Commerce Dept Signs Up Private Sector IT Partners

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The U.S. Commerce Department recently launched a new effort to jump-start more efficient ways to manage the vast amounts of data that reside within the federal government and put it to productive use.

The National Technical Information Service, a unit within the department, is leading the effort. NTIS has selected 35 joint venture partners, or JVPs, to support the program.

The department's aims not only to improve data management by federal agencies, but also to facilitate the generation and sharing of data within the federal government. An equally important goal is to find better ways to provide data to the private sector in order to enhance economic activity.

The partners NTIS selected include major companies such as Amazon Web Services, IBM and Booz Allen Hamilton, as well as smaller companies and research organizations.

"As America's data agency, the Commerce Department is committed to making it easier for businesses, government, taxpayers and communities to access, analyze and use data to strengthen economic growth and create new jobs," said Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

"I am confident the partnerships between NTIS and each selected organization will unlock new federal data that will leverage advances in data science, promote software development and accelerate innovation," she said. "These joint ventures mark a major milestone for the data economy."

Some examples of the enhanced use of government information include "connecting private sector experts with agencies striving to create smart cities, deliver critical public services, enhance operational excellence, or improve accessibility and interoperability among national data sets," said NTIS Director Avi Bender.

The federal government collects an enormous amount of useful data, including weather and climate statistics; U.S. economy, population and demographics data; and trade statistics by market and industry, the DoC noted. However, there are many barriers to its effective use. Efficient tools for sharing, analyzing and gaining insights from national data resources are in short supply.

The partnership program will expedite government and industry cooperation, offering smoother processes than conventional and cumbersome contracting vehicles provide. NTIS will act as a clearinghouse for federal agencies to access the resources of private sector organizations.

Each time NTIS receives a request from a federal agency for innovative data services for which the use of the joint venture authority is appropriate, it will conduct a merit-based competition among interested JVPs to work on the project.

The partners agree to invest their own resources to work cooperatively with agencies on various projects. The payoff for agencies is to obtain the expertise and innovative approaches to data management of private sector entities. Private sector partners will be eligible to receive a portion of any revenues generated through fees charged to the agencies, according to NIST.

The joint ventures are business partnerships on data-focused projects that require fast execution, and innovative technologies that are not amenable to typical contracts or available commercial solutions, NTIS said.

NTIS and its partners will jointly plan, invest resources in, and execute projects to meet an agency's mission requirement. Typically, a joint venture will involve such elements as early use of emerging technology; complex architecture, interoperability and security; agile applications development; and systems operations that require adaptive scoping and custom solutions to meet unique requirements.

"Government agencies often need answers faster than a three-year contracting cycle, so this provides a way for them to obtain capabilities more quickly," said Marybeth Wootton, chief executive officer at Berico Technologies, one of the business partners NTIS selected.

"This program also has the advantage to agencies of gaining access to the latest technologies rather than using a contract process that takes so long that the technology base is nearly out of date when the contract is awarded," she told the E-Commerce Times.

"The program also benefits vendors, because it reduces the time-consuming process of submitting expensive and lengthy responses to a Request for Proposals," she noted.

The program also provided vendors an opportunity to showcase their capabilities to wide range of federal agencies, Wootton added.

"We get a chance to show value solutions where agencies can see and feel them in an operational context," she said.

"By working on challenging data problems, NTIS JVPs will be in a position to leverage spin-off benefits through improvements to their data products and services," said NTIS' Bender.

"This unique collaboration of for-profit, nonprofit, and research organizations will leverage the best data and analytics capability from all sectors to provide digital services for federal agencies and -- most importantly -- the people they serve," observed said Dave Neumann, head of the federal practice at Excella Consulting, another of the partners selected by NTIS.

"We expect this program to become the leading accelerator and incubator of innovative data solutions," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"The direction the Department of Commerce has taken is spot-on. Taxpayers expect the government to make data-driven decisions that put citizens first when creating tools to access, analyze and disseminate information," Neumann said. "By focusing on open data, data science, and data education, they are paving the way for the future of citizen-centric government services."

Privacy and Technology: The Obama administration has set up a new privacy office within the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget. The office will be charged with leading efforts "to develop and implement consistent, comprehensive, and forward-looking federal privacy policies, strategies, and practices across agencies," noted OMB Director Shaun Donovan, "as the federal government continues to leverage technology and innovation to deliver better citizen-centered services for Americans."

The office also will collaborate with the Federal Privacy Council and privacy leaders across the government to identify government-wide trends and issues related to privacy that require government-wide solutions. Further, it will oversee and evaluate agency regulatory initiatives, privacy policies, information collection and related policies, and other policy initiatives that impact the privacy of information about people.

"As more and more sensitive information is collected and shared in our digital economy, President Obama has made clear that the federal government needs to ensure that its privacy practices evolve to appropriately reflect the government's use of emerging technologies," Donovan said.

DISA Forecast: The Defense Information Systems Agency's annual forecast to industry will be held at the Baltimore Convention Center on Nov. 17. DISA acts as the major procurement agency for information technology products and services within the Department of Defense.

Industry partners will get in-depth information about DISA's acquisition and procurement plans at the event. Members of DISA's senior leadership will present briefings to address tactical acquisition issues, requirements, and planned procurements for the 2017-2018 fiscal years.

John K. Higgins is a career business writer, with broad experience for a major publisher in a wide range of topics including energy, finance, environment and government policy. In his current freelance role, he reports mainly on government information technology issues for ECT News Network.

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