OMB kicks off reforms with Smarter IT Delivery Agenda

Friday - 5/9/2014, 4:12am EDT

Jason Miller, Executive Editor, Federal News Radio

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The long-waited improvements to the way agencies buy technology will focus on people, contractors and processes. But most of all, the Office of Management and Budget is adding another layer to the foundation it started with the IT Reform plan in 2010.

Steve VanRoekel, the federal chief information officer, outlined his improvement plans, called the Smarter IT Delivery Agenda, Thursday during testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

"To deliver citizens the services they expect from their government, we must shift the focus of federal IT projects from compliance and process to meeting user needs," VanRoekel said. "We must be intensely users-centered and agile, involve top talent from the private sector and government IT projects and ensure agency leadership is actively engaged and accountable to the public for the success of the digital services of their agency." The new initiative places the focus on three basic concepts:

  • The best talent working inside government.
  • The best companies working with government.
  • The best processes in place to ensure everyone can do their work and deliver the best results.
"This agenda aims to increase customer satisfaction with top government digital services, decrease the percentage of federal government IT projects that are delayed or over budget, and increase the speed by which we hire and deploy qualified talent and vendors to work with government on these IT projects," he said.

A key piece of the new Smarter IT Delivery Agenda is the Digital Service group inside VanRoekel's office.

After a successful pilot with four agency projects, VanRoekel said he'd like to expand it to a cadre of about 25 experts who would be brought in on two- to four-year term appointments to help agencies improve how they plan IT projects using best industry best practices, fix current programs that may be off track and help agencies focus on citizen needs and delivery of services against those needs.

"We've had four different private sector professionals come in and take time off in a non-conflicted way, and be able to work with these agencies and produce really incredible gap analysis on ... changes that need to be made," VanRoekel said. "What we are doing in the pilot phase is picking pilots in different parts of the lifecycle. One, maybe some system that exists but there's going to be motions to make improvements. One was a project that was going OK but was going along at the normal government pace. We are looking for a project that's maybe really in the first initial ideation stages and thinking about what the future can hold. We are taking them all on so we can learn and take an agile approach so we can develop an agile culture."

Some of this is dependent on Congress funding the IT Oversight and Reform (ITOR) fund at $20 million. VanRoekel said the money will help them scale this effort and he'd prefer not to have to do one-offs where they only help projects when funding is available.

Agile development still a struggle

A main goal of the Digital Service group is to better institutionalize the use of agile or incremental development. This concept hasn't been easy for agencies over the last almost two years.

A new Government Accountability Office report found that four of the five large agencies auditors reviewed — the departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Transportation and Homeland Security — have yet to implement OMB requirements to use agile software development.

"Going small matters. We do not go small enough in the federal government," said David Powner, GAO's director of IT management issues. "The IT Reform Plan of 2010 had a requirement that we deliver within 12 months. Steve upped the ante at OMB and said now six months. We did a review about 90 major IT acquisitions and about a quarter are planning to deliver within six months, and less than half are planning to deliver within a year."

Powner said many of these projects go years without delivering any new capabilities, which is a major difference from what the private sector does.

Only the Department of Veterans Affairs met all three requirements under the OMB policy.

"So what do we do to fix it? In our report, we have a recommendation that, in their Exhibit 300 process, there are 275 out of 760 investments that are in development. The rest are legacy. They should clearly identify whether they are delivering in six or 12 months. Whatever we want to pick, I don't care. Choose either one," Powner said. "If they are not delivering at least within a year, we ought to think real hard about whether those projects ought to be funded. That's how you would fix it."