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Food Safety 2.0: FDA shares its vision for a digital, transparent food safety system

Photo: U.S. Food & Drug Administration
Photo: U.S. Food & Drug Administration

In an interview with the agency, the Food and Drug Administration Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas discussed its latest efforts to “leverage new and emerging technologies to prevent contamination and rapidly trace the origin of a tainted food to its source.”

FDA announced the New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative in April 2019, and the agency will hold an public meeting on the program October 21.

Key excerpts from the interview:

This isn’t just a slogan or a tagline. Instead, it’s a new approach to food safety, one that recognizes and builds on the progress made in the past, but also incorporates the use of new technologies that are being used in society and business sectors all around us. These include blockchain, sensor technology, the Internet of Things, and Artificial Intelligence to create a more digital, traceable, and safer food system. This new approach creates shared value for all stakeholders — farmers, food producers, regulators, consumers, and the planet.

That said, while technology is an important part of Smarter Food Safety, it’s more than that. It’s about simpler, more effective and modern approaches and processes. It’s about leadership and creativity. It’s also about working within and outside of FDA to foster a food safety culture that transcends borders between the public and private sector.

In my view, today’s food system is amazing, but it does have one major Achilles heel: A lack of traceability and transparency.

When it comes to food traceability, some are stuck in a past in which each segment in the food system is responsible for keeping track of food, one step forward to identify where the food has gone and one step back to identify the source. And it’s largely done on paper.  However, with the emergence of new digital technologies, the proliferation of the Internet of Things, and the continued advancement of sensor technology, many believe the one-step forward and one-step back model of food traceability is an outdated paradigm for the 21st Century. 

When FSMA was conceived and launched, it brought people to the table, both public and private partners. A New Era of Smarter Food Safety is doing the same. Now we plan to accelerate based on that foundation. How do we continue to modify and adapt? I foresee a more digital, data-driven, and transparent system that’s more precise and efficient.

Read more: Deputy Commissioner Champions More Digital, Transparent Food Safety System

‘The woeful state of government technology’

Photo: U.S. Department of Energy

San Francisco Chief Digital Services Officer Carrie Bishop published an excellent commentary piece that touches on several issues we in the digital government industry don’t talk much about, or at all.

Particularly, her pointed thoughts on the dismal state of government technology are something we as an industry need to discuss more openly and deeply, and emphatically address if we truly care about the future of a healthy democracy.

This part of Carrie’s commentary speaks to me, and is something everyone in the industry should read, talk more about, actively get unsettled with and do something to change:

Looking at the woeful state of government technology it’s clear there is a crisis in our sector. The struggle of legacy technology is real, and the market is ripe for disruptors, but the lead times, the slow pace of change in the sector, and the age-old problem of procurement all make it a bleak market for new entrants.

The systems are rotting from the inside. Their molasses code, their disintegrating interfaces, and their putrifying business models are at the core of government service delivery, but they persist because they are so entrenched. In theory, it would be easy for a company to breeze through and disrupt the incumbents. The hard part is the change.

The true challenge is the time it takes to procure from cold contact to signed contract, and convincing people to go with an unknown entity instead of an entrenched inevitability. The hard work is helping cities imagine services that are designed around the people that use them, instead of department silos. Based on my experience as a vendor in this market I’d say that this process takes about two years from start to finish with just one city client.

The most viable option for governments is to build internal teams who can absorb the impact of this hostile environment. Expecting new vendors to have enough financial backing and mature enough products is too big of an ask. I have realized that there are some things only government teams can do. Only an internal team can build for the most complex use cases and the edge-cases, as well as the mainstream. Vendors, and even non-profits, especially new entrants to the market, are just not financially able to do this hard work, but this is exactly what government should be focused on.

For many legacy institutions, empowering democracy has become a secondary priority to maintaining the status quo for profit or personal stability, whether it’s the business model of a government-focused nonprofit organization or legacy vendor or a public sector leader that’s been in the same comfortable role for years. This isn’t meant to condemn, but more to emphatically point out that a sense of purpose for some needs to be re-established. This is tough for entrenched people and organizations.

There is a gray area with respect to internal digital service teams and external vendor support. What we don’t talk about much is that the reality is the smaller a government gets, the less likely they’re able to attract or afford digital talent, regardless of the sense of mission it brings.

Unfortunately, this is where we see even worse habits with respect to legacy organizations. We often conflate what is happening at the national, state or big city level to what everyone else (and there are a lot of everyone elses) can realistically accomplish on their own.

The state of government technology is woeful. The expectations we have for those in executive technology positions, as well as the legacy institutions (organizations and vendors) who have captured much of the market, are low. What’s unfortunate is that many inside government don’t realize how bad legacy vendor technology really is, judging it not by merit, but by an established relationship or how entrenched it is within the market.

As Carrie mentions, this environment makes it tough for civic entrepreneurs to get and stay excited about their potential to help re-imagine civics in their own way, in a way that serves everyone. Speaking from firsthand experience, it is a challenge for new entrant disruptors to gain a foothold, and there are many reasons for this. This is a conversation we need to have, and I’m thankful Carrie opened up that door.

I look forward to continuing it.

Read more: The same but different

White House adds ‘agile and responsive’ security practices to trusted internet connections updates

The White House
(Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

The White House announced updates to the federal government Trusted Internet Connections initiative with the intent to empower agencies with security practices that aim to remove barriers to modern technology adoption.

An Office of Management and Budget memo provides agencies with pilot program guidance and an implementation timeline.

From OMB:

The purpose of the Trusted Internet Connections (TIC) initiative is to enhance network security across the Federal Government. Initially, this was done through the consolidation of external connections and the deployment of common tools at these access points. While this prior work has been invaluable in securing Federal networks and information, the program must adapt to modem architectures and frameworks for government IT resource utilization. Accordingly, this memorandum provides an enhanced approach for implementing the TIC initiative that provides agencies with increased flexibility to use modern security capabilities. This memorandum also establishes a process for ensuring the TIC initiative is agile and responsive to advancements in technology and rapidly evolving threats.

One component of TIC is Pulse.cio.gov, the U.S. government’s program that monitors HTTPS protocol status of federal (.gov) domains.

From Matt “Mr. FedRAMP” Goodrich:

Memo: Update to the Trusted Internet Connections (TIC) Initiative

New center wants to help Congress grok deep space, deep fakes

U.S. Capitol

The U.S. Government Accountability Office launched a new Center for Strategic Foresight to help Congress better understand issues related to emerging notorious technologies, such as deep space and deep fakes, that impact a well-functioning democracy.

From the announcement:

“The Center for Strategic Foresight helps to keep us agile by encouraging creative and critical thinking on the latest trends facing government and society. Our goal is to stay focused on Congress’ top policy priorities and to help prepare policymakers for future challenges.”

GAO created the Center to enhance its ability to identify, monitor, and analyze emerging issues. Located in GAO’s Office of Strategic Planning and External Liaison, the Center is a unique entity in the federal government, one that reflects the non-partisan independent watchdog agency’s broad mandate to provide Congress with reliable, fact-based information for overseeing federal agencies and programs. 

Details: Deep Space & Deep Fakes: New “Center for Strategic Foresight” Launched

GAO tells Defense Department to ‘fully implement’ open source pilot program

Photo: U.S. Defense Department
Photo: U.S. Defense Department

The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report assessing the lackluster status of the Defense Department’s open source pilot program, saying that until the agency effectively implements this, “the department will not be positioned to take advantage of significant cost savings and efficiencies.”

The Office of Management and Budget issued its federal source code policy in August 2016 requiring federal agencies to improve the way they buy, build, and deliver software solutions through the use of open source code. Part of the policy includes implementing agency-specific open source software pilot programs. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 mandated that DOD initiate its pilot by June 2018.

Key excerpts:

A program manager from the Defense Information Systems Agency reported that the agency had identified an OSS solution that provided more functionality at less cost than the commercial solution provided through a vendor. The program manager explained that when the agency implemented the new OSS solution, it realized $20 million in annual savings over the commercial solution that had been maintained by a vendor.

A program manager from the Defense Information Systems Agency reported that the selection of an OSS solution rather than a COTS solution contracted through a vendor had resulted in increased efficiency. The official explained that the use of the OSS solution allowed the agency to develop and maintain in-house skills that would not have been available had they opted to contract with a vendor providing a skilled workforce.

In interviews with GAO, DOD personnel expressed mixed views on open source software with respect to security, however, “an official in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics reported that, as long as OSS is properly vetted to ensure it is secure and free from malware, it offers an opportunity for the department to achieve cost savings and efficiencies.”

According to GAO, DOD says it will “update its OSS memorandum by the end of the 2019 calendar year and issue it as policy.”

Full report: DOD Needs to Fully Implement Program for Piloting Open Source Software

United Nations digital economy report gives comprehensive insight into global emerging tech trends and the future impact on us all

United Nations flag
Photo: sanjitbakshi

The United Nations published its 2019 Digital Economy Report that is a comprehensive must-read for civic leaders who want to understand how emerging technologies will impact the global labor market, security, privacy, economy and more.

Digital trends addressed include blockchain, three-dimensional printing, Internet of things, 5G mobile broadband, cloud computing, automation and robotics, and rtificial intelligence and data analytics.

From Secretary-General António Guterres:

Digital advances have generated enormous wealth in record time, but that wealth has been concentrated around a small number of individuals, companies and countries. Under current policies and regulations, this trajectory is likely to continue, further contributing to rising inequality. We must work to close the digital divide, where more than half the world has limited or no access to the Internet. Inclusivity is essential to building a digital economy that delivers for all.

Full report: 2019 United Nations Digital Economy Report

Policy hackathon in SF to address U.S., European city challenges

Photo: Code for America
Photo: Code for America

A policy hackathon will be held in San Francisco on September 24 to “tackle problems brought by cities from the U.S. and Europe.” The event is part of Startup Europe Comes to Silicon Valley.

Details below:

What: Policy Hackathon addressing challenges brought by cities

Who: Government leaders, including from Spain, Italy and Norway, bring real challenges.  Policy hackers will include entrepreneurs from Europe and the United States, investors, policy makers, and academics.

When: Tuesday afternoon, September 24, followed by a reception and light dinner.

Where: Headquarters of Mind the Bridge, 450 Townsend St, San Francisco, CA

Roles: government representatives with a specific challenge to be hacked; policy hackers to develop and present possible responses to the challenge; judges to determine the best response.

The Policy Hack brings together experts from across the startup ecosystem to design solutions to policy challenges faced by local governments and is part of Startup Europe Comes to Silicon Valley

Several teams composed by entrepreneurs, investors, corporate executives, academics, and policy makers will be discussing challenges in these areas.

After a couple of hours of brainstorming (“hacking”) within each team, the solutions are then pitched to a panel of judges, who select the most convincing one.

How civic hackers helped California’s DMV get digital momentum

DMV website

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has experienced its fair share of criticism lately, which caused Governor Gavin Newsom to set up a DMV Strike Team to focus on reviewing and recommending “new long-term leadership and reform at DMV.” The team released a report in July.

Part of that effort focused on improving DMV’s digital experience, which has a long way to go.

Earlier this year, I worked on a prototype and wrote up my ideas (here and here) of how DMV should think about digital transformation, including working outwardly with the community.

Subsequently, the strike team collaborated with the Code for America Brigade Network on a series of state-wide series of user experience tests, which ultimately confirmed what everyone already knew, that “the end-user experience of the DMV website was not a priority.”

DMV Strike Team member Jacob Roper has a great post on the Code California blog about how my work, CivicDMV and the Brigades helped inspire DMV to “unlock” California’s DMV Web Services.

This is an inspiring story of how government can work with the community in gathering ideas, cultivating expertise and insights from those beyond the bureaucracy to contribute meaningful contributions to government in their own ways. In this case, it drove the momentum for change in ways we don’t often see with government.

Hopefully, DMV will continue this effort, and other agencies — inside and outside California — take this case study and build frameworks for engagement to help them get out of their own boxes.

The future of government is one that is a culture of open, and this is a small example of the possibilities.

From Jacob’s post:

By late July, the Strike Team worked with DMV to fix bugs, refresh content on the most commonly-viewed pages and restructure the homepage by creating clear navigational channels for users, emphasizing what CAN be done online. The team and staff also improved access to translation services, which jumped by 300 percent only a week after the change was made.

These were the first iterations of a larger redesign, with many more to come. As a result of this effort, we sensed the shift of energy within the team behind the DMV website. They were empowered, and are now driving forward their own ideas like streamlining content and improving customer service with a Chatbot (and eventually live chat services) to the department’s website.

Read more: How Civic Engagement Is Unlocking California’s DMV Web Services

The Government We Need: Code for America founder Jen Pahlka on how we can code a better government

Jen Pahlka
Photo: Code For America / Drew Bird

Government has historically been challenged in effectively leveraging technology to best serve the people. There are numerous, well-documented cases of public sector mishandling of technology projects, from the very public failed launch of Healthcare.gov to the many unseen, ineffective IT implementations that occur on a daily basis.

The Government We Need talks with Code for America founder Jen Pahlka about how technology can be a force for civic change.

Listen: How we can code a better government

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Intelligence community names privacy, civil liberties leaders

Wat is Privacy graffiti (Photo: Cory Doctorow)
Wat is Privacy graffiti (Photo: Cory Doctorow)

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and U.S Central Intelligence Agency named new leaders of their respective privacy, civil liberty units.

ODNI named Benjamin Huebner the chief of the Office of Civil Liberties, Privacy, and Transparency. Huebner previously worked as the privacy and civil liberties officer at the CIA. The CIA named Kristi Scott to replace Huebner.

From ODNI:

CLPT leads the integration of civil liberties and privacy protections into the policies, procedures, programs, and activities of the IC. Its overarching goal is to ensure that the IC operates within the full scope of its authorities in a manner that protects civil liberties and privacy, provides appropriate transparency, and earns and retains the trust of the American people.

And CIA:

The PCLO serves as an independent, primary advisor to the CIA Director and other senior Agency officials to ensure that privacy and civil liberties are integrated into the day-to-day conduct of the Agency’s mission. Ms. Scott serves as CIA’s primary liaison with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) and as the lead Agency officer for implementing the Principals of Intelligence Transparency for the Intelligence Community. In addition, Ms. Scott will serve as the designated CIA Senior Agency Official for Privacy.