News and notes from day 2 at FOSE

Adrian Gardner

During a panel discussion at the FOSE conference, FEMA's Adrian Gardner said low-tech tools are often more effective in disaster situations than their high-tech counterparts.

Why federal IT execs need to answer to a higher authority

When Rich Beutel, a senior House staffer and procurement policy expert, was gathering background input for the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, he met separately with division CIOs at the same large agency (he did not say which) who were working on parallel but unconnected projects to build databases to manage the spare parts inventory for small fleets of aircraft. One project cost $60 million, and another cost $30 million. Beutel recalls asking one of the CIOs why the projects couldn't be combined, and the CIO replied, "We can't possibly use theirs. They have jets. We have turboprops."

Beutel, senior adviser and counsel for acquisition policy at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and a 2014 Federal 100 winner, said the anecdote illustrates why there needs to be a single "chief" at federal agencies, with visibility and responsibility for IT across bureaus at highly federated government departments.

More from FOSE

Public-private group envisions 'acquisition of the future'

OFPP, FAI launch new acquisition training and certification

The state of cloud security

Plus: GCN, FCW's sister publication covering technology, tools and tactics for public sector IT, is covering FOSE in even greater detail. Get all the GCN coverage here.

"From the program management perspective, CIOs need broader, enhanced authorities," Beutel said during a keynote speech at FOSE.

FITARA, which would expand the authority of agency-level CIOs and make the position a presidential appointment, has passed the House twice, most recently in February, and is awaiting action in the Senate. The bill also contains provisions to spread best practices for IT acquisition across the government, develop requirements for acquiring commodity IT and introduce a program to allow for broader flexibility in IT spending than is typically allowed under the appropriations process.

It is not clear what path FITARA will take in the Senate. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has passed a related bill on data center consolidation, which has been added to the Senate calendar and could be offered for passage under unanimous consent in the coming weeks. (FITARA has its own section on data center optimization.)

It is conceivable that pieces of FITARA could be added to the Senate data center bill before it is brought to the floor, or some pieces of FITARA could be added when the Senate bill is considered in the House. Alternatively, the defense authorization bill could serve as a vehicle for FITARA legislation, which lawmakers tried to do in 2013.

Low-tech often best in disaster situations

In the wake of weather disasters, earthquakes and other crisis situations, first responders are often best served by older, sturdier technologies, Federal Emergency Management Agency CIO Adrian Gardner said during a FOSE panel discussion on May 14.

"Imagine 30 people trying to make a decision while standing around looking at a map on the same iPad or the same computer," he said. While geographic information system developers might consider paper maps to be passé, sometimes they offer the best utility in a field situation, Gardner said.

The same goes for communications. The last mile of cellular and wired networks in remote locations can be the first channel to do down in a disaster. Having multiple providers isn't necessarily a solution because they might rely on the same network infrastructure.

Gardner said sometimes old-fashioned ham radio can be the best tool to establish communications in crisis situations, and FEMA is concerned that there are fewer skilled radio hobbyists to pitch in as volunteers when disasters strike.

Soft and hard costs of the cloud

One part of a federal CIO's job is to appear before Congress to prove that IT initiatives are saving the taxpayers money.

But when it comes to the cloud, not all costs are easily measured or proven. Agencies face challenges in quantifying those soft costs.

"Most agencies can't tell how much it costs to run their data or how much their data centers cost -- the electricity, power, water cooling, etc. It's not a line item on their budget," said Susie Adams, chief technology officer for Microsoft Federal's civilian business, during a panel discussion on cloud computing on May 13. "For many federal agencies, it looks like you have to pay money to save money."

Even as federal IT budgets remain generally flat, spending on cloud computing is expected to rise because it is seen as a method of cutting costs. In the proposed $80 billion IT budget for fiscal 2015, $20 billion would be dedicated to cloud systems.

Panel moderator Shawn Kingsberry, CIO at the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, said his agency -- the first to move to a government cloud -- claimed savings of $750,000.

As vendors' cloud prices continue to drop, it indicates a larger trend of increased use and success of cloud in government, said Doug VanDyke, general manager for civilian government at Amazon.

"What we're seeing with cloud is when you build a large infrastructure, you can provide services at a lower cost, and in turn, you get more customers," VanDyke said. "When you get more customers, you create more efficiencies. Those efficiencies at scale are what make prices drop."

About the Author

Connect with the FCW staff on Twitter @FCWnow.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above