White House proposes sweeping federal IT reforms

Federal CIO Kundra has released a 25-point plan to reform the troubled federal IT sector.

For years, the differences between the use of information technology in the public and private sector have been glaring. Closing the technology gap has been one of the most important priorities of the administration’s IT executives. Today, the White House released a report (below) that acknowledges those issues and proposes specific reforms to begin to address the IT gap that Peter Orzag, the former head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in the White House, highlighted this summer.

This morning in Washington, the White House held a forum on information technology management reform hosted by federal chief performance officer and OMB deputy director for management Jeffrey Zients and U.S. chief information officer Vivek Kundra. The two laid out the Obama administration’s strategy to reboot how the federal government purchases and uses information technology.

“A productivity boom has transformed the private sector over the past decades,” said Zients this morning. This boom has increased output, lowered prices and boosted satisfaction in the private sector. “Unfortunately the government has missed out,” he said, despite the fact that federal agencies have spent some $600 billion dollars on technology over the past decade. “We need to make government more productive, efficient and responsive. Fixing IT is our top priority … this is a rare time in D.C. where everyone agrees on a problem and what needs to be done.”

The event was streamed live at whitehouse.gov/live. Video is embedded below:

IT reform means structural change

Zients outlined five structural changes:

  1. Adopting lightweight technology and shared services
  2. Aligning budgets with technology cycles
  3. Strengthening program management
  4. Increasing governance, accountability
  5. increasing engagement with IT community

Kundra, who followed Zients, went through each of the 25 points in the IT reform proposal. Key reforms proposed in the plan include the following goals:

  • Create career tracks for IT program managers.
  • Move to pilot projects with more budget flexibility and greater transparency in the implementation process.
  • Develop IT acquisition specialists to closely align acquisition with technology cycles in the broader economy
  • Following the model of Social Security, enact the requirement for complete, integrated teams to be in place before projects are approved
  • Launch “myth-busting” campaigns about acquisition of federal IT
  • Use “TechStat” sessions and other accountability measures to end or accelerate troubled projects
  • Reduce the number of federal data centers by at least 40 percent by 2015.

Kundra emphasized that the Obama administration wants to get people working on large IT projects to rotate between the federal government and the private sector, although he noted that would likely not include IT vendors. Instead, he pointed to global enterprises like Starbucks or Alcoa.

One of the most crucial IT reforms proposed by Kundra relates to startups. Kundra said the administration wants to make it easier for federal government to work with the small, agile technology companies that are constantly iterating. “We want to focus on how to create an ecosystem for how startups and small businesses can compete,” Kundra said in a phone interview. He pointed to collaborating with the Small Business Administration to create an infrastructure for that kind of interaction.

In a larger sense, Kundra also talked about how the proposed federal IT reform would shift the government CIO role “from owning data centers, owning custom systems, to provisioning them like utilities.” Instead of managing massive proprietary systems, CIOs could focus on incremental improvements to features in a modular, agile acquisition process. To say that that would be a sea change would be to willfully ignore so much of what has plagued the federal government’s use of technology.

The response from the audience at the White House and online was positive. “IT reforms and ExpertNet reflect keen understanding of redefinition of scale,” tweeted Bill Eggers, global public sector research director at Deloitte. “Cloud and crowd allow small groups to do big things.” Eggers’ immediate reaction was that the IT reform agenda was both “visionary and transformational,” setting a standard for government globally.

Teri Takai, the incoming Department of Defense CIO, applauded Kundra for this work and related it to her own. Takai also offered up a cautionary request: “Look at the cybersecurity aspects as being as important as efficiency drives and cost saving drives.” For many of us, she said, the need to address cybersecurity will be a way to drive the IT reforms proposed. “Efficiencies are always scary,” she said, but it’s important to recognize the trade offs and balance security. In the context of the scale of the attacks on government websites or the denial-of-service attacks during the WIkileaks saga, this is a crucial element of feedback.

The question and answer period that followed Kundra’s briefing highlighted several critical issues, including acquisitions, cloud computing and security. A bedrock question for any government reform proposal, in IT or beyond, was posed right at the beginning: How will this be institutionalized? In reply, Kundra said that the White House IT team is working with Congress on S.920, the Information Technology (IT) Investment Oversight Enhancement and Waste Prevention Act of 2009 introduced by Senator Carper (D-DE) that passed the Senate. The Obama administration will have to work with the incoming Republican majority to achieve similar legislation in the House. Given the emphasis on enhanced oversight and waste prevention, such legislation has at least a decent chance of being considered.

“Cyber cuts through everything we do,” said Kundra, responding to another question on IT security from CTOVision.com‘s Bob Gourley. “That’s why the President ordered a top-down review of cyber,” he said, and why government IT security officers are “shifting work from paper-based reports to standing up red teams and blue teams” that can improve the actual security posture of the government, as opposed to spending cycles dealing with FISMA compliance reporting.

The full report is embedded below:

25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal IT

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  • The report is available as a PDF directly from the office of the CIO:


  • Scott

    It won’t happen. I worked for my State I.T. Department for three years and couldn’t stand it anymore. The pay is far below the private sector, there are no perks or benefits, and the equipment and technologies are antiquated. Seriously, what is the Federal Government going to use as a draw to get top quality workers?

    We weren’t even allowed to have a Christmas party unless we did it on our own time, while google and other companies feed their employees every day. For which one do you think talented I.T. people are going to work?

    Not to mention the endless rants we were subjected to about being “overpaid lazy government workers”

    I’d STRONGLY counsel any young people to avoid government I.T. at all costs. You’re MUCH better off in the private sector.

  • Jeff

    I wonder how Scott feels about this initiative?


  • I’m convinced that this will work. Both Zients and Kundra used Powerpoint in their presentations. That is the hallmark of great planning. Good execution has no choice but to follow.

  • agree that, in addition to discussing the price tag and financing plan those at which many of these sites operate, the task has then-Federal Communications Commission chairman, proposed sweeping released and cleansed to remove.More guides here http://jewelsnistico.com to start a Small Business.

  • YungYots

    Oh wow, this makes a lot of sense.


  • kg

    IT Improvement Plan

    Step number 1: Freeze wages for 2 years

  • David L

    Hmm. Well, there is another saying in Federal IT and that is wait two years and someone else will be along with the “next big thing.”

    Reforming IT in the Federal sector will take, in no particular order:

    1) MONEY
    2) Trained resources
    3) The will to change
    4) An understanding of IT and the real challenges
    5) Long term investment
    6) Leadership

    As a former federal contractor in IT myself, I have to go with Scott on this. Attracting top talent to work in Federal IT will take a lot more than what is there today. But more importantly, there has to be a serious will to change and there has to be long term leadership. Most agency CIOs are political appointments and have very little experience as a CIO. Further, most are not around long enough to even understand what has to be accomplished before they or their boss is out of office, leaving the initiative to be completed by someone else with a different vision (or lack there of).

    A lot of the things that are popular in the public sector are banned outright in the Federal (light appliances and mobile devices for example must be encrypted before they can be deployed…ever seen an encrypted Kindle?). Many of the techniques that work well in private industry do not translate to the Federal sector (telework anyone? Anyone? Oh, there’s a law? Right…sure…).

    And then there is the Union that tends to crush any IT advancement as being .. unfair to their members.

    All lovely ideas. All doomed to failure. But hey, there’s still hope right!