DoT's move into shared services buoyed by better trained IT workforce

Wednesday - 8/27/2014, 10:50am EDT

For technology workers at the Transportation Department, training and education are taking on a new priority. After years of neglect, DoT is reducing the number of contractors and investing in its own IT workforce.

Richard McKinney, the Transportation Department chief information officer, said he's rethinking the 5-to-1 contractor to employee ratio in his office.

"We did an exhaustive analysis and the long and the short of it is we were spending a lot more [on contractors]. The number is eye popping. What we tried to do is figure out which jobs made sense to be a federal position, what you would pay at the 10th step of that grade, fully loaded, pension benefits, put a training piece into it, and the analysis brought us back to kind of a balance point. It saved a lot of money. It was enough that the secretary was like, ‘Whoa,'" McKinney said during a speech at the recent Brocade Federal Forum in Washington. "The conversation I had with my customers was, ‘Let's execute on this plan, and then let's take those savings and for the things that aren't getting done, we will have money without having to ask for more money.'"

McKinney said he received approval from Secretary Anthony Foxx, from the Office of Management and Budget and from the Hill, and now is just waiting on the final pieces to fall into place to move out on this workforce adjustment plan.

"I didn't set out to come up with a golden ratio," McKinney said in an interview with Federal News Radio after his speech. "What I set out to do was figure out which work I knew in our shared services environment made sense for that to be a federal employee, and what jobs it made sense for that person to be a contractor. It just so happened that the ratio ended up being 1-to-1."

McKinney said the motivation to change the makeup and skillset of his workforce came from two simple truths he heard when he arrived at DoT about 15 months ago. He said he was told, "You cost too much and your services are poor."

He is taking care of the cost piece by reducing the contractor workforce, and improving services will come as part of a focus on hiring and training technology employees.

McKinney said before he became CIO, the training program was dormant. He said DoT suffered cuts to training as part of the conference scandals across government and travel reductions required by the White House. But he said travel is not the same as training.

"We need to recognize that this kind of training is the kind of training where the person goes to a training facility for a week or three days with a tough curriculum, and they are not distracted by work or by anything else, and they can focus on the training itself," McKinney said. "All of us in this industry face a high rate of technological change. To have people in technical positions and not train them is to almost doom them to fall woefully behind. It's not good for the organization, and it's not good for employees. Employees work for you and are part of the team, but they also are on their own career path. If you are not training people and they feel like this is a dead-end street, they will go someplace where there is a willingness to invest in them. It's also a magnet to bring people in if they hear this organization trains their folks."

Part of this office reconfiguration effort is the move to shared services for common IT applications for all of DoT.

McKinney said he's trying to find the right balance between centralized and decentralized control of IT. He said the focus is on providing a centralized infrastructure for all of DoT, and let the bureau level CIOs work on mission-specific applications.

To that end, McKinney reinvigorated the agency's CIO council to help with the governance of the shared services environment.

"We have a very robust twice-a-month meeting with all the modal CIOs. We conduct business, we have agendas and have committees," he said. "We also have an investment review board. It was stuck at the starting line. They were accustomed to an IRB where there were winners and losers. The IRB enterprise conversations were going to be different than the IRBs at the modules. We had to work through that."

McKinney said the committee meetings and IRBs help bring everyone to a common view of what will be the shared network infrastructure, which also includes network and data center consolidation, end user computing and network and telephony issues.

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