Harnessing Technology to Make the NRC More Effective and Efficient

There was a time when federal employees had better computer equipment in their offices than what they could purchase for themselves at a local consumer electronics store. While I can’t pinpoint what year that reality switched, it is now a firm truth that our staff can buy advanced computers, amazing smart phones and tablet computers for their own use while government agencies like the NRC have generally lagged behind in what types of technology is being provided.

This is a problem. Our staff is seeking different, better ways to work. They want to collaborate with their peers and improve communications. Most importantly, our staff wants to more effectively and efficiently support the mission of the NRC wherever they are working.

So, how do we as technology leaders respond? For the NRC, we’re taking several actions, all in support of a longer term vision. Two of the more immediate actions are a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative and piloting the use of tablet PCs.

First, what is BYOD? For the NRC, it is a voluntary program that allows employees to use certain types of personal smart phones or tablet PCs officially for NRC work, primarily by allowing them to connect to the agency’s email system. There are some trade offs for staff who participate. One is that we require the device to be properly encrypted, just in case it is lost or stolen. This helps us make sure we’re protecting sensitive information. We also ensure that employees understand and agree to some new rules of behavior.

Of note, before we went “live” with this initiative we worked with our local chapter of the National Treasury Employees Union to reach an agreement on how the program would work. We’ve already learned a great deal so far, through our own trial and error, talking with other Federal agencies and private sector companies, and participating in interagency working groups.

If you want to know more about “BYOD” in general, you can read new guidance published by the Federal Chief Information Officers Council and the Office of Management and Budget.

Secondly is our pilot program for agency-issued tablet PCs to some staff in our Region II (Atlanta, Ga.) office. For those who regularly follow NRC, Region II is leading the agency in construction inspection. There are new nuclear power plants now under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, plus one being completed in Tennessee. We want to better understand and test how tablet PCs can best support our construction inspectors. When we evaluate how it is going in several months, I expect very positive results, and can see NRC expanding this capability out to other inspection functions.

I believe that these actions are good first steps for the NRC. Simply put, they will help us better understand how to better support our staff and the mission. We can’t – and won’t – stop there. Today’s (and future) consumer devices provide a wealth of untapped capabilities for federal agencies and their staff.

Our future actions will require us to put “mobility” at the forefront as we modernize our IT systems, design new systems, and deliver new capabilities and information to our staff and the public. I’m very confident that we’re moving in the right direction. I look forward to providing updates over the coming year as to how things are going.

Darren Ash
Chief Information Officer and
Deputy Executive Director for Corporate Management

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

3 thoughts on “Harnessing Technology to Make the NRC More Effective and Efficient”

  1. This has always been an issue with government offices as the equipment they use are way to old. It is a serious issue and should be taken into consideration.

  2. I’ve talked with staff about this very issue, which is the need to shift to an “agnostic” approach to how information is shared both internally and externally. For a member of the public, this means we (NRC) start using software tools and design computer systems that allow information to viewed and used regardless of device, browser or operating system. This will help address the very issue described. I admit that this is not an overnight change, but one in which we need to start making. A good read about this very topic – the White House’s Digital Government Strategy – may be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/egov/digital-government/digital-government-strategy.pdf.

    Darren Ash

  3. Great first step but what about all those that want to “Think Differently”?

    Why not let anyone that wants too, use an Apple iPhone and or an iPad? If you allow that, then all the people that want to interact with the NRC using those platforms will be able to do so without any problems!

    Case in point, it took me about 10 email attempts (with a very helpful NRC Contract Administrative Assistant II, Carolyn Siu) to be able to get any links to work, so that I could view the NRC Public Meeting on Economic Consequences: Meeting Slides using a Mac! This is unacceptable and the NRC should plan now so that everyone not just NRC employees can take part in all public discussions…

    Remember, communications and specifically the lack there of, played an important role in the triple meltdowns at Fukushima. If the NRC learned anything from that debacle, it should have been that lines of communications need to be as open as possible so that everyone can communicate together, not just a select few…

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