Obama launches new era in government technology

New administration gives priority to IT not seen since Clinton days

The first 100 days of the Obama administration have caused a great deal of excitement in the federal information technology community. The new president has fueled discussions of new Web 2.0 technologies, promoted creative and innovative approaches to IT initiatives, and provided new leadership by creating and filling jobs for a governmentwide chief information officer and chief technology officer. We are also witnessing a great deal of anxiety around acquisition reforms and fixed-priced contracting, transparency challenges and economic stimulus reporting requirements. And everyone seems to have an opinion on the pace of progress.

But to judge progress at this point is meaningless. In the world of government IT, it takes more than 100 days or 120 days to get any sizable IT acquisition awarded, let alone implemented. In many agencies, key positions are still unfilled and careerists are struggling to meet the demands of stimulus initiatives on top of day-to-day operations with limited resources in place.

The Obama administration took over with an environment that included two wars, a struggling economy, financial institution meltdowns, and, recently, fears of a spreading flu pandemic. In the IT world alone, we have cybersecurity threats and governance issues, health IT demands, green IT goals, communications interoperability and information- and intelligence-sharing challenges, identity management concerns, and a laundry list of expectations for adoption of new technologies and procurement reforms.

So, although we can’t really judge accomplishment, we can look at the daily dialogue and a high priority given to IT issues (not seen since the Clinton-era initiatives to reinvent government) to find cause for both opportunity and challenge.

Just look at the issues now making the priority list that weren’t even mentioned a few years back. Everyone is talking about cloud computing, visualization, mashups, social networking and virtualization of everything from servers to training programs and running government operations in the virtual world of Second Life.

On the acquisition reform side, there is a sense of uneasiness about the administration’s insistence on using fixed-price contracts, but it is encouraging to see the trend back to focusing on performance and procurement of results versus procurement of things. The companies that embrace these changes and see the issues as challenges, rather than constraints, will emerge as the leaders in this new administration.

We have seen a tremendous amount of progress in teeing up the issues and creating a level of expectation for IT programs to deliver better government services. Now we need to get the right resources in place to deliver on the expectations. The good news is the excitement around the new IT priorities has many young people coming out of college looking at government service in new ways and many current and former IT executives lining up to get on board with the new way of doing business. This will be fun!

About the Author

Jim Flyzik is president of consulting firm, TheFlyzikGroup. He held numerous senior IT positions during his 28 year tenure in the federal government and hosts the monthly radio program, "The Federal Executive Forum" on Federal News Radio.

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