FCW Insider


Could budget cuts inspire true innovation?

Everyone's afraid of the budget. We all know that for at least a few years, the federal budget is going to be drastically reduced from the levels it has been – or at least, that's the trend of rhetoric.

And so, agencies are scrambling to adapt in anticipation of coming cuts. They'll be trying to figure out ways to retain programs at lower levels, and to identify the ones they can eliminate with the least amount of damage.

But maybe there's another way to look at it. It's often said that trimming available resources forces people to be more innovative. The difference here is one of degree: We're not expecting a trim but a clear-cut. Or as GSA Administrator Martha Johnson put it in a speech at the Executive Leadership Conference, not a diet but a stomach-stapling.

Is that as catastrophic as some are suggesting? Consider the words of author, peak oil theorist and social critic John Michael Greer, who wrote:

Beauty is inseparable from limitation: the stricter the limits, and the more fully they're accepted, the greater the beauty. That's why art becomes truly great when it embraces formal structure, and also why so much modern poetry is so awful; a really great poet can make the limits of language provide the necessary limiting factor, but anybody else needs structures … or they just produce shapeless mush.

Limits do indeed compel innovation. Drastic limits, such as are likely to come in the next budget cycle, can compel a complete rethinking and overhaul of the way government works. For years, we've been reading, and writing, articles quoting business process experts who urge readers to not just add a new technology for efficiency, but to re-engineer the business processes to make full use of it.

This new era we're entering is one in which that wisdom will become urgent. No longer will it be optional to fundamentally reconsider standard modes of operation, it will be essential. The end result will no doubt be a government that does less, spends less, provides less than it has in the recent past. But it might also be a government that does what it does more elegantly, efficiently and wisely, if agency leaders take seriously the reality of the time and approach it with eager creativity rather than grudging compliance.

Beauty is not the aim of government. But if agencies put their minds to it, and create innovative ways to operate in an era of greatly limited resources, that would have a sort of aesthetic pleasantness of its own.

Posted on Oct 28, 2011 at 12:18 PM4 comments


Twitter: Is this 'river of information' too polluted to be useful?

Scott Klososky, author, entrepreneur and advisory board member for Critical Technologies, delivered a provocative speech at the opening of American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council's Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Va.

Provocative, yes, but also questionable in some of its particulars, and Klososky did not stick around to take questions publicly after filling his allotted hour.

Klososky alluded to the “rivers of information” that flow through Twitter and other social media platforms, saying that people not using Twitter are cutting themselves off from those alleged rich streams of information.

Well, perhaps. But Klososky ignored the quantity of false information that pollutes that river. Whether mistaken, incomplete, slanted or deliberately fabricated, there is a considerable amount of misinformation in the river.

In fact, we think Klososky is wrong to characterize what flows through Twitter as information at all. Instead, it's just data – some accurate, some not, but very little of it useful in its raw form. For data to become information, someone has to sort it out, figure out what’s correct and what’s not, and further, what’s important and useful and what’s trivial or irrelevant to a given information-seeker.

While Klososky rhapsodized on the fast-changing world of information flow, he ignored the value of gatekeepers -- people whose job it is to do just that – and presented the flood of unverified, unsorted data as a good in itself. We disagree.

Posted on Oct 24, 2011 at 12:18 PM1 comments


USAJobs: Lesson or warning?

The USAJobs fiasco is more than just a story of a system implementation gone awry. It renews the perpetual debate of insourcing vs. outsourcing.

By all accounts, the Office of Personnel Management had a good thing going with Monster.com. USAJobs ran smoothly, serving federal job listings up to prospective applicants based on their desired positions, locations and salary ranges. Now and then there would be a hiccup, but by and large users – applicants and hiring agencies alike – seemed pleased.

For the new version, launched in mid-October, OPM brought the work in-house. With the aid of some contractor support, OPM itself developed and hosted version 3 of the job-search site. And when it debuted, disaster struck almost instantly. Users couldn't get into the site, and when they did, they couldn't get the search results they wanted.

The problems persist even now, although OPM may be making some progress at fixing them. But leaders at other agencies are watching, and one must wonder: The next time an agency has a major public-facing system to develop and launch, will OPM's experience serve as a cautionary tale, or as a rich vein of lessons to learn from?

Time will tell.

Posted on Oct 21, 2011 at 9:03 AM16 comments