In Depth Show Blog – December 27, 2013

This is the In Depth show blog. Here you can listen to our interviews, find more information about the guests on the show each day, as well as links to other stories and resources we discuss.

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This is the In Depth show blog. Here you can listen to our interviews, find more information about the guests on the show each day, as well as links to other stories and resources we discuss.

Today’s Interviews:

Jim Williams
Senior Vice President

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1. IT Acquisition Reform: Even before, this was an area where it seems change is coming, either through FITARA or some other means. The President says the system is broken. He meets with American technology leaders to see what fixes they recommend that the government can put in place to allow the government to better leverage technology and deliver digital services to the citizens more effectively, efficiently and take advantage of innovative technologies. All of this will be an issue for a good part of 2014. CIO authorities, flawed IT acquisition processes, reusability or shared services concepts, and unnecessary market barriers should all be examined as part of the diagnosis of the system today and its problems.

2. Mobility: Every agency has an increasingly mobile workforce, by desire and design, as well as constituents that want to access services and information using a mobile device, smartphone or tablet. Issues around having mobile applications, appropriate levels of security and secure authentication methods will become much more important during 2014.

3. Immigration Reform: If the Affordable Care Act does not continue to dominate the landscape, the administration will certainly want to quickly turn up the heat in terms of making immigration reform legislation a reality. Even if laws come out sequentially, the focus on immigration reform and corresponding better border security should be a large issue for 2014. There are enough individual reasons, such as providing a visa for STEM students to stay in the US, dealing with issues around illegal immigrants and illegal immigrant children’s benefits, as well as border security issues like biometric exit that will cause this issue to stay high on the radar screen.

Tim McManus
Vice President for Education
Partnership for Public Service

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1. Continued effects of budget cuts and fed bashing on employee morale: As a result of budget cuts, sequestration, furloughs and a shutdown, employee morale took another hit in 2013. With a two-year budget deal in place, agencies have a tremendous opportunity to re-engage their employees and reverse that downward trend in 2014.

2. Opportunities and challenges in federal hiring for 2014: Federal retirements are on the rise bringing new opportunities to recruit talent. There will be no shortage of people applying for federal jobs. But for agencies to attract the best qualified talent, they will need to focus their message and be intentional in their efforts.

3. Civil service reform: The current General Schedule (GS) dates back to 1949. To attract and retain a high caliber workforce, changes need to be made to adapt to the challenges of the 21st century.

Gen. Arnold Punaro (Ret.)

Marine Corps

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1. DoD should fully embrace the CEO/COO concept: The secretary of Defense should focus on external activities, policy, intelligence, legislative and public affairs, and most importantly, operational and military chain of command warfighting matters. The COO deputy should focus on management, budgets, personnel and acquisition, and should have the lead for the secretary over the department’s “management chain of command.” This would give these leaders a more manageable span of control and enable one to focus on policy and operations, and the other a shot at streamlining, reducing overlap, managing smartly and reversing the adverse trends and lack of output with the largest DoD budget since WWII.

2. Industry associations and think tanks must work together to help drive reform in government: There is a remarkable consensus in the outside analytical community on the kind of changes and reforms that need to occur. But a lot of that has not sunk into the Pentagon or into the Congress. In the past, associations and think tanks have worked within their specific niche areas and collaboration has been limited. Going forward, these organizations need to work together more closely than ever to educate and inform, to help ensure people understand the nature of the problems in national security and the long-term implications.

3. DoD needs to have a long-term view of the technology needs of our military: One of the many negative impacts of sequestration has been cuts in R&D spending at DoD and other parts of government. As a result, development of new technology for our troops is stalled, which means our warfighters may not have the tools they need in future conflicts. The technology we used in Desert Storm was put into development during the Carter era. DoD needs to take a 10 to 15 year view and make the necessary investments.

Mark Forman
Government Transaction Services

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1. Return of governance: As a result of hearings and the BCA, OMB has regained a structured approach to driving enterprise solutions. The pressure has forced non-IT executives to increase their focus.

2. Budget process rebuilt: The budget agreement and the filling of key leadership vacancies at OMB have restored management decision-making that was not happening for 2-plus years.

3. Last years of Obama Administration: Power will erode rapidly as we get close to the mid-term and then afterwards. Appointees will leave in increasing rates.

Larry Allen
Allen Federal

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1. Business got done: Despite the real impact of sequestration, federal business actually was transacted in fiscal 2013. Critical projects on fronts like cybersecurity, cloud computing and mobile technology were implemented. The Federal IT Dashboard, maintained by OMB, shows just through the third quarter, agencies classified 740 projects as “major” and spent more than $75 billion on IT acquisitions. Add to this the fact that many of the top 50 IT contractors actually saw their business increase in fiscal 2013, and you get a picture of a market that, while smaller than it used to be, is still large by historical standards. Opportunities do exist for fiscal 2014, as well, but companies need to do the research to understand customer priorities. While projects used to fall in your lap, you actually have to go looking for them now.

2. When something goes wrong, blame the contractor: Contractors were left holding the bag this year on everything from faulty background checks to the poor rollout of the website. If the federal blame game were like the old party game of telephone, contractors would always be at the end of the line. While this trend is hardly new, what makes it different for fiscal 2013 is that after the bluster, things returned to pretty much normal for companies that were scapegoated. This is actually a positive sign that those who really oversee major projects understand that finger pointing is the easy way out, and often, it’s the government itself that makes it difficult for contractors to succeed. The common theme of both the USIS and CGI cases, for example, is the customer expected too much, too soon. That’s one reason why calls for better program management, and not just procurement reform, are so welcome. Better management will make for better contract execution.

3. GSA’s new leaders turning agency into government’s K-Mart: Dan Tangherlini finally lost the “acting” in his title this year and became the permanent head of the General Services Administration. One of Tangherlini’s first moves was to bring Tom Sharpe over from Treasury to be the Commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service. The two men have since set out on a course designed to win back GSA’s share of the federal acquisition marketplace, mostly by turning GSA into the cheapest guy in town. First up, is the expansion of the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative. GSA is in the process of acquiring janitorial services, MRO services and mobile phones via the government’s version of strategic sourcing. The hallmark office supplies SSI program will be re-competed next year, and the agency continues adding software services under its Smart Buy program. GSA is also working to reduce contract-level prices on their schedules program, despite regulatory language that already specifically directs actual buyers to always ask for discounts. There was even a moment of tension in 2013, when senior GSA officials suggested that the pending OASIS contract for professional services would be awarded based on “commoditized” services. Whether GSA leaders will be successful in their race to the bottom remains to be seen. History, however, is not on the side of those in procurement, who think they know better than their customers about what they really need.

Tammy Flanagan
Senior Benefits Director
National Institute for Transition Planning

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1. Phased Retirement: Sometime in 2014, the Office of Personnel Management will complete the necessary rules for allowing federal employees to retire 50 percent and continue to work 50 percent, a concept known as phased retirement. It will be available to federal employees who are eligible to retire and who are currently working full time and not subject to mandatory retirement. This is an excellent way for federal employees to “ease” into their retirement rather than jump in cold turkey. The law allowing this option was passed in the summer of 2012.

2. TSP: Federal employees continue to invest in the TSP and the account balances are growing.

3. Retirement system changes: There was a lot of concern at the end of 2013 on negative changes to the federal retirement systems. In the end, the only change that stuck was one that will affect employees first hired in 2014 requiring these employees to contribute 4.4 percent toward their FERS retirement benefit. Current federal employees and their retirement benefits were spared any negative change from the budget compromise.

Todd Harrison
Senior Fellow for Defense Budget Studies
Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

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1. Military Compensation Reform: The budget deal may have broken the ice on reform because it reduced the COLA for working age military retirees. In 2014, we will see several major developments in this area. The commission Congress created will report back on its recommendations, Joint Chiefs will unveil their own reform proposal and VSOs will lobby hard to halt and reverse any efforts at reform.

2. DoD Civilian Reductions: This will be the year when the Defense Department has to make some hard choices about its civilian workforce. The cuts Hagel announced in the OSD civilian workforce are just the tip of the iceberg.

3. Capacity vs. Capability: Now that DoD has some certainty in its topline budget for 2014 and 2015, the question comes to how it will implement the cuts required. The SCMR framed this as a choice between near-term capacity of the force and long-term capability. Which way will DoD’s strategy lean?

Carol Bonosaro
Senior Executives Association

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1. Congress and “Fed Bashing”: Will the Congress lighten up on the federal workforce in general and the career executive servic eand recognize the importance of the workforce to getting the job of government done effectively, and efficiently? Apart from treating the workforce as the proverbial “piggy bank,” the assault on the SES has been unrelenting and damaging — with bills to halt all performance awards across the board. This contributes to recruitment and our worry about whether the next generation will have the experience and talent, and because a lot find the SES unattractive.

2. The administration and support/recognition of the workforce: There is a growing sense among career executives that administration political appointees are underutilizing their talents, undervaluing their contributions, questioning their expertise and judgment and not being fully supportive during these difficult times. Last June, President Obama announced his intention to bring on more private sector executives into the career service. But do the “best” actually want these jobs? While we hear rumblings of a major presidential announcement, with the participation of the PMC, we fear that it could be more damaging than helpful. The administration has so far failed to understand the value of recognition and the need to let the American public know what good is accomplished by federal employees.

3. Will we give up the “do more with less” and just do less? Congress needs to understand that specific programs need to be targeted — not across the board cuts. Congress and the administration need to understand the long term effects of failing to invest in the workforce — in maintenance and infrastructure.