Management Watch

How can young feds make a difference?

How can young feds make more of a difference? One good start: find what they’re good at and then convey those skills to senior leaders, suggests Tom Fox, vice president of leadership and innovation at the Partnership for Public Service.

On the Washington Post’s Federal Coach blog, Fox discusses the ways young federal employees can make a connection and support their agencies without being in upper management.

There are several approaches to take, Fox noted. First, consider the interests and talents you could bring to resolving any problems, whether it’s finding cost-savings measures or having experience in process improvements and re-engineering.

Next, you should talk to your direct supervisor about your interest and ideas, Fox wrote.

“Your supervisor should be aware of any ongoing or planned efforts to address agency challenges, and can outline those efforts for you and make some suggestions for outreach to different executives or agency working groups,” he says. “Your supervisor also might have some ideas for things you can do to support the team.”

Read the column linked above for more of Fox's ideas. Meanwhile, consider your own career wisdom. What are your best ideas for making a connection with senior leaders? Any approaches that you tried and didn’t work out well? Share your stories in the comments.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Sep 20, 2011 at 12:19 PM9 comments

'Digital Promise' launched to help competitiveness

Experts have long sounded alarms that America is losing its competitive edge with growing unemployment and a frigid economic climate. But now there is a glimmer of hope: Congress has created Digital Promise, a new national center that will work to advance technologies to transform teaching and learning.

The center will be led by the Recommendations for Education and Advancement of Learning Agenda commission, which was unveiled Sept. 16. The benefits of the new center will “ultimately be seen in every sector of the U.S. economy — but its full potential will only be realized if we identify a relevant research agenda and remove policies or practices that slow the research,” said Dr. David Belanger, AT&T Labs chief scientist, who will serve as co-chair on the commission.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed article today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and former president of the California Board of Education and current Netflix CEO Reed Hastings discussed the goal of Digital Promise: to advance technologies that transform teaching and learning in and out of the classroom.

“Transforming the use of educational technology is vitally important to America's continued success in the global economy,” they wrote. “We are optimistic that with the right ideas the U.S. can become a leader in leveraging the power of technology to promote learning.”

In addition to building a more efficient market for education technology, the center will also support new investments in research and development, Duncan and Hastings said.

“Transforming the use of educational technology is vitally important to America's continued success in the global economy,” they said. “We are optimistic that with the right ideas the U.S. can become a leader in leveraging the power of technology to promote learning.”

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Sep 19, 2011 at 12:19 PM1 comments

Are teleworkers slacking off?

If you ever had an inkling of doubt about the productivity claims of private-sector teleworkers, your reservations might just have been proven right: The findings of a new survey show that nearly one-fifth of those surveyed said they spend one hour or less per day actually working.

The nationwide CareerBuilder survey of nearly 5,300 nongovernment, fulltime employees set out to explore the productivity levels of private-sector teleworkers and their attitudes on working remotely. The results revealed that 17 percent of teleworkers committed an hour or less to work daily, and only 35 percent said they work eight or more hours. In all, 40 percent said they work between four and seven hours per day.

Cindy Auten, general manager at Telework Exchange, a public-private partnership focused on promoting telework in government, told Management Watch she was surprised by those numbers and would be “shocked” if she saw the same results among federal teleworkers.

“The federal government is so clearly defined on making sure you’re as, if not more, productive" when teleworking, she said. “There are a lot of performance management standards to uphold in the federal government, and in the private sector it’s really interesting that people can actually get away with not working. That begs the question, how are they measured?”

When given the opportunity to telework, federal employees have to adhere to certain standards that are stricter when compared with those in the private sector, and they’re also provided with training that has more structure, Auten said.

“I hear a lot of times that people say on their first day on the job, ‘I’ve been given a laptop, and I work from wherever.’ There are not as many parameters in place [in the private sector], and maybe there should be. Maybe this is a lesson the federal government can teach others -- to put a structure around the program and really focus and make sure employees are held accountable for their performance.”

The survey also showed that teleworkers are divided as to whether they’re more productive working at home or in the office. Thirty-seven percent say they get more done at work, while 29 percent report they’re more productive at home. The remaining 34 percent said they were equally productive at either location.

“Just because you’re eligible for telework doesn’t mean you’re a good candidate for it,” Auten about the respondents’ reported productivity levels.

Survey participants also listed the biggest distractions for working remotely: Household chores topped the list with 31 percent, followed by television (26 percent) and pets (23 percent). Errands, Internet and children were also mentioned as distractions, according to the survey.

“Regardless of where you are, you’re going to be distracted -- you just have to have that discipline to ensure you remain focused and productive,” Auten said.



Posted by Camille Tuutti on Sep 16, 2011 at 12:19 PM40 comments

The evolution of the CIO: Chief geek or strategist?

Are CIOs supposed to be technologists or strategists? Depends on who you ask. When Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew last month released a memo about the changing role of federal CIOs, he highlighted the CIO as moving away from policy making and infrastructure maintenance to “encompass true portfolio management for all IT.”

The memo outlined four areas of focus for agency CIOs: governance, commodity IT, program management and information security. These are responsibilities that Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel said would enable CIOs to cut wasteful duplicative systems, simplify services, and deliver more efficient IT to support agency missions.

“With responsibilities for these four areas, agency CIOs will be held accountable for lowering operational costs, terminating and turning around troubled projects, and delivering meaningful functionality at a faster rate while enhancing the security of information systems,” VanRoekel wrote Aug. 8 on the Open Government Initiative blog.

Although the OMB memo outlined some goals that mirrored the items in the 25-point plan, it failed to acknowlege the role modern information management and technology has in resolving management problems at federal agencies, Mark Forman, former administrator of e-government and IT at OMB, and Paul Brubaker, former deputy CIO at the Defense Department, write in an upcoming commentary for FCW.

“As we continued reading [the OMB memo], however, we noticed that the Office of Management and Budget was changing the focus on CIOs as strategic partners at the management table to something more akin to an operational technologist. The contrast could not be starker: The memo makes the CIO into the chief geek rather than the government modernization guru.”

While the government might be looking for a “chief geek,” a new survey by Deloitte suggests that private-sector employees want their CIOs to shoulder a strategic or revolutionary role. Forty-five percent of nearly 1,000 IT executives polled say their CIO is viewed as a steward, while 45 percent called their CIO a strategist. The remaining 10 percent said their CIO is a revolutionary, a number Deloitte anticipates will rise as technology continues to shape how business is done.

Advancements in technology – such as mobility, social platforms and cloud computing -- provide CIOs more tools and resources at their disposal, said Suketu Gandhi, principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP.

"These combined technologies give the CIO the opportunity to be an active strategist and decision maker within their respective organizations, and can allow them to be a revolutionary force,” he said. “The CIO will increasingly have the ability to actually change how business is conducted."

What’s your take on the evolving role of the CIO? Are government CIOs vastly different from industry counterparts? How do you see the role of the CIO changing?



Posted by Camille Tuutti on Sep 14, 2011 at 12:19 PM2 comments

How much do feds really work?

In commenting on a recent article on the newly launched deficit “super committee,” FCW readers got into a heated discussion when one suggested that the panel should propose pay freezes and benefits cuts for government employees.

“Let’s hope they freeze fed pay and reduce benefits,” reader Kyle wrote. “Fed jobs are supposed to make less because you can't be fired and for the most part don't have to do too much to be successful (not many feds working 60 [hours]/week on a 40-hour/week salary.) Especially when you consider that the fed [employees] make 2X their private counterparts, according to USA Today. Good job unions, break us all!”

Responding to Kyle’s post, a reader pointed out the already-existing federal pay freeze and said the idea that government employees can’t be fired is a myth “propagated by the ignorant.”

“Kyle, according to the U.S. federal labor laws, unless you are an exempt employee -- straight salary, NO employer can require you to work 60 hours and only pay you for 40,” that reader said. “If you are personally doing so and are not an exempt employee, I suggest you seek legal counsel. If you are exempt and are working such hours, then you should have taken this into consideration when you negotiated your current position. “

Also objecting to Kyle’s comments, a reader said federal employees, especially those in white-collar positions, commonly work 50-60 hour per week while receiving only a 40-hour-week salary.

“Many mid- to senior-level federal employees have been asked to do more with less so they stay connected via BlackBerry or remote access long after they leave the physical office for the day,” that reader wrote. “I used to be proud to be a civil servant -- now, I just feel like federal employees keep getting beat up in the media and by Congress. Congress should look to cut some of their benefits if federal salaries and benefits remain on the chopping block.”

Another reader agreed that members of Congress should get paid the same as federal employees.

“The committee and the rest of Congress should be on the same pay and benefits as the rest of government,” that reader said. “That alone would save some money and then make them look for real money-wasting programs.”

Other readers offered additional approaches to save money and solve the budget crisis.

“How about this idea? Everyone pay $5,000 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. That is what the deficit is now. Pay it at tax season. Then we'd be done,” Rick from Washington State suggested.

Reader Mike also had a proposal for reducing the budget deficit: share the burden among the people, especially the wealthier ones.

“If there's a national burden, the entire nation needs to contribute to taking care of it, not just feds,” he wrote. “I'd rather see multimillion-dollar employees contribute a little more (e.g. athletes getting paid $10 million per year; CEOs getting bonuses and huge retirement payouts; etc.). Many of these folks receive tax write-offs for donations or purchasing 'green' items, etc. This burden needs to be shared across the nation.”

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Sep 14, 2011 at 12:19 PM32 comments

How 'hypothetical' is the cloud security threat?

Is the cloud threat overplayed or did former federal CIO Vivek Kundra’s comment on a “hypothetical” threat hold any truth? The majority of FCW’s readers seemed to think Kundra had underestimated the challenges and voiced their opinions of the ex-fed’s remarks, cloud security and its use in general.

One reader wrote Kundra was “seriously off track” when he suggested in a New York Times op-ed that the United States shouldn’t hesitate to prioritize cloud spending because of “hypothetical security threats that serve the entrenched interests of the IT cartel.”

“I'm very disappointed that he made that characterization, given the in-depth classified background information he has been provided in his position,” Fed Security Guy commented. “Federal agencies continue to struggle tremendously to define/describe exactly what security strengths there may be in cloud computing, hence the preference for private clouds.”

Another reader echoed these sentiments, saying Kundra had oversimplified the problems of a cloud migration. That reader also suggested that the move to cloud would happen not because of Kundra’s 25-point plan, but because cloud computing “represents a huge revenue generator at the tune of 100s of billions of dollars a year, and companies follow the money.”

“I also found Kundra’s article and subsequent speech in poor taste especially for a person in such a high position,” that same reader commented. “I was raised that some things are better said in private circles. In summary, I had a lot of respect for Kundra till I saw his article in the NYT.”

Another reader critic said it would take a cyberattack to determine the accuracy of Kundra’s comments.

“I guess this question will be answered when the first major 'hack' of government data in the cloud hits the press,” Mike wrote. “Perhaps it will happen -- perhaps not. Either way, Mr. Kundra is safely positioned in the ‘soft’ confines of academia. Priceless.”

Charles 'Kip' Kiplinger posited that the threat scenario depends on whether users are in the commercial sector or the public sector as they use the cloud differently.

“I have big reservations in the security of information belonging to our country being outsourced,” he wrote. “I haven't heard of anyone losing their life over someone getting access to the designs of next year's car line, but knowing how to defeat the latest UAV definitely will have that effect. Conceptually, the idea is sound, but DOD needs to put its efforts into development of their own cloud. Other areas of the government complex may be well-suited for the private cloud though.”

Only one reader who commented took an opposing view, saying Kundra hadn’t downplayed the treat because the risk level is “inversely proportional to implemented level of security.”

“We have known for a long time how to secure our systems,” Howard wrote. “Problem is getting the business process owners/functional managers to define and implement a security level that’s above their accepted level of risk. It all comes back to cost of security vs. business case risk analysis, and that is not the CIO decision; it belongs to the CEO to make the call and to date, it has been in favor of the business manager.”

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Sep 12, 2011 at 12:19 PM1 comments

Top and bottom 5 federal employers; readers react

A story I recently wrote on the best and worst federal agencies for launching a career has gotten attention among civil servants, and none were shy about sharing what their career experiences had been -- for better or worse.

The “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government" report revealed that the Veterans Affairs Department, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NASA, the General Services Administration and the Social Security Administration were ranked the top five government agencies to launch a career. The bottom five agencies were the Transportation Department, the Agriculture Department, the Army, the Education Department, and the Housing and Urban Development Department.

One reader began with questioning the credibility of such surveys and said it would be difficult “to normalize a single level of satisfaction across the entire organization” due to the agencies’ large size.

“People working in the HR department, for example, might be thrilled with the agency and the senior leadership,” the reader wrote. “But people in the IT department might hate it just because senior manager doesn't understand their challenges. I would certainly never pick one agency over another on the basis of such as broad-based attitude check.”

Other readers agreed that some agencies are better than others, with one commenter saying he/she loved his/her federal employer because it offered plenty of opportunities; however, “I had one year of that special hell that comes when working for Satan, but I know how to work the system to find work I enjoyed.”

One reader called the Transportation Department “schizophrenic,” and used interesting analogy to describe the hiring practices at the agency.

“We don't want the best people; we want the best people we can get (and that bar is low -- we do the limbo around here, not the high jump). Still, you can thank God for that, otherwise there would be a mutiny (or a mass exodus of some sort),” that reader wrote.

Another reader recalled certain events during his/her time as a "young-ish (mid-30s) fed” at the Defense Department as “so soul-suckingly awful that I literally laughed when I was promoted.”

“The mentality of the older, more ‘seasoned’ GS14s and 15s in the organization was difficult to take,” the reader wrote. “One was literally retired in place, reading his Kindle in his cube throughout the day. When we asked for his help (because we were doing his job), he quite frankly said, "No."  …  I'm an IT contractor now, making 50% more than what I was making as a fed, with less responsibility and more job satisfaction. And guess what, I'm still serving. But not starving. Good luck, young feds. You're going to need it."

Even those who worked at agencies ranked highly by the report didn’t hold back on the criticism. One reader who wrote he/she worked for the VA’s IT department complained about upper management and its inability to work efficiently.

“[The director] has made so many detrimental decisions in the little time he has been running our shop that over 140 or more employees will be detailed out of their current jobs,” the reader wrote. “Is that satisfaction? NOT IN MY BOOK! Evidently, you did not poll those of us in VA's IT departments. It seems that the more idiotic crap management does in VA, [the more] they promote them.”

Here are the best and worst federal organizations to launch a government career, according to new employees age 30 and younger:

1. Veterans Affairs Department 
2. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
4. General Services Administration
5. Social Security Administration

1. Transportation Department 
2. Agriculture Department
3. Army
4. Education Department
5. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Sep 12, 2011 at 12:19 PM6 comments