Rather than focus on a single topic or recent news event in this column, let’s talk about a number of important Federal government management matters. Think of it as the good government version of Chris Berman’s complete NFL highlights coverage in 60 seconds…
In Congress’ version of an old TV soap opera where one could go away for months and come back to see that it was only later the same day in the timeline, the House Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations released its latest edition of the FITARA Scorecard that measures agency progress in implementing the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA).
First, kudos to the trade press reporters who could make a story out of 18 of 24 agencies receiving the same grade as on the previous scorecard. Sensing a little stagnation, Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., the ranking member of the subcommittee, called for reform of the scorecard.
In truth, the scorecard has undergone reform over the years from when it was first issued in 2015. These changes have built up from covering only provisions of FITARA, to adding elements of the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act, and more recently efforts to transition to the General Services Administration’s Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract by September 2022.
Rather than taking a “fresh look” at the scorecard, I’d suggest Congress take a look at who is given the grade. Grading categories – like agency CIO authorities, use of the MGT Act, transition to EIS, and even cybersecurity – are not solely within the purview of Federal agency CIOs. Other department/agency C-level executives either share in those decisions, or are in fact the real decision makers.
So a Capitol Hill session to rank agencies on their IT progress should be hearing from either the Deputy Secretary (COO), the Under Secretary for Management, or the “management team” at agencies – IT, acquisition, human resources and most importantly budget. And while it was important that the new Federal CIO, Clare Martorana, testified at the hearing, it would be nice in the future for her to be joined by the new Deputy Director for Management, Jason Miller.
Federal CIO Martorana made an excellent impression at the July 28 FITARA Scorecard
hearing, restating the Biden administration’s position that the government needs to rethink its approach to IT in order to focus on improving citizen and customer service. She also noted that the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) Board has received more than 100 proposals totaling over $2 billion of funding requests. They will be evaluated against four criteria – modernizing high-priority systems; cybersecurity; public-facing digital services; and cross-government collaboration and scalable services.
The number of proposals received and the investments requested seems to be the main argument for the Biden request for an additional $500 million for the TMF in FY 2022 as opposed to the $50 million in the House appropriations at present.
But it is hardly unusual to have a grants entity receive proposals that total multiples of the funds available; more than twice is modest, in fact. Competition is good. Making hard choices is good. The winners should be exceptional — especially in this round of awards.
I would suggest the TMF Board look at an additional criterion – steps taken to set up an agency Working Capital Fund for future IT investments/actions in the annual budget process to redirect funding from Operations and Maintenance to Development, Modernization and Enhancement.
The bottom line: the $1 billion available this year is unlikely to be a recurrent event, so agencies need to start turning their IT budgeting ship for the outyears.
Future of Work
This has been a topic of discussion for some time and one can find conferences and events even now on the topic. But isn’t the future already here? The pandemic over these past 17 months has accelerated what looks to be permanent change, so that perhaps a better term is “modern work.”
For the government, the effect are sweeping – for employees, managers, collaboration, citizen services, technology, contractors, travel, owned and leased buildings, and on and on. The sooner the government views this as a 2021 issue and makes it an immediate priority the better it will be prepared to deal with core missions, serve citizens and recruit/retain a skilled workforce.
Another recurrent topic – trust.
Back in 1964, more than 75 percent of Americans said they trusted the Federal government. Today, according to the Pew Research Center, only 25 percent do. But we should note that government is not alone in this decline. Trust in the media had fallen from around 70 percent in the 1970s to around 40 percent today. Americans also report having less trust and more animosity towards one another than they used to.
So how can we explain America’s reported declines in trust over time? A review of recent research suggests some factors. One may be economic stagnation – the poorer and less educated you are, the less trusting you tend to be. In addition, our current partisan rancor actually has made to harder to measure trust. Survey questions that have been asked for decades, such as an approval rating for the President, have become less useful because answers now hinge on political partisanship. A recent “New Yorker” article asked whether we could in fact trust our indicators of trust. Another explanation proposed is that advances in technology have upended the old model in which trust was transmitted from institution to individual.
I raise these issues because many suggested reforms in government – agile, evidence-based, IT modernization, citizen focused, and so on – are justified on the basis of “restoring trust”. A better understanding of the trust deficit might allow us to craft a better restorative strategy.
August – if we are so lucky – is a month for the beach and reading. Once you get through a few trashy novels, I recommend WE THE POSSIBILITY: Harnessing Public Entrepreneurship to Solve Our Most Urgent Problems by Mitchell Weiss (Harvard Business review Press). I find it readable, insightful, and thought-provoking for all those who support making government better.