NASA and the Defense Information Systems Agency are leading a governmentwide effort to make more federal data accessible via mobile applications for smartphones and tablet computers.
In 2011, NASA launched apps@NASA, a website for federal and contractor employees to download agency apps on their government-issued and personal Apple, Android and BlackBerry smartphones.
Most popular of the NASA store’s eight apps is the time and attendance app for employees to enter their work hours and overtime and request comp time from their mobile devices, as opposed to logging into an online system from work or their home computers or laptops.
By June, DISA plans to award a contract for a Defense Department app store expected to eventually support up to 10,000 applications. The store will be available departmentwide by December. Users will include the combatant commands, military services, DoD agencies and many combat support agencies.
The administration’s Digital Strategy, released last May, calls for a shared mobile app development program and models for delivering commercial mobile applications into the federal government. These milestones are due by May.
DISA aims “to partner with the services to ensure that we all are marching down the same path here when it comes to [the] mobile application store,” Lt. Col. Douglas Smalls said at a mobile computing summit last month.
That includes the process for developing secure apps, which may eventually be offered in the DoD app store. For example, when the Army develops a secure app and wants to upload it into the app store, DISA need not recheck the security of that app and bog down the process.
Like smartphones, apps have very short life cycles, said Mike McCarthy, with the Army. “We can’t spend 18 months waiting for an application to come out of the vetting process because by the time it comes out, at that period of time, it’s not relevant anymore.”
“Take a look at [the mobile app] Angry Birds; how many versions of it are there? There’s a new version that comes out, what, every 30 days? Because it takes the existing one and makes it better,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said DoD should operate in the same way. As DISA works with the services and other Defense agencies on a process for vetting apps, it must ensure the process rapidly gets apps into users’ hands, he said.
Agencies across government have inquired about NASA’s app store and the development work underway, said Jane Maples, manager of the Center for Internal Mobile Apps.
“There is a lot of cross communications among the agencies right now,” she said. “Everybody is trying to deal with the same things.”