Following in the footsteps of the federal government's cloud-first policy, the White House last May released its digital government strategy, a multi-pronged initiative that addresses the use of technology within departments and agencies and directs federal CIOs to make more of their data available to the public as part of the government-as-a-platform strategy. That includes directives on presenting data in machine-readable format and rolling out APIs to enable developers to build applications on top of the raw data sets.
Federal CIO to Coordinate Big Data Like the Cloud
NIST's role in the government's treatment of big data involves working out common definitions and standards, a process similar to what the agency has been doing in cloud computing, involving coordination with federal CIOs to develop reference architectures and taxonomies, use cases and a technology roadmap.
In that capacity, NIST also operates as a facilitator, convening both CIOs and their technical teams and end users in what Patrick Gallagher, the director of the agency and undersecretary of commerce for standards and technology, calls a "structured dialogue ... between those that are shaping the technology and those that are trying to use it in the federal government."
"Big data," Gallagher says, "unlike cloud, doesn't have a common definition yet. We haven't yet agreed as a community what exactly we mean by big data. But whatever it is, it's here, and that's clear."
On the cloud computing side, where the government is farther along on its strategic roadmap than with big data, NIST has been working in concert with the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the security aspect of cloud systems, and the General Services Administration, which has been developing guidance for procurement.
The government has devised the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, or FedRAMP, to present cloud providers with a uniform set of criteria across departments and agencies that covers security assessment, authorization and continuous monitoring. FedRAMP, which took effect last June, is intended to smooth over inconsistencies in the procurement process that had created confusion among cloud providers in the private sector looking to contract with the government.