Government Technologist: A Disconnect In Federal IT Strategy

The White House and OMB are pushing government-wide tech initiatives, but our survey of federal IT pros reveals a gap between policy and implementation.
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John FoleyEstablishing an IT strategy is one thing; executing on that strategy is something entirely different--and much harder. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra is learning the challenge of getting from one to the other.

Kundra has taken on the huge task of modernizing and optimizing federal IT operations, which he's tackling through a series of initiatives introduced over the past 12 months by the White House and the Office of Management and Budget. They include ambitious government-wide plans for cloud computing, open government, data center consolidation, and IT project management.

The federal CIO must tread carefully, however. New research from InformationWeek Government shows that federal IT managers aren't all on board with OMB's grand plan. In fact, our Government IT Priorities survey, conducted in July, reveals a significant disconnect between OMB's centralized IT policies and what's actually happening within agencies.

For instance, despite Kundra's enthusiastic advocacy of cloud computing as a more efficient and cheaper alternative to traditional IT models, only 14% of survey respondents say cloud computing is "extremely important" to their agencies. And only 33% indicate that the Obama administration has caused their agencies to get a better handle on IT project performance, even with the scrutiny brought by OMB's IT Dashboard.

Our data shows that federal IT personnel are guided far more by the priorities and requirements of their agencies than by the administration's wish list: 81% of survey respondents say that their agencies' IT priorities are driven by internal initiatives; 38%, by OMB mandates. To have any hope of hitting their goals, Kundra, federal CTO Aneesh Chopra, and others driving IT policy and performance in Washington will have to bring more of the "doers" in line with their efforts.

So far, Kundra has tried a little bit of everything to get agencies on board: peer pressure in the form of the IT Dashboard; the carrot of public approval through open government projects; and the stick of OMB's probing TechStat sessions and big-ticket project reviews.

Other Ways To Motivate

What more can be done? Michael Biddick, CTO of systems integrator Fusion PPT and author of our Government IT Priorities report, proposes that performance-based incentives be used to motivate senior executives within agencies to manage toward desired outcomes. "Getting federal IT policy to reach its objectives isn't just a technology challenge, but one of management and leadership," writes Biddick.

At the Department of Energy, Rosio Alvarez is coming at this challenge another way. Alvarez, CIO of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is halfway into a 12-month stint as senior IT adviser to the secretary and deputy secretary of Energy. She's evaluating how to map federal initiatives such as the FISMA security guidelines and the E-Government Act to Energy's activities. "It's really about policy from outside DOE and how that gets propagated throughout the department and to the national labs," she says. If they haven't already, other federal agencies should consider assigning a senior IT person to a similar "business alignment" role.

Federal IT managers must make informed decisions about how much time and how many resources to put into OMB's growing to-do list. A good start is to download our Government IT Priorities report. And look for our Sept. 16 Webcast, Government IT Priorities: Bridging The Policy Gap.

OMB is right to throw its weight behind open government, the cloud, data center consolidation, and IT project management. But Kundra & Co. must get more buy-in across agencies or those efforts will fall well short of their full potential.

John Foley is editor of InformationWeek Government.
To find out more about John Foley, please visit his page.