame on them. (After I heard Dean, I poked around with some TSA folks I know and they told me that the IT organization originally told them it would cost $600,000 to get a blog up and running. One wise IT person finally just suggested, ‘Um, can’t we just use Blogger [Google’s blogging software], which is free?’

So one lesson for IT organization’s is you better figure out how to implement these different Web 2.0 tools are people are going to find ways to bypass you. And, on the flip side of that, for program people, if you’re told something akin to a $600,000 figure to start a blog, go to somebody else in the IT organization until you find the creative innovator.

Back to Dean’s presentation: One of the challenges that TSA faced soon after launching the blog was… catching up with the success.

Once TSA launched the blog in January 2008, within three days, they had received some 2,000 comments. “Early it was ‘This is great,'” Dean said, until they realized that they had to review all of those comments. (Most agencies have a policy that comments need to be reviewed before they are posted to the agency’s Web site. That being said — and it is an important point — TSA has been careful not to censor. They will not post comments that are dangerous or insightful, but they do not censor comments critical of the organization.)

It is important to speak candidly about risk, consequences and strategy, Dean said.

Dean also had to find people who could feed the blog beast. To do that, she did a Google blog search for ‘work at TSA.’ The blogs she found were specifically not about TSA, but they were people who know about blogs — and blogging. They had a predilection to understand what TSA was trying to accomplish.

So, Dean’s tips:

* You have to convince the skeptics — and cover your basis (legal, IT, security)
* Recruit the appropriate staff who get it
* Develop a strategy of what you are trying to accomplish
* Be responsive to readers, to internal concerns.
* Run your blog by being honest and transparent. That’s the point, after all

One demonstration of success came with this comment:

wow, reading this blog actually makes me think that TSA might know what they’re doing.
feb. 11, 2008, 9:43p

Later, I’ll re-offer my tips to bloggers.

Written by cdorobek

October 6, 2008 at 11:23 PM

DorobekInsider: TSA’s insights into Government 2.0

with one comment

I had the opportunity this morning to go to a forum on Government 2.0 titled Evolution of the Web: How Social Networking is Changing the Way Government Does Business sponsored by the Industry Advisory Council and held at the Canadian Embassy.

Of course, there are scores of definitions for Government 2.0, let alone Web 2.0. That being said, I think most people think of Government 2.0 as essentially is the concept of applying Web 2.0 concepts to government. And there are all sorts of definitions of Web 2.0 out there. The Dorobek definition is that Web 2.0 is the theory that all of us are smarter then any one of us. It is the believe that there is a wisdom of the crowds. And Web 2.0 is inherently collaborative.

You can see that through everything from wikis — the best case, of course, is the Wikipedia, the online wiki encyclopedia that lets anybody go in and change content. But there are also blogs and a host of other applications.

The were two super-stars at this morning’s session. One was Lynn Dean, who is the manager of strategic and Web communications in the Transportation Security Agency’s Office of Strategic Communicatiosn and Public Affairs. TSA has been one of the leaders in implementing Web 2.0 applications. Last year, TSA Administrator Kip Hawley said he wanted to start making this real. And TSA’s first application was a tool called the TSA Idea Factory. (Read more about the Idea Factory from FCW here.)

The idea factory is essentially an online suggestion box — but, because it is done electronically, it has some additional functionality from a paper-based suggestion box. Like a typical suggestion box, anybody — yes, anybody — can propose an idea. But those ideas get rated — people can go in and vote on how good the idea is. And there are a number of ideas that have actually been implemented — about two dozen ideas.

One of the challenges — and it is a challenge with many of these Web 2.0 systems — was getting people to use the Idea Factory, Dean said. TSA dealt with that challenge in a few ways. First off, senior leaders got involved with the suggestions. It helps that the idea came from TSA Administrator Kip Hawley. But Dean said that TSA’s director of security is often on the Idea Factory because it lets him stay in touch with the officers at airports around the country.

The other way they dealt with that issue is by getting the idea suggestors involved in implementing their ideas — even having them come back to HQ. It allows them to see a different part of how the organization operates.

Later, I’ll post Dean’s insights about blogging and TSA’s blog, which has been much more successful then I ever expected.

Written by cdorobek

October 2, 2008 at 6:40 PM

Posted in DHS, Government 2.0

Tagged with , Graves the new DHS deputy CIO

leave a comment »

Federal News Radio’s Jason Miller has confirmed that Margie Graves is the new deputy chief information officer at the Homeland Security Department.

The Homeland Security Department has named Margie Graves as the new deputy chief information officer.

In her new role, Graves becomes the highest ranking career employee in the CIO’s office and will take over for current CIO Richard Mangogna when he leaves office in January.

A DHS spokesman confirmed Graves will take over for Charlie Armstrong, who became the Customs and Border Protection CIO in June.

Graves has been with DHS since 2003 and in the office of the CIO as the director of the DHS enterprise management business office since 2004. In that role, Graves helped establish enterprise strategies for providing IT services, such as porfolio management, across all of DHS.

This is one of the biggest jobs in government — leading DHS through it’s very first transition from the Bush administration to the Whomever administration.

I’m not sure I know Graves… and I can’t even find a photo of her online, let alone a bio. It’s a big gig.

Written by cdorobek

September 16, 2008 at 6:44 PM Hurricane response 2.0

leave a comment »

It has been really interesting to watch government implement Katrina’s lessons learned. By most accounts, federal, state and local agencies all did much better responding toGustov then they did with Katrina. [GSA deputy chief acquisition officer David Drabkin was on Federal News Radio’s Daily Debrief this afternoon talking about the acquisition aspects of hurricane preparedness (.mp3)… and Rear Admiral Dr. Craig Vanderwagen, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services was on FED’s Morning Drive this morning talking about the work done (.mp3)]

Of course, everybody is watching the other storms swirling out there in the Atlantic. No rest for the weary.

But it was interesting to see the Gustav response largely because there have been all sorts of developments in technology in the last three years that enables people to get information in various ways.

First off, blogger Andy Carvin noted that the Homeland Security Department has created a “hurricane response widget” that people can put right on their Web sites. It provides links that people can use to get more information.

I foolishly thought it was one of the first government uses of widgets, but… far from it. The FBI has one… as does EPA… and even Rep. Max Thornberry (R-Texas). They aren’t publicized all that much, so I don’t know how much these widgets get used, but… what a great way of getting information out.

Carvin also has a fascinating post about all the online resources that are available out there for people to keep track of what is going on. For example, there is a Twitter site that used to be focused onGustof and has now been rebranded “StormWire.” It can be found at (Unsure about what Twitter is? FCW did a primer on it last week on Twitter… and there is a Plain English guide on Twitter.)

There is also a hurricane related ning social networking site about the storms that can be found at

See about the other named storm names here.

Written by cdorobek

September 3, 2008 at 7:20 PM