Cobert: TechStat will adapt to agile development

A renewed focus on improving IT delivery in the wake of HealthCare.gov’s troubles includes intervening earlier in the development cycle and examining the direction and risk of projects at the pilot stage.

OMB DDM Beth Cobert, testifying before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Jan. 14, 2014

DDM Beth Cobert told the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee that the Obama administration would be looking to expand the range of companies and personnel who have a hand in federal IT projects.

An overhaul of the TechStat process used by the federal CIO to fix troubled IT projects is underway, and the new model will be geared toward a more iterative agile development model, Deputy Director for Management Beth Cobert told  the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee at a March 12 hearing. 

The administration's focus on improving IT delivery in the wake of the troubled launch of HealthCare.gov includes intervening in troubled projects earlier in the development cycle and examining the direction and risk of IT projects at the pilot stage.

"As we think about a process like TechStat, you don't want to be measuring compliance with requirements. You want to be looking early about how we're looking at needs," Cobert said.

Cobert said the administration would be looking to expand the range of companies and personnel who have a hand in federal IT projects. While OMB oversight has resulted in improvements to processes and eliminated waste, "clearly we still have much more to do," she said.

"Smarter IT Delivery" is among the Cross Agency Priority goals published on Performance.gov earlier this week. In her written testimony, Cobert indicated that in the administration would publish "detailed action plans" this spring for achieving its CAP Goals, including metrics defining success, and that quarterly updates would be published on Performance.gov.

The hearing covered the range of President Barack Obama's management agenda, and included GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini and Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, head of the Government Accountability Office.

GAO has estimated that the PortfolioStat process OMB uses to improve IT efficiency across agencies could lead to $5.8 billion in savings, is far more than OMB projected, noted committee ranking Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Cobert said the administration had "more room to run" when it comes to generating savings. She pointed to commodity IT purchasing, better efficiency within data centers, better ways of uniting systems and more use of the cloud as possible targets for improvement.

"From my experience in the private sector, this is one you just got to keep going at," said Cobert, who was a senior executive at the consulting firm McKinsey before joining the administration in mid-2013. "Because some of the underlying costs of storage, of transmission continue to fall, capabilities continue to rise, so you can't be satisfied with the ideas you identified last year. You've got to keep generating the next set of them," she said.

The House-passed Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), which spells out CIO budget and hiring authority, was not referenced, but it loomed over the questioning. Coburn complained about the lack of accountability among agency CIOs, but suggested the problem could be solved administratively.

"I'm seeing a different level of accountability across different agencies. You all can fix that if you choose to, so we know where to go, and who is responsible," Coburn said.

Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) sought a meeting with OMB on the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, a bill by Virginia Democrat Mark Warner that would standardize government financial data and publish it machine readable form.

The House version passed with wide bipartisan support, but the measure stalled in the Senate in the wake of an OMB draft leaked earlier this year that suggests the administration has significant issues with the legislation. Carper indicated he wanted to bring together the bill's supporters and OMB to come up with a solution.

"I want to get Mark Warner off my back," he told Cobert, with a wry smile.

NEXT STORY: OPM lays out IT recruiting plan

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