5 sure-fire bets for federal IT in 2011

In what promises to be a chaotic year for government, Alan Balutis presents five things you can count on happening in federal IT.

Alan Balutis is senior director and distinguished fellow at Cisco Systems’ Internet Business Solutions Group.

As we move into what observers expect will be an interesting and exciting year of divided government, enhanced House oversight, deficit commission reports, tightened budgets and so on, much is uncertain. In such times, government and industry executives search for solid ground, for certainties, for the predictable.

So let me go beyond the usual forecasts or predictions for the coming year by listing five things you can expect, anticipate or count on in 2011.

1. Death of a czar/chief. January will mark the halfway point of President Barack Obama’s first term — 24 months. The average life span of a senior political appointee at the level of an assistant secretary or above is 18 to 22 months. Count on the departure of one of the technology or IT czars or chiefs. Who will be first? Someone from the White House or Office of Management and Budget or a department CIO?

2. Moving beyond lip service. On Nov. 19, OMB Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients and federal CIO Vivek Kundra announced a package of IT reforms that seeks to fundamentally change how the federal government buys and uses IT. It included a proposal to reduce the government’s data center footprint by 40 percent by 2015 and shift agencies’ default approach to IT to a cloud-first policy as part of the fiscal 2012 budget process. In 2011, the mighty ship of federal IT will begin to turn toward those goals. It will move beyond merely giving lip service to cutting waste and saving money. In 2011, expect much more. Expect passionate lip service. Expect a lot of talk about data center consolidation and cloud computing.

3. And the winner is… Spring will bring Washington’s most delightful season — warm days without humidity, cherry blossoms blooming, etc. It will also mark the beginning of the season when we recognize the great achievements in federal IT from 2010. Some of the top awards will go to those who have been the most outspoken leaders, evangelists and pioneers. They won’t need to have actually done anything, managed anything or changed anything. It will be enough that they have been passionate in their lip service (see No. 2 above).

4. Distraction. The nation faces a large — and growing — fiscal imbalance, driven in part by an aging population. Reports forecast a fiscal train wreck. Count on the White House, Congress and the U.S. people to be sidetracked by trivialities — for example, Bristol Palin on “Dancing With the Stars,” don’t-touch-my-junk airport searches, etc. Last year, interest on the debt totaled more than $260 billion — or about what was spent by the Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, and Justice departments combined. The White House just announced the winner of the new Securing Americans' Value and Efficiency (SAVE) Award, for which thousands of federal employees submitted ideas for saving tax dollars. The winner will come to the White House to meet the president and discuss her idea. And what is it? Stop mailing copies of the Federal Register to government employees. Now there is a solid $250,000 off the deficit!

5. Conan vs. Leno. For years, we’ve heard about a pending retirement tsunami as baby boomers leave government service. But the wave has yet to hit. The boomers aren’t leaving. They won’t leave. They’ve served 40-plus years, but still they hang on. In 2011, the Net Generation will rise up, oust the boomers from their government offices and force them to shuffle into retirement dragging their walkers. It’s time for them to go.

Happy 2011!

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