Government IT reforms centered on hot technologies have done little to significantly improve how agencies are delivering services to taxpayers.
Mark Forman is co-founder of Government Transaction Services, a cloud computing services company, and was the first administrator of e-government and IT at the Office of Management and Budget. Paul Brubaker is president of Silver Lining and former deputy CIO at the Defense Department.
During the past 16 years, IT reform efforts, from the Clinger-Cohen Act to the E-Government Act and the Obama administration’s 25-point plan, have focused on government’s inability to keep up with the pace of technology.
Despite those efforts, government remains largely incapable of gaining performance breakthroughs in line with technology innovation. Now, in an era of two major IT disruptions — mobility and cloud — we believe it is time to refocus IT reforms.
Most 21st-century IT reforms have been limited to technology, such as cloud computing, website consolidation, data center consolidation and commodity technology consolidation. Although we agree that the administration can cut IT costs by consolidating applications and infrastructure, we also know that these savings pale in comparison to the potential gains that could come from using technology to transform the way government operates.
Each major wave of technology improves productivity via new business and service delivery approaches. These approaches also result in infrastructure consolidation, but it comes as a result of better ways of doing business that directly support mission execution and with benefits that far exceed today’s data center consolidation results. So if we citizens are to get the true benefits of technology, there must be new government IT reforms that focus on three core areas.
First, there must be clear authority, responsibility and accountability for whoever is charged with transforming an enterprise. The current trend appears to be de-emphasizing the strategic transformational function of CIOs in favor of a technology management focus. That leaves no one to harvest technology opportunities that could revolutionize government service delivery. We need legislation to clarify who is responsible, what their authorities are and how they are held accountable for government productivity gains.
Second, there must be clear goals for productivity gains. The shift from focusing on an agency mission to adopting technology for technology’s sake is becoming increasingly obvious. That trend surfaces in the rush to find savings from commodity technology and the self-congratulatory rhetoric from some who have rushed to build apps for smart devices or create a social media presence that, in almost all cases, produces little in terms of improved mission outcomes and often promotes an already dysfunctional application.
Finally, there needs to be a viable, transparent common framework for creating new government operating processes — from how government serves people to the modernization of acquisition and financial transactions. We know that re-engineering is risky, thankless and hard. It requires deftly navigating functional and cultural obstacles to change and creating communications strategies to build support from all levels and stakeholders. Successful transformation efforts require resources, continuity and support from top management. Because many cross-agency opportunities are emerging, the transformation framework must incorporate the Office of Management and Budget and agency roles into a simple governance model that can integrate with the budget.
Seeking to shave a few hundred million from the IT operating budgets through consolidating commodity IT and data centers is good. But we believe it is not acceptable to spend money to continue to poorly serve taxpayers by maintaining antiquated processes and dysfunctional systems running on fewer servers.
It’s time for IT reform that refocuses political leaders, OMB and CIOs on using technology to measurably improve agencies’ missions.
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