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Home improvement and the federal budget

Home improvement doesn’t always keep itself to your preferred schedule. If your sink drain backs up beyond your ability to repair it, you call a plumber and pay the bill, even if it’s not an expense you had intended to incur.

This is something that the deficit hawks in Congress should keep in mind. As the so-called “super committee” faces a looming deadline to identify more than $1 trillion in cuts or else trigger even more draconian automatic cuts, they should not lose sight of the value of flexibility.

Lawmakers are fond of trying to cut “discretionary” spending, as if they imagine that term to describe pizza parties and other such frivolities. But discretionary spending is how much of the work of government gets done, and it’s where the flexibility to meet unexpected costs often comes from.

Although it’s obvious that some politicians want to cut the government down to its most essential skeleton – trimming the fat and most of the lean tissue, to continue to anatomical analogy – that would be a bad idea. Trying to cover emerging situations when you have no funding allocated to doing so ends up costing a lot more.

Posted by Michael Hardy on Nov 16, 2011 at 7:26 PM1 comments


Scrutiny of IT spending: The new normal

Who in your department needs an iPhone?

Think about it: Who really needs one?

As mobile devices have proliferated, it's become increasingly common for federal employees to expect to get them on the job, either issued by the agency or at least supported by it. But the recent executive order that instructs agencies to limit the numbers they provide is likely to undercut those expectations -- and likely not to be the last such measure.

As we move into the new era of reduced funding, this kind of measure is going to become more common, and the wise manager will start thinking now about how to accommodate it. In this case, figure out who really needs a smart phone to do their jobs. You don't need to provide them for all or even many of your employees. It may be that only a small number of them actually need the functionality of an apps-laden smart phone. It may even be that nobody really needs one. In either case, providing them for only those who really need them saves money.

The order instructs agencies to "assess current device inventories and usage, and establish controls, to ensure that they are not paying for unused or underutilized information-technology equipment, installed software, or services." It also tells them to limit the number of devices issued to employees, consistent with the Telework Enhancement Act, which adds a layer of complexity to the question.

Nevertheless, it's a safe bet that this order is just the start of a new regime of limits. Rather than fighting it, take charge and get ahead of it. You'll be glad you did.

Posted by Michael Hardy on Nov 10, 2011 at 7:26 PM0 comments


Get ready for a leadership vacuum

The coming departure of Dan Gordon from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy has provoked an interesting set of reactions.

On the one hand are the expected, and deserved, words of praise. As OFPP administrator, Gordon accomplished a lot in his two years, and people who worked closely with him or are affected by his initiatives are right to call attention to those successes.

But on the other hand, Gordon will be yet another agency leader to head for greener pastures after a short tenure, and as former deputy OFPP administrator Robert Burton pointed out, that's disruptive to agency employees.

And it's not enough time to really make the kind of difference that's properly called a legacy.

But it's become common in government. Vivek Kundra was federal CIO for just a bit more than two years, from March 2009 to August 2011. And Steve Kelman, who served as OFPP administrator for four years ending in 1997, was the last person to hold that position for more than about two years.

This matters as we enter the next presidential election year because that's a traditional time for presidentially appointed leaders to leave. If the incumbent loses, of course, all of his appointees will resign. But even when the incumbent wins a second term, it's common for many or most of the appointees to move on as the new term starts.

The practical effect of these transition points is that real agency leadership falls in many ways to senior career feds. But they are charged with carrying out the policy directives of the administration, as enacted at each agency by the appointed agency head. Career feds really aren't empowered to set a vision for an agency.

So in addition to tension about diminishing budgets, add uncertainty over continuity of leadership to the agenda for 2012. It's going to be a difficult year in some significant ways.

Posted by Michael Hardy on Nov 04, 2011 at 7:26 PM1 comments


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