A PTT Alternative

This letter is in response to J. Timothy Sprehe's column, "Presidential Technology Team deserves everyone's attention" [FCW, March 4].

As reported in an earlier FCW and other news sources, the concept of the Presidential Technology Team includes civil servant information technology technical and acquisition wizards at the GS-13 to -15 level who would be loaned from one agency to intercept and turn around failing IT projects/programs in another agency, like the Tax Systems Modernization (TSM) program in the Internal Revenue Service. Mr. Sprehe rightly and wryly notes that there may not be a surplus of such civil servant wizards available for loan from one agency to another at any price. Or, if there were such a surplus, would they volunteer for the PTT?

The PTT represents a single-dimension solution to multidimensional barriers and incentives problems. These problems were also seen in the Reagan-era Presidential Priority Systems, mentioned in the Sprehe article. PPS and the Reform 88 effort did not address documented barriers to successful reform with either synergistic or positive incentives. Instead, a lot of attention, interest and, later, execution of negative incentives resulted in PPS and Reform 88 smoke, mirrors and failure. (Incidentally, I was on loan to the Office of Management and Budget to work on the inception planning for Reform 88 and suggested a synergistic set of positive incentives and organizational approaches, which were rejected.)

Let's look at a few critical incentives or barriers:

PTT-selected wizards would be detailed from a known agency to an unknown agency culture with major stakeholder problems and a lack of effective and consistent leader-champions—not an indicator of eventual success for either PTT selectees or troubled projects.

Fred Brooks points out in The Mythical Man Month—and every succeeding analyst agrees—that the surest way to bring a project to collapse is to suddenly add "incompatible" project resources. If the PTT IT technical and acquisition personnel are wizards and also understand project management, then these resources will be incompatible with the existing TSM (or equally troubled) IT technical and acquisition resources and practices.

What about leader-champions (using the example of TSM) who have sold all the stakeholders—including IRS employees, taxpayers and congressional oversight members—on the virtues and values of TSM; who have provided appropriate and timely funding for budgeted and scheduled work and earned value results; and who have given consistent, hard love to TSM project team members and contractors?

What are the incentives/barriers for succeeding or failing in a TSM-type project? For project management teams, including IT and acquisition wizards? For leader-champions? For vendors? Affected government employee users of TSM technology? Taxpayers? And congressional stakeholders?

What makes anyone think that TSM or any other similar multidimensional problem project can be solely and successfully patched, or problems prevented, by a single-dimension PTT organizational concept? By itself, it will fail and add to the already failing image of government.

What is needed? Cut losses. Declare TSM and like projects dead. The president, Congress, federal program customers and taxpayers need to jointly understand the multiple resource barriers and the incentive dimensions of project failure, such as leader-champions, organizational project management, project stakeholder, IT and process knowledge, and funding barriers. The president and congressional leaders need a systemic strategy that is both sufficient and necessary to provide an organizational context and incentives to overcome these barriers. Then they must consistently champion this strategy to ensure that government-operated improvement projects are effective, efficient and win-win.

Garrett V. Coleman

McLean, Va.


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