Exodus of key IT policy-makers could jeopardize reform efforts

The departure of many senior federal policy-makers leaves an information technology management void that must be filled to sustain reforms in procurement policy according to industry and government observers.

Information technology officials in the private and public sectors say Steven Kelman John Koskinen and Elaine Kamarck helped to revolutionize the IT arena and ushered in an era that will need strong replacements if the momentum is to continue.

Kelman administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy spearheaded Clinton administration efforts to improve the federal acquisition system and pushed for new agency buying practices. He announced in July that he would return to Harvard University in September.

John Koskinen deputy director for management at OMB was responsible for putting into practice several new management reform laws including the Clinger-Cohen Act and the Government Performance and Results Act. He left July 9 for personal reasons.

G. Edward DeSeve has been named as acting deputy director for management at OMB until a replacement is found for Koskinen. DeSeve is the OMB controller and director for the Office of Federal Financial Management.

Elaine Kamarck was the director of the National Performance Review and was viewed by many as a direct link to Vice President Al Gore. She too will return to Harvard University this fall.

Ken Salaets director of government relations for the Information Technology Industries Council said that while industry has a high level of confidence that the Clinton administration is committed to procurement reform the departures will create a vacuum in IT leadership.

"Kelman was a unique person who brought a lot of stamina to an awfully thankless job " Salaets said. "We hope that we won't lose that focus. We still don't have Clinger-Cohen...fully implemented. We continue to encounter pockets of resistance within the bureaucracy to change. Kelman was an ally."

The loss of the key IT policy-makers also increases the risk that officials who take over the high-ranking positions will not have intimate knowledge of information technology said Bob Woods commissioner of the General Services Administration's Federal Telecommunications Service.

"You don't have to predict good or bad you have to predict change " Woods said. "Clearly there will be different viewpoints. Kamarck was an important link to the vice president and right now there doesn't seem to be one. Koskinen was very articulate and his ability to be articulate about IT matters will be hard to replace."

Because of the widespread perception of the influence of these policy-makers the question of who will replace the officials - especially Kelman - has drawn the attention of many in the federal IT world. Some of the names mentioned most frequently last week as short-list candidates by those close to the Kelman replacement selection were Thomas Sisti Ida Ustad and Colleen Preston. Sisti is a former Senate Governmental Affairs Committee staff member who now works for AT&T as assistant vice president and Ustad is GSA's deputy associate administrator for acquisition policy. Preston is the former deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition reform.

In addition to the departure of some of the drivers of procurement reform many of the agencies are still without permanent assignees to the chief information officer position which also has generated some concern among industry said Olga Grkavac vice president of the Systems Integration Division at the Information Technology Association of America.

Although Secretary of Defense William Cohen as a senator co-sponsored the legislation that brought about sweeping changes in how federal agencies manage and acquire IT resources filling open slots in IT leadership at the Defense Department has had to take a back seat to more pressing issues according to government sources.

A replacement for Emmett Paige Jr. who retired as assistant secretary of Defense for command control communications and intelligence in June will be deferred until after a study on reorganizing the Office of the Secretary of Defense is completed. The target date for completion of the study is December.

A key decision for the IT community will be whether the current ASD/C3I office is split into two positions with CIO and intelligence dwelling in different spots.

One suggestion floating the halls of the Pentagon is to name a new undersecretary for information who would take over the policy and CIO functions usually lodged in the ASD/C3I office.

Until decisions are made about the ASD/C3I position - probably sometime next year - Anthony Valletta Paige's former deputy for acquisition who has years of experience managing large-scale DOD acquisitions has stepped into the acting CIO position. Another source said there is no difference in leadership. "The people who are running the programs are the people who have always been running the programs. The work goes on."

In addition to DOD the Agriculture Education Transportation and Treasury departments are without permanent CIOs. NASA CIO Ronald West last week announced his plans for retirement creating another CIO vacancy.

The government has lost a "brain trust" with the departures that may be particularly hard to replace given that the Clinton administration will expire in two years according to Larry Allen executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

"You need good general management and leaders to set the tone and make the tough calls " Allen said. "When you don't have that it's going to be pretty much a wide open plain. It's problematic as to whether any or most of the holes...will be plugged. If you don't get them in before the midterm elections you're not going to find people clamoring for what could be an 18-month or two-year stint."

According to one industry source who asked not to be named the departure of key policy-makers comes at a critical time. Without legislators with a keen interest in reform - such as former Rep. William Clinger who helped spearhead procurement reform - members of appropriations committees have picked up interest in the issue the source said.

"It almost appears as if the appropriations committees have taken over federal procurement policy " he said. "That's disturbing and discouraging because their interests are not the same as the oversight committees."

While most sources interviewed for this story said they did not expect extreme detrimental effects to procurement reform many suggested the momentum that the departing officials inspired and generated could ebb without their continued influence.

Matt Oleksiak director of new business development at KPMG Peat Marwick said the combination of all the key policy-makers propelled IT reform to a plateau that it had not achieved before their work.

"If certain strong individuals emerge to take their places...they'll be able to build upon the foundation they've put into place " Oleksiak said. "Government doesn't make sudden right turns or left turns overnight. The departure of these individuals is not going to have a drastic impact overnight. If we're not careful to sustain the initiative there certainly could be some backsliding."

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