U.S. Intelligence Pulls Plug On Cross-Agency E-Mail System - InformationWeek

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10/8/2009
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U.S. Intelligence Pulls Plug On Cross-Agency E-Mail System

The uGov system was hailed as a step toward collaboration among intelligence experts, but the system is being phased out amid security concerns.

Federal intelligence officials have decided to shut down a Web-based, unclassified e-mail system, sparking debate within the intelligence community about whether the move will hamper collaboration.

While U.S. intelligence agencies generally operate their own e-mail systems, thousands of intelligence analysts and other government employees also use uGov, a Zimbra-based e-mail system. When it was launched, uGov was seen as an important step in the intelligence community's drive for better information sharing after 9/11, and was mentioned in the same breath as efforts such as the CIA's Intellipedia wiki.

With its a single directory, uGov made it easier for its users to find like-minded professionals and coordinate activity.

A spokeswoman for the Directorate of National Intelligence cited security among the reasons for phasing out the uGov system, but it's unclear exactly what security issues were considered troublesome.

One former intelligence IT official blamed bureaucratic thinking, rather than security, as the cause of uGov's demise. "Security had nothing to do with this," he said. "You have people saying, 'We really don't need this. Everybody has e-mail. Why not just kill it?' "

The decision underscores the challenges federal CIO Vivek Kundra faces in the push to encourage shared IT services in government. A few other collaboration efforts in government have met a similar fate, including an information-sharing platform called Bridge and a Defense-led thin client network for secure data access.

Users have set up a petition on an internal intelligence agency wiki, urging that uGov not be scrapped. The DNI spokeswoman said intelligence CIOs are considering options for replacing uGov with another system or systems, adding that old e-mails and data won't be lost during the switch. However, it's unclear what will replace uGov or how far it will go toward cross-agency collaboration.

InformationWeek Analytics has published a guide to the Open Government Directive and what it means for federal CIOs. Download the report here (registration required).

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