Year in Review 2015: Hefty IT Investments; Fighting (and Succumbing to) Cyber Threats

From smart city investments and use of Bitcoin technology in government to the Ashley Madison and U.S. Office of Personnel Management hacks, news during the third quarter of 2015 didn't disappoint.


Though SeeClickFix — a 311-style app that lets the public report problems to city officials — has existed since 2008, its growth hasn’t been as rapid as some other startups. But in June, the company announced an influx of $1.6 million through partnerships with venture capital firms that it hopes will allow it to double its staff within a year. At the time, SeeClickFix had more than 200 government entities on board, but some have objected to the business model: implying to users that city officials would see their requests, without the city necessarily knowing about the app. Photo via Flickr/kami68k

A new partnership between the National Fusion Center Association and FireEye is providing new insights into cybersecurity threats, informed by the company’s intelligence on international hackers and politically motivated groups like Anonymous bent on attacking IT assets. Part of a growing attempt to share cyberthreat information across sectors, the company will also partner with six regional intelligence centers in California to share information and streamline operations using technology.


The Dallas Fusion Center. Photo courtesy of Christie Digital Systems

What happens when you make every component of a vast process transparent? The digital cryptocurrency bitcoin uses a single, infinite “ledger” called the blockchain to keep track of all transactions made with the money. But some see a range of possible applications for the concept in government. Using transparent logs of “transactions,” government entities could ensure the integrity of the voting process, simplify property record access and gain better insight into the products they buy, like vehicles.

After hackers stole more than 25 million Social Security numbers from the databases of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the office shut down its background check operations for the U.S. Navy. OPM closed the system, called Electronic Questionnaires for Investigative Processing, to beef up the program’s security. Stakeholders in the system said it might mean disruption of an already-backlogged maintenance system. OPM got the program up and running again in about a month.

Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute is looking to first outfit its campus with sensors, then the rest of Pittsburgh. The researchers want to see the resulting Internet of Things not only offer convenience — coffee beginning to brew as a driver parks, for instance — but also collaboration to encourage innovative uses. Eventually they want to see millions of sensors installed around Pittsburgh.

Sounding Off

Minnesota CIO Tom Baden
On broadband:
“An intelligent community is built on broadband. Now we’re talking about the Internet of Things and there will be more intelligent devices than people in the world. You have to have access. We need bandwidth; speeds have to be better. The Internet of Things is going to change our world." -- Gary Cavin, CIO, Columbus, Ohio


After a hack led to the unveiling of 32 million user profiles on the affair-facilitating website Ashley Madison — much of which was fake, according to the hackers who published the data — people began to dig through the information and noticed that many of the profiles were created using email addresses associated with the U.S. government and military. Among the agencies involved were the U.S. Army with 6,788 Ashley Madison users, the Navy with 1,665 users, the Federal Bureau of Prisons with 88 users, the state of Kentucky with 73 users and the White House with 44.

Looking to bring an innovative spirit to government and a public service mindset to entrepreneurs, President Obama solidified the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program on Aug. 17. The program, which began as a yearlong process, will now continue indefinitely as a partnership where private-sector tech entrepreneurs are paired with federal employees to work on public projects. In its first year, the partnership created open data portals to release information on adverse medical events, medication error reports, officer-involved shootings and more.

Sounding Off

Anne Roest, IT Commissioner, New York City
On workforce diversity:
“We have some focused initiatives on recruiting a diverse workforce and more importantly on retaining a diverse workforce. We’ve had some diversity at the lower level jobs, but we haven’t had the diversity that we’d expect at the management-level and the higher-paying jobs. We’re working really hard to address that." -- Anne Roest, CIO, New York City

Building on the experiments of private-sector companies like Zappos, a group of 10 employees in the Washington Technology Solutions office began working in a non-managerial system in February. The holacracy pilot project involves people essentially managing themselves by choosing workflows and sharing responsibilities. So far, one participant says, it’s going well: Employees seem to be enjoying the work. The office started expanding the system to include 100 employees this summer.


Image via Shutterstock


A national campaign to boost the research, development and deployment of systems to support smart cities and the Internet of Things got a $160 million investment from federal agencies in mid-September. As part of the initiative, 20 cities are partnering with local higher education institutions to tackle different issues. The MetroLab Network will act as a national structure through which city officials will share problems they have in common and the solutions they’re hoping will solve them.

The Iowa Department of Transportation began testing the first digital driver’s license in the country. The app, mDL by MorphoTrust, was used by about 100 employees during a 90-day pilot that the company will use to assess different scenarios that may arise during adoption of the tech. Possible benefits include the ability to instantly update a person’s information and two-way communication between a transportation department and its customers.


Michigan announced Sept. 18 that it’s suing HP for the company’s alleged failure to meet the contract requirements of a $49 million IT modernization project. Michigan issued a termination letter to HP on Aug. 28, stopping work on an endeavor to replace the secretary of state’s mainframe systems. The state claims that HP failed to meet its deadlines and that the department must continue to rely on its mainframe systems, built in the late 1960s.

There are three ways to deal with impersonation accounts on social media: ignore them, embrace them or go on the offense. Peoria, Ill., Mayor Jim Ardis took serious issue with a parody Twitter account, having the account creator arrested and his computer systems seized. A lawsuit claimed the account creator’s First and Fourth Amendment rights had been violated, and the city eventually settled the case for $125,000. Media attorneys say sometimes the best response is no response; Ardis turned a forgettable situation into a firestorm.


When the United Nations met in New York City, it agreed to nothing less than the end of extreme poverty by 2030. It also vowed to eradicate AIDS, eliminate sex trafficking and establish proper nutrition for everybody in the world, to name a few. In the face of daunting demands, a global network of public and private organizations has convened with the goal of making it happen through data. Part of the idea behind the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data is to ensure that the world can track progress on the far-reaching goals.

Back to the 2015 Year in Review


Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.
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