The long-waited improvements to the way agencies buy technology will focus on people, contractors and processes. But most of all, the Office of Management and Budget is adding another layer to the foundation it started with the IT Reform plan in 2010.
Steve VanRoekel, the federal chief information officer, outlined his improvement plans, called the Smarter IT Delivery Agenda, Thursday during testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“To deliver citizens the services they expect from their government, we must shift the focus of federal IT projects from compliance and process to meeting user needs,” VanRoekel said. “We must be intensely users-centered and agile, involve top talent from the private sector and government IT projects and ensure agency leadership is actively engaged and accountable to the public for the success of the digital services of their agency.” The new initiative places the focus on three basic concepts:
The best talent working inside government.
The best companies working with government.
The best processes in place to ensure everyone can do their work and deliver the best results.
“This agenda aims to increase customer satisfaction with top government digital services, decrease the percentage of federal government IT projects that are delayed or over budget, and increase the speed by which we hire and deploy qualified talent and vendors to work with government on these IT projects,” he said.
A key piece of the new Smarter IT Delivery Agenda is the Digital Service group inside VanRoekel’s office.
After a successful pilot with four agency projects, VanRoekel said he’d like to expand it to a cadre of about 25 experts who would be brought in on two- to four-year term appointments to help agencies improve how they plan IT projects using best industry best practices, fix current programs that may be off track and help agencies focus on citizen needs and delivery of services against those needs.
“We’ve had four different private sector professionals come in and take time off in a non-conflicted way, and be able to work with these agencies and produce really incredible gap analysis on … changes that need to be made,” VanRoekel said. “What we are doing in the pilot phase is picking pilots in different parts of the lifecycle. One, maybe some system that exists but there’s going to be motions to make improvements. One was a project that was going OK but was going along at the normal government pace. We are looking for a project that’s maybe really in the first initial ideation stages and thinking about what the future can hold. We are taking them all on so we can learn and take an agile approach so we can develop an agile culture.”
Some of this is dependent on Congress funding the IT Oversight and Reform (ITOR) fund at $20 million. VanRoekel said the money will help them scale this effort and he’d prefer not to have to do one-offs where they only help projects when funding is available.
Agile development still a struggle
A main goal of the Digital Service group is to better institutionalize the use of agile or incremental development. This concept hasn’t been easy for agencies over the last almost two years.
A new Government Accountability Office report found that four of the five large agencies auditors reviewed — the departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Transportation and Homeland Security — have yet to implement OMB requirements to use agile software development.
“Going small matters. We do not go small enough in the federal government,” said David Powner, GAO’s director of IT management issues. “The IT Reform Plan of 2010 had a requirement that we deliver within 12 months. Steve upped the ante at OMB and said now six months. We did a review about 90 major IT acquisitions and about a quarter are planning to deliver within six months, and less than half are planning to deliver within a year.”
Powner said many of these projects go years without delivering any new capabilities, which is a major difference from what the private sector does.
Only the Department of Veterans Affairs met all three requirements under the OMB policy.
“So what do we do to fix it? In our report, we have a recommendation that, in their Exhibit 300 process, there are 275 out of 760 investments that are in development. The rest are legacy. They should clearly identify whether they are delivering in six or 12 months. Whatever we want to pick, I don’t care. Choose either one,” Powner said. “If they are not delivering at least within a year, we ought to think real hard about whether those projects ought to be funded. That’s how you would fix it.”
Powner said GAO recommended OMB clarify its June 2012 guidance to agencies to require delivery of new capabilities every 12 months instead of every six months.
PortfolioStat changes view of It
VanRoekel said the new PortfolioStat 2014 guidance OMB issued Wednesday is setting expectations for agencies to change their approaches to project development.
“As far as accountability with agencies, PortfolioStat 2014 makes this inflection to effectiveness,” he said. “It basically says, for agencies, identify your mission-critical investments to us and we hold them accountable to a set of key performance indicators that indicate agile, and part of PortfolioStat 2014 is quarterly reporting against those KPIs, so we are holding people accountable with a yearly face-to-face meeting with C-level executives.”
OMB launched PortfolioStat in 2012 as a follow-up to TechStat to focus agencies on groups of similar IT functions and services, instead of individual projects.
VanRoekel said, through the use of PortfolioStat, agencies have saved or avoided spending $1.9 billion and have identified a potential $2.5 billion in reduced IT costs.
He said the biggest change for PortfolioStat 2014 is the focus on helping agencies look forward, instead of backward, on IT projects, to be more proactive and less reactive.
OMB laid out a series of deadlines for agencies to meet under this new PortfolioStat plan. The first is May 30, by which time they must identify their programs that will go through the process and by May 31 when they must update their integrated data collection to assess progress against their 2013 goals.
By June 19, OMB will finish its assessment of agency programs and schedule a two-hour PortfolioStat session to happen before July with agency CXOs.
PortfolioStat falls into the process part of the new Smart IT Delivery Agenda.
Building on top of the foundation
Another part of the process section is the creation of a “Tech FAR Guide,” where OMB will give agencies best practices, case studies and other details about innovative acquisition techniques used by other agencies to implement successful IT projects.
VanRoekel said OMB also will develop a “Digital Services Playbook,” that will help agencies measure customer input and manage customer expectations and the sharing of technology implementation best practices.
But the initiatives also are part of the broader foundation OMB has been building over the last five years.
Starting in 2010, OMB issued the 25-point IT reform plan that found mixed success with initiatives such as cloud-first, mobility and data center consolidation, while other initiatives, such as shared services or a special cadre of IT acquisition professionals have been slow to take off.
VanRoekel said the 25-point plan initially was about government IT efficiency.
Then, OMB established the PortfolioStat effort to expand thinking about being open and innovative to cross-government initiatives such as common cloud security standards, FedRAMP, or a mobile strategy and open data.
“Once we built those foundations of saying, ‘We’ve got kind of an innovation mentality starting to work its way forward in government. We’ve got our arms around efficiency. We’ve been able to flatline the budget. We’ve been able to show people you can do new things in the context of a flat budget,'” VanRoekel said. “Now it’s time to start focusing on effectiveness and thinking about putting our customer first. We start to measure and understand what our customers need, and how can we get IT to deliver against customer needs?”