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VanRoekel, Tangherlini outline IT reform progress - but is it enough?

May. 8, 2014 - 04:51PM   |  
By | AMBER CORRIN   |   Comments

There are billions in savings already realized and more to come, but are the promises of fiscal returns combined with new initiatives aimed at streamlining technology enough to effect real change in federal IT?

In Capitol Hill hearings this week, top government IT leaders said that efforts under way in federal IT reform are paying dividends and hold promise for continued success. But at least one government watchdog official says it’s not enough.

Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel, speaking at the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing May 8, said that better IT portfolio management and cost oversight has yielded more than $2.5 billion in identified cost savings and $1.9 billion of realized savings. Specifically, the PortfolioStat process and consolidation of commodity IT drove the efficiencies and innovation behind the savings.

However, Dave Powner, director of IT management issues at the Government Accountability Office, criticized both figures as being too low.

“The target should be much higher than that,” Powner said. “Based on our work, there are over 200 PortfolioStat initiatives that agencies are working on to eliminate at least $5.5 billion in duplicative savings.”

Powner also criticized the Federal IT Dashboard as being inaccurate, and called for greater CIO authority, particularly related to acquisition and commodity IT, noting the issues’ ties to program mismanagement.

Related: GSA hub brings startup methods to government

Beyond the projected and realized savings, VanRoekel went on to outline his office’s new Smarter IT Delivery agenda, a three-part plan designed to further “transform the government IT landscape,” he said. The three main pillars of the plan center on ensuring the best talent in the government workforce, collaborating with the best companies and contractors, and taking advantage of the best processes that ensure accountability and results.

General Services Administration Administrator Dan Tangherlini outlined a smaller GSA program, 18F, which he said will ensure the government’s public-facing digital and web services are simple, effective and easier to use. The digital delivery team behind 18F will harness lessons from industry, specifically smaller tech startups, to help agencies provide faster, more cost-efficient digital services.

“18F is structured to develop in an agile manner, building prototypes rapidly and putting them in the hands of users for feedback; measure success not in terms of completion of a system, but through customer use; build core capacity so that the government can build and deliver technology solutions; and scale what works iteratively,” Tangherlini said in his testimony.

At the hearing he added that despite 18F’s small scale, he hopes “it helps agencies begin to think about ways to approach much larger projects.”

Committee chairman Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said that the reform efforts summarized in the hearing will help shape a Senate version of FITARA. The bill passed in the House in February but failed to advance in the Senate.

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