Five (or so) things government’s gotta do next year

The late cigar titan Zino Davidoff wrote a wonderful little book many years ago, The Connoisseur’s Book of the Cigar. In one passage, he discusses the pillar of ash that grows as you puff a cigar. Cigar smokers sometimes like to see how long they can let the ash get before tapping it off. But Davidoff cautions not to dwell too much on the ash, because it represents pleasure past. He was always looking ahead.

That in mind, rather than rehashing the second Year Of Pandemic, let’s think about the government’s top challenges for 2022. Here’s my list. I hope you’ll write me with your own list of top challenges.

  1. Figuring out the return-to-the-office strategy. A small army of thinkers known as the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force is said to be pondering this. The task force might end up as useless as a clump of cigar ash. That’s because agency managers are moving on their own plans. I spoke with a support unit chief at a large department the other day. He said he’s already gone ahead with a plan for permanent hybrid. People will need to report to the office no more than three days a week. But gone will be private offices or assigned cubicles. Everyone will “hotel” with their own notebook PCs. Another looming issue, reported by FNN’s Nicole Ogrysko, is the scenario of managers and execs coming back, but the rank-and-file staying home because of failing union negotiations. Kind of ironic for an administration that hardly utters the word “jobs” without prefacing it with “union.”
  2. Fix the VA’s electronic health record (EHR) system. Four years after the Department of Veterans Affairs awarded a contract to Cerner for an EHR to replace the venerable VISTA, a crippled and marginally effective system is running at one or two VA locations. Reviews, program resets and a constant turnover in program leadership haven’t pushed this wet noodle uphill. That doesn’t sound so agile. Let’s hope VA is able to prevent this one from becoming one of those classic grand designs that costs billions and buys little. The effort may have started two or three secretaries ago. But now, Denis McDonough, it’s on you kid.
  3. DoD cloud computing. The mangled Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) collapsed into a pile of embers. In its place the Defense Department has fashioned a multi-vendor Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability (JWCC) plan. Whether the JEDI planners might have changed their minds, but JEDI was already dead from a thousand cuts. JWCC better come on fast and clean if it will have any credibility with DoD components. More uncertainty comes from the abrupt cancellation of the milCloud 2.0 program by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). The agency issued the usual blah-blah about helping users rescue their stuff. MilCloud 2.0, though, will evaporate on May 20th — taking anything left in there with it into the ether. DoD’s 2022 challenge will be establishing not only shared services clouds, but getting users to trust them to stick around.
  4. Normalcy for the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). Go to the MSBP website and look at the page for “Board Members.” You don’t quite get a 404 error, but rather a link to a FAQ on the lack of board members. This one is on Congress. Both the Trump and Biden administrations nominated people to populate the three-person board, but for some reason the Senate can’t seem to get around to confirming them. In effect, there’s no Supreme Court for appealing decisions by administrative law judges. If you think the care and nurturing of the federal workforce is important, then so is establishing a fully functioning MSPB.
  5. Turn the corner on infrastructure cybersecurity. Acknowledged: A lot more than nothing has occurred here. The administration names it as a top priority. Chris Inglis wants to grow his National Cyber Director’s office to 75 people this year. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency can’t add people fast enough. And yet the Government Accountability Office recently testified that the government approach still lacks the characteristics of a national strategy. Huh?
  6. Get the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) funds distributed and going to work. A few years back, a small fund approved by congress mostly sat there, like the last piece of wilted coconut cake in a diner case. Now that there’s a billion dollars available — and agencies don’t have to pay back the TMF with savings — agencies are piling on the applications for funds. Credit to the TMF Board that makes the decisions. They really ponder the applications and wrinkle their foreheads. But these people also have day jobs. Do I catch a whiff of backlog?

The government occasionally does manage to rescue terribly off-the-rails projects. At this writing, the James Webb Space Telescope — 10, or maybe it’s 20 years late, and billions and billions over budget — at last has a launch date. It’ll be home in space for Christmas. Can’t wait to see the pictures it’ll send back.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Alazar Moges

In 1797, John Adams planted the first vegetable garden on the White House grounds.

Source: National Park Service

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