Carten Cordell FEDERAL TIMES
Mobility gives TSA greater reach for lower cost
August 13, 2015
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  • A budget squeeze is never comfortable, but at the Transportation Security Administration, it has inspired a more aggressive move to mobile technologies, according to TSA CIO Stephen Rice.

    “Our workforce is mobile, it’s part of the organization and part of the culture,” said Rice, in a webcast that is part of the Federal Times Thought Leadership Series. “Instead of tethering our solutions to a TSA laptop or TSA desktop,” the strategy now is to develop more applications for handheld and tablet devices, he said. TSA ensures that its solutions fit within the larger DHS mobile strategy, assuring interoperability when it is needed.

    Rice said TSA began visiting its new mobile structure 15 months ago, with an emphasis on streamlining inefficiency and being able to provide services with the expectation of leaner budgets. So far, the TSA IT department has had its budget cut $65 million over three years.

    “If there is more of any one thing in this agency, they need to be redundant, or they need to be turned off,” he said.

    Part of that streamlining included sunsetting Blackberry technology used within TSA and shifting to Apple iOS devices by the end of fiscal 2014 for more flexibility with custom app development. Rice said TSA is now running close to 14,000 devices on the platform and has standardized its mobile device management system.

    “We’ve embraced a mobile-first strategy,” he said. “In any application, new build and/or any incoming application that requires an enhancement, we are forcing the development team to take a mobile-first approach in developing in that application.
    “If you can’t explain to me or my leadership team why we can’t do it mobile, then we have to understand that we have to re-platform that entire application tier.”

    TSA is projecting 3 percent growth per year in the adoption of iOS devices as it expands mobility. Rice stressed that the TSA would not become a BYOD agency, but would be developing its own app market for TSA-approved applications, as future budgets could make TSA-provided devices an impossibility.

    “Since we are not going to be able to provide, nor I don’t think the requirement exists to provide, a device to every employee, how do we ensure that there are channels that employees can still get to the information when necessary when they are not on duty on or at an airport and require it?” he said.

    Those channels include cloud development, which Rice said he expects to be 85 percent complete within two years. Aiding in that development is a migration of TSA’s seven data centers to a cloud infrastructure, allowing the agency to streamline some of its processing data.

    “The department, in most cases, funds the data center migration,” Rice said. “We’ve embraced that strategy, because it allows us to migrate, modernize our infrastructure and baseline what’s at the data center.”

    Much of the shift, Rice said, was not only to improve and update TSA’s infrastructure, but also to help the agency to acclimate to an environment of more efficiency with leaner resources.
    “In our case, the money will not exist to operate as we do today,” he said. “You’ve got to operate the application as good, or better, as you are today with a whole lot less money.”