IT innovation might be at risk under new Congress, former Rep. Davis warns

Obama administration's new IT programs may be "collateral damage" to cost-cutting

The Obama administration has ushered in a wave of innovation and risk taking by agencies, but some of those ideas may become “collateral damage” when the House is led by Republicans, former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said at a conference today.

As the new GOP majority in the House seeks to reduce the budget, cutting-edge IT programs will be “fair game” for increased scrutiny, oversight and cost reductions, Davis said at the Adobe Government Assembly conference for government and industry officials in Washington.

“It is a new environment,” said Davis, who heads federal government relations for Deloitte LLP. The new House “will change operations. I imagine some of the innovations will be collateral damage along the way.”


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Republican leaders are expected to be eager to identify possible “over utilization” and “self promotion” elements among ongoing administration IT innovation programs, Davis added.

He also cautioned that while many new technologies ushered in by the Democratic administration and Congress have been “wonderful,” the penalties for failed risk-taking are likely to be higher with a politically divided Congress.

“Many times I’ve seen someone step outside the box, but those best efforts are not always successful, and the [executives in charge] can get laid out for it. That creates a chilling response,” he said.

The danger is that fewer government executives would be willing to take risks of innovating, and that would be unfortunate, he added.

“Responsible members of Congress will understand the situation,” Davis said. “But some people might pop off.”

“There will be fits and starts, ups and downs,” Davis said “In the agencies, there is a lot of innovation. There will be mistakes.”

Davis predicted that large weapons and complex programs at the Defense Department, as well as large enterprise modernization programs at other federal agencies, are likely to be targets for cuts.

He also anticipates that large IT programs will be “chunked” into smaller and more manageable pieces.

But other conference speakers were more optimistic about the prospects for continued innovation in IT.

Gwynne Kostin, co-director of the Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement at the General Services Administration, outlined progress on several fronts by using cloud computing, social media, innovation challenges and contests to foster open government, collaboration and public participation.

“We will not turn back,” Kostin said. “The future is really bright.”

“The benefits [of IT innovation] for homeland security are very clear,” said Alan Cohn, deputy assistant secretary for policy and strategic planning at the Homeland Security Department. “Engagement is critical.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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