As the Department of Transportation's chief information officer, Richard McKinney has his finger on the pulse of IT acquisition in the federal government.

McKinney spoke with Senior Staff Reporter Carten Cordell about the challenges of building collaboration for IT procurement inside an agency with multiple components and how those departments are working together to transition from legacy systems to agile development.  

In talking about ACT-IAC's Management of Change conference, obviously, it's a very valuable convention for government and industry people to come together and have a conversation about IT. Can talk about the value that MOC provides?

Well, both industry and government, we're in this federal IT community and this is like a community meeting where we get together and we have the opportunity to talk to each other in formal settings. In actual track sessions, but also informally. It allows us to exchange ideas.

One of the focuses of Management of Change that's a little different, one of the things we encourage is for the departments to send some of their younger up-and-coming IT leaders. We liked to market Management of Change as an opportunity for some of the emerging leaders to be exposed to not only to one another but also to industry and to these new ideas.

It seems like the recipe for success is this collaboration and melding of minds on how to find new solutions.

Yes. IT is a team sport. Whether it's internal to the office of the CIO or in the broader community. You know, we're all in this together, and conferences like this afford us the opportunity to have those conversations and to have that communication.

You mentioned that an up-and-coming IT person might meet people there and might be exposed to new things. Do you have any specifics as to what they might be exposed to?

It is an opportunity for some of the emerging leaders to meet one another. It's an opportunity for them to meet folks in industry. There's also going to be senior IT folks there, so it's a chance for them to exchange ideas with CIOs, like myself. It's just a good conversation to have, and it's great to give emerging leaders an opportunity to learn to mix and mingle.

You are the government chair for this year's in MOC conference. What kind of value does it provide for government attendees to give them an educational background about the issues especially related to IT right now?

Well, we've designed six tracks. There are six current areas of focus that the conference is built around. So we have three sessions in each track, and they're designed to bring subject matter experts out and give them the opportunity to have a peer-to-peer discussion with government attendees. It's also to stimulate a conversation between government and industry. And that's a big part of what the ACT-IAC conferences are about.

Is there anything new coming and MOC this year, beyond the tracks?

We have a new concept called the solution sprint. Started off with was a bit of a shark tank idea, although it dropped the shark tank description. We have two issues, one around. IT as a service, a sort of cloud service, and also IT workforce. We're going to have two challenges and we're going to have teams proposing solutions. And then they'll be judged and we'll have winners. We think it will be fun, but we also think it will be competitive. We think some good ideas should come out of it.

In talking about the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), we've seen all of our agencies come out with a scorecard last fall. Can you talk about where DOT is progressing from its first scorecard? What kind of improvements and implementations have you put in?

In FITARA, the law says that the CIO shall approve the IT purchases. Well, the question that we wrestled with here at DOT is where and when is that appropriate? Some might imagine that that means when it gets down to the requisition stage the CIO has to sign off on the requisition. But we took the stance that's too late in the conversation. If you're at the requisition, the conversation about what technology to use and how to employ it and how it solves that problem, that conversation's already taken place.

We think the appropriate place to have that conversation is at the beginning of that conversation. So in the Department of Transportation, we've asked each of the operating administrations to take their budget and give us a spend plan. It's a plan that says, "Here's the money I have and here's how I'm going to spend it over the course of the year" and sit down with my team and walk us through line by line on all the things that they're going to spend their money on. And then we can have the conversation of looking for synergies and duplications and overlap chances for shared services. We think that that's a more appropriate way to get at understanding how we spend our money, which is the spirit of FITARA, is that the office of the CIO should understand how the department spending its money on IT.

Talking about the challenges DOT and other agencies are facing in terms of transitioning off legacy systems on to more cloud-based, more agile development kind of programs, can you talk about what was an "a-ha" moment for you in terms of what the transition was going to be like?

We have some legacy issues here and I have an office of the chief technology officer and we're surveying those and looking for the opportunities for improvement. We're very hopeful that [federal CIO] Tony Scott and his idea around the IT modernization fund, that that will come through, and that the federal government will recognize that a pool of money can be created and that the agencies can pick out a legacy application, apply for the funds to do the replacement and/or improvement of that application. And then [they] pay that back through the savings that that transformation accrues.

In December, you decided to freeze IT acquisition for 90 days in a lot of your components agencies to allow them to get a chance to get on the same page with a comprehensive spending plan. Can you talk about what that process was like?

The idea was to ask the operating administrations to stop before they began the purchasing process and asked them to put together a spend plan that showed exactly how they're going to spend the money over the course of the coming year and for all of us to sit and have and communicate that so that the office of the department CIO would understand how the department spending its money on IT.

And so communication obviously is a big, integral tool in that conversation?

Absolutely. It is a conversation that we're having with the operating administrations.

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