Mark Schwartz, the groundbreaking chief information officer at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service in the Homeland Security Department is leaving government.
USCIS confirmed Schwartz resigned and said his last day in the office still is under negotiation.
“Internal discussions are occurring about who will be named to the acting Chief Information Officer role until a permanent replacement is named. That decision has yet to be made,” the USCIS spokeswoman said in an email to Federal News Radio.
Schwartz’s decision to leave government is the second major change in the CIO ranks in the last few weeks. David Bray, the Federal Communications Commission CIO, another CIO who has been on the leading edge announced he’s moving to a new position at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
It’s unclear if Schwartz is taking a job in industry or what comes next for him. He came to USCIS in 2010 from industry and recently joined the board of DigitalTown, which provides Web and mobile solutions to meet the needs of municipalities around areas such as public safety, smart cities and connecting businesses and citizens.
Several messages via LinkedIn to Schwartz were not immediately returned seeking comment.
During his tenure at USCIS, Schwartz became a driving force behind the government’s move to agile or the dev/ops methodology for software and systems development.
Schwartz took over the troubled Electronic Immigration System (ELIS) and moved it out of the waterfall approach and into the iterative or agile development approach.
Since the change in 2012, USCIS initiated a contracting approach that initially provide two teams each to help apply agile development to its huge $3.6 billion — by some estimates — transformation program, under the Flexible Agile Development Services (FADS) contract.
“Every six months we enter a new option period and we can readjust the number of teams. We are still in the first base period now. But as each of the periods ends, we will look at the performance of those contractors and decide how many more teams or fewer teams we want. If we want more teams, we will choose which contractors to ask for the teams from,” he said to Federal News Radio in 2016. “We hope using that kind of a model to keep the contractors in some amount of competition with each other so they hopefully want our continued business, so if they can show us what a great job they are doing, we will wind up getting more teams from them as we grow the project. At the same time, one of the criteria that we are evaluating them on and that we’ve discussed with them is how well they collaborate with the other contractors and feds on the contract.”
InfoZen was one of the companies working under this concept.
Raj Ananthanpillai, the chairman and CEO of InfoZen, said Schwartz was a visionary leader and doer.
“As a result of his successes, other agencies are now adopting his strategy to quickly and efficiently modernize their mission IT applications,” he said. “He has set the standard for true agile environments and will be missed.”
Schwartz also was one of the first CIOs to successfully take the money out of legacy IT and apply it to modernized system. He called it the strangler pattern where development teams can build the software infrastructure on the fly using cloud systems, and users can access updated portions of the application almost immediately. This system would improve communication between users and developers as well, permitting quicker responses to customer feedback.
Schwartz also was a big proponent of automation when it comes to software development to accelerate the time it takes and to reduce risk.
He implemented automated tests that perform regression tests to make sure the new code doesn’t break anything in the existing system. He said last year USCIS also automatically runs security tests and Section 508 compliance tests as well as code quality scans to validate the adherence to standards, complexity and measures and code coverage.
“Mark’s impact on agile and dev/ops in government has been both significant and transforming. His vision and leadership has helped transform mindsets around software delivery within all of DHS, and is benefitting both citizens and immigrants,” said Craig Schneider, federal practice lead for Excella Consulting, which works at USCIS. “Because of Mark’s leadership, highly talented development teams are now empowered to innovate and push out new features, without being continuously held up by documentation and approval processes. Simply put, Mark is the most impactful executive in federal government Excella has had the pleasure of working with.”
Now ELIS and some of the other work at USCIS under Schwartz hasn’t been perfect by any means. The DHS inspector general issued a scathing mid-alert report in January, saying ELIS is “riddled with network problems and security concerns.”
The IG also reported in March 2016 that USCIS’s approach to ELIS has automated only two of 90 benefits processing work streams. USCIS pushed back against the audit and concurred with two of the four recommendations.
But Schwartz is widely considered to have successfully changed the culture of an agency when it comes to IT development efforts.