Investigations into DoD struck a chord in 2023

The Reporter’s Notebook turns 10 years old in January and I’ll admit, that caught me by surprise.

Back in 2013, I started with an idea of pulling tidbits and short items that were interesting or newsworthy, but there wasn’t quite enough there yet for a story. Like many things, it evolved into a long-form analysis driven, and sometimes investigative, feature.

The top Reporter’s Notebooks of 2023 continue to demonstrate the interest and desire for in-depth reporting, digging out more than the tidbits, but the stories behind the news.

Four of the top 10 stories focused on the Defense Department, while three followed the theme of people, jobs and agencies changing the role of agency technology leaders.

As always, I encourage you to submit ideas, suggestions, and, of course, news to me at jpmiller@federalnewsnetwork.com.

Here are the top 10 Reporter’s Notebooks of 2023:

Air Force’s corrective action fails to satisfy unsuccessful bidders for EITaaS contract

Synopsis: Bidders for the $5.7 billion enterprise-IT-as-a-service (EITaaS) wave 1 contract continued to press their case over the Air Force’s award decision to CACI the contract.

Key fact: Peraton and Accenture again have raised conflict of interest challenges stemming from CACI’s allegedly having hired former Air Force employees. The companies also allege that these individuals provided CACI with inside knowledge of, and access to, non-public competitively useful information. Through that information, Peraton and Accenture allege that CACI gained an unfair competitive advantage and therefore CACI should be excluded from the competition.

Current status: The Air Force awarded CACI the Wave 1 contract again in April and the unsuccessful bidders didn’t file new protests. Current Air Force CIO Venice Goodwine said in December EITaaS will roll out to 17 bases in fiscal 2024.

High per-license cost pushed many military services, Defense agencies away from DEOS

Synopsis: The Defense Enterprise Office Solutions (DEOS) is struggling to live up to expectations as many of the military services and defense agencies have found better and cheaper ways to accomplish the same goals.

Key fact: Multiple former government sources and industry experts say the price negotiated through the DEOS contract for O365 licenses is as much as 20% higher than what the services and Defense agencies could get through the Navy enterprise software initiative (ESI) contract.

Current status: The Defense Information Systems Agency, which runs DEOS, says it is working with the DoD chief information officer’s office and the acquisition and sustainment office to address enterprise software buying from a policy perspective. Chris Barnhurst, the deputy director of DISA, said in November that the goal is to “speak with one voice with vendors, especially for tools or software where we are using it as an enterprise. We want to buy as one and not subdividing to our own detriment.”

What to expect from the new IT/cyber/innovation House subcommittee

Synopsis: Throughout the federal technology community, there were tiny celebrations and the undercurrent of a sense of dread with the reconstitution of the House Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee on federal IT, cybersecurity and government innovation.

Key fact: Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), chairwoman of the subcommittee, offered a little insight in her press release announcing her new chairwomanship, “Securing our nation’s data, protecting our cyber infrastructure, and studying emerging technologies of the future like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and blockchain integration is more important today than ever.”

Current status: Mace’s subcommittee held about 11 hearings, most of which focused on artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. She did not hold a Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) hearing at all in 2023, much to the dismay of Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the ranking member of the subcommittee.

The reason why the Air Force pulled the plug on a huge cyber contract may surprise you

Synopsis: The Air Force took the unusual step of pulling the plug on the Enterprise Cyber Capabilities acquisition for reasons that may make sense on the surface, but was baffling to long-time acquisition experts and especially to the vendors, who spent more than a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars or more on proposals.

Key fact: Long-time acquisition experts say they can’t remember a time when an agency cancelled an acquisition because there was too much interest.

Current status: The Air Force hasn’t publicly discussed its next steps for an enterprisewide cyber capabilities contract. There are currently no open solicitations or even sources sought notices on SAM.gov that have the key words “cybersecurity services” or “cybersecurity capabilities.”

NIH breaks up its technology executive roles

Synopsis: NIH decided to separate its chief information officer role from the director of the Center for Information Technology and create two distinct positions after almost 25 years of combining the roles.

Key fact: NIH formally created the CIT in March 1998 bringing together functions and missions of its Division of Computer Research and Technology, Office of Information Resources Management, and the telecommunication branch. The position of CIT director and CIO has been one since 1998 with a handful of acting directors holding only one of the roles.

Current status: Nearly a year after splitting up the roles, NIH still doesn’t have a permanent CIO or permanent CIT director. Dennis Papula, who has been the acting CIO, and Ivor D’Souza, who has been the acting CIT director, both since January, remain their respective roles.

Login.gov’s problems further break down confidence in TTS, and now GSA

Synopsis: The third scathing inspector general report since 2016 once again reinforced how GSA headquarters can’t make the Technology Transformation Service play by the government’s rules, in turn leading agency chief information officers and other technology executives to question whether GSA, as a whole, can be trusted.

Key fact: While many technology executives said they weren’t surprised by the IG’s findings that TTS misled agencies for four years about how Login.gov met certain identity proofing requirements under the National Institute of Standards and Technology Special Publication 800-63-3, the IG report signals TTS remains a horse that cannot be broken, despite multiple attempts across multiple administrations.

Current status: GSA has detailed several changes to the management of Login.gov, including in October outlining several ways it will meet the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s 800-63-3 IAL2 guidelines. GSA says all cabinet agencies now using Login.gov for at least one program or application.

NSF joins a growing list of agencies reconfiguring its CIO’s office

Synopsis: The National Science Foundation is joining a small but growing number of agencies remaking their CIO’s office.

Key fact: Both the NSF and NIH decisions to reconfigure their CIO and technology oversight offices are the latest step in this 25-plus year evolution of the agency’s lead technology role.

Current status: Terry Carpenter became the CIO and chief technology officer at NSF in July. He came over to NSF from the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency where he was the CTO and program executive officer.

GSA joins EPA in putting the brakes on how employees use generative AI

Synopsis: The General Services Administration issued an instructional letter (IL) to provide an interim policy for controlled access to generative AI large language models (LLMs) from the GSA network and government furnished equipment (GFE).

Key fact: GSA’s instructional letter is one of several similar policy-like documents issued by agencies over the last few weeks. The Environmental Protection Agency in early May sent a note to staff saying it was blocking ChatGPT, OpenAI and similar sites.

Current status: President Joe Biden signed out an executive order in late October and the OMB issued a draft policy around AI on Nov. 1. Included in the proposed requirements is one that directs agencies to explore the use of generative AI tools, like ChatGPT, with “adequate safeguards and oversight mechanisms.”

Navy CDO Sasala jumps ship to the Army

Synopsis: The Navy is losing its chief data officer. Tom Sasala is joining the Army as the deputy director of the Office of Business Transformation.

Key fact: Sasala has been the Navy CDO since October 2019 after coming over to the service in April of that same year as the director of data strategy.

Current status: Duncan McCaskill remains the acting CDO nearly a year after Sasala left the position under unusual circumstances, to say the least.

GSA’s commercial platforms gaining steam, but data, other concerns persist

Synopsis: Three years into the Commercial Platforms Initiative, the vision Congress had for the initiative isn’t necessarily coming to fruition. But new data and analysis shows that doesn’t mean it’s a failure by any means. The number of agencies using the platform more than quadrupled between 2020 and 2022 to 27 and the spending, while far below initial estimates of $6 billion have increased to $40 million last fiscal year.

Key fact: The top agencies using the commercial platforms are the departments of Veterans Affairs and Agriculture.

Current status: GSA is facing a new protest over the CPI program, and had to extend the current contracts with Amazon, Fischer Scientific and Overstock an extra three months to March 2024.

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