Reporter’s Notebook


“Reporter’s Notebook” is a weekly dispatch of news and information you may have missed or that slipped through the cracks at conferences, hearings and other events. This is not a column or commentary – it’s news tidbits, strongly-sourced buzz, and other items of interest that have happened or are happening in the federal IT and acquisition communities.

As always, we encourage you to submit ideas, suggestions and, of course, news to Jason via email.

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Bonuses for CIOs, other executives on cyber hot seat

Agency chief information officers need to take special notice about the grilling their colleague Danny Harris from the Education Department took from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Feb. 2. Not so much for the questions about his ethics or even the systemic cybersecurity troubles Education has had for almost a decade, but rather because lawmakers specifically tied Harris’ bonus to his performance around the agency’s cybersecurity.

This was one of the few times in recent memory when members of Congress questioned how a senior executive could have received any sort of bonus when his agency’s Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) scores were failing, and progress on the administration’s cyber sprint was less than adequate.


OMB priming HR shared services for a big year

The Office of Management and Budget is rebooting the human resources line of business effort after it laid basically dormant — or maybe just really quiet — for the last several years.

The recent update on shared services on for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2015 highlights the expectations for a big year for HR, financial management and possibly other cross-administrative functions.

Dave Mader, OMB’s controller, put a finer point on this effort at a recent Association of Government Accountants event when he said that shared services is at a critical point.

“We now have in place a governmentwide strategy and approach. We’ve created new governance models. We’ve created some additional oversight and implementation organizations that the General Services Administration has now initiated that will allow us to move forward over the next couple of years,” Mader said. “The progress we’ve made over the last several years really serves as foundation for how the government can improve the delivery of services not only internally, but more importantly to the citizens.”


Two IT executives on the move from DHS

The Homeland Security Department lost two senior IT officials over the last month.

Greg Capella became the deputy director of the Commerce Department’s National Technical Information Service (NTIS) after working at DHS since 2009.

Capella served as the deputy executive director and acting executive director of the Enterprise System Development Office of the Office of the Chief Information Officer. He replaced Keith Trippie at DHS, who left in 2013. Rob Palmer, the acting deputy executive director, likely will become the acting executive director.

As deputy director of NTIS, Capella will help run an organization that says it’s the largest central resource for government-funded scientific, technical, engineering and business-related information, with approximately 3 million publications covering over 350 subject areas.


The time is right to finally take a bite out of contract duplication? OFPP thinks so

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy’s solution to stop the proliferation of duplicative multiple award contracts has been far from successful.

Agencies may be putting business cases on the OMB Max platform so others can review and comment, but few, if any, actually have been stopped.

So Anne Rung, OFPP administrator, is doing something about it.

Rung said she plans to modify that 2011 guidance from her predecessor Dan Gordon, requiring a business case for any multiple award contract worth more than $50 million.

“My predecessor Dan Gordon deserves a lot of credit for beginning the business case process in recognition there was a lot of duplication and agencies weren’t aware when a contract existed already so they were going out open market, and we would argue that it was driving greater inefficiencies in the marketplace,” Rung said Jan. 27, during a conference call with reporters. “Over the years, it’s been successful in shedding light on existing contracts, but we recognize that we are now at a point where we want to take it to the next level. We need to be able to take some actions based on the information we are receiving and truly drive more dollars to existing governmentwide solutions.”


NSA’s secret sauce to its employees’ loyalty

The National Security Agency gets a lot of praise and criticism for how it meets its mission.

But the one area that most people may hear about, but not truly understand, is the dedication of its people.

NSA employees are among the most loyal in government. The evidence is clear as Adm. Mike Rogers, NSA’s director and the commander of U.S. Cyber Command, pointed out recently.

“Our retention is phenomenal. In 2015, our overall retention was 96.7 percent. We lost less than 5 percent of our workforce. That includes people who just decided they just wanted to do something else and people who had been with us for 30 or 40 years and decided they were ready to retire and go do something else,” Rogers said during a speech at the Atlantic Council on Jan. 21 in Washington. “So unlike my tech-sector friends, and I’ve had this conversation with them because I asked them, we are all trying to go after the same people, all trying to generate a technical agile workforce, what works for you guys? They are somewhat amazed when I tell them our model is you stay with us for a long time. And yet the way that we can stay technically proficient, on the cutting edge, is we like to build teams or we bring together both those who are very experienced and have been with us a very long time with junior people who are just joining the organization, who come at it with a very different perspective sometimes. So it’s our ability to create that team across the spectrum, that’s the sweet spot for us.”


Federal acquisition community loses one of its own

Sad news in the federal acquisition community: Scott Orbach, co-founder and president of EZGSA, suddenly died while on vacation in Hawaii.

Orbach had led EZGSA since 1990 and helped it become one of the leading companies that helps firms get their General Services Administration’s schedule contracts. EZGSA also assists companies in generating leads and sales, and helping clients win federal contracts.

According to the Honolulu Advertiser, Orbach, 53, was found unconscious in Waimea Bay and the medical examiner determined the cause of death to be drowning.


Longtime NSA leader retires; GSA names new head of transformation

The National Security Agency’s retention rates of its employees are heads and tails above nearly every other agency and private sector organization, but that doesn’t mean people don’t leave.

And NSA is losing a longtime fed to retirement. Debora Plunkett, NSA’s first senior adviser for equality, retired in January after more than 31 years in government.

According to her LinkedIn page, Plunkett continues to teach cybersecurity at the University of Maryland.

The director of equality was a new role for Plunkett and the agency. Adm. Mike Rogers, NSA director, named her to the position in September 2014, where she focused on developing and overseeing a model to ensure equality in the agency.



OMB to ban most new contracts for mobile devices, services

The Office of Management and Budget is planning to turn up the heat once again on agency commodity IT spending. First it was on desktops and laptops, and now it will be on mobile devices.

In last week’s notebook, I told you about a new mobile IT services policy in the works. Now I have a copy  of the draft policy, and OMB wants to apply the same level of oversight and structure to how agencies buy mobile devices and services as they did for desktops and laptops.

The draft policy tells agencies “effective immediately, except as provided in this policy, all agencies are prohibited from issuing solicitations for new contract awards for mobile device [sic] and services, and should look to the existing governmentwide General Services Administration wireless solution.”

OMB plans to give agency chief information officers until Sept. 30, 2018 to consolidate existing contracts for mobile devices and services to have one contract per carrier. Under the draft policy, agencies must develop transitions plans to the consolidated governmentwide contract by Aug. 31, including outlining potential situations where this initiative may not work, such as remote locations.


GSA takes the easy way out to solve contracting challenge

The General Services Administration’s choice to create a blanket purchase agreement for Salesforce cloud integration and support services on the surface seems logical.

It’s a widely used platform — according to a simple search on website there have been 227 contracts worth more than $61 million since fiscal 2011— and one that needs more structure and control across government.

“The marketplace for Salesforce implementation and integration services was fragmented and had some disparity in there,” said David Shive, GSA’s chief information officer during a press call on Jan. 20. “When we looked, we saw there were no established quality standards for Salesforce development. We saw there were inexperienced vendors that were winning with new Salesforce customers, but sometimes had some dubious results coming out from those inexperienced vendors. We saw there was inconsistent delivery of code and configuration from agency to agency. There was failed implementations that was negatively impacting adoption of the tools and the processes surrounding those tools. And we saw that some vendors were rebuilding the same apps for the same agency and were developing closed systems in an otherwise open environment.”

GSA announced the award of the BPA to six vendors in December. The five-year contract has a ceiling of $503 million.


Agency CIOs revolt against arduous budget process

Federal chief information officers are like Howard Beale, the fictional TV newscaster from the movie Network who famously said: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” after his newscast is cancelled for poor ratings.

CIOs aren’t being cancelled because of poor ratings—though if the data on the IT Dashboard was more accurate maybe some should.

Rather, CIOs are done with the CPIC process. It is the bane of many CIOs’ budget existence. If you aren’t familiar, let me describe: the capital planning and investment control (CPIC) process is an annual description of technology projects and programs and all the associated data that goes with them — cost, schedule and performance metrics, current and future cybersecurity status and a whole lot more. The fiscal 2017 guidance was 45 pages and included such wonderful things as the CIO’s evaluation of the program, the total estimated life cycle costs — which is nearly impossible to estimate for almost any and all program, whether IT or not — and a description and associated data to create a major IT business case for the program.


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