IT feds should distance projects from politics, panel members say

Career feds in the information technology community should carefully de-emphasize any partisan affiliations with their projects to avoid cancellation, according to members of a panel of former federal employees.

Marty Wagner, a former deputy commissioner of the General Services Administration and current Senior Fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government, said in the IT and contracting communities, the change is more subtle because projects are mostly at stake rather than jobs.

Wagner gave USA.gov as an example. The original iteration of the site, FirstGov.gov, was linked to the Clinton administration and might have been stopped when President Bush assumed office. The team behind the information portal chose to move the site's responsibilities under the CIO Council, and then convinced the current administration about the site’s benefits.

“These were people who recognized that something that’s too tied to an administration, you had to depoliticize it,” Wagner said. Members of the panel spoke at a March 12 ACT/IAC meeting in McLean, Va.

Although some panel members predicted the new president would move from spending on defense to domestic policy, they believed that IT spending wouldn’t significantly change when the chief executive takes the reins.

“You’ll see dips or constraints on spending on different areas,” said former Commerce Department Chief Information Officer Roger Baker. “There’s nothing interesting about IT infrastructure.”

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