Management Watch

GOP proposal would avoid DOD spending cuts. Guess how.

The budget proposal from House Republicans slated to be released next week won’t include defense spending cuts mandated by sequestration, the National Journal reports. Instead, it may seek to save costs by further squeezing the federal workforce.

It's important to note that that's not certain yet. What exactly the forthcoming Republican proposal includes is not entirely clear – yet. The National Journal reported that the Republican leaders declined to provide more details about their plan. However, the expected cuts would need to be offset in other areas, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has previously suggested targeting entitlement spending.

The bill is also expected to integrate some elements of a proposal Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) laid on the table in December 2011. His bill included provisions that would postpone the first-year defense cuts through cuts affecting federal employees.

Some Republican legislators have railed against the idea of slashing $600 billion from the DOD budget over the next decade. Additionally, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta predicted sequestration would create a “devastating doomsday scenario.”

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Mar 16, 2012 at 12:19 PM19 comments

How agencies are stopping fraud with technology

Editor's note: This story was modified after its original publication to correct a reference to the Health and Human Services department's Office of Inspector General.

Good news rarely makes the headlines, especially when it involves the federal government. Typically, the more salacious the incident, the more coverage it gets. But at today’s FedInsider's breakfast briefing at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, DC, government officials got the opportunity to share some of their success stories in preventing waste, fraud and abuse and discuss how technology helped wage a war on improper payments.

The “Unmasking Fraud, Waste, and Abuse: Tools, Techniques and Technology” event brought together officials from the Social Security Administration, the Health and Human Services Department's Office of Inspector General and the Agriculture Department as well as two industry experts to discuss what agencies are doing to meet President Obama’s goals to reduce improper payments by $50 billion by the end of 2012. Here are some highlights that touch on what agencies are doing to fight fraud.

Data analysis: HHS OIG’s Office of Audit Services is using data analysis and data mining to sort through large volumes of data to identify fraud and waste. Geographical maps are also used to examine outliers and unusual patterns among beneficiaries’ claims. For example, a high number of Medicaid and Medicare claims in Florida typically won’t raise suspicions because many senior citizens retire there. But a high number of claims in an area like Utah could cause concern and prompt further investigation, said Gloria Jarmon, deputy inspector general for the Office of Audit Services within the HHS OIG.

Continuous monitoring:  Continuous Transaction Monitoring is just one type of smart technology that has proven successful in preventing improper payments and other incidents of fraud and waste, said Aubrey Vaughan, managing director of the public sector at Oversight Systems. Technology such as CTM makes it possible to “monitor 100 percent of your universe, 100 percent of your transactions, and allows your employees or your accountants to get back to doing their job,” he said. Many fear that implementing new technology and seeing results just takes too long. But Vaughan said seeing results could take as a little as four months and save billions of tax dollars. For example, the Defense Department’s Business Activity Monitoring project saved the government more than $1 billion in the first 15 months of use. 

Data matching: Because of the vast amount of data within the federal government, “data matching is extremely important,” said Jessica Shahin, associate administrator for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at USDA. The system allows in-state or out-of-state agencies to access each other’s databases, making it easier to detect and prevent duplicate participation of the SNAP. USDA also has a nationwide database, the Electronic Disqualified Recipient System, into which states are required to enter data about disqualified SNAP recipients. States also must check the database to ensure recipients aren’t in the system to receive benefits erroneously. 


Posted by Camille Tuutti on Mar 08, 2012 at 12:19 PM1 comments

4 top tech skills for IT pros

If you’re an IT professional, now is the time to brush up on your tech skills. IT staffing firm Bluewolf identified mobile, cloud, big data and user engagement as the  tech skills most in demand in 2012. The firm says proficiency in those areas could bring in the big bucks this year.

The 2012 IT Salary Guide applies only to the private sector, but the government is facing some of the same challenges and experiencing similar trends.

D.C. area IT professionals who specialize in software development are likely to see substantial salary increases, according to guide. SQL database administrators, Cognos analysts and .NET developers are especially in-demand in the D.C. region. A .NET developer, for example, could see his or her salary reach the $91,000-to-$137,000 range.

On the other hand, the wages of D.C. area-based database administrators, senior IT executives and project managers are likely to remain stagnant. Technical support roles, especially help desk related, won’t see much of an uptick in pay either.

The top five roles in the nationwide salary race are PHP developers, app architects, e-commerce analysts, Salesforce developers and software engineers.

As for the growing tech skills to have, the report broke them down into "hot" or "cooling off" categories :


Hot: HTML5, iPhone/iPad, Android
Cooling off : Blackberry, Windows Mobile

Big Data

Hot: MySQL, HBase, Cognos, Informatica
Cooling off: DB2, Crystal Reports, Business Objects

Cloud Computing

Hot: Eloqua, Marketo, Salesforce, Google Apps
Emerging: AWS-EC2

User Engagement

Hot: HTML 5, Javascript, UI Design
Cooling off: Flash, Flex, ActionScript


Posted by Camille Tuutti on Mar 07, 2012 at 12:19 PM0 comments

IT Dashboard gets new look

The Obama administration’s website that aims to make federal IT investments more transparent has gotten a makeover.

In wake of a report from the Government Accountability Office that revealed how agencies failed to identify duplicative IT investments, U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel announced upgrades to the IT Dashboard that will make it easier for agencies to spot such overlapping expenditures.

It’s the first time the administration is publicly sharing detailed IT investment information in support of Obama’s 2013 budget proposal, he wrote in a March 6 post on OMBlog.

The dashboard was launched in 2009 in a larger effort to create a more open government. It provides details on more than 700 IT investments and gives citizens “an unprecedented window into how their tax dollars were being spent,” VanRoekel wrote.

The website features general information on more than 7,000 federal IT investments and detailed data for more than 700 of those investments that agencies classify as "major."

Users can also easily view, for example, projects that are over budget or behind schedule and by how much money and time. The website not only displays contact information for the person charged with the project but it also his or her picture.

VanRoekel said improvements to the dashboard include enhancing its accessibility and featuring more data and tools. More important: It will help agencies identify and address duplication of their IT investments. Users will also be able to dissect the IT portfolios by agency, bureau, type of business supported, type of service provided, and budget account.


Posted by Camille Tuutti on Mar 06, 2012 at 12:19 PM2 comments

Why employee engagement matters

It sounds like a no-brainer: Keep employees engaged, and you’ll have a happier, more productive workplace. But a new survey shows that surprisingly, not everyone is on the same page about the importance of employee engagement.

Highly engaged employees aren’t just passionate about their work, but they know how their contributions play a vital part in the overall success of their organization. They’re known for their commitment, and organizations know the importance of keeping them happy.

On the contrary, disengaged employees often feel underused and as if though they’re not getting what they want from their job. These employees are often skeptical and negative, and if left alone, they are likely to do enough work to collect a paycheck while complaining or eyeing other opportunities.

Consulting firm Blissingwhite’s Employee Engagement Report 2011 found that less than one-third of employees globally are engaged, and nearly 20 percent are disengaged. The term engagement factors in employees’ personal satisfaction in their role and their work contributions.

The more senior role employees have, the more engaged they tend to be. And older employees are also more engaged than younger. Additionally, employees who trust their managers are likely to be more engaged. However, trust in executives rather than in immediate managers has a stronger correlation with high engagement.

Interestingly, employees have more trust in immediate managers than in executives: 72 percent of the North American respondents said they trust their manager, while 52 percent said they trust senior leaders.

The report also revealed that although engagement is increasing worldwide, more employees are considering leaving their organization if given the choice. European employees are the most restless, with less than half saying they would stay. Fifty-six percent of North American respondents said they intend to stick around.

The top reason for staying for all the regions? Satisfying, interesting work. Top reason for leaving? Lack of opportunity for career advancement. 

While the survey didn't focus on government employees, the same principles apply. Give your employees work they enjoy and let them feel a sense of ownership over the work they do, and they'll be happier and less likely to leave for a better offer.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Mar 01, 2012 at 12:19 PM4 comments

Prediction: 5 trends for federal mobility

There’s no doubt that mobility has taken center stage in the federal government’s plans to become a more efficient entity. Surveys and polls also point to the same direction: Federal employees not only use mobile devices every day, but they conduct increasingly sophisticated tasks on their smart phones, tablets and laptops. 

“Bring your own device” is no longer just a quirky fad; it's become a solid concept that shapes mobile use in the government, spurring innovation and creating new demands in security. And not to forget the bottom line: Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel has consistently advocated for a more mobile public sector in a wider sweep to increase workforce productivity by “liberating [employees] from ineffective 20th-century work practices.”

Here, Sudhir Verma, vice president of consulting at technology provider Force 3, breaks down his predictions for mobility trends in 2012, including BYOD, cloud procurement and new capabilities.

BYOD will push true mobility: The BYOD trend will force executives to evaluate employee policies and likely create reimbursement programs for devices. The proliferating use of personal devices in work environment will continue to push the edges of true mobility, any data, any place, any device, anytime. BYOD as a way to become “mobile” is becoming more and more realistic. IPads/iPhones/Mac books/Android-based tablets and phones are already in the workplace. The ever-growing use of personal devices to access corporate applications and data can become challenging for IT departments. But the good news is, if done right, BYOD can benefit both IT departments and the users.

User experience key for widespread mobility adoption: User experience for a mobile user has to be at par with the traditional office user. When selecting technologies to enable mobility and BYOD, IT executives must consider the user experience as one of the key elements for widespread implementation. The success of any technology deployment relies on user adoptability and experience. Mobility is no longer just limited to select few. As the workforce becomes become mobile, employees will expect access to more than just e-mail and calendar. This will require IT to reassess their business application, development, and services strategies. Concepts such as virtual desktop, along with private and public cloud as a form of delivering services, can improve mobile user experience and must be part of IT strategy in 2012.

Mobility will dramatically change the IT budget in the near future. Users will continue to drive the ability to access any data from any device any place/anytime in a secure seamless fashion. To support the momentum toward mobility, IT needs to look at technologies that may not fit in the "norm" for budgeting and procurement, especially if funding for hardware/software is program specific. As IT moves toward various cloud offerings, procurement for "cloud" will differ from procurement for typical IT equipment. It can get more complicated if there are multiple programs requiring cloud type services, and a "pay as you go" model should be set up for each program.

Video must be incorporated. Mobility adoption will transform how we communicate and interact across the workforce. Missions don't get accomplished by just sending emails! It requires the human touch, the experience of "being there" and trust, even if the workforce is mobile. High level of mobility has a fundamental impact on workforce connectedness, collaboration and how we build trust across mobile workforce. Perhaps on a short-term basis, the workforce can sustain the disconnect, but in the long term we need faces. We want to see whom we are working with. Video strategy built around mobility is critical to establish a collaborative trusting work environment. Face-to-face interaction is invaluable. Success of the mission may be dependent on it.

Technology is converging. The IT skill set must evolve to support the mobile user in these converged changing architectures. It’s imperative that IT executives carefully assess the skill set in their IT shops prior to going down a road that may lead to increase in administration cost and complexity. Good IT talent is hard to find as it is. Retaining, retooling and attracting the right talent will be critical for success for any initiative.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Feb 27, 2012 at 12:19 PM5 comments

FedStyle: Dos and don'ts of online communications

Whether you’re a baby boomer or millennial in the federal workforce, chances are email, instant messaging and other electronic communications play a major role in your daily interactions. However, the likelihood is also many of you forgo proper etiquette when communicating electronically with colleagues and managers, whether it’s taking too casual of a tone in an email or oversharing on social media sites, says Dr. Naomi Baron, a linguist and executive director at the Center for Teaching, Research and Learning at American University. Baron, who also happens to be my old honors professor, took some time to lay out some simple guidelines to keep in mind to avoid communications faux pas. Her best advice: Err on the side of caution, and keep your online messages strictly business. 

Anything you write online could be read by anyone – even your manager. It’s not just Facebook, Twitter and YouTube where you have to be careful with what you post; even your personal emails could end up in the wrong hands, Baron said. “At worst, your post could go viral,” she said. “It’s increasingly important to remember you have almost no privacy if you use anything electronic. Even if you send a private email or private tweet to someone, they can forward it – and they often do.” Although social media sites have privacy settings, there’s no telling when those could change; the very information you wanted to exclude from certain users could suddenly become available to them, she said. “It’s important to remember that your audience may be far larger than you have anticipated,” Baron cautioned.

Not everyone has the same writing standard. Research shows that people crafting instant messages, texts and tweets often harmonize the style they use with the style of the person with whom they communicate, Baron said. Consider how you speak with a close friend, as opposed to communicating with a manager; your language, tone and the topics you bring up likely differ dramatically. “The same thing goes for our writing; some people care a lot about what kinds of messages they send and receive, and others are much more casual,” Baron said. “But unless you want to make yourself the laughing stock, you need to be sensitive and aware of the different kinds of style. Your readers will often pass judgment of you -- even your friends.” So, proper punctuation, spelling and salutation may not be a priority when communicating with friends or acquaintances, but for more professional contacts, it should be your default option.

Be aware of cultural differences. The federal workforce has a diverse makeup, which means communication styles may differ depending on background and nationality. Cultural differences play a significant part in how people use email, Baron said, explaining how her experience has showed that Americans are much more casual in their email writing than Europeans. “For Europeans, how they wrote mattered more – full sentences and lots of good punctuation and embedded clauses,” she explained. “There are different cultural assumptions; for example, I have colleagues in the U.K. who will never say, ‘hi Naomi’; it’s ‘hello.’ ‘Hi’ is way too casual, even though we know each other and have met many times.” Whether in a business or quasi-professional setting where you want to be perceived in a certain way, it’s always important to know how your email is likely to be read, “because there are assumptions out there that could put you in a negative light,” Baron warned.

Next week, Baron will share the rest of her dos and don’ts in FedStyle, including picking the right medium for your message. Stay tuned!

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Feb 10, 2012 at 12:19 PM2 comments