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Federal IT Leaders Must Do More, With Less

Many of the federal government’s top IT decision makers, including Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel and Federal CTO Todd Park, came together at InformationWeek’s Government IT Leadership Forum on May 3 in Washington. We covered a lot of ground during the day-long event, but one theme dominated the discussion: how to do more with less.

InformationWeek’s third annual Government IT Leadership Forum was held at the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue, within walking distance of the Capitol and many federal agencies. In addition to the Federal CIO and CTO, our impressive speaker lineup included Department of Defense CIO Teri Takai, FBI CTO Jeff Johnson, and Al Tarasiuk, CIO of the U.S. Intelligence Community (whose member agencies include the CIA, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and others).

The big tech challenge in Washington these days is how agencies can get by on the $79 billion federal IT budget. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but the feds haven’t had an IT budget increase in three, going on four, years, and much of their spending goes to support legacy computer systems. New, innovative approaches are needed. The White House, DoD, Department of Energy, Intelligence Community, and other agencies talked about shared services, cloud computing, BYOD (bring your own devices to work), and some of the other non-traditional approaches they’re taking. A growing number of people are using the “agile government” to describe this better, faster, cheaper way of working.

Federal IT execs are looking outside of the Washington beltway for ideas on what more they should be doing. The Forum included a session titled “Brainstorming with the Private Sector,” where two business CIOs–Lorraine Cichowski of the Associated Press and Steve Phillips of Avnet–shared ideas with the government IT managers in the audience. This kind of collaboration between the public and private sectors is desperately needed, and it’s something that InformationWeek, with our many years in the enterprise IT market, is uniquely positioned to facilitate. You may remember that last year we arranged a meeting between a dozen public and private sector CIOs at the White House, at the request of Vivek Kundra, who was Federal CIO at the time.

The Government IT Leadership Forum is a place where attendees can rub elbows with the power brokers of federal IT. Many of the 18 speakers are people that InformationWeek’s editors know directly, having worked with them over the past year.

We have posted a series of articles from the Forum on, and there’s more to come:

Videos of each session have been posted on our Website:

  • What’s Next In Federal IT
    • Part 1: Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel outlines OMB’s IT Shared Services Strategy and other new initiatives
    • Part 2: Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel explains how OMB’s IT portfolio review process works
    • Part 3: Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel argues that agencies must cut IT costs to invest in innovation
  • IT Innovation At The DOD – CIO Teri Takai discusses the Pentagon’s enterprise IT strategy, including plans for mobile devices and cloud computing
  • Open Government Reality Check
    • Part 1: Federal CTO Todd Park and VA CTO Peter Levin discuss the efficiency and effectiveness of open government efforts
    • Part 2: Federal CTO Todd Park and VA CTO Peter Levin offer examples of open government leading to service improvements
    • Part 3: VA CTO Peter Levin explains how the OSEHRA program is a breakthrough in government procurement
    • Part 4: Federal CTO Todd Park and VA CTO Peter Levin discuss the feasibility of an open government dashboard
  • Brainstorming With The Private Sector
    • Part 1: The CIOs of Avnet and the Associated Press share best practices and lessons learned with government IT execs
    • Part 2: The CIOs of Avnet and the Associated Press on finding the right balance between spending on IT maintenance and new development
    • Part 3: The CIOs of Avnet and the Associated Press rate the importance of BYOD, collaboration, the IT talent shortage, and more
  • Mobile Government In Action
    • Part 1: Policy Analyst Haley Van Dyck lays out the objectives and key tenets of OMB’s new national mobility strategy
    • Part 2: The Library of Congress, TSA, and the U.S. Army demonstrate some of Uncle Sam’s most innovative mobile applications

The June digital issue of InformationWeek Government was devoted to best practices, anecdotes and takeaways from the Forum.

John Weiler
John Weiler

With federal IT budgets being reduced by double digits, combined with efforts to reduce IT program cost overruns, we are looking at a potential $100 Billion dollar reduction in IT spending.  To be able to really do more with much less, the IT Acquisition Advisory Council has released its Roadmap for Sustainable IT Acquisition Reform, which has helped guide major policy initiatives coming out of Congress, the White House and Defense/Intel community;

1) Reform IT Acquisition by embracing Agile Frameworks and abandoning Weapon Systems Models that have have contributed to a 80% failure rate.

2) Change incentives that reward risk takers who focus on outcomes vs compliance.   This is a culture thing that must be addressed.  100% of the failed IT programs at DHS, DoD and the IC were fully conforming to the compliance rules, but still did not survive.

3) Re-validate vendor past performance as the govt past performance data base in unreliable per the OSD DCMO, Beth McGrath.

4) When embracing Cloud and IT Infrastructure consolidation efforts, agencies must move away from the traditional contractors who own and operate (benefit) from these legacy systems.  


Those who fail to learn from history, are bound to repeat it.  Einstein also understood what it takes to effect organizational change, stating "insanity is defined as continuing the same process over and over again and expecting different results".... and "you cannot fix today's problems with the same thinking that got you there".


The White House and DoD have struggled with similar IT Reforms since the signing of the Clinger Cohen Act in 1996, yet little change has occurred.  Why, because the Defense Industrial Base lacks the IT expertise or incentives to change, and these are the "go to" organizations that the leadership trusted in the past.  


This failure pattern has been recognized by many  in this administration, as evidenced by the statement made by both Joint Staff General Cartwright and Federal CIO Vivek Kundra who called our top 7 Defense Contractors an IT Cartel, which limits competition and artificially drives up cost.   Governments failure to hold its suppliers accountable for their performance is a root cause, and rewarding failure.   This must change..