Is the government ready for a mobile transformation?

Federal mobility is going to require a shift in attitudes and approaches throughout the government.

 

With legislation woefully behind the times and little in the way of federal guidelines for the use of mobile technology in the government workplace, there’s a need for a new approach to mobilizing the federal workforce and keeping up with the pace of change, according to some officials.

That new approach may hinge on a different kind of rule-making model than Washington is used to – one that is established through collaboration between agencies and Capitol Hill and has impact all the way down the chain of command.

“There’s no government-wide mechanism for moving things forward. If we’re going to have long-term, sustained effort in innovation and transformation, it’s going to take more than one agency. And Congress has to provide the statutory framework,” said Zack Fields, legislative aide for Rep. Gerald Connolly, who serves on the subcommittee on technology, information policy, intergovernmental relations and procurement reform under the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “But it’s important that Congress lay out the targets and not precisely prescribe how to get there.”

Fields spoke as part of a panel at a mobility conference held March 15 in Washington, sponsored by the Association for Federal Information Resources Management and the Government Information Technology Executive Council.

Rick Holgate, assistant director for science and technology and CIO, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, said the most transformative efforts will be structural, relying on help from Capitol Hill in showing reticent agencies what kind of change can be effected.

“There are a lot of incremental steps we can take to move us in the right direction, and a new mobility strategy is one of those steps,” Holgate said. But he warned that the high expectations of a workforce armed with personal Androids and iPads may yield some disappointment in a strategy that is not all-encompassing and completely cutting-edge.

“There are cultural and historical obstacles that make [transitioning to mobility] less easy and less seamless than it should be,” Holgate said. “Everyone has huge expectations of what the possibilities are in mobility, and there’s almost no way any strategy could live up to those expectations.”

Still, there’s no denying the sheer weight of implementing mobility as an institution within the federal government, and it comes with numerous potential sticking points, such as bring-your-own-device policies, cultural change and recruiting young talent, panelists said.

“We’re not picking up and moving across the river; we’re changing the way we work,” said Steve Kempf, commissioner of the General Services Administration's Federal Acquisition Service. “We want to create collaboration and change culture…and set examples along the way.”

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