Why 2015 will be the year of talent

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In 2014 the federal government laid the foundations for improving IT delivery and building agile teams with new policies and new organizations. Next year will be about proving out this plan, according to the IT leaders who head the government-industry group ACT-IAC.

In an interview with FCW, Rick Holgate, CIO of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and president of the American Council of Technology, and Dan Chenok, executive director of the Center for the Business of Government at IBM and chair of the Industry Advisory Council, looked ahead to what's next for federal IT in 2015.

Fresh faces

The relatively rapid hiring authority used to bring private-sector tech wizards into the nascent 18F at the General Services Administration and the U.S. Digital Service at the Office of Management and Budget will expand to larger swathes of government.

The new workers, hired under "Schedule A" authority, will "not be the entirety of the agile workforce," Holgate said, but they will " seed that capability into the federal government."

At the ACT-IAC's annual Executive Leadership Conference in October, top IT managers from across the government looked at how to be more flexible at hiring new talent, rather than relying on OMB to onboard developers and others, and to rotate them through the government. Younger developers and programmers have "a natural inclination to pursue new challenges and new opportunities on a fairly rapid cycle," Holgate said. Because of this, "Schedule A authority looked like an attractive way of bringing in talent that is in some way perishable in the federal government."

At the same time, Holgate pointed to the need for balance in "maintaining and evolving our less innovative services." That means building and strengthening acquisition and operational strategies for the less sexy side of federal IT – commodity and infrastructure services like email and storage. "You have to have a more foundational and potentially more disciplined and systematic approach [to commodity IT], complemented by a team that is more agile and dynamic to introduce innovation into the organization," Holgate said.

ACT-IAC plans to get more involved in high-tech communities outside of the traditional federal market, as workers at startups and consumer tech companies begin to think of the government both as a place to work and a potential market for products and services.

"It also means, and this is a reflection in the broader changes in technology landscape, that the tradition of technology being provided by a tech company is changing as you get more and more digital experts coming into companies of all kinds," Chenok said. "The companies are developing in-house expertise, and companies you don't think about as IT companies are really delivering IT in interesting and innovative ways. The government is following that."

Digital services

ACT-IAC is looking to prove out the agile approach in a pilot project advising the Department of Veterans Affairs on an ambitious project to unify its multiple points of entry for service delivery. It's one piece of a broader effort that is aligned with the administration focus on better customer service, and the VA's launch of its own in-house digital service.

Specifically, the VA pilot is designed to help set up a roadmap that other agencies can use to help improve their own digital services. ACT-IAC is helping to design "a seamless view of the customer" from the agency perspective, while giving veterans a holistic view of the agency, so that as customers, they can "go to VA and identify all the services that are at their disposal and interact seamlessly with those services," Holgate said. "That's the nirvana we are trying to get to."

New rules of the road

Next year also will see the implementation of a raft of new laws governing how federal IT is purchased, managed, and secured.

The Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) shift some IT budget and hiring authorities to agency CIOs, while the FISMA modernization bill (updating the Federal Information Security Management Act) aims to put federal network security and compliance on a more modern footing, bringing in continuous monitoring and ushering out paper reports. Additionally, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act puts a new onus on government to publish financial information in machine readable formats.

While ACT-IAC doesn't create its own policies, its collective brainpower serves as "a force multiplier for OMB and others who are charged with implementing legislation," Holgate said.

The version of FITARA that passed was "somewhat less ambitious" than the legislation originally proposed in 2013, Holgate said. The FISMA update offers "a bigger opportunity to reinforce for us building cyber into acquisitions," he told FCW.

All these statutes are examples of how "we've entered a world that's much more about the information and much less about the specific technology on which the information resides," Chenok said. "And that has implications for how you organize information programs and how you design cybersecurity. As people are using more and different platforms and devices to transmit information, you have to design cyber in a more resilient fashion."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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