OMB aims to keep launch of digital A-Team on track

Tuesday - 7/1/2014, 11:03am EDT

The success of the Obama administration's revamped agenda for IT reform could hinge on whether a plan to start up a digital-services "A-Team" within the Office of Management and Budget stays on track.

The launch of OMB's team of "world-class" digital-service experts is a key part of Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel's "Smarter IT Delivery Agenda," which he debuted before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in May.

OMB has already deployed small teams to a few agencies to help with one-off digital projects, but the next step is standing up a more formal "Digital Service" within OMB. When fully operational, the office would be staffed with about 25 tech professionals — from outside the government — who would parachute into agencies on two-to-four-year rotations to help get new IT projects off the ground and help get wayward projects back on track.

OMB's next goal is to begin to "incubate" a pilot program within OMB, according to a progress update posted on Performance.gov. According to the progress report, the agency has "started initial engagements" toward that goal but that it still "need(s) to onboard more staff." Nevertheless, OMB said it's still on track to meet an August milestone for the project.

The broad aim of VanRoekel's plan is to bring federal IT culture — still battered from the rocky launch of HealthCare.gov — more in line with private-sector best practices, in part, by making it easier for tech pros to join the government for limited stints.

After the chaotic launch of the health website last fall, the Obama administration eventually brought in a "trauma team" of outside experts — "coders and troubleshooters who dropped what they were doing in various enterprises across the country and came together" to fix the site, as Time magazine put it in a March cover story.

OMB sees success with pilot projects

OMB now wants these type of experts to be deployed to agencies before a complicated IT project spirals out of control.

This past spring, OMB tested the concept in two pilot programs, bringing in "leading private-sector technologists" to help the Veterans Affairs Department assess the systems it uses for automating the processing of disability claims and to help U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services review the IT systems supporting its E-Verify employment-eligibility program.

VanRoekel's office is also working with OPM on a pilot program to give the General Services Administration and VA greater leeway in hiring their own digital-service experts.

While the overall plan appears to be on track, progress in a few key areas has been delayed, according to the progress report.

OMB had hoped to launch another pilot program with USCIS in June. But that's been delayed by at least a month, according to the updated progress report, because OMB still needs to finalize a staffing plan.

The agency is also behind schedule in publishing a "digital service playbook," which aimed to share best practices from both inside government and the private sector for implementing better IT solutions. That was supposed to be published in May but was delayed by at least a month.

OMB missed a milestone to publish a "TechFAR" guide, a tech-friendly version of the Federal Acquisition Regulations, by two months.

The Obama administration has set new cross-agency priority goals for managing government as part of its 2015 budget. Federal News Radio examines the eight areas identified by the White House in our special section 2014 Cross Agency Priority Goals.

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