MeriTalk - Where America Talks Government
Alan Balutis

Delicious Digg StumbleUpon
View All Entries
Popular Tags
Posted: 8/9/2010 - 3 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]

The 1939 film classic, “The Wizard of Oz,” is often ranked among the best movies of all time and has provided many memorable quotes. After Dorothy (or rather her falling house) has killed the Wicked Witch of the East, the timid Munchkins come out of hiding to celebrate the demise of the Witch by singing a medley that includes “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead.” But they do so only after one has intoned: “As coroner I must aver, I thoroughly examined her, and she’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.”

I thought of that passage last week – and its relevance to the Clinger-Cohen Act (CCA) and CIOs in government – as I read Vivek Kundra’s July 28 Memorandum for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies. It begins as follows: “Federal information technology (IT) projects too often cost more than they should, take longer than necessary to deploy, and deliver solutions that do not meet our business needs.” How familiar a refrain. How wonderfully it tracks to one from the “Computer Chaos” report crafted by Senator Cohen’s staff – the study that set the stage for the creation of CIOs in the Federal government:
“Regrettably, the Federal government does not have a sterling record in delivering quality IT solutions within acceptable cost and schedule. Familiar examples, such as the Federal Aviation Administration’s Advanced Automation System, the National Weather Service’s modernization program, and the Internal Revenue Service’s Tax System Modernization, are bleak reminders of IT programs that suffer multi-million dollar overruns, schedule slips measured in years, and dismal mission-related results.”
In 1996, such programs were called “runaway systems” (as they were dubbed by a Peat Marwick group). In 2010, they are called “high-risk IT projects.” In 1996, Senator Cohen and others on the Hill could say “The American public and the Congress get little in return for the $40 to $50 billion invested each year in IT in the Federal government.” In 2010, CIO Kundra and the now departed Peter Orszag use almost identical words, but the number is now $80 billion. 
Isn’t it time to pull the plug and admit we failed? What is the problem? Let me note a few:
·         Organizational Placement – The CIO was to report to the agency head. Today many remain buried under a CFO or Assistant Secretary
·         Politicized – The position is being filled more and more by political rather than career executives. We have tried to manage multi-year technology transformations under the guidance of political appointees with life spans that average 18 to 22 months
·         Authority – The list of Federal CIO responsibilities defined in the CCA is lengthy and impressive. But it doesn’t match the actual authorities most CIOs in government have. With only a few exceptions (i.e., Veterans Affairs and the Environmental Protection Agency) they don’t control IT spending within their department or agency
Need more proof? A year and a half into the Obama administration, the CIO position at the Department of Defense, representing roughly half of that $80 billion in government IT spending noted above, remains unfilled. And the nomination of Teri Takai from California to fill the job has now been pulled pending a review by the Office of the Secretary of a report that (among other things) recommends eliminating the office, formally the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration.
I have studied – and practiced – management for years. One has a relatively short time to get reorganizations and new positions right; otherwise, the structure begins to calcify and can only be fixed by breaking it and starting over again. CIOs in the Federal government are ill-defined positions that haven’t worked well in the almost 15 years since they were created. The uneven organizational placement, the constant turnover, and the lack of authority have all combined to render the overall position of Chief Information Officer incapable of bringing about the change the Clinger-Cohen Act envisioned.   But CIOs in most private sector firms are key figures. So a better approach might be to follow their model and update the CCA to make the CIO position more explicitly about business transformation, with an IT or IRM Director keeping the lights on and the trains running underneath her/him.  But, currently, for CIOs in the Federal government – they really are “… most sincerely dead.”
Posted: 1/28/2010 - 1 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}


Government …as Avatar













 Alan P. Balutis

Business Solutions Group

Cisco Systems, Inc.





As Brian Friel noted in a recent column in Government Executive magazine “The dawn of the second decade of the 21st century comes in the midst of a transformative time for government”. Friel points to four sweeping trends: technological innovations, globalization, mounting federal debt, and long-standing management obstacles.

            One seems especially strong however: the large, and growing, long-term financial imbalance driven by an aging population, which will dramatically increase health care and retirement costs. “The government is on an unstable path “, says the recently released Federal Government’s Financial Heath. This report, prepared by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and Office of Management and Budget (with the assistance of the Government Accountability Office), puts the challenge in stark terms:

“This year, 2008, is the year in which the first of the approximately 80 million baby boomers—those born between 1946-1964—become eligible to draw Social Security benefits.  Scheduled Social Security and Medicare benefits together with other federal programs projected long-term costs are much greater that the resources (revenue and borrowings) available to pay for them. Unless action is taken to bring program cost in line with available resources, the coming surge of entitlement spending will end in a fiscal train wreck that will have an adverse effect of the U.S. economy and on virtually every American.”

In 2010, the Medicare Part A trust fund, which finances inpatient hospital services for elderly Americans, will not have enough money to pay full benefits. In 2041, the Social Security trust funds will not have the assets to pay full benefits. In 2080, the total cost of government will be more than three times the revenue.

As the baby boom generation retires and health care costs rapidly rise, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid programs—as well as interest on the national debt—will account for a growing portion of government cost, creating immense budget pressure on initiatives to fund the other challenges. Interest on the debt in FY09 will total $260 billion – about what will be spent by the U.S. Departments of Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, and Justice combined. The amount the government spent on interest was more than $800 per person last year. It would roughly double by 2020, even if interest rates remain at their current low levels.    


The challenge is not unique to the U.S. federal government. The same holds true for state and local governments. States face growing long-term pressures from the health-care needs of an aging population and the maintenance needs of an aging infrastructure. The recession’s jobless toll is draining unemployment compensation funds so fast that, according to federal projections, 40 state programs will go broke within two years and need $90 billion in loans to keep issuing benefit checks. Months after many economists declared the recession over, cities are only now beginning to feel the full brunt of it. According to Conor Dougherty of the Wall Street Journal: “The sting this time around is expected to be more acute and long-lasting than in previous recessions.” This specter of lean budgets for years to come has a number of cities rethinking the services to provide and how to pay for them.


Overseas, the picture is equally bleak. Even as Great Britain recovers from recession, it faces one of the largest budget deficits in the world at more than 12.5% of gross domestic product. An initial round of public-sector penny pinching has already begun, with cuts in big-ticket items like welfare and health expected over the next three or four years. The world’s richest nations, according to the Organization for Economic Development, are more indebted than at any time in at least the past 50 years.

So what does all this mean for government? A recent article by Anthony Faiola in the Washington Post highlighted Ireland as “the ghost of America’s future”. A future of slashed salaries for government workers. Painful reductions in benefits for such groups as widows, single, mothers, the blind, and disabled children. Cuts in entitlement programs. Increases in taxes and fees. Leaving government like Jake Sully in the movie, Avatar – a paraplegic, crippled, no longer able to do the things he did before. Can technology provide the answer? I will deal with that in my next blog posting.


Posted: 1/14/2009 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]

The Obama team should elevate the departmental CIO position to its rightful level of responsibility and authority. More than 10 years have passed since the so-called Clinger-Cohen law was enacted, establishing the CIO positions and designed to improve and speed up acquisition. A congressional staff report entitled “Computer Chaos” detailed IT initiatives across government that were over budget, behind schedule and not delivering the promised functionality. But soon after the bill's passage, Rep. Bill Clinger retired, Sen. Cohen became Defense Secretary and the Office of Management and Budget took a laissez faire attitude towards implementation. This allowed multiple models across government. Few secretaries set the CIO at the called-for level (reporting to the secretary), or provided the position with sufficient authority, or clarified the domain of responsibility. Recently, as a parting half-hearted gesture to clean up the situation as they were headed out the door, Bush OMB officials floated a letter that would have clarified the role of the CIO in departments and independent agencies. Yet what emerged after final review and clearance did nothing of the kind.  In fact, the clear weakening of the guidance from the initial draft demonstrated clearly how little has been done.

Posted: 8/19/2008 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]

There are many ways to think about what a transformed government for the 21st century might look like. You can examine its characteristics: responsive, agile, flatter, seamless, more personalized, transparent, resilient, collaborative and accountable. 

These attributes are clearly desirable in government. They are not new; many have been discussed since the 1990s when the Clinton-Gore administration launched the National Performance Review. The current administration also supported them as part of its President’s Management Agenda. Although the attributes are clearly worthy of achievement, no one has drawn a road map for achieving them.
What needs to be done? The federal government can take the following steps to get on the road to transformation.
1. Create different culture by taking advantage of the need for new hires. The next four years will bring an increase in retirements, the retirement tsunami. The resulting openings will offer a unique opportunity for government to recruit individuals with the desired set of skills and behaviors. Historically, managers have received only results from orientation and training of new hires. Newbies often receive little or no preparation for the government workplace.
This can change. For example, managers should design two-week orientations that explore what it means to be a resilient and flexible employee. Participants can discuss skills needed to collaborate, and be more responsive and agile. The government needs to provide skills and behavior training, and a cultural orientation in addition to the traditional technical training many employees receive.
2. Give all employees new collaborative technologies.
We know that the so-called millennials—born after 1980—will furnish the majority of new hires to government. We also know that these young people have grown up using computers and collaborative technologies. The challenge for uninitiated government managers will be learn how to apply these tools—social networking, wikis, blogs and virtual worlds—to make government more connected and less hierarchical. The access to information will change the way government operates and will require consideration of new security and privacy issues and re-engineered processes.
3. Develop new relationships between the government and its contract workforce. A major challenge for the new administration will be to forge a true partnership between employees and contractors. To do so, it will have to transform a relationship that today is adversarial rather than collegial. The number of federal employees may increase in the coming years, but the government will continue to use contractors, and the trend toward a blended workforce will intensify.
A proactive approach is needed to help government employees and contractors better understand their respective roles and find ways to work together effectively. Government needs to build and train its contract officers and program managers, discussing anew what constitutes “inherently government.”
4. Enhance collaboration between the federal government and state and local governments, as well as with the nonprofit and private sectors. The federal government alone cannot effectively respond to all the challenges now facing the nation, ranging from sustaining the environment to combating terrorism. Citizens have more interactions with their local and state governments than they do with the federal government, which argues for a local-state-federal approach rather than the other way around. The next administration must develop new ways to improve intergovernmental collaboration to meet these challenges. This same concept also applies to the federal government’s work with the nonprofit and private sectors. A transformed federal government should no longer try to go it alone.
5. Become more citizen-centric. Citizens want government to work effectively, seamlessly and openly. They don’t care what happens in the back office, but instead are concerned about how quickly their applications are processed, their claims are adjudicated and their questions answered. A transformed government would focus on seamless and transparent interactions between government and citizens. And it would concentrate as much—or more—on responsible execution and operational excellence as on the initiation of new policies or programs.
Posted: 7/8/2008 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]

Those who know me - and think well of me - often say I am a good "connector," in sociology parlance, or an excellent networker, in business development terms. 

Others less close to me say, "Is there an event or a reception that this guy doesn’t show up at?"
That said, earlier this week I attend two events. The first was a reception at the National Academy of Public Administration celebrating the release of "A Government Ill Executed: The Decline of the Federal Service and How to Reverse It." The author is Paul Light of New York University.
Light's analysis deals with what our nation needs to do to avert such failures of competence and decision-making as the Hurricane Katrina response, including the toxic trailers; contractor mismanagement in Iraq; the sub-prime mortgage mess; and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center fiasco.
Want more examples? There’s the recent passport debacle; toys with lead paint; contaminated drugs; even the inability to trace poisoned tomatoes.
Prof. Light catalogs a comprehensive list of reforms and argues for a Hoover-like commission to develop comprehensive management reform recommendations that would then be subjected to an up-or-down vote by the Congress, not unlike the base realignment and closing process.
Light's title is based on Alexander Hamilton's warning in The Federalist Papers about malfunctioning government:
"A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution; and a government ill-executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in practice, a bad government."
My second event was the Senior Executive Association Career Executive Leadership Conference. The luncheon speaker was Dr. Allan Lichtman, a professor at American University and author of "The Thirteen Keys to the Presidency". In an amusing and animated address, Professor Lichtman reviewed his unique forecasting system and used it to predict the results of the popular vote in the upcoming presidential election.
Behind the predictive "keys" and the model to which they are applied is a most interesting premise. And it should be noted that the keys he co-developed are based on the study of every presidential election since 1860. They have correctly predicted, well in advance, the results of the popular votes in each of the last six presidential elections. The premise is that what really counts is performance. What really counts is governance.
In other words, an election is really a referendum on how the existing administration has performed.
And so when you puts these two together the obvious conclusion is that the mundane matters of governance, operational excellence and of execution - in other words, of good management - are not so mundane after all.
Good management is not a second or third tier issue, or should not be, for a new president and his administration. Management is in fact one of the most important things that he will do he wants to succeed, and if he wants to be re-elected.
Yes, management matters!
Posted: 5/29/2008 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Tags: Security

A Management Agenda for the Next PresidentThe new president coming into office on January 20, 2009, will face what the current head of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has called a “retirement tsunami.” Over the next five years, the government will lose more than 550,000 employees. The market for recruits has never been more competitive, and government recruiters are locked in a fierce contest with the private sector. For government procurement, a wave of retirements could be especially critical, with about $400 billion a year in spending and not enough midcareer professionals left due to budget and staff cuts in the 1990s. Although the federal acquisition workforce remains largely flat—increasing about 3 percent since fiscal year 1999—federal contracting dollars more than doubled in the same period. Because of efforts to downsize the federal workforce without similarly reducing its functions, the government has come to rely on the private sector. As a result, the number of contract workers has grown to 7.5 million, four times the size of the federal civilian workforce.

Posted: 2/13/2008 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]

The new president coming into office on January 20, 2009, will face what the current head of the Office of Personnel Management has called a retirement tsunami. According to many experts, 60 percent of the federal government’s rank and file workforce and 90 percent of its top managers will be eligible to retire in the next decade. OPM projections show that nearly 61,000 full-time permanent federal employees will retire in 2008 and that retirements will peak between 2008 and 2010—just as the incoming president is seeking to launch his or her new administration. Over the next five years, the federal government will lose more than 550,000 employees. But the market for recruits has never been more competitive and government agencies are locked in a fierce contest with the private sector.  

For government procurement, a wave of retirements could be especially critical. Contracting officers oversee about $400 billion a year in spending and there are concerns that not enough mid-career professionals will be left to replace retirees because of budget and staff cuts in the 1990s that thinned those ranks. In fact, while the federal acquisition workforce has increased only three percent since 1999, federal contracting dollars more than doubled.
Because of efforts to downsize the federal workforce without reducing its functions, the government has also come to rely more and more on the private sector. The problem is especially telling in areas such as intelligence (for staffing surges after the September 11, 2001 attacks), defense (to maintain operations because personnel have been pulled away on military duty) and information technology (as the demand for complex technology has soared).
The result? The ranks of contract workers have grown to 7.5 million, four times the size of the federal civilian workforce itself. The government risks outsourcing all of its expertise.
Some would say that day is already upon us. Staff shortages in the acquisition, and program and project management fields have already been pointed to by the General Accountability Office and various inspectors general as the cause of cost overruns, schedule delays, project failures, and other shortcomings at nearly every department.
Any one of these would be a major challenge for an incoming administration. But their convergence multiplies the difficulty.
Never before has government management mattered more. Never have we more needed new and big ideas—and strong managers and leaders to implement them. And never before have we been so bereft of both.