VanRoekel bullish on OMB digital service's potential

Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel at the Feb. 6, 2014, Igniting Innovation event

Federal CIO Steve VanRoekel, shown here at a Febuary ACT-IAC event, said OMB's planned digital services team is being spun up in an agile, test-and-adjust manner.

As attention turned to the Office of Management and Budget with President Barack Obama announcing the nomination of Shaun Donovan as director of OMB, the office of the federal CIO at OMB was making a splash for a different reason.

Pending congressional approval, OMB is planning to create a 25-person team to serve as a policy counterpart to the General Services Administration's newly formed 18F tech development incubator. In a May 23 interview with FCW, U.S. CIO Steve VanRoekel discussed the progress so far and the impact he hopes to see.

The planning and piloting process for this Digital Service has been going on for much of the spring, but the scale-out effort remains on hold pending approval by congressional appropriators.

OMB's digital services team will be working with the 18F team VanRoekel said, and directly with agencies on some of their most high-priority initiatives.

"They'll be looking for opportunities to build shared technology and find platforms, standards and best practices," he explained. "By working with agencies directly, they'll identify gaps in delivery capacity, identify people's needs, technology needs and develop a plan to address those gaps."

Another component will be developing a mechanism to hold agencies accountable for addressing those gaps.

The solution would then come down to three options from which an agency could choose, according to VanRoekel.

"They could find a person internal in the organization. There are plenty of skilled and able people in government. They could work with a vendor to get a new person in the vendor ranks or sub contract with a new company, someone who can address those gaps. Or they can go to 18F, and seize upon the coders, designers, tech people at 18F who can come in and help."

VanRoekel and his team have been taking an agile approach to forming the digital services team itself, he said.

Piloting the program has involved engaging folks from private-sector tech companies to come in and help them do assessments inside government, and test the processes. That pilot process proved that agencies were getting value from the program, VanRoekel said.

Because of the nature of OMB, however, the services this team provides will not include doing actual delivery.

"It's not the core competency of the organization and we don't want to break that culture," VanRoekel said. "They'll be using the authority of OMB, to assess what's going right and what's not going right."

VanRoekel is "crossing his fingers" that Congress will approve the 25 new hires, a request that he said is modest in the context of the tens of thousands of people working in technology across government. And he thinks 25 will be enough to get the job done.

"We proved in the test pilots, and in other OMB efforts like PortfolioStat -- very few people going in and changing the context can actually have really big impact," VanRoekel said. "So I do think we can actually have some real impact."

About the Author

Colby Hochmuth is a former staff writer for FCW.


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