Is the government ready for a mobile transformation?


With legislation woefully behind the times and little in the way of federal guidelines for the use of mobile technology in the government workplace, there’s a need for a new approach to mobilizing the federal workforce and keeping up with the pace of change, according to some officials.

That new approach may hinge on a different kind of rule-making model than Washington is used to – one that is established through collaboration between agencies and Capitol Hill and has impact all the way down the chain of command.

“There’s no government-wide mechanism for moving things forward. If we’re going to have long-term, sustained effort in innovation and transformation, it’s going to take more than one agency. And Congress has to provide the statutory framework,” said Zack Fields, legislative aide for Rep. Gerald Connolly, who serves on the subcommittee on technology, information policy, intergovernmental relations and procurement reform under the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “But it’s important that Congress lay out the targets and not precisely prescribe how to get there.”

Fields spoke as part of a panel at a mobility conference held March 15 in Washington, sponsored by the Association for Federal Information Resources Management and the Government Information Technology Executive Council.

Rick Holgate, assistant director for science and technology and CIO, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, said the most transformative efforts will be structural, relying on help from Capitol Hill in showing reticent agencies what kind of change can be effected.

“There are a lot of incremental steps we can take to move us in the right direction, and a new mobility strategy is one of those steps,” Holgate said. But he warned that the high expectations of a workforce armed with personal Androids and iPads may yield some disappointment in a strategy that is not all-encompassing and completely cutting-edge.

“There are cultural and historical obstacles that make [transitioning to mobility] less easy and less seamless than it should be,” Holgate said. “Everyone has huge expectations of what the possibilities are in mobility, and there’s almost no way any strategy could live up to those expectations.”

Still, there’s no denying the sheer weight of implementing mobility as an institution within the federal government, and it comes with numerous potential sticking points, such as bring-your-own-device policies, cultural change and recruiting young talent, panelists said.

“We’re not picking up and moving across the river; we’re changing the way we work,” said Steve Kempf, commissioner of the General Services Administration's Federal Acquisition Service. “We want to create collaboration and change culture…and set examples along the way.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

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