Tag Archives: US Government

All change again for management of state IT projects in Florida

It is all change again when it comes to the management of IT and IT projects within one US state government.

According to this report, the state of Florida is preparing to do without a standalone agency that deals with technology, with the eventual demise of the Agency for Enterprise Information Technology (AEIT), a 16-person unit that helped set standards for technology purchasing and information security under the supervision of Florida’s governor and cabinet.

The Florida Legislature has passeda bill,  HB 5011, which would have replaced AEIT with an Office of State Technology (though quite how that would differ is unclear).  The Florida Governor, Rick Scott, vetoed the bill, and although the agency still exists, it will have no funding when the new fiscal year starts in July.

Many of its employees, including former state Chief Information Officer David Taylor, have already begun moving to other agencies, the report says.

As usual, the state of IT projects has come under fire with one politician, Denise Grimsley, arguing that studying some of the state’s technology initiatives – including an attempt to switch most of state government to a single e-mail system – led her to conclude that AEIT “in its current state was ill-suited to provide the statewide vision and oversight needed for certain enterprise information technology projects.”

Plus ca change.

The US approach to increasing innovation in government

By David Bicknell

I liked a recent blog written in the US by a ‘federal coach’ – I guess they could only get away with that title in the US!- about US government efforts to increase innovation in departments.

The piece makes the point that the White House recently launched an innovation scheme grandly titled the Presidential Innovation Fellows program that will bring in 15 ‘innovators’ from outside government to provide expertise on five technology projects.  

According to the article, within 24 hours of the announcement, more than 600 people had applied to go to Washington for at least six months to work with federal employees on projects aimed at making government more effective and more accountable.

The projects, which will be led by Chief Technology Officer Todd Park and Government Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel, include creating an electronic payment system for government transactions involving foreign aid and U.S. operations overseas; and streamlining an online system for citizens in need of federal services.

It sounds impressive. The “Presidential Innovation Fellows program is based in part on the Entrepreneurs-in-Residence  programme that allows agencies to recruit world-class, private-sector innovators for limited periods of time and pair them with public-sector innovators to solve big problems.”

For the US, its scheme of government and the strength of its technology sector, it will probably work. Could such a programme work here? What would be the equivalent of a Presidential Innovation Fellows programme? And how many offers of help would it achieve within 24 hours of its launch?

US federal CIO points to greater consolidation of government email systems

By David Bicknell

It is interesting to see how the US Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel is pushing US departments to rationalise their email systems.

The Labour Department is the latest to be earmarked for email consolidation with seven contracts for separate email systems set to be shrunk down to one, the Washington Business Journal reported.

The federal government needs to eliminate duplication to save dollars but also to free up time and resources in agencies’ acquisition offices so more effort can be put into transformative information technology projects, VanRoekel told the recent Congressional Forum on Technology.

“There’s an effort under way to start to look at how many [information technology] systems people are running in these agencies,” he said. “How many email systems? At the Department of Labor there are seven. There’s an opportunity there to save money.”

VanRoekel pointed to rationalisation success at other departments. Three years ago, he suggested, the Agriculture Department was managing 21 email contracts and 1,000 mobile contracts to implement primarily a BlackBerry service.

The department reduced those numbers to one and three respectively. The new email system cost one-third as much as the systems that had been in place, and the mobile computing blanket purchasing agreements saved Agriculture 18 percent from its budget

Consolidation efforts also need to be strategic to ensure fair competition among contractors, VanRoekel said.

“Should we go extreme on consolidation, and run one email system? The Canadian government has done this; one email, one procurement system,” he said. “Contemplating how we’d manage that at our scale is one factor. But also, if we the government were to pick the winner, we would do a great disservice to business. We need to strike that balance.”

US federal procurer GSA cancels Oracle’s Schedule 70 IT contract

By David Bicknell

Something unexplained appears to be happening in the contractual relationship between US federal procurers and Oracle.

As this story from InformationWeek details, the US federal government has cancelled Oracle’s services contract on the the General Services Administration’s (GSA) IT Schedule 70. The US government spent $388 million on Oracle products and services through Schedule 70 in the 2011 financial year.

The GSA is an agency that helps with procurement services for other government agencies. As part of this effort, it maintains the GSA Schedule,  something akin to a collection of pre-negotiated contracts from which other agencies can use to buy goods and services.

Procurement managers from government agencies can view these agreements and make purchases from the GSA Schedule knowing that all legal obligations have been taken care of by GSA.

IT Schedule 70 is the largest and most widely used acquisition vehicle in the US federal government. Schedule 70 is an indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) multiple award schedule, providing direct access to products and services from over 5,000 certified industry partners.

The GSA detailed its cancellation of the Oracle contract in a tightly worded announcement on its website. There has been no further explanation for the contract cancellation and no comment to date from Oracle.

The contract cancellation has also been reported on other blogs in the US:

GSA cancels Oracle IT contract

Six months after suit between them settles, GSA ends contract with Oracle

Feds nix Oracle blanket contract

FDA: “Much work remains” to modernise its IT systems, says US oversight team

By David Bicknell

Sometimes you have to applaud how seriously the US government takes accountability in its departments over their approach to IT projects.

One of the latest by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is on the IT management at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In a title, ‘Why the GAO did this study’, it points out that the FDA, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), relies heavily on IT to carry out its mission of ensuring the safety and effectiveness of regulated consumer products. Specifically, it says, IT systems are critical to the FDA’s product review, adverse event reporting, and compliance activities.

Recognising the limitations in its IT capabilities, the FDA has undertaken several initiatives to modernise its systems, with the GAO now being asked to assess the FDA’s current portfolio of IT systems, including the number of systems in use and under development, and their purpose and costs; assess the status and effectiveness of the FDA’s efforts to modernise the mission-critical systems that support its regulatory programs; and examine the agency’s progress in effectively integrating and sharing data among key systems.

In its report, the GAO argues that while the FDA has taken several important steps toward modernising its IT environment, much remains to be done.

According to the GAO, the FDA reported spending about $400 million for IT investments in the last  financial year (2011). But, it says, the agency currently lacks a comprehensive IT inventory that identifies and provides key information about the systems it uses and is developing.

It points that both Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the GAO’s own guidance calls for federal agencies to maintain such an inventory in order to monitor and manage their IT investments. The inventory should include information on each system, such as costs, functionality or purpose, and status. However, the GAO says, the FDA does not have such a comprehensive list of its systems, although budget documents included information on 44 IT investments for fiscal year 2011. 

Until the agency has a complete and comprehensive inventory, the GAO says, it will lack critical information needed to effectively assess its IT portfolio.

GAO goes on to point out that “much work remains on the FDA’s largest and costliest system modernisation effort, the Mission Accomplishments and Regulatory Compliance Services program.” The program is estimated to cost about $280 million and is intended to enhance existing applications and develop new systems that provide information for inspections, compliance activities, and laboratory operations.

However, the GAO argues, much of the planned functionality has not been delivered and its completion is uncertain. Moreover, the program lacks an integrated master schedule identifying all the work activities that need to be performed and their interdependencies.

The FDA’s CIO stated that the agency is now reevaluating the scope of the initiative. As a result, it is uncertain when or if FDA will meet its goals of replacing key legacy systems and providing modernised functionality to support its mission.

In addition, FDA has not yet fully implemented key IT management capabilities essential for successful modernisation, previously recommended by GAO. These include developing an actionable IT strategic plan, developing an enterprise architecture to guide its modernisation effort, and assessing its IT staffing needs.

One of the problems for the FDA has been changes in its management structure, which has meant that since 2008, the agency has had five different CIOs, hampering its ability to plan and effectively implement a long-range IT strategy.

The GAO recommended that the FDA should develop both a comprehensive inventory of its IT systems and an integrated master schedule for a major modernisation effort, and assess its  information needs to identify opportunities for greater sharing.

GAO Report

Shining a light into the darkest corners of wasteful IT projects

By David Bicknell

US federal chief information officer (CIO) Steven VanRoekel is adopting a novel approach to Government IT: innovate with less.

In a piece written for the The White House’s Office of Management and Budget, VanRoekel says he has learned lessons from the private sector on helping government learn private sector best practices, and in particular, how to buy IT.

“These agency successes are a good start, but we need to do more. We still face an unacceptable amount of duplicative and low-value IT.  That is why (we are)…. launching a new tool for agencies to use to assess the current maturity of their IT portfolio management process and make decisions on eliminating duplication across their organisations.

“This tool – which we’re calling “PortfolioStat” – gives agencies tools to look into the darkest corners of the organisation to find wasteful and duplicative IT investments.”

VanRoekel says the efforts are paying off.

“Over the past three years, the Federal Government has done much in adopting private sector practices to triage broken IT investments, reduce the IT infrastructure footprint, and innovate with less.

“For example, at today’s President’s Management Advisory Board meeting, the Department of the Interior showed that by modernising IT infrastructure and aligning resources to improve customer service, they will realise $100 million in savings from 2016 to 2020, for a cumulative total of $500 million. To date, there have been $11 million in cost avoidance by updating the scope of projects and $2.2 million in redirection of funds due to IT Spending Reviews.”

Over the next year, says VanRoekel, agency Deputy Secretaries or Chief Operating Officers (COO), must lead agency-wide IT portfolio reviews within their respective organisations, working in coordination with Chief Information Officers, Chief Financial Officers, and Chief Acquisition Officers.

The level of executive sponsorship, VanRoekel says, “is a direct reflection of our belief that IT is a strategic asset that can dramatically improve productivity and the way agencies execute their mission. By June 15, agencies will complete a high-level survey of agency IT portfolio status and a bureau level information request for specific types of commodity IT investments that will used to baseline the maturity of agency portfolios.

“Then, using the portfolio data gathered combined with other data available at the bureau and agency level, COOs will establish targets for commodity IT spending reductions and deadlines for meeting those targets; illustrate how investments within the IT portfolio align with the agency’s mission and business functions; establish criteria for identifying wasteful, “low-value,” or duplicative investments; and improve governance and program management utilising best practices and, where possible, benchmarks.

“Though this process is new for Federal IT, leading private sector companies have been leveraging improved IT portfolio management tools for some time. Private sector organisations that waste millions on duplicative and low value IT are destined to disappear. Competitive pressure has forced change and efficiency.

“Though there are differences between public and private sector work, my time in both makes me extremely confident that the best practices from a well-run company can be applied effectively to the Federal Government.”

According to Nextgov.com, which reported VanRoekel’s attendance at the  FOSE  2012 conference on government technology,  US federal IT spending grew about 7 percent every year during the decade prior to 2009.

Since President Obama took office amid the 2008 financial crisis, federal IT spending has leveled off at about $80 billion annually.

“I’m proud to say that in the last three years on that flat or declining budget we’ve actually innovated a lot,” VanRoekel said.

Homeland Security Department CIO Richard Spires imposed a 10 percent cut in operations and maintenance spending across the department in the administration’s fiscal 2013 budget request to free up money for new initiatives.

VanRoekel said initiatives to consolidate federal data centres, shift more of the IT budget to cloud computing and a “maniacal focus on rooting out duplication” were allowing agencies to invest in new technologies.

The US Defence Department’s 2013 IT budget request, for instance, is down more than $1 billion, largely because the department cut costs associated with maintaining data centres.

PortfolioStat is an opportunity for CIOs and chief operating officers to look horizontally across an agency and identify places where services can more easily be shared,VanRoekel said.

According to Nextgov’s report, the U.S. Agriculture Department has moved from more than 20 separate email systems to only one cloud-based system during the past year and recently consolidated more than 700 mobile phone contracts into three blanket purchase agreements.

US Chief Information Officers Council


US Government opens its books on IT projects

By David Bicknell

The Office of Management and Budget in the US has gone some way to opening up the books on IT investments to public scrutiny with the updating of the Agency’s IT Dashboard.

The move,  announced by Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel, makes publicly available detailed IT investment information in support of the President Obama’s FY 2013 Budget.

The Obama Administration launched the IT Dashboard in 2009 to create  more transparent and open government.

As VanRoekel says in his blog,  “By publicly posting data on more than 700 IT investments across the Federal government, we armed agencies with the tools needed to reduce duplication in IT spending, strengthen the accountability of agency CIOs, and provide more accurate and detailed information on projects and activities. We also gave Americans an unprecedented window into how their tax dollars were being spent.”

VanRoekel says the latest dashboard will provide greater transparency of IT investment performance and empower CIOs to intervene in troubled projects sooner. Changes include:

Making the Dashboard more accessible: the Dashboard will now provide access to individual projects and activities associated with an investment, link investments to funding sources, and include visualisations to track investment performance from year-to-year.

Identifying duplication: New data on what kind of services each investment provides will help US agencies identify and address duplication in their IT portfolios.

Improving data quality: Improved validations and warnings will prevent erroneous data from coming into the system,  while new data quality reports will help agencies identify improvements they can make to their existing data

More data and tools: More datasets are now being made available, as well as additional tools to enable the public to participate by downloading and building their own applications.

According to VanRoekel, the  transparency enhancements will improve the way US taxpayers’ dollars are spent. He argues that by using the IT Dashboard and Techstat accountability developments to focus on the most challenged critical projects, agencies and the Office of Management and Budget have driven reforms that have saved taxpayers upwards of $4 billion since the initial launch.

US Government to send in troubleshooters to sort out underperforming IT projects

By David Bicknell

The US Government wants to formalise a plan to send in specialist troubleshooting teams to rein in failing IT projects.

Federal chief information officer Steven Van Roekel  said the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – which oversees the preparation of the US federal budget and supervises its administration in government agencies – is to create government-wide teams to take on the most problematic IT programs.

VanRoekel said agency CIOs also will continue to run TechStats, a government wide tool to shine light on and turn around underperforming IT projects. The critical details of a project’s health that are generated by a TechStat session reveal project strengths and the potential weaknesses that could lead to catastrophic failure.

As well as TechStats, VanRoekel said he will formally launch IT SWAT teams according to a US report.  The concept has already been used to help the Office of Personnel Management sort out its struggling USAJobs.gov portal.

“We assembled a team of the best and brightest IT people across government and they evaluated the USAJobs infrastructure,” said Van Roekel. “They sent me back a bunch of recommendations we now are having OPM implement and take forward. It is a great program and I’m excited to take that concept government-wide.”

VanRoekel said the goal is to bring together other teams of experts throughout 2012.


Ian Watmore: ‘Majority of projects go very well and the public never hears’

The challenges of shifting US Government IT into the Cloud

By David Bicknell

Good piece from Federal Computer Week (FCW) in the US about the challenges of shifting Government IT systems towards Cloud delivery.

Alan Joch’s piece, ‘Is government procurement ready for the Cloud?‘ points out that although cloud computing will offer speed and agility with agencies anble to take IT services up or down as necessary to quickly support new mission plans or workload changes, the reality – for now –  has yet to hit procurement practices.

As Joch says, “Many IT procurement practices and contracting vehicles were designed to help managers provision hardware and software, not on-demand services. Can the current acquisition practices translate easily to the dynamic world of cloud computing?”

Not really, says Barry Brown, executive director of the Enterprise Data Management and Engineering Division at Customs and Border Protection. He echoed a view shared by others in the federal government, and told FCW that for cloud computing, “The technology delivery model has changed. What has not changed is the procurement model.”

The US government has a Cloud-first policy which seeks to reduce costs and increase IT acquisition flexibility by pushing federal IT systems towards cloud environments. Each agency has until May to identify three IT resources that it will move to the Cloud.

But, reports FCW,  the move is straining traditional procurement departments. Rather than promoting speed and agility, in some cases Cloud initiatives are spawning extended contract negotiations and legal challenges that are making it take even longer for agencies to get the resources they need.

US Government Cloud First Policy

Some good IT project news from America

By David Bicknell

It’s always good to be able to write about IT project success. So I’m following up on Steve Kelman’s report in Federal Computer Week in the US about an October 2011 GAO report called Critical Factors Underlying Successful Major Acquisitions, which details seven recent government IT systems acquisitions – costing from $35 million to $2 billion – that have met their targets in terms of schedule, cost, and performance.

Aside from its conclusions on the critical success factors, the report says this about Agile software development: 

“….the use of Agile software development was critical to the success of the program. Among other things, Agile enhanced the participation of the end users in the development process and provided for capabilities to be deployed in shorter periods of time.”

As Steve suggests, the report should get wider circulation to show us what we might learn from success instead of from failure.

We’d be interested in your views.