Interior Dept.'s IT Consolidation Project Could Be Model for Other Agencies

Ann All

Earlier this month I wrote about how federal agencies are struggling to consolidate and standardize their IT services despite the promise of enhanced efficiency and lower costs promised by such efforts.


The Interior Department is making some headway, which could serve as a model for other agencies. As reports, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar consolidated IT management at the department in December in an attempt to reduce IT spending and move eight Interior bureaus and offices to shared systems. Instead of 37 CIOs and department CIOs throughout the department, a single CIO will sign off on and monitor IT investments.


While the reorganization holds promise, it likely won't be easy, based on the article's recounting of past efforts at consolidation. Although the bureaus have been directed to have all employees working remotely use a department-wide system by January 2007, an October inspector general report found many still used their own remote systems. And 78 percent of bureaus failed to meet departmental requirements that their employees adopt two-factor authentication for remote access of information.


Still, there's hope that this project will fare better than past efforts, thanks to some smart moves by managers. The department is shifting authority to department CIO Bernard Mazer and deputy Lawrence Gross over a four-year period. This will give Interior's IT work force of 3,600 people a period to shrink through attrition or be transferred to work under Mazer at headquarters.


It will also give the department the chance to implement a new system under which bureau and office-level CIOs become "assistant directors of information resources." They will serve in two-year term limits, after which bureau heads will decide-with input from the department CIO-whether to extend their terms. In another best practice, their ratings will be tied to their performance and to the agency's goal of consolidation. According to the article, they will be assessed in part on how well they consolidate data centers, tear down bureau firewalls and relinquish ownership of hardware and software.


Salazar gave bureau-level CIOs a clear deadline of four months to describe how they will move all IT infrastructure, personnel and services to the department level. He did listen to bureau chiefs' concerns that IT centralization could adversely impact their missions and opted to let more specialized software applications remain under their control. Interior staff had one-on-one meetings with bureau CIOs to help build relationships and trust.


Perhaps most important, Interior Secretary Salazar is playing an active role in the reorganization. According to the article, past efforts at consolidation lacked a strong commitment at the senior level.


Also working in the department's favor: Between August and December, CIOs at five of the department's eight bureaus retired or resigned, giving the Interior a relatively clean IT management slate. Andrew Jackson, deputy assistant secretary for technology, information and business services, expects the agency to retire 17 data centers by year end and another 95 of its 210 data centers within five years.


To recap, some of the project details mentioned in the article I especially like:

  • Involving Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, which signals executive support from the very top
  • Leveraging circumstances that should ease implementation by announcing the effort as several bureau CIOs were leaving the agency
  • Personally meeting with bureau CIOs to build relationships and garner their feedback
  • Actually responding to their feedback by allowing some specialized software apps to remain under bureau-level control
  • Giving bureau CIOs clear incentives in their new roles by assessing their performance based in part on how well they consolidate data centers, eliminate bureau firewalls and relinquish ownership of hardware and software.


One suggestion the Interior might want to consider, based on a comment from a reader called GIS_Jane, who says she has worked for two bureaus within the Interior. She wrote:

They talk about involving senior management in the planning but I challenge them to also include field reps from every location-especially those who work in fire or other emergency responses & who do not have the luxury of time to wait for a system to come back online. Those field folks are the ones really using the systems & they can provide invaluable insights into making this a top-notch transition.

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