Budget squeeze: One CIO's story of survival

EPA's Malcolm Jackson on how to do 3 things with the money that used to pay for 2

Malcolm Jackson, just 10 months into his job as CIO of the Environmental Protection Agency, is moving at full speed. He's restructuring the agency’s systems, which includes realigning IT with EPA’s mission, strengthening IT management practices and putting the agency on a cloud computing footing. Meanwhile, as EPA’s assistant administrator of the Office of Environmental Information and CIO, Jackson is responsible for IT operations and security in addition to information quality, collection and access.

It’s a job of juggling resources and risk for which Jackson seems well prepared. Before being confirmed as CIO by the Senate in June 2010, he was senior IT business unit director of CIGNA Group Insurance. In today’s uncertain financial climate, he said, government CIOs must ensure that IT assets and the agency’s goals are in sync.

“EPA no longer has the financial ability to allow program [managers] to tailor their individual systems to suit their needs without consideration of what is going on across the agency,” Jackson said April 6 in an address to the American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council.

That’s a reality CIOs will face for the foreseeable future. “Going forward, I need to be able to do three things with the same dollars that we used to do two things with,” he said.

Jackson offered five priorities for driving IT management, governance, standardization and transparency across the agency. They include:

  • Run the agency like a business.
  • Focus on delivering high-quality services to internal users.
  • Strengthen bonds with business partners in industry and state, local and tribal governments.
  • Develop and attract talented people.
  • Establish a strategic direction for IT.

“We are spending a lot of time establishing a strategic direction for IT within the agency,” Jackson said, noting that the federal government has spent $600 billion on IT during the past decade but has not achieved the productivity gains realized by industry.

Rigorous review

Shortly after Jackson took over the Office of Environmental Information, he saw the need for a stronger IT investment review that went beyond the technology staff. “I want to institute a regular rigorous review of all our IT systems,” he said, adding that this approach works in the private sector.

Jackson partnered with EPA’s chief financial officer to conduct a critical review of the agency's major IT investments. He personally conducted the reviews with internal users, sponsors and investors in IT projects in conjunction with the CFO’s office.

Jackson’s team focused on IT investments greater than $3 million as part of the Office of Management and Budget’s Planning Investment and Control program, which requires highly structured oversight and control of projects. The oversight program also ensures that IT investments are aligned with the agency mission and that they minimize risk and maximize returns throughout the investment life cycle.

EPA’s CFO and Jackson will soon conduct a second round of reviews, focusing on second-tier projects less than $3 million.  There are more than 80 such projects at EPA, Jackson said. The CFO, CIO and EPA officials with authority over contracts have come together to propose the changes.  

“We expect to provide new guidance that will strengthen the oversight and accountability process and address opportunities,” Jackson said.

Managers are looking more closely at large, critical projects to ensure they align with EPA’s IT architecture. “We want to make sure new developments follow all IT standards and programs, when feasible, using central services already in place rather than building something new,”  Jackson said.

OMB’s reform plan

EPA is now in a position to follow OMB’s 25-point plan for IT reform. An important part of the OMB plan is its cloud-first policy, which asks agencies to identify three applications to move to the cloud and then migrate those applications within the next 18 months.

Cloud computing provides on-demand access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned with little management effort by the service provider. The Obama administration is pushing for agencies to adopt the cloud computing model when possible to achieve cost savings and improve IT efficiency.

Along those lines, EPA plans to move e-mail, help-desk and security services to a cloud platform to comply with OMB’s cloud-first policy, Jackson said.  But it won’t stop there. “We’re not looking at just those three,” Jackson said, adding that the agency is looking across its entire IT portfolio to decide which applications make sense for migration to the cloud. 

To that end, he has asked EPA’s chief technology officer to direct development of the agency’s cloud strategy. So far, EPA has not decided whether e-mail will be deployed in an EPA private cloud or hosted by a commercial provider, Jackson said.

But the agency is looking to establish a common set of standards for external and internal cloud services that will help the agency reap the maximum benefits of cloud technology without increasing the risk level, Jackson said. EPA is also looking to extend services via an internal, private cloud to all four EPA data centers, he said.

“I want to get in front of managing agency technology rather than being reactive,” Jackson said.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.


  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group