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Sometimes you have to shock ‘em into believing.
Now approaching my “double nickels” stage of life, I still vividly remember my first day of first grade. Let’s see, that would have been September, 1961. The teacher, Mrs. Jenkins, paddled a boy named Billy L----. I’ll leave the name out. Who knows, he may work for the Federal government. That did it. We saucer-eyed first graders had mucho respect for Mrs. Jenkins from that morning forward. I remember asking my big sister why the paddle had three rows of holes in it.
“I guess so she could swing it faster,” was the answer.
Barely a month ago, Veterans Affairs CIO Roger Baker gave his initial interviews after settling into the job. He outlined a new process to review all IT projects in the department. Shortly thereafter, the Office of Management and Budget launched its IT dashboard, using data supplied by agencies. Then late last week week, Baker – with the explicit and highly visible backing of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who actually made the announcement – put a hold on 45 IT projects he said were severely late or over budget, and were costing the department upwards of $200 million a year.
No doubt the 45 VA projects deserved a time out, but the theatricality of the timing looked, well, stage managed. Baker said the projects came to light while his staff prepared to populate the dashboard. And, at the dashboard site, OMB CIO Vivek Kundra blogged about the potential VA cancellations, managing to praise both Baker and the dashboard in the same posting. Pretty neat.
One could argue that VA should have management practices in place already to catch projects that are off. In one case a project was a year late and 100 percent over budget – surely that must have been known to someone before the dashboard got underway. Even Kundra said on his blog, “the dashboard is not a substitute for good management.” I suspect someone was aware.
That’s not criticism. Dramatic gestures, arranged for effect, are useful in making the case that things have changed. Whether the dashboard fueled the decision-making at VA or the other way around, credit goes to Kundra and Baker for creating a teaching moment.