$3B saved, $17B to go on 25-point reform plan

OMB's 25-point plan is making progress, according to government CIOs, but questions remain about long-term oversight to make sure goals are met.

With $3 billion in IT funds already saved, federal CIOs are hopeful about the future of the Obama administration’s 25-point plan to reform IT management.

In a CIO panel discussion at the General Services Administration’s Interagency Resources Management Conference in Washington, IT executives from five federal agencies, including federal CIO Vivek Kundra, reported on progress made toward achieving the goals of the Office of Management and Budget’s three-month-old plan.

Kundra took the pulpit to recommend the OMB plan as one focused on implementation.

The plan is comprehensive, ambitious and visionary, but doable, agreed panel moderator Woody Hall Jr., vice president of IT strategy and CIO at General Dynamics IT.

But, Hall asked, how challenging will achieving those initiatives be, and how will the administration provide the oversight to ensure that the anticipated benefits ensue?

The plan is structured for success, Kundra said. Too many federal IT reform plans “end up with beautiful reports and strategies that are filed away in countless cabinets across the U.S. government,” he said. To ensure that doesn’t happen with the new plan, his team went back 40 years and reviewed billions of dollars’ worth of failed IT plans to see what worked and what didn’t, he said. Other research efforts involved Congress, the private sector and federal IT executives.

And it is working, Kundra said. After only 97 days, the plan has already saved $3 billion, and $20 billion of the federal government’s $80 billion in IT spending has been identified as a potential target for migration to cloud services, he said.

To help ensure that momentum continues, the OMB plan has been broken into six-month increments, each with its own goals and reports to the American public, “to make sure that we’re actually delivering on each of the points that we’ve highlighted,” Kundra said.

“Everyone is entering this continuum at a different place,” said Chris Smith, CIO at the Agriculture Department. So each agency will be working from different strengths and weaknesses.

“We’re focused on streamlined services delivery, self-service channels and, with 120,000 employees and contractors in 7,000 locations across the country and more than 100 countries, productivity-enhancing collaborative tools,” he said.

USDA is moving e-mail to the cloud at the rate of about 10,000 accounts a month and expects to be finished by year’s end, he added.

With an IT budget of $150 million annually, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is one of the more compact agencies, said Darren Ash, deputy executive director for corporate management at NRC’s Office of the Executive Director. As a small agency, NRC has been a heavy user of cloud technology, especially of private cloud services in partnership with other federal agencies and the private sector, he said.

OMB’s plan, along with budget crunches, is changing the way NRC looks at IT expenditures and how it will share information, he added.

The Defense Information Systems Agency has been a pioneer in the use of cloud technology, said DISA CIO Henry Sienkiewicz. “Our Rapid Access Computing Environment, which is our version of platform as a service, is really a wonderful success story,” he said.

A partnership with Akamai Technologies Inc. on an infrastructure-as-a-service offering lets the Defense Department dynamically move information around the world, he added.

Interior Department officials’ approach has been on a parallel course with that of OMB, said Bernie Mazer, Interior’s CIO. The agency has already found $500 million in savings on IT spending, he said.

In December 2010, at about the same time as the announcement of the 25-point plan, Interior “issued a secretarial order that called for the consolidation of common enterprise infrastructure activities as well the consolidation of compliance activities,” Mazer said. The order sets the stage for meeting OMB’s goals, he said, by “removing a lot of the structural impediments to looking at activities that can be delivered from the enterprise.”

Such progress could help quell the criticism that initially arose in some quarters “that the plan was too ambitious, too aggressive,” Hall said. Although agencies seem to be embracing the plan, he said, it raises the question: “How does OMB plan to monitor progress against the plan?”

Agencies are focused on implementing the plan, Kundra said. Interior has taken on governance issues, USDA is going after infrastructure, and DISA has been working on scaling best practices to DOD proportions. But reconstituting the CIO Council to make it “the center of gravity for the plan” will further help ensure the plan’s success,” he added.

The real challenge for agencies is the fact that they have different issues and are at different evolutionary cycles in executing IT, Kundra said. Further, it will be important to ensure that in the coming weeks, agency IT executives not only spend enough time with their deputy secretaries but also actively engage them in executing the plan, he said.

The third challenge is the laser beam: As emergency situations arise, it’s easy to continue opening new fronts and dissipating energy because in the long run, “the most important issue is the productivity of the federal government,” Kundra said.

“What I’m not worried about is whether this can be done,” he added. “And that’s because this entire plan is grounded in what already is working in the federal government.”

In April, OMB will issue a public report detailing where the plan is succeeding and where it is failing, he said.