By Steve Kelman

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The Lectern: Fed 100 judging

I have been reading nominations for the Fed 100, the annual award sponsored by Federal Computer Week (sponsor of this blog) for 100 individuals from government, industry, the nonprofit world or academia who have made the most-significant contributions to U.S. federal government information technology during the previous year. I am serving this year as one of the judges for the award.

I will say nothing about any individual nomination or its fate (the awards ceremony is March 25, and winners will be announced a few weeks prior), but, having served as a judge a few times in the past, I think there are patterns in this year's nominations, compared to previous years where I have served as a judge, that say some interesting things about the state of public-sector management in 2008.

The first is that, compared to earlier years when I have been a judge, relatively few of the nominations are for IT applications that directly serve the public (or even applications that serve agency programs that in turn help those programs to serve the public). Many more of them are for activities involving IT infrastructure and cybersecurity. Getting the IT "plumbing" to work right and protecting government systems from intrusion are, of course, important. But the ultimate goal of getting the plumbing to work right is to allow agencies to do their jobs better, and surprisingly few of these nominations involved ways that IT is directly helping agencies to do their jobs better. This was disappointing to me.

Second, and a little related, is the fact that a surprisingly large number of the nominations involved compliance and standardization issues. There were lots about efforts to improve governance, standardization and compliance with Office of Management and Budget mandates. Along somewhat the same vein, there were lots about efforts to centralize IT. There is always a tension between standardization/centralization and local initiative, and of course there needs to be a basic level of compliance with various mandates as a set of constraints under which IT systems function. But there were relatively few people who were nominated for taking their own initiatives, innovating or trying things on their own.

Third, there was a relative dearth of nominations of elected officials, senior agency political appointees or congressional staff. This would seem to reflect a view within the IT community that, compared with an earlier era, the political system is providing less support to improving IT – the political actors are active, but mostly in a compliance, constraint-imposing way.

In my view the nominations do not tell a happy story about the state of federal IT or, more broadly, of government management, as we make the transition to a new administration.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jan 12, 2009 at 12:08 PM


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