Inside the Reporter's Notebook: CIOs on the move; DoD seeks acquisition reform help

Sunday - 2/16/2014, 4:59pm EST

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

This is not 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 jpmiller@federalnewsradio.com.


USAID, MACPAC looking for new CIOs

The U.S. Agency for International Development is looking for a new IT chief. Jerry Horton has been the chief information officer since 2009, but on the CIO Council's website Jay Mahanand is listed as the acting CIO at the agency. Mahanand has been USAID's deputy CIO since 2009.

A USAID spokeswoman would not confirm or deny Horton left his role as CIO, saying only, "We do not have anything to announce at this time."

But, sources say Horton left USAID in mid-January to take a position in the State Department's CIO office.

At the same time, the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) put out the help wanted sign as Mathew Chase moved to the private sector.

Neither move is surprising as both have been in their positions for more than three years.

Horton has accomplished several important initiatives during his tenure, including improving the agency's cybersecurity by moving toward continuous monitoring and implementing access controls on the computer network through smart identity cards. Horton also worked to integrate USAID's networks with the State Department's systems and take advantage of big data analytics, specifically around financial data.

Chase became a vice president at Avalere, a healthcare consulting company, where he leads the company's information technology efforts and provides strategic direction to its businesses in the delivery of technology.

He served as MACPAC's first CIO for more than three years where he set up a cloud-based infrastructure and data analytics services.

One more technology-related update: Stacy Riggs received a nice promotion to be the director of strategy and performance management at the General Services Administration. Riggs had been the deputy director in the Office of Technology Strategy in the Office of Governmentwide Policy for the last three years.

Riggs is leading a new group as part of GSA's IT consolidation effort that will focus on strategic planning, performance management, budget and workforce planning under the Office of Planning and Governance.

GSA consolidated its CIO offices and centralized oversight of technology over the last two years.


DoD asks for vendors' help to simplify acquisition regs

The Defense Department is serious about updating its acquisition processes — and it's trying to give Congress some food for thought.

DoD kicked off what Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, called the need to simplify the existing set of laws governing how the military buys goods and services by issuing a request for comments earlier this week focusing on the impact of specific contracting statutes.

In the notice, DoD says it has identified about 400 acquisition requirements based solely on statute.

"As part of this assessment, the director of Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy would like to receive the views of interested parties identifying particular impacts associated with specific contracting statutes," DoD stated in the notice. "There is an extensive body of law and regulation that govern the department's business. We are seeking to better understand the impact experienced by industry resulting from requirements based on statute."

DoD wants four basic questions answered:

  • Particular impacts associated with specific contracting statutes
  • Why the identified impact does not achieve the intended benefit of the identified legislation, or why the intended benefit is not helpful to the department
  • Any recommendations for alternative approaches to achieve the intended benefit of the identified legislation
  • Candidate DoD Federal Acquisition Regulations (DFARS) and component supplements requirements that, although not based in statute, warrant similar consideration

At the same time, DoD is finalizing the rewrite of its acquisition regulations under the 5000.02 guidance. Kendall issued the interim guidance in November. The 5000.02 guidance has been in major need of a rewrite for some time, as DoD has made major changes and strides in how it buys products and services — think rapid acquisition processes — and the type of things it buys — think enterprise IT services from the Defense Information Systems Agency.

DoD's request comes as the House Armed Services Committee continues reviewing the military's acquisition process. The committee was supposed to hold a hearing last Wednesday on overcoming acquisition reform obstacles with former Office of Federal Procurement Policy Administrator Dan Gordon, former Undersecretary of the Army Norm Augustine and Jonathan Etherton, president of Etherton and Associates and a former Hill staff member, before the snow storm postponed it.

Expect that hearing to be rescheduled in the coming weeks. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) is leading the new panel to reform the defense acquisition process.


Good government groups get behind grants reform

Seven good government groups are putting their weight behind the Grant Reform and New Transparency (GRANTS) Act, which the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved last October.

The Center for Effective Government, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Defending Dissent Foundation, iSolon.org, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) and Taxpayers for Common Sense wrote a letter to members of Congress Feb. 12 asking for their support to improve the transparency and accountability around the grant-making process. Agencies hand out more than $600 billion a year in grants — more than federal procurement spending.

While lawmakers and the White House, both under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, have increased the oversight of acquisition spending and pushed for more data transparency, attention to federal grant making has been through a series of fits and starts.

The Office of Management and Budget launched a line of business initiatives around consolidating grant-making systems. It made limited progress.

In October 2011, OMB merged two existing grant oversight boards into the Council on Financial Assistance Reform. COFAR recently updated its priorities for 2014 and 2015 to include developing a single audit metric for grant-making programs by March, and to submit to OMB by June draft regulations for risk-based guidance targeting waste, fraud and abuse.

Last February, OMB announced the first major rewrite of the grants-making policy and oversight with an aim to simplify and streamline the regulations across the government. In December, it released final guidance for Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for federal awards.

Given all this effort, the grant process lacks standard data and has limited transparency.

The good government groups want Congress to act more quickly to make grants information more accessible. They support the GRANTS Act provision to establish uniform standards for how agencies publish in downloadable and searchable formats notices, awards and disclose competitive grant information. The bill also calls for OMB to create an online portal to hold all of this data.

"We are encouraged that such approaches to grant transparency also take into consideration an ability to provide oversight of grant reviewers, but more should be done to protect the integrity of the peer-review process while maximizing disclosure," the groups wrote. "Publishing statistical information about volume of grant applications, denied applications, and processing time would also be a meaningful addition."

The groups offered one concern about the GRANTS Act leeway in giving agencies the ability to withhold information that's part of the "deliberative process," such as ranking and scoring data or intellectual property.

"[W]e urge you to address this in your legislation. We urge you to strike the balance between discretion and disclosure in favor of public access, and that you include a study of this balance by the Government Accountability Office," the letter stated.

The committee passed the GRANTS Act in October, but it hasn't had time on the House floor for debate or a vote.

IT Job of the Week

For those technology folks on the rise, MACPAC's loss could be your gain. The CIO position is open with Mathew Chase (see earlier item) leaving for the private sector.

This is one of those agencies where you will not have to walk into an aging infrastructure and systems filled with COBOL. Nope, Congress created MACPAC in 2009 as a non-partisan agency charged with providing policy and data analysis to the Congress on Medicaid and CHIP, and for making recommendations to Congress, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the states on a wide range of issues affecting these programs.

The CIO will do what technology managers usually do - oversee systems and data, and provide strategy input around budget and other issues.


Out & About:

  • If cybersecurity is your focus area, the AFFIRM lunch on Thursday is where you need to be. The panel, which is hosted by our own Francis Rose, features Margie Graves, deputy CIO, Department of Homeland Security; Bill Lay, acting deputy CIO for information assurance and chief information security officer for the State Department; and Steve Viar, director of FEDSIM in the Federal Acquisition Service at the General Services Administration.

  • Also on Thursday, the Coalition for Government Procurement announced a breakfast featuring GSA's Mary Davie and Mark Day, to discuss the priorities of Integrated Technology Services (ITS) at the Tower Club in Vienna, Va.

  • AFCEA's Northern Virginia chapter hosts its monthly luncheon Friday in Vienna, Va., featuring Vice Adm. Ted Branch, the Navy's deputy chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance and director of Naval Intelligence.

RELATED STORIES:

Jan. 31 -- Inside the Reporter's Notebook: OMB's IT passback loses its luster, changes its goals

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

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