Government IT Not That Bad, Say Federal CIOs

Ann All
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I'll admit, I can sometimes be critical of government IT. Just recently, I used the Veterans Affairs Department as an example of sloppy portfolio management practices, noting it has more than 64,000 software packages in use, many of which have just a single copy of software associated with them. I also wrote about how both the Army and the Marine Corps are spending at least a billion dollars on new ERP systems even though they have a lot of the same requirements.


Such coverage, not to mention recent remarks by President Obama and federal CIO Vivek Kundra, may have federal CIOs feeling a little annoyed. Eighty percent of respondents to a Federal News Radio survey said assailing federal IT is hurtful, and 60 percent said negative perception is a bigger problem than actual technology shortcomings.


President Obama, Kundra and Jeff Zients, the Office of Budget Management's deputy director for management, have all made disparaging remarks about the state of federal IT in recent months. Obama's off-the-record remarks about his not-so-cutting-edge telephone (picked up by an open microphone) got fairly widespread press coverage last month.


Still, even survey respondents acknowledge there are problems. Forty percent of them said agency technology is not as good as technology found in the private sector. Just a little more than half of them said their agency's IT was as good or better than private sector technology.


The article cites recent remarks from Veterans Affairs Department CIO Roger Baker, who said overly bureaucratic processes in areas like procurement and human resources are a major impediment to efficient government IT. I've written several times about problems with federal procurement processes. Survey respondents listed procurement as one of their three greatest challenges. It was mentioned by 53 percent of them, after competing demands from the OMB and Congress, cited by nearly three quarters of respondents, and tight budgets (67 percent).


The Obama administration has been making efforts to improve government IT. Earlier this month, IT Business Edge's Susan Hall wrote about some of the aspects of reform, including the creation of IT program manager roles and a best-practices platform meant to be a central source of information on improving IT operations.


The White House gets mixed marks from the CIO survey respondents. According to Federal News Radio, although 87 percent rated the White House's efforts to improve IT as good or satisfactory, none rated them as excellent. Among the administration's major IT initiatives: cloud computing, openness/transparency, data center consolidation, cyber security, procurement reform, Techstat sessions, high risk list, work force improvements and agile/rapid software development. Most respondents seemed to view OMB's procurement reform and work force initiatives as problematic, noting they've had a poor impact thus far.

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