White House previews tech, modernization updates

The White House (Photo by Sean Pavone / Shutterstock) 

White House tech officials previewed coming personnel and modernization updates, including a new leader for a high-profile tech shop and the second round of Technology Modernization Fund awards.

Chris Liddell, deputy chief of staff for policy coordination, said at an Aug. 21 event hosted by FedScoop that the search for a replacement for Joanne Collins-Smee, who served for a year as deputy commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service and director of Technology Transformation Service, is a key priority.

"We need to replace [her] with a new leader that's going to take the centers of excellence to the next level," he said. "We're just recruiting people at the moment, and we're putting together a fabulous shortlist for that."

Liddell said the selection of an agency to follow the Department of Agriculture is in the offing as well.

"In fact, we're in the final stages of choosing the second lighthouse agency, which should be in the next few weeks," he said. "We're basically going to pick up a lot of the expertise and knowledge and do it."

The second round of Technology Modernization Fund awards is also in the hopper. Deputy Federal CIO Margie Graves said the next set of projects will be awarded based on support from senior leadership, plans to execute a project that can repay the fund as well as a cross-agency priority.

"For example, adopting cloud, adopting software as a service or moving off of a mainframe," she said. "Those are the kinds of things we are looking for because if somebody goes first, you can force others to follow in their footsteps with much more alacrity."

Graves emphasized the importance of repayment in both the approval process and for the success of other projects.

"It is about being able to constantly replenish that fund so there are other projects … that can take advantage of it," she said.

Maria Roat, CIO of the Small Business Administration and a member of the TMF board that decides where its dollars go, said compared to the first round of awards, the second "are better because we've been able to provide feedback based on the first round." She added, "We'd like to see some innovation, but right now it's really focused on modernization," noting the price tags connected to the proposals "are all over the place."

Roat advised agencies not to apply to TMF for projects that would take up a large percentage of the funds.

For those, "you're not going to get all of the money when you take up third or a half of the money," she said. "We're looking for a little bit smaller chunks, and we want to see some wins."

A looming challenge for TMF is that Senate appropriators have zeroed out the funding in the fiscal year 2019 bill.

As the TMF board decides which projects will receive the remaining $55 million in fiscal year 2018 dollars, agencies have taken differing approaches to their modernization efforts.

Department of Transportation CIO Vicki Hildebrand said in May she was considering tapping into the central fund. However, she told FCW "we don't need it."

"I'm appreciative it's there," she said, noting Transportation has an agency-level working capital fund and is saving money on contracts through moving to shared services "where it makes sense," specifically pointing to the consolidation of help desks.

By contrast, Department of Energy CIO Max Everett, whose agency was one of the first three to receive approval from the TMF board in June, touted the process as improving IT management and encouraged other agencies to apply.

"The reality is, this is the way we should be managing federal IT across the fed government," he said. "If agencies aren't going to go after the rest of that money, I am."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.


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