How cloud could fix a management issue at BLM

The Bureau of Land Management is concerned with how and what companies mine and drill for underneath federal land. But BLM ought to be up in the clouds.

Or in a cloud, as in cloud computing. Nothing made clearer to me the advantage of cloud computing so much as reading about a major shortcoming in the agency’s management. Namely, it doesn’t keep records of who asks for exceptions to or waivers from regulations on how...

READ MORE

The Bureau of Land Management is concerned with how and what companies mine and drill for underneath federal land. But BLM ought to be up in the clouds.

Or in a cloud, as in cloud computing. Nothing made clearer to me the advantage of cloud computing so much as reading about a major shortcoming in the agency’s management. Namely, it doesn’t keep records of who asks for exceptions to or waivers from regulations on how they mine and drill, nor on what the decision is.

Such extraction could run according to the most pristine, by-the-books process in all of regulation-dom, or it could operate like the wild, wild west. But you couldn’t tell by the records the agency keeps. It doesn’t keep records. That’s not me talking. It’s auditors at the Government Accountability Office. They just finished a sample survey of some of BLM’s 45 field. They visited four offices where staff are at least capable of knowing how many exceptions they granted. Even then, of the 54 exception decisions over a six year period, only half were well documented, GAO found.

Auditors found everything from paper forms to criteria used for granting exceptions and waivers vary all over the map. Local flexibility is important. In some places it makes sense to bury unsightly pipes that carry noxious liquids away from drill sites. But in rocky areas hiding pipes would require blasting, possibly causing permanent damage, worse than having exposed lines for a few years. In an example from Frank Rusco, GAO’s director of natural and environmental issues, a company could receive a wildlife protection exception if no pairs of mating sapsuckers happened to alight near the drilling rig during a particular season when they normally do.

So where does cloud computing come in?

Let’s say Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke hopped off his horse and ordered BLM to fix this. In an ideal world, every field office would have the same process, using the same tools and judgment criteria. How then would anyone, much less the secretary, or perhaps acting BLM director Michael Nedd, get a picture?

Simply by hosting their tracking application — whether a giant spreadsheet or a real database — in a cloud, BLM officials could establish a framework for uniformity and thoroughness. Using the right provider, the virtualized application would have multiple, synchronized instances to help ensure good performance and backup. Classic. Field offices, all using the same app, would record their work in this manner.

From a technology standpoint, cloud hosting would get rid of the variations in data formats and media across the 45 field offices. From a policy standpoint, it would enable the agency to create uniformity of policy adherence. Exceptions and waiver policy was developed a decade ago. It’s about time, in GAO’s view, headquarters took it seriously.

You’ve heard this statement so often, it’s become cliche: Information technology is an enabler for (fill in the blank.) In this case, it really would provide a tool for tightening up a looseness in mission delivery no agency should tolerate.

Related Stories