John Klossner's Ink Tank

When did the CISO become sexy?

HELP WANTED, Chief Information Security Officer

Duties include gathering data on information technology security systems and reporting annually to Congress. Must enjoy anonymity, working alone and sharing office space with cleaning supplies. Extra attention will be given to candidates with good password skills. Interested parties should e-mail resume to appropriate agency.

HELP WANTED, Chief Information Security Officer

Duties include defending the free world's communications systems, monitoring global cyber crime developments and protection of personal data being spread through internet portals, social networks and teenagers' cell phones. Must enjoy thwarting thousands of millions of gazillions of data breach attempts per day. Candidates have mastered a minimum of seven languages and be able to identify the top 10 hackers from code samples. Familiarity with Estonian legal system considered a plus. Interested parties meet by the pool at the Faena in Buenos Aires.

When did the CISO become sexy

CISO Royale poster

Posted by John Klossner on Dec 21, 2009 at 12:18 PM0 comments

Pay-for-performance: A modester proposal

"If the [National Security Personnel System] were allowed to operate unfettered by the taint of human interaction, then it might be the "an honest dollar for an honest day's work" operation it aspires to be."

"Hiring and advancement are primarily a function of ‘popularity and favors,’ not job performance."

"...It does not pay to do the extra, let someone else pick up the slack, get certifications, and think ahead. It would be nice if, just once, I was rated on my WORK and not the budget."

"Under that system the big bosses gave each other thousands of dollars in bonuses and the rank and file got a couple hundred dollar salary boost for a YEAR."

"I have found that work performance does not motivate employees at all. the ones who actually do the work do not get rewarded."

These are not lines from characters in a new reality show ("Survivor Fed," this fall on CBS, right after "Dexter.") No, these are taken from various comments sections in articles and columns on the demise of the National Security Personnel System, a program brought to life in 2004 with hopes of creating pay-for-performance compensation in the federal workplace. As you may have heard, it didn't do so well.

I have to admit, on one level, I'm impressed with the knowledge employees have of the inner workings of their offices. Their ability to recite fellow employees' salaries, management spending decisions and co-workers' working habits show a keen awareness of the details within their respective agencies. But, to go back to my earlier thought, put these folks in shared housing with minimal clothing, free alcohol, and a Jacuzzi and you've got an MTV show.

Of course, there are some satisfied employees:

"I must be one of the few that did well under NSPS. I got a good bonus and a nice raise. I'm also divorced and all my kids are grown. What has that got to do with anything? I can focus on work and put in a lot of hours. Many without comp time. I think that NSPS can work, but it takes great writing skills by your supervisor and too many of them lack that skill. I also think that many people don't understand that there are a lot of folks like me in any organization that really do perform a lot more work than the average worker; not just a little more."

See? All you have to do to make the system work for you is terminate your family life and live at the office.

Just what is going on here? And how do so many of these hard-working employees have time to write comments?

Is it possible to create "fair" compensation? For starters, I would contend that a "fair" compensation system is like the holy grail, perfect love, or the Redskins' playoff chances -- it exists more in hope than in reality. I propose the term "fairer" compensation. But how to create a system that motivates employees, rewards excellence in performance, doesn't lead to resentment, and doesn't break budget parameters? I think I have such a system in my workplace, but I'm self-employed. (Even then, some days I just don't get along with myself.)

Or, more accurately, maybe we should be calling this a "compensation system that is closer in scale to the private sector." There are some who think the private sector offers a much better chance of fair compensation. Maybe so, but anyone who has ever worked at a business with "and Sons" in the title can give you a different perspective.

I don't mean to paint a one-sided picture. There are/were fans of the system. As one commenter put it:

"Pay for performance is a great idea and has mostly worked. Is there some cronyism? Of course, It also exists under the GS system in who gets promotions... The human element is always going to be present."

This reader/writer has put a finger on the problem:

I think everyone shares the goal of creating a compensation system that rewards individual employees fairly for the work they've done. And I would think that everyone feels that a pay-for-performance system is created with the best intentions, and not with underlying purposes of redirecting money to a select few. So, if we agree that the system was designed with the best intentions, then we have to focus our attention on the real roadblock: The people.

If there were some way to remove the disgruntled employees, the confused managers, the slacking co-workers and the cronies -- not to mention those with the potential to become disgruntled, confused or crony-esque -- then pay-for performance might work. If the system were allowed to operate unfettered by the taint of human interaction, then it might be the "an honest dollar for an honest day's work" operation it aspires to. If we can let this compensation program do the job it was designed for without having to deal with the ticky-tack foibles that the personnel bring to the table, then it will have a chance.

Somewhere, someway, someone will create that people-free office that offers fair compensation for all. Maybe we'll be allowed to look in the windows.

Posted by John Klossner on Dec 18, 2009 at 12:19 PM4 comments

Crowdsourcing saves the day in 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'

When thinking about federal workplace practices, it's always helpful to refer to fictional characters and stories for information. I've been thinking about a remake of the classic 1939 Frank Capra film, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." (Can you believe the entire movie is online? This is why I love the Internet. Also, isn't watching "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" online on a Sunday morning the same as sitting with the Sunday N.Y. Times? My wife and I disagree on this point.) Specifically, what changes would have to be made in the storyline in order to acknowledge modern technologies and sensibilities? I offer the following:
  • Would such a naive character be believable in our present-day culture, other than as satire? It would become a Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler project, played for laughs. Maybe Tina Fey could bring a serious angle to the remake.
  • In an updated version, wouldn't Sen. Smith call the power brokers' bluff, claim the land as his, and build his boys' camp and a casino on it, turning a huge profit?
  • The classic fedora scene, a close-up on Jimmy Stewart's hands fumbling with his fedora while talking to the attractive daughter of Sen. Paine — how would this be handled? Fumbling with his/her BlackBerry? Nervously running his/her fingers along his/her tattoos?

But the scene I want to reference from the movie is when Sen. Paine (Claude Rains), the senior senator from the same state as Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart’s character), brings in the baskets of telegrams calling for Sen. Smith to end his filibuster and resign. In my remake, Sen. Paine will reference the Twitter feeds and blog comments they've been receiving from constituents.

Was this the first media reference to crowdsourcing? From a recent FCW piece: "New Web 2.0 tools and social-media technology — such as blogs, wikis and ... ideas application(s) — make crowdsourcing possible. Agencies can use Web applications like an interactive suggestion box that is unbound by time or geographical constraints. Crowdsourcing tools are not a substitute for elections, referendum questions or face-to-face public meetings, but they are a tool public officials can use to gauge opinion and solicit input."

I have mixed feelings about crowdsourcing. I worry about where soliciting ideas ends and leadership begins. I worry about how you create borders for a submission community. I worry about the time and manpower — possibly taken from other jobs — needed to sort through and account for every idea submitted, no matter how undeveloped. I worry about the point at which the "crowd" sourced becomes too big for the process. And, to keep with my fictional references, what happens if and when the crowd is manipulated with misinformation? Hello, birthers.

In my world, crowdsourcing has become a derivative of outsourcing. There are numerous "projects" now, where companies are soliciting ideas and offering prizes, with the majority of submitters receiving no compensation for their expertise. In the creative and technology professions, there have been numerous complaints about the crowdsourcing format, ranging from Google soliciting free artwork from top illustrators to the argument that, in certain fields, crowdsourcing is no more than unpaid spec work.

Crowdsourcing can be considered a way of doing a project cheaply. Instead of bringing in experts to look at the problem, you let "the crowd" solve it. For someone with professional expertise who makes a living at this, where is the attraction? Crowdsourcing might allow for the discovery of an unthought-of idea — kind of like winning the lottery — but how do you guarantee that the most qualified individuals will participate? Is it crowdsourcing? Or a pie bake-off?

That said, crowdsourcing might be a better fit with government work. There is an established community filled with people with a wide variety of experiences and expertise in the fields at hand. Cultivate ideas from the community at large, pick the better ideas and develop them into a workable solution. This allows everyone to have a voice and the best idea/solutions to come to the surface.

But haven't the people with good ideas already been included in the process? Do we want a bunch of folks at the cafe/bar/Internet throwing out ideas? Really? As opposed to people who have made public policy their life's work and have résumés full of public and private-industry experience?

It would seem to me that the people who have expertise in these fields are already involved, and opening it up to more public input might make for a filing mess. Also, are there any parameters on the ideas submitted? When does the contributing community become too large? When do we have too many ideas to prevent sorting through them in a feasible time frame? What is the delineation of leadership?

I'm not against getting as many people involved as possible. But if you got a bunch of my friends together to brainstorm ideas for better policy, I'm guaranteeing you that the majority of our ideas wouldn't exactly pass muster on the sanity scale. Just as, when we run the occasional FCW cartoon caption contest, the majority of entries wouldn't pass muster on the humor scale. As an early example of crowdsourcing, the Open Government Dialogue flirted with the boundaries between useful, inclusive and off the wall. I'd love to have lunch with the people whose jobs were to sort through all the suggestions and see what they think about crowdsourcing.

Or, instead of lunch, we could go to the movies.

I created a couple different cartoons on the topic, both playing with the leadership's role in the issue. Same point, different illustrations.

Klossner crowdsourcing

Klossner crowdsourcing

Posted by John Klossner on Dec 15, 2009 at 12:19 PM1 comments