The Agriculture Department isn’t quite ready to let employees bring their own mobile devices to work. But initiating the bring-your-own-device concept isn’t that far off either.
Charles McClam, the deputy chief information officer at USDA, said the agency is doing some spring cleaning to prepare for the day when employees log on to the agency’s network using their personal smartphones and tablet computers.
“We recently had some retirements within OCIO and that provided an opportunity for us to relook at the organizational structure and relook at where mobile should fit,” McClam said after a panel discussion at the Symantec Government Symposium in Washington Wednesday. “As a result of that, we are looking to make some adjustments to the organizational structure over the next four months or so to stand up a mobile computing division to support this new requirement as we move forward.”
He said details on the mobile division still are in the design stage, but the new office is a recognition of the impact smartphones and tablet computers are having on the agency and the federal community at large.
New policy in development
The headquarters’ CIO office is working with the 29 bureau CIOs on a secure strategy to roll out BYOD.
“We are in the early stages of developing an overall policy framework that’s will allow us to work with the agencies in USDA to fully implement bring-your-own-device to support workforce requirements,” McClam said. “There are issues around general counsel where we need to deal with privacy issues, data wipe issues on the device, who pays for the data plan on the devices and there are a lot of issues around it. We are working very diligently with all of our stakeholders within USDA to come up with a comprehensive policy framework that allows us to implement this in a very detailed way.”
He added USDA is looking at other federal policies such as those from the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs, to inform their policy. McClam said a final draft of the policy will be shared internally by the end of December, and implementation could start in mid-2013.
VA has been out in front of many agencies in approving and using mobile devices. The agency is rolling out about 100,000 devices over the next few years.
DoD announced its mobile strategy in June. The plan aims to improve three areas Defense leaders consider crucial to mobility: wireless infrastructure, the devices themselves and mobile applications.
NASA depending on VDI to go mobile
Other agencies, such as NASA’s Goddard Space Center, are focused on pilots and policy.
Adrian Gardner, NASA Goddard CIO, said his agency is drafting a BYOD policy, borrowing from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“It has to meet our needs and we will combine with our virtual desktop infrastructure,” he said. “The VDI will help us lockdown the device and meet other needs such as giving students or foreign visitors access to some parts of our network.”
NASA Goddard also is addressing its need for mobile device management (MDM) software through the Agency Consolidated End-user Services (ACES) contract under its IT Infrastructure Integration Program (I3P). NASA awarded HP the ACES contract that could be worth $2.5 billion over 10 years.
USDA also recently awarded a MDM contract to Digital Management Inc. to serve as a single integrator for mobile devices and the development of apps and an apps store.
“Those applications that DMI will be working with us on are designed to meet the needs of the 29 USDA agencies and their particular missions,” he said. “The contract is expansive enough in terms of the scope so we will be working with the agency CIOs within USDA to better understand their missions and work through DMI to better support those missions.”
McClam added DMI will help with the integration between legacy systems and mobile devices, which can be challenging as many apps are not necessarily mobile-friendly.
Employees already taking advantage of mobility
USDA already is giving employees smartphones and tablets to work with in the field.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service is running the Conservation Delivery Streamline Initiative (CDSI) to give mobile devices to employees to help them better perform farm acreage management.
“We are using a VDI solution to help support employees as they go more face-to-face in the field to work with clients,” he said. “There are four components to CDSI and the mobile component is expected to be deployed in a February 2013 timeframe.”
According to the IT Dashboard, CDSI also includes a client gateway and a conservation desktop to help meet the program’s three goals:
Simplify conservation delivery for customers and employees;
Streamline business processes to increase efficiency and integration across business lines;
Ensure science-based assistance to reinforce the delivery of technically sound products and services.
USDA and the Office of Management and Budget currently rate CDSI a three out of five and is yellow on the scorecard.
Another initiative that will help USDA meet its mobile goal is the consolidation of 17 Active Directory systems.
McClam said the enterprise effort will enhance security, provision and de-provision assets and assign privileges.
“It’s going to make life a whole lot better for USDA in terms of how we move forward in managing our mobile devices and their access to our network,” he said.
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, which airs from 6-10 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. region and online everywhere. Tom has 30 years experience in journalism, mostly in technology markets. Before coming to Federal News Radio, he was a long-serving editor-in-chief of Government Computer News and Washington Technology magazines.