Tag Archives: transparency

“Trust, but verify” – the code of nuclear treaties

English – “trust but verify”

Russian – “doveryai, no proveryai”

The phrase was used by U.S. President Ronald Reagan at a press conference with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev during the of the signing the INF Treaty at the White House in 1987.

After Reagan used the phrase, Mikhail Gorbachev responded: “You repeat that at every meeting,” to which Reagan answered “I like it.” (thx to Darin McClure)

Why the treaty was important:

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was unique when negotiated and remains so. It was designed as a global ban on all U.S. and Soviet missiles having a range of 500-5500 kilometers and, for the first time in U.S. treaty history, contained verification measures that permitted the presence of U.S. inspectors on Soviet soil, and vice versa. The fact that inspectors could for the first time enter sensitive U.S. and Soviet missile facilities was a breakthrough and harbinger of the end of the Cold War.

The treaty not only eliminated an entire class of nuclear missiles but also “brought about a new standard of openness.”

by Rose Gottemoeller

 

Brought up as my local nuclear power plant faces a growing tide of questions about a nuclear leak. The authorities and corporations involved are providing limited information and asking us to trust them.

Sure, we can trust, but we want to verify.

Reflections from the 1st Chief Information Officer of the USA

“Last Friday was my last day at the White House. As I begin my fellowship at Harvard University, I’d like to share my reflections on public service…”

So begins, Vivek’s 12-page summary of his time in the Obama administration (the full version can be found via Alex Howard’s GovFresh piece).

I’ve been a big fan of Vivek’s, since his days as the CTO of Washington, DC. When he was named the first Fed CIO, it was big news in the tech community, especially in DC.

He's always smiling.

Each and every move he made, we followed. You have to remember that during the Bush years the exciting news was that the White House press core “had a blogger” (not to mention Bush didn’t use email). Then Obama came into office full of blackberry, twitter, facebook, and web prowess.

Every geek in the nation was rooting for some gear to get into the White House. We wanted cell phones, laptops (Macbooks!), modern websites, social media, podcasts, etc.

In the midst of this Bush/Obama collision arrived Vivek, fresh off amazingly innovative programs in DC: real-time tracking of city projects, GIS for municipal services, and co-location of engineers in schools.

Then he hit the Federal bureaucracy.

On the first day “they handed me a stack of documents with $27 billion worth of technology projects…years behind schedule…millions over budget.”

“Those documents were what passed for real-time updates on the performance of IT projects. My neighbor’s ten-year-old could look up the latest stats of his favorite baseball player on his phone on the school bus, but I couldn’t get an update on how we were spending billions of taxpayer dollars while at my desk in the White House.”

That stack of documents became his fighting spirit. No IT professional could claim any cred if they worked off binders and printouts.

“…from a small, nondescript office in downtown Washington, we spent many long nights fueled by coffee, thinking big about how we could transform our Government through technology.”

“I was ready to embark on a technology revolution…that would crack down on wasteful spending; increase the efficiency and effectiveness of government; enable an open, transparent, and participatory democracy; advance the cybersecurity posture of the nation; and most importantly, improve delivery of citizen services.”

Yeah, he was on fire.

The original IT dashboard.

The first big step was to bring that same real-time tracking pioneered in DC to the Federal Government, which is a lot like going from a tricycle to a spaceship.

“The Federal Government is the largest purchaser of IT on the planet, with over $80 billion spent on over 12,000 systems every year…to shine a light on (that spending) we launched the federal IT Dashboard in June 2009.”

“The Dashboard is a website where people can monitor every IT project..as easily as they can monitor their personal investment portfolios. If a project is over budget, or behind schedule, the Dashboard tells you so – and shows a picture of the person in charge.”

You gotta love the picture of the person in charge. Imagine having your face next to a project that is $100 million over budget. In quick order they “saved $3 billion and cut the time to deliver projects in half.”

And then to show that good ideas have legs, they “open-sourced the IT Dashboard and released all of our training materials. Within hours, 38 states and multiple countries reached out to express interest in adopting it to improve transparency and accountability. It’s already been downloaded more than 2,500 times across the world.”

Within months we went from a President who doesn’t have email to open source code!

My favorite section from the piece is not the numbers and projects but the personal anecdotes that Vivek shares. It’s part of what, in my opinion, makes him such a great leader (and great person).

“I was born in New Delhi, India, and lived in Tanzania until I was eleven. I came to America in 1985…I couldn’t speak English when I first arrived. I recall my first days at school in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and seeing a couple of African American kids around my age. They reminded me of my friends in Tanzania, so I walked up to them and starting speaking in Swahili. I was promptly met by strange looks, so I started speaking even louder to make sure they understood me. I suspect they thought I was making fun of them because the next thing I knew, I was being beaten up. Not the warm welcome I was expecting.”

But back to the tech: we get to the biggest project of his tenure, cloud computing.

“With the economy facing the worst recession since the Great Depression, one program – Cash for Clunkers – provided rebates to people who traded in older cars for new, more fuel-efficient ones. But just three days after its launch, the system for processing these rebates collapsed.”

“One hot DC August night during the height of this mess, I emerged at 4 a.m. from the Department of Transportation after 14 straight hours working…to keep servers online and the site operational.

“When I was Director of Infrastructure Technology in Arlington County, I knew down to the street address where each of our data center facilities was located and what was in them. Yet when I asked how many data centers the Federal Government had, nobody could give me the answer.

“It took agencies eight months to produce an initial inventory of their data centers. All told, the number of Federal data centers has more than quadrupled since 1998, from 432 to more than 2000. Yet on average, they are only 27 percent utilized.

“That’s why the Federal Government is actively shutting down 800 data centers by 2015.”

As of now the Federal Government is moving full speed into the cloud.

Which, of course, brings up the security concerns. As more of our critical systems go online we face an increasing risk of cataclysm.

“From power plants to stock exchanges, hospitals to banks, our Nation’s critical infrastructure systems are increasingly wired and, as a result, increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks.”

Finally, the last of Vivek’s projects, transparency.

“In this approach we also need to be mindful, however, that security is used too often as an excuse to justify the Government operating in a closed, secretive, and opaque manner.

“We almost have an IT cartel that’s made up of a few companies that benefit from government spending because they understand the procurement process better than anyone else, not because they provide better technology.

His response was to re-create the Apps for Democracy program but in a bigger, more permanent way.

“…we threw open DC’s warehouse of public data so that everyone – constituents, policymakers, and businesses – could meet in a new digital public square. We started with 200 live data feeds – everything from government contracts to crime statistics to economic development. And to spur citizens to turn this data into applications that the government didn’t have the resources to create on its own, we launched the “Apps for Democracy” contest, offering prizes for the best applications based on the data we released.

“We ran Data.gov like a lean start-up. On day one, we launched with a Minimum Viable Product with only 47 datasets. Two years later, there are 389,907 datasets covering every government mission area, from health care to public safety.

“Data.gov has spawned a global movement – 21 nations, 29 states, 11 cities, and several international organizations have established open data platforms.

In many ways Vivek is not a traditional White House appointee. His projects were big but not flashy. They tackled the hardest problems big IT faces (spending, cloud, security, and openness) and did so in a lasting way. Each of these projects are now fundamental elements of the Federal Government, which is an awesome legacy.

Americans may not know his name or even understand his work, but in Vivek’s own words: “We saved billions in taxpayer dollars; we adopted game changing technologies; we strengthened the cybersecurity posture of the nation while making it more open, transparent, and participatory.”

A truly successful CIO.

Good luck to you, Vivek, in your new position:

“…my work at Harvard, focusing on how we can use information technology to solve our nation’s and the world’s most pressing problems.

And, good luck to your replacement, Steven VanRoekel, a former Microsoft executive and one-time assistant to Bill Gates.

 

Congratulations, @stevenvDC! The best man for the best tech job on the planet. Good luck–you’re going to rock it!less than a minute ago via HootSuite Favorite Retweet Reply

Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game

Madoff, the SEC, hedge funds & the IC

After reading the testimony of Harry Markopolos, the whistleblower in the Madoff Ponzi scheme who crafted such a compelling reconstruction of events he deserves a Nobel Prize in Literature simply for the writing itself, I thought, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” Markopolos’ 58-page confessional and call to arms illustrates a process so painstakingly onerous, it invoked an image straight out of Kafka’s A Message from the Emperor:

The messenger started off at once, a powerful, tireless man. Sticking one arm out and then another, he makes his way through the crowd. If he runs into resistance, he points to his breast where there is a sign of the sun. So he moves forwards easily, unlike anyone else. But the crowd is so huge; its dwelling places are infinite. If there were an open field, how he would fly along, and soon you would hear the marvelous pounding of his fist on your door. But instead of that, how futile are all his efforts. He is still forcing his way through the private rooms of the innermost palace. Never will he win his way through. And if he did manage that, nothing would have been achieved. He would have to fight his way down the steps, and, if he managed to do that, nothing would have been achieved.

Markopolos began investigating Bernie Madoff in 1999, but due to consistent inadequacies and roadblocks, he was unable to elicit any action that could stop Madoff from his carrying out his odyssey of deceit. As easy as it would be to burn Madoff at the stakes and line up all the individuals guilty of inaction and ignorance for the firing squad, I’m more interested in the future of hedge funds.

For over a decade I have been fascinated by hedge funds – mainly due to the lack of transparency and oversight they have enjoyed since their inception in 1949. In reading Mr. Markopolos’ testimony, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the Intelligence Community, who after 9/11, has been accused of “failing to connect the dots” (even though the dots in many ways were connected). Like the Intelligence Community, hedge funds are a dark market in that:

“…they do not trade on exchanges, they are not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, they are subject to few regulations, and their investors are not extended the same consumer-protection benefits that are given to investors in mutual funds and other entities that fall under the 1940 Investment Company Act.” (Knowledge@Wharton)

My greatest curiosity concerning hedge funds revolves around who benefits from them (and how greatly) and how have they continued to operate in such opaque circumstances after bombastic failures such as Long-Term Capital Management which required bailout supervision by the Federal Reserve. Whenever staggering amounts of money are involved, as is the case with hedge funds and the intelligence community and national security/defense, I sometimes wonder if the breadth and reach of the implications of who benefits and how becomes such a quagmire that any effort to address them with transparency seems disastrous and humiliating at the level of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

In his 30-page course of action to address securities fraud, Mr. Markapolos offers insightful, well-defined, and reasonable solutions; however, he omits two important components: 1) hedge fund transparency/regulation (which is currently being tackled by the Grassley/Levin Hedge Fund Transparency Act and 2) information technology.

If the SEC can learn one thing from the IC, it is the benefit of an integrated information technology system. The SEC, with its twelve offices across the country, along with agencies such as the IRS and DoJ, needs a better way to “talk to each other” (akin to an Intelink) – so the organizations can fluidly share information and utilize communal services to detect fraud. Markopolus’ idea of providing all employees access to a Bloomberg machine (a top-of-the-line financial, regulatory, and market database) is a plainly obvious one, noting that “most SEC offices are lucky to have even one Bloomberg machine for the entire region’s use.” The IC, via the DNI‘s Intelligence Community Enterprise Services (ICES), is provided a set of solutions that include enterprise search, a commnunity-wide wiki, blogs, instant messaging, social bookmarking, document sharing, video sharing, image sharing, and more. Our regulatory agencies need a common suite of tools, the same ones used by private/commericial financial institutions, that allow for greater analytic and data access capabilities.

If the IC can learn one thing from Markopolos and the SEC, it’s that if speaking truth to power is tough, bringing action against power is damn near impossible. Markopolos notes factors such as fear, lack of competence and vested interests as contributors to the abject failure of the regulatory system. His recommendation of creating an Office of the Whistleblower to “centralize the handling and investigation of whistleblower tips” is something the IC could implement to solicit and centralize anti-collaboration activities that would allow all IC members to contribute encountered instances of hoarding and/or resistance to knowledge-sharing in a systemic, protected manner. This would be in line with ICD 501 that strengthens the “sharing, integration, and management of information within the Intelligence Community (IC), and establishes policies for: (1) discovery; and (2) dissemination or retrieval of intelligence and intelligence-related information collected or analysis produced by the IC.”

If the IC and SEC can learn one thing from each other, it’s that while black markets will exist, there needs to be mechanisms to shed light on them.

Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game

Madoff, the SEC, hedge funds & the IC

After reading the testimony of Harry Markopolos, the whistleblower in the Madoff Ponzi scheme who crafted such a compelling reconstruction of events he deserves a Nobel Prize in Literature simply for the writing itself, I thought, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” Markopolos’ 58-page confessional and call to arms illustrates a process so painstakingly onerous, it invoked an image straight out of Kafka’s A Message from the Emperor:

The messenger started off at once, a powerful, tireless man. Sticking one arm out and then another, he makes his way through the crowd. If he runs into resistance, he points to his breast where there is a sign of the sun. So he moves forwards easily, unlike anyone else. But the crowd is so huge; its dwelling places are infinite. If there were an open field, how he would fly along, and soon you would hear the marvelous pounding of his fist on your door. But instead of that, how futile are all his efforts. He is still forcing his way through the private rooms of the innermost palace. Never will he win his way through. And if he did manage that, nothing would have been achieved. He would have to fight his way down the steps, and, if he managed to do that, nothing would have been achieved.

Markopolos began investigating Bernie Madoff in 1999, but due to consistent inadequacies and roadblocks, he was unable to elicit any action that could stop Madoff from his carrying out his odyssey of deceit. As easy as it would be to burn Madoff at the stakes and line up all the individuals guilty of inaction and ignorance for the firing squad, I’m more interested in the future of hedge funds.

For over a decade I have been fascinated by hedge funds – mainly due to the lack of transparency and oversight they have enjoyed since their inception in 1949. In reading Mr. Markopolos’ testimony, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the Intelligence Community, who after 9/11, has been accused of “failing to connect the dots” (even though the dots in many ways were connected). Like the Intelligence Community, hedge funds are a dark market in that:

“…they do not trade on exchanges, they are not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, they are subject to few regulations, and their investors are not extended the same consumer-protection benefits that are given to investors in mutual funds and other entities that fall under the 1940 Investment Company Act.” (Knowledge@Wharton)

My greatest curiosity concerning hedge funds revolves around who benefits from them (and how greatly) and how have they continued to operate in such opaque circumstances after bombastic failures such as Long-Term Capital Management which required bailout supervision by the Federal Reserve. Whenever staggering amounts of money are involved, as is the case with hedge funds and the intelligence community and national security/defense, I sometimes wonder if the breadth and reach of the implications of who benefits and how becomes such a quagmire that any effort to address them with transparency seems disastrous and humiliating at the level of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

In his 30-page course of action to address securities fraud, Mr. Markapolos offers insightful, well-defined, and reasonable solutions; however, he omits two important components: 1) hedge fund transparency/regulation (which is currently being tackled by the Grassley/Levin Hedge Fund Transparency Act and 2) information technology.

If the SEC can learn one thing from the IC, it is the benefit of an integrated information technology system. The SEC, with its twelve offices across the country, along with agencies such as the IRS and DoJ, needs a better way to “talk to each other” (akin to an Intelink) – so the organizations can fluidly share information and utilize communal services to detect fraud. Markopolus’ idea of providing all employees access to a Bloomberg machine (a top-of-the-line financial, regulatory, and market database) is a plainly obvious one, noting that “most SEC offices are lucky to have even one Bloomberg machine for the entire region’s use.” The IC, via the DNI‘s Intelligence Community Enterprise Services (ICES), is provided a set of solutions that include enterprise search, a commnunity-wide wiki, blogs, instant messaging, social bookmarking, document sharing, video sharing, image sharing, and more. Our regulatory agencies need a common suite of tools, the same ones used by private/commericial financial institutions, that allow for greater analytic and data access capabilities.

If the IC can learn one thing from Markopolos and the SEC, it’s that if speaking truth to power is tough, bringing action against power is damn near impossible. Markopolos notes factors such as fear, lack of competence and vested interests as contributors to the abject failure of the regulatory system. His recommendation of creating an Office of the Whistleblower to “centralize the handling and investigation of whistleblower tips” is something the IC could implement to solicit and centralize anti-collaboration activities that would allow all IC members to contribute encountered instances of hoarding and/or resistance to knowledge-sharing in a systemic, protected manner. This would be in line with ICD 501 that strengthens the “sharing, integration, and management of information within the Intelligence Community (IC), and establishes policies for: (1) discovery; and (2) dissemination or retrieval of intelligence and intelligence-related information collected or analysis produced by the IC.”

If the IC and SEC can learn one thing from each other, it’s that while black markets will exist, there needs to be mechanisms to shed light on them.