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In many ways, the federal government has long been playing from behind when it comes to mobile computing, but that's about to change at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Internal Revenue Service, which are experimenting with mobile video and tethering phones to laptops for mobile broadband.
The ATF is currently running a pilot with Windows Mobile 6 on about 150 Samsung and HTC smartphones, testing both enterprise applications and mobile video. Within the next two months, ATF will also move to begin testing iPhones, ATF CIO Rick Holgate said Wednesday at the FOSE federal IT trade show.
The video pilot, running on about half of the smartphones in the overall pilot, focuses on surveillance video. Agents in the field can use the devices to monitor surveillance video being taken by IP cameras around the country. These cameras monitor for for criminal activity ranging from drug trafficking to bomb making to violent crime, Holgate said.
"The need for mobile video is largely driven by this surveillance need," Holgate said, adding that the ATF largely identified prospects for the pilot based on their individual need to view surveillance video. "You never know where your people are going to be when things happen."
Beyond iPhones, the next phase of the pilot -- which will focus on both mobile video and business intelligence -- the ATF is still sorting out its longer-term smartphone plans. Several issues Holgate says the agency needs to work through include standardization, whether mobile devices might eventually replace some of the agency's laptops, and authentication.
Meanwhile, the IRS is looking to tether handheld devices to laptops in order to move away from the use of 3G wireless access cards. Right now, the IRS has 25,000 wireless access cards, but usage is far from 100%, so money is being wasted, said David Stender, the IRS' associate CIO for cybersecurity.
The IRS hasn't even yet brought the tethering capabilities out of its internal testing labs, but it is looking toward an eventual pilot. "We're starting off slow with this," said Stender, who will be managing the security aspect of the project.
Stender estimates that, today, about 10,000 IRS employees have Web-enabled mobile devices such as Blackberrys. The IRS has also or is looking to enable several other capabilities not typically found on government smartphones for security reasons, including Bluetooth and read-only access to Facebook and personal e-mail.