Obama offers few insights for feds in State of the Union

Tuesday - 1/28/2014, 10:50pm EST

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The HealthCare.gov debacle wasn't enough to get technology and procurement reforms into the 2014 State of the Union address.

President Barack Obama tonight addressed a handful of management issues in his annual speech to Congress and the nation, including the continued improvement of the federal permitting process and a government-wide review of federal training programs. But the President didn't offer any insight into the potential ideas his administration is developing to improve how the government implements complex IT programs.

Several industry groups reported previously that Obama likely would address these issues in his speech.

Instead, Obama called on Congress to make 2014 a year of action around common themes such as energy independence, immigration and education.

"For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. It's an important debate — one that dates back to our very founding. But when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy — when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States — then we are not doing right by the American people," Obama said. "As President, I'm committed to making Washington work better and rebuilding the trust of the people who sent us here. I believe most of you are too. Last month, thanks to the work of Democrats and Republicans, this Congress finally produced a budget that undoes some of last year's severe cuts to priorities like education. Nobody got everything they wanted and we can still do more to invest in this country's future while bringing down our deficit in a balanced way. But the budget compromise should leave us freer to focus on creating new jobs, not creating new crises."

The only mention of federal procurement came when Obama announced the expected increase in the minimum wage federal contractors must pay their workers.

"In the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour because if you cook our troops' meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn't have to live in poverty," Obama said.

As for federal agency management issues, the only new initiative was the President's call for a comprehensive review of all federal training programs.

"So tonight, I've asked Vice President [Joe] Biden to lead an across-the-board reform of America's training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now," the President said. "That means more on-the-job training and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life. It means connecting companies to community colleges that can help design training to fill their specific needs. And, if Congress wants to help, you can concentrate funding on proven programs that connect more ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs."

The White House said in a fact sheet the government will help community colleges build partnerships with businesses so that as industries' skills needs change community colleges can quickly adapt.

Throughout his speech, Obama emphasized the importance of education. He said the government's commitment in 2013 to connect 99 percent of the nation's students to high-speed broadband over the next four years is getting some help.

"Tonight, I can announce that with the support of the Federal Communications Commission and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we've got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and 20-million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit," he said.

Additionally, Obama committed to launch six more high-tech manufacturing hubs to help advance the research and development of new technologies.

Obama also reiterated his commitment to improve how quickly federal agencies review and decide on permitting applications, especially for natural gas exploration and drilling.

"I'll cut red tape to help states get those factories built, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas," he said. "My administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water and our communities. And while we're at it, I'll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations."

Since August 2011 when Obama issued a memo to improve the permitting process, agencies have expedited the permitting and review of 52 major projects, and completed the review of 32 projects including bridges, railways, ports and waterways, roads and renewable energy projects.

The White House said agencies also have "completed a comprehensive review to identify best practices, such as having multiple agencies review a project at the same time instead of consecutively. In the coming weeks, the President will publish a plan to institutionalize these best practices."

Obama mentioned, but offered few details on the reforms he'd make around the National Security Agency's surveillance programs.

He also recommitted to decreasing the backlog of claims at the Veterans Affairs Department. Obama, however, didn't offer any more details on how VA would do that.

"We'll keep working to help all our veterans translate their skills and leadership into jobs here at home. And we all continue to join forces to honor and support our remarkable military families," he said.

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