By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Continuity after Kundra

Just recently -- in the context of expressing some displeasure at the failure of the Obama administration to continue emphasizing the effort that the first Bush administration started to spread the use of performance-based contracting -- I blogged about the importance of continuity across political appointees in trying to implement management reforms in government.

Making major management reforms in government takes time. Ironically, one problem is that such reforms are often not partisan. That sounds good, but it means that when new political appointees rush to eliminate what the previous politicals have done, it just creates "flavor-of-the-month" cynicism among career employees and diminishes the willingness of the career folks to work on any management improvement initiatives politicals promote.

Though I didn't mention it in the previous blog, I remember my annoyance when the Bush folks arrived in 2001 that  within days they dismantled any mention or trace of the Clinton/Gore administration's "reinventing government" effort. It was, so to speak, bush league.
 
Well, when I wrote the previous blog, I had no idea that the issue of continuity in management reform was about to be raised in a very dramatic way for the federal IT community by the departure of federal CIO Vivek Kundra.
 
From my perspective, there are two major management reforms associated with Kundra that involve long-term and big changes in how federal IT operates, and both are very much works in progress.  One is the TechStat meetings to assess progress in major IT projects. The second is the Office of Management and Budget's 25-point plan for improving federal IT project success, with particular emphasis on improving program management and on agile software development. (For a number of reasons, I rank Kundra's "transparency" initiatives, which are the sexiest of his efforts to the world outside of the IT community, as less significant.)
 
In neither case is the success of these initiatives assured, particularly the second, which involves very significant alterations in how the government manages major IT projects.
 
Now the administration will need to name a new CIO. My view is that one prime qualification for the person to be selected is his or her commitment to continuity on these major Kundra initiatives. If we can't even get continuity within one administration — if the temptations to make a mark by de-emphasizing the old and emphasizing some new "signature initiatives" is too great — then what are the realistic chances for ever getting continuity across administrations?
 
To any potential new CIO, I would say that successfully implementing and institutionalizing some major improvements in how the government does business is a ticket to making a major mark, particularly given the poor track record of politicals in slogging through execution as opposed to the klieg lights and media stories attached to new announcements. If you persist and succeed in some important and valuable old initiatives, you will be a hero to the IT community and to all friends of improved public management.
 
I hope the White House personnel folks will be asking this question of all the potential candidates.

Posted on Jun 20, 2011 at 12:09 PM


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