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President's IT budget to focus on innovation

Feb. 6, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Steven VanRoekel, Federal Chief Information Officer, says innovation will be a theme of the 2015 budget request. (Rob Curtis/Staff / Gannett Government Media)

Federal chief information officers can expect to see a big emphasis on innovation in the president’s upcoming budget request.

“The prevailing theme throughout the [fiscal 2015] budget is tapping innovation,” federal CIO Steven VanRoekel said Thursday at the Igniting Innovation forum in Washington.

Agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency are doing just that. EPA created a Web-based application using a mobile-friendly website format called responsive design. The How’s My Waterway app provides the public with easy to understand information on the condition of their local waters, via their smartphone, tablet or desktop computer.

EPA was recognized at Thursday’s event for having the most innovative solution out of 83 nominees from government and industry.

“We have a modest technology budget compared to the [overall] federal budget, but we are moving a sector of the economy through our actions, and by such moving the world,” VanRoekel said. Federal IT spending represents about $80 billion of the federal budget. With the president’s budget slated for release March 4, VanRoekel could not provide actual budget figures and other specifics.

Agencies have been encouraged to innovate as IT budgets have remained relatively flat over the past few years. But breaking through the cultural barriers isn’t easy.

VanRoekel’s advice to agencies:

Address the culture. The notion that agencies must spend more to do more is not the answer, he said. Big specifications lead to big RFPs, which lead to big vendors, and that is not a sustainable model. The benefits of reducing investments in old systems and old technology in favor of more innovative investments must be communicated to decision makers. That process also involves what VanRoekel calls steadying the ship. For example, agreeing that having one email system rather than several is in the agency’s best interest.

Make IT an all-hands-on-deck effort. “This isn’t just an IT opportunity or HR or acquisition opportunity, it’s everybody getting together and seizing an opportunity to move the ball forward,” VanRoekel said. He encouraged IT professionals to include their HR, acquisition and finance departments in IT-related events and to ensure they understand the nature of their work. “Go get involved in the acquisition process in a deeper way. Even if your culture doesn’t allow it, go figure out how to make it allowed.”

Break the entropy, and rethink processes. How can you change the way you do things, and do it better than we have before? Ask questions that challenge the status quo. Where in the Federal Acquisition Regulation does it say that? Or why can’t I do it this way? He also challenged agencies to think about their customers and get feedback, whether through focus groups or online surveys.

“Our time is now to do that because technology is a part of everything,” he said.

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