The Situation Report: Hello USDS Truth Teller

“The Bar is Really, Really Low” – Truth Teller

I learned this week from Kavi Harshawat, a member of the U.S. Digital Service working at the VA, that government civil servants are genetically predisposed to hiding bad news stories from the public. Well, OK, maybe it’s not genetics, but it’s a definite, almost measurable, fear. “Congress or the media attacking a project can mean the difference between getting funded for another couple of years and having the project shut down entirely,” Harshawat said in a YouTube video posted this week.

“And as a result, entire groups try as hard as possible to hide as much information—not explicitly—but they’re just afraid of it,” he said. “There’s no incentive to communicating in the public.”

Harshawat, who was speaking about how USDS fixes things that are broken in government, acknowledged that not every project USDS works on has the visibility of, for example. “The stuff we work on at USDS is inherently unsexy,” Harshawat said. “We’re not working on self-driving cars, we’re not building spaceships to Mars—as much as we would like to—we’re just bringing the same boring stuff that we see every single day in the tech industry here into the government. The bar is really, really low.”

VA Rising

When the Office of Management and Budget recently released its 2016 Benchmarks for Customer Satisfaction, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Information and Technology (OI&T) got an unusual surprise.

In a July 12 memo under the subject line “OI&T on the Rise,” VA Chief Information Officer LaVerne Council informed her staff that this year’s OMB rankings show that “OI&T has risen from No. 19 to No. 5 out of 24 Federal agencies. We have improved scores in every subcategory of our evaluation, including Development, Modernization, and Enhancement; Operations and Maintenance; and Help Desk,” Council said.

“But we will not stop at this success. The new hybrid Activity Based Costing (ABC) model will help drive the next stage of OI&T’s transformation by empowering management to make data-driven decisions,” Council wrote. “OI&T will be able to leverage historical information to make decisions now, and forecast near and future requirements. The ABC model will also help IT roles and requirements shift toward building a value- and customer-focused OI&T.”

VA Personnel Plans

The scuttlebutt currently making its way through the VA at the facility level is that CIO LaVerne Council was planning to jump ship by August. However, my Vermont Avenue listening post in Washington, D.C., has picked up strong signals that Council plans to remain in her CIO post until President Obama walks off into the sunset.

In addition, that same listening post reports that Council is but a week or two away from naming a new chief information security officer for the VA. The Situation Report is monitoring closely.