Inside the Reporter's Notebook: January 31, 2014

Friday - 1/31/2014, 3:34pm EST

"Inside the Reporter's Notebook," is a biweekly dispatch of news and information you may have missed or that slipped through the cracks at conferences, hearings and the like.

This is neither a column nor commentary - it's news tidbits, strongly sourced buzz and other items of interest that have happened or are happening in the federal IT and acquisition communities.

As always, I encourage you to submit ideas, suggestions, and, of course, news to me at

OMB's IT passback loses its luster, changes its goals

The annual exercise that is the IT passback guidance from the Office of Management and Budget has lost its shine.

Where it used to be a great game of cat and mouse between the White House and reporters — well, at least this reporter — to find out what new IT initiatives or priorities the administration is planning for the coming year, alas it's no more.

Multiple agency IT officials and chief information officers say the governmentwide guidance is just a reminder of what they already are doing, and there's nothing new from a governmentwide guidance perspective. OMB, instead, focused more on agency specific requirements, but again, most were just reminders of goals the agency set for 2014 and beyond.

"It seems lighter this year than it has been in quite some time," said one agency CIO, who requested anonymity in order to speak about the pre-decisional document. "They pushed harder last year, especially knowing agencies were behind on some initiatives, OMB directed us to accelerate some of those initiatives. Even in security areas, it's just high level implementation guidance. There is nothing pointed in terms of new or updated initiatives or giving us deadlines."

Multiple CIOs confirmed the governmentwide guidance reiterated existing priorities around data center consolidation, migrating systems to the cloud, shared services and, of course, implementing continuous diagnostics and mitigation of federal systems and stopping insider threats.

"OMB is trying to move on its IT reform plans. What OMB is trying to do is give gentle reminders that there are things going on,' said another CIO. "For the specific agencies, they are asking for reports or updates on initiatives, such as the status of your data center consolidation effort. It's a yawn. It's not a decisive passback for us."

A third government source added OMB also wants agencies to make sure they fund the e-government and other cross-agency programs by July, and ensure their workforces are properly trained.

Despite the disappointment by CIOs, it seems the lack of new initiatives or policy changes are part of a plan by federal CIO Steve VanRoekel.

An administration official said, "We usually target passback for more technical guidance for the budget. For more substantial policy changes, we use more traditional means of communication, such as policy guidance and memos."

This comment elicited a lot of surprise by former OMB folks.

One former official said the comment was "weird" because passback is part of the governance process and communicates policy decisions made as part of the annual budget process when all major policy decisions are made.

"What a strange and non-statutory view of how government works," the former official said.

Another former OMBer said it shows a void in the "management" side of OMB.

Part of the problem may be the lack of communication from OMB about how it wants to use the passback for now on. CIOs have expected policy and programmatic guidance in passback for the last decade or more. If OMB doesn't address the perception and expectations, CIOs and IT managers will be left wondering where the E-Government and IT office plans on going in the new year. Sources say OMB missed a great opportunity to discuss those expectations at the CIO Council meeting Jan. 22.

The data center consolidation initiative is one of two reports the Government Accountability Office is working. Auditors also are reviewing OMB reporting requirements.

At the most recent CIO Council meeting, OMB told CIOs it plans to develop metrics for common IT services so agencies have a standard view of how money is spent and what kinds of services they are receiving as part of the determination as to whether they should move to a shared service provider.

In other council news, the Justice Department's Kevin Deeley is the new co-chairman of the council's Information Security and Identity Management Committee, taking over for Homeland Security Department CIO Luke McCormack, who became the vice chairman in January.

Shuffling chairs in senior IT positions

The Environmental Protection Agency finally is getting a new chief information officer after six months without a permanent one.

The next undersecretary of the Homeland Security Department's Office of Science and Technology is coming over from the Defense Department.

And the General Services Administration, once again, reaches into the Office of Management and Budget for some help.

President Barack Obama on Jan. 30 nominated Ann Dunkin to be EPA's assistant administrator for Environmental Information. Dunkin comes to EPA from the Palo Alto school district where she was the chief technology officer since 2012. She also worked the Hewlett-Packard from 1999 to 2008.

Dunkin replaces Malcolm Jackson, who left EPA in June to work for the private sector. Jackson now is the executive vice president and CIO for the Brickman Group, a commercial landscaping company.

Reggie Brothers, the DoD's deputy assistant secretary for Defense research since 2011, is up for the DHS role. The President nominated Brothers yesterday as well.

He would replace Tara O'Toole, who resigned in September after almost five years on the job.

Before coming to DoD, Brothers spent time in and out of government. He was BAE Systems' director for advanced programs and technology from 2007 to 2011, and was a program manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency from 2003 to 2007. Dunkin and Brothers both need Senate confirmation, so expect hearings later this year.

Dominic Sale is taking a six-month detail to work in GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy, sources confirmed. He has been a supervisory policy analyst in OMB's Office of E-Government and IT since 2008.

Sources say at OGP, Sale will work to bridge the communication gap between OGP, CIOs, OMB and agencies more broadly on governmentwide initiatives. This is something that has been missing since GSA reorganized OGP in 2010.

Sale would make the second e-government policy analyst to move to GSA. Andrew McMahon joined the agency in July as a senior advisor to Administrator Dan Tangherlini.

Connolly, Eshoo release draft IT procurement bill

No mention in the State of the Union. Kicked out of the Defense Authorization bill for 2014. Reforms to federal IT aren't garnering the type of support many thought they would after the debacle.

But wait, here comes another attempt.

Reps. Ann Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) released a draft version of the Reforming Federal Procurement of IT (RFP-IT) Act.

"Our draft bill puts proven best practices to work by instituting a White House office of IT procurement and gives all American innovators a fair shake at competing for valuable federal IT contracts by lowering the burden of entry," said Eshoo in a statement.

Connolly, who also co-authored the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), said large-scale IT failures remain too commonplace in government.

"Our RFP-IT discussion draft recognizes that transforming how the federal government procures critical IT assets will likely require bolstering ongoing efforts to comprehensively strengthen general federal IT management practices with targeted enhancements that promote innovative and bold procurement strategies from the White House on down," Connolly said in a statement.

The draft bill details the basic ideas of how to improve federal IT procurement by:

  • Creating a new Digital Government Office within the Executive Office of the President to review major IT projects before they begin. The office would depend on "top IT talent" to review all major IT projects and help agencies plan the contracting process. The federal chief technology officer would run this office with a goal of overseeing and advising agencies on technology to improve citizen services and government outcomes. The CTO also would oversee the Presidential Innovation Fellows program

  • Having GSA establish and manage a fund to support the activities of the DGO by using 5 percent of the fees collected under governmentwide acquisition contracts and GSA schedules.

  • Codifying the fellows program and call for participants to serve for 6-to-13 months.

  • Enabling more small businesses to bid on IT contracts without having to spend thousands on compliance costs by lifting the threshold for a streamlined contracting process to $500,000 from $150,000.

Reaction to the draft has been cautious.

Mike Hettinger, senior vice president for the public sector at TechAmerica, said there are several provisions in the bill that need more discussion.

"One of the main goals of the bill — to open the federal government market to small and innovative business — is a worthy one," he said. "We believe increasing the simplified acquisition threshold for the purchase of IT from $150,000 to $500,000 for small businesses helps foster this goal. But, we are concerned however that the creation of an Office of the federal CTO within the White House with the power to 'prescribe such regulations regarding procurement' may step on the current responsibilities of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy."

Hettinger added TechAmerica also wants more details about the DGO's charge to review every proposal for major IT systems. He said the definition of "major IT systems" seems overly broad and could include weapons systems.

RFP-IT will need support from high-ranking Republicans to make any real progress.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is likely to take another crack at FITARA this session. With Connolly as the co-author of FITARA too, it wouldn't be surprising to see some elements of the RFP-IT Act merged into it.

GSA releases RFP for round 3 of office supplies strategic sourcing contract

The General Services Administration is taking on the bulk buying of office supplies for a third time. Late Friday, it released the request for proposals for OS3 under the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative.

The solicitation is for four categories of office supplies: general office supplies, paper, toner/ink and GSA On-the-Go, which is a lowest price, technically acceptable section requiring expedited delivery of the order within four hours in the top 10 metro areas by population.

GSA expects to make as many as 21 awards under the contract, which is estimated to be worth $1.25 billion over five years.

The agency said it expects OS3 to save the government $65 million annually on administrative costs plus an additional $90 million in annual savings captured through lower prices.

"The new model, which eliminates an acquisition level of contracting (i.e. the BPAs) is designed to leverage industry purchasing volume power and dynamic pricing capabilities to the maximum extent, will increase internal efficiencies and our effectiveness in supporting customer requirements, will increase small business opportunity while lowering government costs and will increase savings to customer agencies and ultimately, the taxpayer," GSA wrote in the solicitation.

GSA said it improved OS3 over OS2 by increasing the number of awardees to 21 from 15 reduced data reporting requirements and no longer requires companies to use the price reduction clause.

The current office supplies contract expires in May. GSA said agencies are expected to spend more than $800 million on OS2 by the time it ends.

Proposals are due March 17.

IT Job of the Week: Director of Network Services Program at GSA.

You want to be in charge of NS2020? What about the Networx telecommunications program? Well, GSA has your position. The Director of Network Services Program is all things telecommunications for the government. The person will review and manage policy, develop strategic and tactical plans and communicate and advocate for the program's mission. The last permanent director was Karl Krumbholz, who left GSA in 2011. Frank Tiller has been acting since 2011. The job remains open until Feb. 24.

Out & About: Congress is back in session and several committees are looking at data breaches.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will host a hearing Tuesday titled, "Privacy in the Digital Age: Preventing Data Breaches and Combating Cybercrime." It features public and private sector experts, including Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez and William Noonan, the deputy special agent in charge of the Criminal Investigative Division, U.S. Secret Service.

The House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday holds a hearing on border security IT systems, featuring Charles Armstrong, the assistant commissioner of the Office of Information and Technology for the Customs and Border Protection directorate.

Also on Thursday, Steven VanRoekel is the featured speaker at ACT-IAC's first annual Recognition Program for Government's Top IT Innovations.


Jan. 17 -- Inside the Reporter's Notebook: hearing takeaways, $60.4M in cyber awards

Dec. 20--Inside the Reporter's Notebook: Top federal IT stories of 2013 provide few surprises

Dec. 9--Inside the Reporter's Notebook: Labor pinched by poor cloud contracting; Financial shared services progresses