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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Agency CIOs in the eye of brewing reorg storm

If the departments of State, Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development are any indication, federal technology offices are in store for major shakeups over the next year.

And for many, that may not be such as bad thing.

Details of all three agencies’ Trump administration-mandated reform plans began to come out over the last few weeks, and while the planned changes are broad in scope, the trend is clear: reduce the back-office duplication in terms of both people and services, and centralize the oversight.

Let’s start with USDA, whose Secretary Sonny Perdue has been in front of the message by offering details before they leak out — of course, the same can’t be said for the other two agencies, but we will get to them in a minute.

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IT modernization bill goes from a sure thing to a cold maybe in a matter of days

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) proudly announced on Sept. 13 at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit in Washington that his baby was on the fast track to graduation. Of course, the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on IT was talking about the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act and its inclusion in the Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization bill.

In a few short days, the MGT Act went from being a shoe-in for the NDAA to some giving it less than a 20 percent chance of making it in the final bill.

Multiple sources said Sept. 18 is D-Day for version two of MGT and the NDAA.

Industry and congressional observers said Senate leadership will decide on Monday whether to add another set of amendments to the NDAA. If they do, sources said the MGT Act likely would be included.

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Hiring of IT workers is flat, so CIO Council trying to give it a jumpstart

More than 84,000 federal employees are in the 2210 job series for information technology. The number of employees who work as IT specialists, IT project managers or in the areas of applications software, network services and systems administration has been fairly flat over the last five years. From September 2012 to September 2016, agencies have increased by just over 1,400 employees.

This slow growth comes as the dependence on and spending for technology has increased rapidly.
It’s easy to see, the supply is far from keeping up with demand.

This is why the CIO Council, the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget are hosting a hiring fair Nov. 6-7 in Silver Spring, Maryland to make it easier to hire IT professionals in the GS-7-to-15 grade levels.

A senior administration official said agencies have repeatedly criticized the federal hiring process for taking too long. The official, who briefed the press ahead of the announcement and requested anonymity, said having an enterprisewide approach to hiring these important and hard-to-find positions just made sense.

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How DHS is thawing the industry-government deep freeze

The thaw in industry-government collaboration for acquisitions has yet to fully materialize. Even after more than six years since the first mythbusters memo from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, the freeze at many agencies remains deep into the permafrost.

OFPP is planning a third mythbusters memo as part of its continuing effort to improve communication around acquisition.

But there are signs that the sheet of ice is starting to crack.

In 2017 alone, four agencies held reverse industry days — the IRS, the General Services Administration, the Homeland Security Department and the Defense Department — where they bring in contracting officers and other acquisition professionals to learn from industry.

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E-government may be an antiquated term, but here’s why it still matters

This is the 14th year of the Office of Management and Budget sending to Congress the annual e-government report. Despite the fact the Obama administration tried to convince lawmakers the report, required by the E-Government Act of 2002, was no longer necessary, House and Senate overseers still want the shelfware.

The report remains chock-full of fun facts about e-government — a once-popular term that has been transformed into digital services and digital transformation by the federal community.

OMB released the 2016 e-gov report to Congress in late August.

OMB used to issue two reports on e-government — this one on implementation and another on the benefits of e-government. Unfortunately for us, OMB hasn’t issued an e-government benefits report since 2014, which offered more details on where money is spent.

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If cyber threat sharing is a team sport, DHS needs more teammates

On Halloween, the Homeland Security Department’s Automated Indicator Sharing (AIS) program will turn two years old.

Back in 2015, then-Secretary Jeh Johnson celebrated the successful launch of the program to create a two-way secure sharing of cyber threats between government and industry.

Once the cake was cut and the confetti on the watch floor at the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) was swept up, the hard work really began to get industry to take part in the two-way sharing approach.

As DHS hits the two-year anniversary of AIS, the program continues to crawl forward.

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White House’s new 36-point plan to modernize federal IT

Call it a 36-point plan or a modernized IT modernization strategy, but no matter what moniker you use, the American Technology Council in the White House is trying to put its stamp on federal efforts to move off of legacy technology systems.

ATC released for public comment on Aug. 30 its draft IT modernization strategy with a definite cybersecurity flavor.

The council, led by Chris Liddell, President Donald Trump’s director of strategic initiatives in the White House and director of the ATC, set out 36 deadlines for agencies over the next year, including 24 in the next 90 days.

The draft plan cuts across two broad cybersecurity focused areas: Network modernization and consolidation and shared services to enable the network of the future.

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Trump finally begins to fill out important government management leadership roles

The long-wait is over. The Trump administration has revealed the names of the four people who could, possibly, maybe hold key federal management positions. It was like someone poured an entire bottle of Drano to move the clog that has backed up White House personnel.

On Sept. 2 at around 7:49 p.m., the White House announced President Donald Trump intends to nominate 42 people to fill senior roles in his administration.

Emily Murphy

The most important of which—at least for the federal technology and acquisition communities—are the long-waited, much anticipated nomination of Emily Murphy to be the administrator of the General Services Administration.

Murphy has been a senior adviser at GSA since January when she went there from the House Armed Services Committee.

While just as important, the White House finally revealed the names for two of five management positions at the Office of Management and Budget–Frederick Nutt for controller and Margaret Weichert for deputy director of management.

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Despite procurement concerns, vendors made out well in 2016

Federal procurement spending is up. The number of mergers and acquisitions are skyrocketing. And overall, despite worries about the transition to a new administration, the continued inability of Congress to pass appropriations bills on time and what, many said, was an unfriendly environment for federal contractors, fiscal 2016 was a pretty darn good year for vendors.

Bloomberg Government found agencies spent $477.8 billion on acquisitions in 2016, up from $441.6 billion in 2015—a $36.2 billion increase (8 percent).

Daniel Snyder

Bloomberg Government released its sixth annual Top 200 contractors Aug. 23 along with data on trends across the federal sector.

“Overall we saw a lot of positive areas for contractors in terms of growth in these markets,” said Daniel Snyder, deputy director of BGov’s Government Contracts Research, during a webinar on Aug. 29. “About one-third of overall categories were in the plus this year, and then in terms of companies, about 121 companies improved their rankings, they are followed by 64 who did a little worse than the year before and 14 remained just about the same and maintained their position.”

Source: BGov Top 200

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Army breaking down network defense silos

There is no challenge that cuts across the government like the never-ending thirst for more and better workers who know how to do cybersecurity.

No agency chief information officer would tell you they have enough well-trained cyber workers. And in the venerable words of Alan Paller, the SANS Institute director of research, the skill set most needed is the technical capabilities to actually secure the computer.

This statement may not be true in the next year or two. The Army may be the one part of the federal government that is getting cybersecurity training right.

The Army Cyber Center of Excellence became fully operational on Aug. 9 and published in April its first doctrine for how it fights in cyberspace to include electronic warfare.

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