Innovation got pushed to the back burner as feds faced down pay freezes, shutdowns and budget cuts.
If you were to sift through the stories that Federal Computer Week ran in 2011, you’d find some items that would lift the spirits a little. Taken as a whole, however, you’d be hard-pressed to describe the year as anything other than the federal government’s very own annus horribilis.
It started with a total breakdown of whatever bipartisanship remained, with Congress pushing the country to the brink of a government shutdown, raising the specter of a debt default and rattling industry and financial nerves. It ended with the failure of the so-called budget supercommittee to reach a bipartisan agreement on $1.2 trillion in cuts. Automatic, across-the-board reductions loom.
In between, there were calls for federal furloughs, workforce cuts and pay freezes, and threats to ongoing IT modernization programs. Navy SEALs found and killed Osama bin Laden, almost 10 years after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Then the government was rattled by a 5.8 earthquake that struck the Washington metro area.
Perhaps we can cheer ourselves with the hope that the worst is over. But wait, is that an election year we see before us? Never mind, 2011 is almost over and gone forever. Onward!
Furloughs, pay cuts loom
What a start to the year. With a new Congress focused on austerity to close the budget gap, a House bill targeted federal employees for 10 days of unpaid leave in fiscal 2012. Coupled with a 10 percent cut to congressional salaries, $5.5 billion in savings were expected.
Also in January:
Boost or cut IT spending?
President Barack Obama proposed increasing the federal government’s IT budget to just under $80 billion for fiscal 2012 to pay for cloud, mobile and other technologies. Some agencies might have been confused, however, because the White House also said eight of them would see cuts of 10 percent or more because of “unaffordable” IT programs.
Also in February:
Pay for performance is dead, right? Wrong. Maybe.
You would have thought that after the Defense Department’s National Security Personnel System failed so publicly in 2009 pay for performance would be dead for a while. But Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), the new congressional overseer of the federal workforce, decided it was worth another shot and scheduled hearings on the topic. Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry tried to dampen Ross’ enthusiasm by citing the difficulty of measuring employee performance. At a later event, Berry said the government must learn to do that before pay for performance can be implemented.
Also in March:
House GOP: Prosperity = Fewer fed jobs, lower salaries
House Republicans followed up their earlier attempts at cutting the federal budget with a Path to Prosperity plan that would cut $6 trillion from the federal budget in the next decade, with a 10 percent reduction in the federal workforce and big cuts to salaries and benefits as major goals. As a stream of comments from FCW readers showed, feds were definitely not feeling the love.
Also in April:
DHS handed cybersecurity lead, sparks big expansion plan
In proposed legislation, the White House gave the Homeland Security Department the authority to oversee the security of federal IT systems, including the power to mandate policies to protect core critical infrastructure systems. Naturally, DHS then said it would need to boost its cybersecurity workforce by 50 percent.
Also in May:
Kundra resigns, woe follows
Federal CIO Vivek Kundra resigned and headed for Harvard. Given that he was the Obama administration’s most public — and very vocal — advocate for reforming federal IT management, his departure set off a storm of reactions and doubt about his legacy and whether his replacement would be able to see his initiatives through to completion.
Also in June:
Meet the new telework, (pretty much) the same as the old one
The Telework Enhancement Act that Obama signed in 2010 was supposed to usher in a new, more expansive era of teleworking for feds. Oh, well, maybe later. For now, according to FCW readers, a well-meaning but toothless directive has given agency managers little incentive to support telework, leading to frustration, misunderstanding and a concept that is great in theory but very much lacking in practice.
Also in July:
IT reform means CIOs have to be so much more
If government CIOs ever had any complaints about being undervalued in their jobs or not having the clout they need, then they must have been cheered by a memo from Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew, who stressed the additional actions CIOs need to take to make sure IT reform happens. Now they must also be investment analysts, recruiters, security officers, cheerleaders, overall good people and occasional janitors (just kidding).
Also in August:
‘Cartel’ is a nasty word in Washington
When Federal CIO Vivek Kundra said in a parting shot that an “IT cartel” of major government contractors was blocking reform efforts, you have to wonder if he knew what he was saying. Reaction from the contracting fraternity ranged from disappointment and disapproval to, publicly at least, mild offense. FCW readers, on the other hand, expressed stronger opinions, both for and against.
Also in September:
Cyberattacks are going up, up, up!
There’s probably still someone in government pooh-poohing the idea of cybersecurity, but he or she must be getting pretty lonely. The Government Accountability Office said security incidents have soared by more than 600 percent in just five years while agencies’ security practices remain lousy. That’s pushing lawmakers to consider legislation, but the current bipartisanship on all things cyber could soon disappear.
Also in October:
The USAJobs mess, and why communication matters
When the USAJobs 3.0 website launched Oct. 11, it was seen as a mighty step forward for federal job seekers, but it quickly turned into a noisy fiasco. Users, industry, and eventually policy-makers and pundits weighed in with complaints about access and other problems, and lawmakers even suggested rebidding the USAJobs contract. The mess wasn’t helped by OPM’s lack of timely responses to the complaints. It was later revealed that Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel had led an IT SWAT team to help fix the site.
Also in November:
Smart stuff is coming, like it or not
Smart phones, tablet PCs and other 21st-century technology scare the wits out of a lot of government IT and security folks, but they’d better get used to it because smart technology is here to stay.
Former Federal CIO Vivek Kundra made that point early in the year when he suggested providing a $2,000 subsidy for federal employees to buy and use personal mobile devices at work. Many people shot down the idea as impractical, for a number of reasons, but it’s clear the use of smart devices in the workplace is catching on.
The drivers are mobility and the need to cut costs, said Veterans Affairs Department CIO Roger Baker when he announced that VA employees could bring personal mobile devices to work beginning in October. Later, VA said it would also buy 100,000 tablet PCs.
Of course, this is the government so the effort wouldn’t be complete without some kind of policy hitch. Bosses at the super-secret National Security Agency decided that, because of security fears, employees there would not be using personal smart phones at work for the foreseeable future. But the wave seems unstoppable, particularly now that the General Services Administration has come out with a new telework policy that’s aimed at — you guessed it — mobility and agility.