What’s hot this year?

Federal technology managers are always facing new fires. GCN surveyed government officials, contractors and market observers to gauge what will be the hottest issues on this year’s agenda.

Hot Topic: General Services Administration reorganization

At Issue: To address a loss of confidence among customer agencies who felt GSA’s acquisition services were becoming unaccountable and unwieldy, former administrator Stephen Perry consolidated the Federal Supply and Federal Technology services into the Federal Acquisition Service, giving its customers one place to go for their buying needs. The move is contingent on Congress approving the corresponding merger of the General Supply and IT funds into a single fund, legislation allowing the merger is stuck in the Senate.

At Stake: Last year GSA made significant progress on the reorganization, but since Perry and acting FAS commissioner Barbara Shelton both left the agency in late 2005, the plans are in limbo. Although the House signed off on merging the funds, the Senate won’t move until a permanent administrator is named—and few observers are willing to guess when that will happen. In the meantime, GSA must regain the confidence and business it lost from its customers, including the Defense Department.

Heat Index: 4 flames

Hot Topic: Will earned-value management improve project performance?

At Issue: In light of recent IT project failures throughout government—the FBI’s Virtual Case File, GSA Preferred, the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation—the Of-fice of Management and Budget is pushing agencies to adopt EVM to control big projects’ spending and schedules. EVM, in theory, lets project managers track money spent on a project almost in real time and measure that expense against timelines and deadlines.

At Stake: OMB is serious about EVM—agency compliance will be reflected in the
E-Government portion of the President’s Management Agenda report card. The CIO Council is working with agencies to build a systematic approach for using EVM on their investments, said Karen Evans, OMB administrator for E-Government and IT. But recent studies indicate that senior managers at many offices are not focusing on the tool right now, and skepticism persists that EVM may be just another buzzword to be replaced with something else when a new administration comes to town in three years.

Heat Index: 2.5 flames

Hot Topic: Big contracts

At Issue: Feds and contractors alike are waiting on pins and needles for GSA to move on the massive Alliant and Networx contracts, while the Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments are working on huge solicitations of their own. Progress on Alliant stalled in 2005. The contract showed signs of progress only recently, when John Johnson, assistant commissioner of service development and service delivery in GSA’s Integrated Technology Service, was tapped in the fall to oversee the contract.

At Stake: Combined, VA’s Procurement of Computer Hardware and Software, DHS’ FirstSource and Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading Edge Solutions, and GSA’s Networx and Alliant contracts represent well over $100 billion in taxpayer funds, and each has had its share of fits and starts. With this amount at stake, Congress will be paying attention. Some fear that big-contract “proliferation” reduces the government’s ability to leverage its buying power while at the same time frustrating vendors who spend a lot of money chasing these large deals with little payoff.

Heat Index: 4 flames

Hot Topic: OMB Circular A-123 compliance

At Issue: Agencies face critical deadlines on OMB’s new A-123 guidelines, revised after the 2002 passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that directed private corporations to implement internal controls for financial reporting. Departments must implement and test the effectiveness of document controls and a series of new steps and standards to review their financial statements.

At Stake: Although the mandate is unfunded, OMB officials have made it clear they will be watching closely, as compliance will be tracked in the quarterly President’s Management Agenda scorecard. Experts say most agencies will fall in line, as OMB can hire a third party to audit their internal controls. “I don’t think agencies want OMB picking an auditor,” said one analyst. “OMB is going to do what they have to do to get agencies to comply.”

Heat Index: 2.5 flames

Hot Topic: Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12

At Issue: Issued in August 2004, HSPD-12 requires agencies to issue interoperable, machine-readable governmentwide ID cards for all employees and contractors by Oct. 26. Before meeting the deadline, agencies last year had to comply with Part One of the Federal Information Processing Standard-201, which directed the government to set up new identity-proofing, registration and issuance processes.

At Stake: With the deadline for issuing the cards less than a year away, agency compliance is far from assured. While several are moving ahead, surveys found that slightly more than half missed the first deadline last fall. One of the biggest challenges in meeting the October deadline is whether GSA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will approve vendor products and services in time for agencies to buy and install them.

Heat Index: 4 flames

Hot Topic: Electronic Voting Technology

At Issue: Following the disputed general election in 2000, Congress provided local election authorities with funding to upgrade voting technology via the Help Americans Vote Act, which established the Elections Assistance Commission to aid the local agencies. The transition to electronic voting has come slowly, however, partly because of delays in implementing HAVA’s technology requirements.

At Stake: The current bottleneck is between the federal government and state agencies. HAVA set a deadline of Jan. 1 for states to certify voting machines. But at least several states failed to meet the deadline, and some sought clarification of the commission’s rules. The Government Accountability Office reported recently that important steps toward improving voting technology likely won’t be completed in time for the November election. Incomplete phases likely will include accreditation of testing laboratories for voting machines, and voting systems certification.

Heat Index: 3 flames

Hot Topic: Health IT

At Issue: The Health and Human Services Department is undertaking a massive project to establish data interoperability standards for health information transmitted among doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and other health facilities. The project holds out the prospect of supercharging productivity in the nation’s health care system and dramatically improving patient care.

At Stake: Problems with transmission of data in the existing paper-based system contributes to medical mistakes that cause up to 100,000 premature deaths nationwide each year. But HHS faces significant problems in promoting standardized data transfer. A major issue is who will pay to automate the health IT systems of all the diverse health care providers, many of which are already in dire financial straits. Another is that people who would gather the health data—the doctors—wouldn’t get the financial benefits of doing so. Insurance companies would. HHS’ drive to improve health care quality relies in part on rewarding doctors for measuring health outcomes, which would require them to embrace automation. Creating a nationwide health IT infrastructure is one of the few ways to rein in the nation’s soaring health care costs, a large share of which is paid by the federal and state governments. This issue has been played out far from the public eye, however, so delays likely won’t spur widespread outrage. But if the government gets it wrong, aging baby boomers eventually will howl.

Heat Index: 2 flames

Hot Topic: Defense Wireless Policy

At Issue: The Pentagon is updating its wireless policy to meet the security requirements in its Directive 8100.2. Wireless devices pose special security risks that the National Security Agency is reviewing.

At Stake: Wireless devices are being worked into business processes across the government, including at the Pentagon. But according to specialists, the ability of opposing forces, notably the Chinese military, to reverse-engineer wireless devices and defeat their security constitutes a serious risk. As a result, the physical loss of a single wireless device can compromise the security of all similar devices. Meanwhile, wireless devices connected to a network can risk compromising the entire network. Wireless security is the monster lurking under CIOs’ beds at night. Civilian agencies are looking to the Pentagon and, especially, NSA for guidance. The likelihood of a major security breach is high.

Heat Index: 4 flames

Hot Topic: The Homeland Security Department reorganization

At Issue: DHS’ structure and technology are in flux because of Michael Chertoff’s “second stage review” plan to orient its components to national threats rather than to previous organizational structures.

At Stake: The department’s IT infrastructure remains a makeshift work in progress and revealed its flaws during crises such as last year’s hurricanes. The department’s overseers and critics in Congress are noisy in their frustration with DHS’ slow progress toward a unified financial system and consolidated networks, among other projects. On the other hand, Jim Carafano, a senior fellow with of the Heritage Foundation, holds that the reorganization likely will help DHS’ technology. “There is more potential for some higher-level architectural decisions than there was before,” he said. The new organizational structure will push decision-making to the top and quell organizational rivalries over IT, he suggested.

Heat Index: 3 flames

Hot Topic: IP Version 6 transition

At Issue: The Office of Management and Budget is requiring agencies to lay the groundwork for transition by 2008 to IPv6, which includes major improvements in security and functionality over IPv4, which agencies (and everyone else) have been using for three decades. The new protocol also will accommodate a nearly infinite number of Web addresses.

At Stake: The transition to IPv6 comes with risks. For example, agencies will be required to maintain the security of their IPv4 systems during the IPv6 transition. Defense IT officials have cautioned that the Pentagon’s transition to the new protocol will depend partly on other events, such as DOD’s military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, GAO has warned that unless federal agencies plan carefully, hackers could exploit IPv6 to gain direct access to government computers via the Internet. This is a sleeper, because federal agencies are in a planning stage mandated by OMB this year. But if preparations for IPv6 go seriously awry, the electronic engines of government could seize up.

Heat Index: 2 flames—but could soon go higher

Hot Topic: E-Government projects

At Issue: OMB’s Karen Evans says this is the year when “the rubber meets the road” on the original 25 E-Government projects. As they enter their fifth year, most projects are in the final or adoption phase of their lifecycle, with agencies and citizens using the applications as a regular part of their business processes.

At Stake: OMB will require agencies to shut down duplicative systems and move to a fee-for-service model. OMB expects spending on these initiatives to drop to $181 million from more than $226 million, while the fees agencies pay for the projects’ services would increase from $91 million to $243 million. In 2006, agencies will continue to migrate to such e-government projects as E-Travel, E-Payroll and systems within the Integrated Acquisition Environment. OMB will be looking over agencies’ shoulders, Evans said.

Heat Index: 3 flames

Hot Topic: Line-of-Business Consolidation Initiatives

At Issue: OMB has established six consolidated Lines of Businesses. Financial Management and Human Resources Management, which are furthest along, and IT Security will focus on Centers of Excellence, or shared-services providers, to standardize how agencies carry out specific functions. OMB estimates the HR and financial LOBs will save the government $5 billion through 2015. Grants, Health Architecture and Case Management are focused on agencies that use or provide these specific services.

At Stake: Evans says the goal is for two major agencies to migrate to the financial management LOB this year. The latest Chief Financial Officers Council inventory of financial systems indicates seven agencies are planning to migrate to a financial management Center of Excellence. The HR LOB plans to create a working group to draft a minimum service-level agreement template for all Centers of Excellence.
Private-sector companies also should be able to bid to provide financial or HR services over the next year.
OMB also likely will create up to three task forces to look at whether LOBs could be done for procurement, records management and IT infrastructure, telecommunications and desktop services.

One official at a LOB shared-services provider said the biggest challenge will be establishing a business model on par with the private sector in terms of services, quality and efficiency that meets all the government’s requirements. “We don’t have the marketing organization or business development or database of 1,000 proposals that we put together over the years,” the official said. “They do.”

Heat Index: 3 flames


  • People
    Federal CIO Suzette Kent

    Federal CIO Kent to exit in July

    During her tenure, Suzette Kent pushed on policies including Trusted Internet Connection, identity management and the creation of the Chief Data Officers Council

  • Defense
    Essye Miller, Director at Defense Information Management, speaks during the Breaking the Gender Barrier panel at the Air Space, Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 19, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Chad Trujillo)

    Essye Miller: The exit interview

    Essye Miller, DOD's outgoing principal deputy CIO, talks about COVID, the state of the tech workforce and the hard conversations DOD has to have to prepare personnel for the future.

Stay Connected


Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.