Reporter’s Notebook

jason-miller-original“Reporter’s Notebook” is a weekly dispatch of news tidbits, strongly-sourced buzz, and other items of interest happening in the federal IT and acquisition communities.

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Navy, NSA, NASA IT executives lead the 2017 retiree migration

The new year always seems to bring a migration of federal employees. January is commonly held as a good time to retire. There are quite a few people on the move to start 2017, so here are some of those retirements and changes in the federal IT and acquisition communities.

Janice Haith, the Navy Department’s deputy chief information officer, will retire on Feb. 3, a Navy spokesman confirmed.

Haith has served in her role since 2010 and has worked for the government for 33 years.

There is no word on who will replace Haith, even on an interim basis.

In addition to being the Navy Department’s deputy CIO, Haith served as the principal deputy/CIO for the Defense Security Service as the director for Intelligence Access for Warfighter Support (Under Secretary of Defense (Intelligence) to oversee development of Defense Intelligence policy for information sharing, foreign disclosure and management of the IT portfolio.

During her time with the Navy’s CIO office, she worked on a variety of programs, including IT modernization and the move to Windows 10, as well as cybersecurity, especially aboard ships.

She also helped lead the effort to consolidate and get rid of duplicative or unnecessary software.


Ups and downs continue for GSA 18F’s identity management effort

The federal government’s fourth attempt to create a customer-friendly, usable identity management approach for citizen services is not failing as some have rumored. But is teetering on the edge of viability as a large agency customer decided not to participate in its initial launch.

Multiple industry sources confirmed that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will not to take part in the pilot test that was expected to begin in 2017.

The decision by USCIS comes around the same time as the General Services Administration’s 18F organization started to get some momentum behind the program.

18F awarded Equifax an eight-month, $3.3 million contract with one four-month option to provide online identity proofing and fraud detection. A GSA spokesman confirmed GSA received five proposals and Equifax was found to be the best choice.

“GSA looks forward to continued collaboration with valued private sector partners in making online interactions with the U.S. government simple, efficient and intuitive,” the spokesman said.

Sources say GSA made the award in November.

GSA released the request for quotes in September, pulled it back because of a protest by eventual winner Equifax, and released again in October.

The GSA spokesman offered no further details on how 18F would implement the contract, or if any agency customers have signed on to the project yet.


OMB memo count: 31 over last 12 months, including 2 new ones

Government management never sleeps. Even as the management side of the administration of President-elect Donald Trump still is far from coming together, the Office of Management and Budget isn’t taking it easy awaiting the new political appointees.

OMB issued two significant memos last week — one addressing challenges around agency-vendor communications and the other updating agency requirements for how they respond to breaches of personal information.

These two are among a boatload of memos coming from OMB over the last year.  In fiscal 2017, OMB has issued 12 memos. Over the last 12 months, the administration sent out 31 memos ranging from the mundane, like apportionment requirements for the continuing resolution, to those trying to make major changes, like to how the government buys technology and pays senior executives.

The most recent two follow a long-held pattern by the Obama administration of updating, consolidating and hoping to leave policy in a better place.

In the data breach memo, released Jan. 3, OMB consolidates and updates four other memos and gives agencies six months to update or develop a response plan to a cyber breach involving personally identifiable information (PII).

“The goal here is to organize and take the lessons we’ve learned over the last 10 years,” said Ari Schwartz, a former White House cyber official and now the managing director of cybersecurity services at the Venable law firm. “Over the last 10 years since the breach at the Veterans Affairs Department, we learned a lot and there are things agencies have to do differently now than in the past and hopefully this will last longer than the last memos.”

Among the biggest changes in the PII memo is OMB outlined definitions of a breach versus an incident.


On average, OMB directors stay less than 2 years. So what does that mean for nominee Mulvaney?

President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget should elicit a lot of questions about the future of agency discretionary spending.

Mulvaney, who is a former small business owner, is best known for being a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus and for co-authoring the Cut, Cap and Balance Act of 2011, which tried to address what it saw as unneeded federal spending, and create a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. The House passed the bill in July 2011, but the Senate never voted on it and President Barack Obama threatened to veto it.

“With Mick at the head of OMB, my administration is going to make smart choices about America’s budget, bring new accountability to our federal government, and renew the American taxpayer’s trust in how their money is spent,” Trump said in a statement.

Mulvaney, who was elected in 2010 to Congress, will hold what is probably the most political position at OMB. So on one hand, his ability to influence agency’s budgets to cut unneeded spending will be helpful. Both the administrations of President George W. Bush and Obama tried to reduce the number of programs that were duplicative or no longer necessary, but ran into congressional roadblocks.

So maybe, just maybe, Mulvaney’s experience and relationships with lawmakers will help finally push through some long-needed changes in federal programs.

“Congressman Mulvaney has a great combination of experience advocating for fiscal discipline and a smaller, smarter government,” said Robert Shea, a former OMB official and now a principal with Grant Thornton. “That experience will serve him well as director of OMB, which has dual missions of budget and management of the Executive Branch.”

Mulvaney said in a statement that he believes the Trump administration will bring “budgetary and fiscal sanity back” to the government.


SBA and GSA, OFPP not seeing eye-to-eye on ‘rule of two’ application

A major dispute is brewing in the small business community. Just four months after the Supreme Court’s June 16 unanimous decision on the Kingdomware case, the Small Business Administration is taking a stand on the “rule of two” that is stressing out industry and agencies alike.

As a quick reminder, the nation’s highest court ruled in the Kingdomware case that the Veterans Affairs Department must continue to apply the “rule of two” for veteran-owned small businesses even if the agency surpassed its annual prime contracting goal. The “rule of two” states if an agency can find two or more qualified small businesses during market research of a contract under the Simplified Acquisition Threshold — between $3,000 and $150,000 — it must set aside the solicitation.

Now the Small Business Administration is expanding that Supreme Court ruling to apply to all task and delivery orders under SAT if the request for proposals comes under the General Services Administration’s schedules.

SBA issued a memo on Oct. 20 that was not widely known about until recently, telling its Procurement Center Representatives (PCRs) that the Kingdomware decision should apply to like statutes because task or delivery orders under multiple-award contracts are considered contracts.


NASA, Oracle earned top spots among 2016 notebook stories

It’s always fascinating to look back on the year that was to see what stories rose to the top and which ones, at the same time, stood out in my memory.

Below are my top 10 notebook items for 2016. They are in order of popularity based on web traffic, but I also chose the stories that I thought were most provocative and captured the goals of the notebook — to be a place where topics receive analysis and discussion in a way that maybe a regular everyday news story wouldn’t.

For each item, I offer some commentary on the story and its impact on the federal community.

  • 1) NASA’s ‘act of desperation’ demonstrates continued cyber deficiencies — This story was the fourth in a series investigating the space agency’s ongoing cyber challenges, particularly under its contract with Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Services. It stood out because Renee Wynn, NASA’s chief information officer, actually took a stand against HPES by not signing off on the contract’s authority to operate (ATO) after repeated unsuccessful attempts to fix outdated or missing software patches.
  • 2) Oracle to leave GSA schedule: A signal of broader change? — This was one of the biggest surprise stories of the year, both for the decision by Oracle and for the popularity of the story. This story shows the power of social media — in this case, LinkedIn — in spreading news across the community.
  • 3) Details emerge about new security clearance organization, processes — The lack of information around the new security clearance organization drove the popularity of this story. The details of the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) were few and far between until the Office of Personnel Management sent this letter to Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.).



Understanding why some federal IT projects take so long

If there was ever a case for agencies to change the way they plan and manage information technology projects, here it is.

High-level data from the Federal IT Dashboard compiled exclusively for Federal News Radio shows the average time it takes agencies to complete an IT program is 1,018 days and the average cost is $23.2 million per program.

The Defense Department, on average, takes the longest time to deliver value — 1,915 days per IT Dashboard program at an average cost of $115.5 million per program.

On the other side of the spectrum is the Energy Department, which takes on average 272 days per IT Dashboard program at an average cost of $2.6 million.

But before you gasp for air and call for hearings and inquiries, this raw data doesn’t tell the entire story.

Current and former federal chief information officers say the data, in and of itself, is interesting, but also shows the problem with the IT Dashboard and the way agencies track projects.

“I see this as an artifact of different agencies defining projects differently or breaking them down to different levels of granularity. Almost an apples to oranges kind of thing,” said Simon Szykman, who spent seven years as a federal CIO in the Commerce Department, and now is chief technology officer for federal services for Attain. “Inherently there’s a problem. Many times major IT programs include multiple projects so maybe there needs to be more transparency in how agencies break down programs for public reporting?”

The problems with the data on the IT Dashboard are not new. The Government Accountability Office has been pressing OMB since the portal’s inception about keeping the information current to ensure maximum transparency.


Watching for the exit of OMB politicals; CMS loses its chief data officer

A lot of personnel moves are coming or expected in the next month, with 10 federal chief information officers walking out the door and all the management leadership at the Office of Management and Budget.

We’ve learned a few are happening before Jan. 20, including Dave Mader, OMB controller. Mader’s last day is Jan. 4, sources say. No surprise that Mader is leaving, only that he’s out the door sooner than Jan. 20.

Anne Rung, the former administrator at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, left Oct. 31.

So that leaves Director Shaun Donovan, federal CIO Tony Scott and Lisa Danzig, the associate director for Performance and Personnel, as the only remaining political appointees in OMB focused on management issues.

And of course, the political appointees in the Office of Science and Technology Policy that focus on technology issues, including U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith and deputy CTOs DJ Patil, Ed Felten, Alexander Macgillivray and Cori Zarek, along with a host of other senior policy advisers, also are expected to leave in the coming month or so.

When all of these appointees plan to leave is unclear, but the exodus is coming, and they will be replaced by President-elect Donald Trump appointees.

It’s also worth noting that OMB lost one of its best public affairs leaders. Jamal Brown, an OMB press secretary, left after six years of working with media on management issues, putting out fires and helping with speaking engagements. Brown was an all-around professional despite being over-protective at times. He took the time to understand the management issues we covered, respected the trade press and the role it plays in covering Washington, and, I believe, did his best to promote the good news stories that too often get lost in the shuffle while putting out the fires in any administration.


3 takeaways from the FITARA 3.0 hearing

It’s easy to focus on agency grades and lawmakers’ praise and/or outrage during the twice-a-year hearing as part of overseeing the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held its biannual session Dec. 6, where we heard mostly good news with 12 agencies improving their grades and 11 agencies earning the same grade as last time.

But what’s really great about these FITARA hearings is finding out what’s happening in agencies underneath the grades.

The State and Homeland Security departments’ chief information officers offered a better understanding of their progress in reforming IT in their respective agencies.

Here are my three takeaways from the FITARA 3.0 hearing:

DHS congruence

Lawmakers spent a large portion of the hearing rightly concerned about the reporting structure of agency chief information officers. The reason both DHS and State CIOs and CFOs testified before the committee was because neither agency’s most senior IT executive reports directly to the deputy secretary or secretary.

One of the reasons the Clinger-Cohen Act — the predecessor to FITARA — fell short was many agencies never met the spirit or intent of the bill’s requirement to elevate the CIO position so it was a true partner at the decision-making table.

Lawmakers honed in on this issue at the hearing and added a new grading section to the latest FITARA scorecard measuring agency CIO reporting structure. The reason for this focus is clear. As the Government Accountability Office’s David Powner, the director of IT management issues, explained the importance in simple terms: CIOs who report to their secretary or deputy secretary scored better than those who didn’t.

DHS CIO Luke McCormack didn’t disagree with the committee or GAO’s opinion on the importance of reporting structure, but he offered an interesting alternative.


What message does GSA’s decision to outsource its HR systems send to rest of government?

The General Services Administration’s decision to award IBM a $149 million contract to modernize its human resources systems and create a private-sector shared services provider is a head scratcher.

It’s not so much that GSA is choosing to upgrade legacy technology, nor is it the size of the deal. What is confounding is the decision to go to the private sector instead of a federal shared services providers and the message that sends to the rest of government.

First, let’s get some of the basics out of the way. GSA is replacing the Comprehensive Human Resources Integrated System (CHRIS) as well as its time and attendance system and its authorized leave and overtime help application (ALOHA). GSA wrote in its fiscal 2016 business case on the IT Dashboard for its HR systems that “Legacy CHRIS is likely approaching obsolescence due to lack of integration of the various tools, limited hardware scalability, high customization and functionality of applications. Note: additionally CHRIS, PAR, ETAMS, and ALOHA are not integrated causing delays, handoffs, and possible errors.”

Additionally, GSA decided in September 2013 to get out of the HR Line of Business as a shared service provider for other agencies. GSA was one of the original federal providers, offering payroll and other HR services at one point to 40 agencies and about 25,000 employees of which 12,500 are its own employees.

GSA’s decision to get out of the HR Line of Business makes sense. It told the Office of Management and Budget in its 2016 business case that it’s facing consistent losses, doesn’t have a competitive rate structure to allow for full cost recovery and has a declining customer base.

So this leads us back to the 10-year deal with IBM to outsource its HR systems.

It’s unclear why GSA went with a private sector provider, given all the emphasis on using federal providers, especially for financial management.


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