Two former e-government administrators say the Obama administration’s 25-point IT reform plan is a step in the right direction. But Karen Evans and Mark Forman say efficiency at the federal level might take more than the prescribed steps to fix.
“It would be great if they sun-setted some of these [duplicative programs] or if the administration came forward and said we have a plan on how to do the sunset and analysis on these programs that aren’t doing well,” Evans said.
Forman, Evans’ predecessor, agreed that ending legacy and redundant systems is important, but agencies also need to focus more broadly on using commodity technologies to meet their mission needs.
Both Forman and Evans talked to In Depth with Francis Rose about IT reform. They both see the primary drivers for success in IT reform as replacing legacy systems, cloud computing and shared services.
As the federal government has tried to keep up with the public sector technology-wise, many times IT systems have become so complex, their efficiency has dropped below expectations.
“What you see is as many as 50, 60, 70 systems that appear redundant and the reason those systems are there is not because somebody said ‘go build me a benefits administration system,’ it’s because there is that much redundancy in the program,” Forman said.
Working towards eliminating the number of programs, which Forman said number “well over a thousand,” is just one step in Kundra’s 25-point consolidation plan to improve efficiency.
Evans said agencies have to ask the question, “Which ones are performing?” She said that when agencies “look across the board, [they see] enterprise architecture, all these different initiatives we had. We know who’s in those spaces. When you look at the lines of business, we know who is performing those services.”
Legacy programs are a major factor when looking at performance levels. Some legacy systems date from the 1970s and 1980s; while some are still useful, their age can make them prime targets for cuts without sacrificing functionality.
Forman said agencies need to “take a look at the 50 or so programs that are performing in a policy area. Let’s take a look and see which programs are really effective at dealing with that issue and get rid of the ones that aren’t effective.”
The Government Performance Results Modernization Act, passed last Congress, will help to find data on program performance and impact, and let agencies know where they need more data to understand how their systems are helping meet mission needs.
“You have to shut things down,” Evans said. “You have to turn things off. And if we don’t turn things off, then we are just going to be layering things on top of it and it’s going to be more complexity and more cost.”
But eliminating programs outright is easier said than done.
Evans said it’s thought “that if you do all these things, that you would have reformed IT. So there is an assumption right up front that these are the things that you need to happen in order to reform how you use information technology in the government.”
“It’s an action plan, it has the action items in there and there are also timeframes around those action items of when certain things need to be done so it is an implementation plan,” said Evans.
“You’re not going to be able to sustain both the legacy systems and the new systems, and/or changes to them,” said Evans, leaving only the option of eliminating the unnecessary programs.
Another aspect of Kundra’s 25-point plan is the cloud-first policy.
Evans and Forman say many agencies believe their systems are very specific to the way they work.
“In an agency you’re trying to make sure you’ve got what you need to get your job done. Sitting in OMB, you see multiple people doing the same thing,” Forman said.
The idea of moving to the cloud brings up trust issues among the agencies because it would let them share infrastructure.
Forman said that until “it is no longer an interagency agreement, which does have some governance difficulties because one agency gets appropriations from one committee and they are authorized by one committee and the other agency another committee…the accountability is not so clear. But when both are going to the next level of enterprise in the cloud, then you’re talking about contractual.”
Kundra’s plan calls for a transition to shared services.
“One of the biggest issues we had in moving to shared services was getting that common set of standard environment,” Forman said.
He also said that the “architecture that allows for sharing and leveraging of those standardized environments and how close can you get them or can you move it to the cloud,” is a big issue.