CIO Council to build a community for all

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The prospect of meeting the Office of Management and Budget’s 25-point technology reform plan is daunting for nearly every chief information officer. But for small agency CIOs, the goals offer a different type of pressure not felt by their large agency counterparts.

“Occasionally I’ll joke with OMB because they’ll put out regulations or policies clearly designed for large agencies,” said Brett Bobley, CIO at the National Endowment for the Humanities. “It’ll say things like ‘get together with your this committee, or your that committee and your third other committee’ and I’ll say ‘we don’t have any committees I only have 10 people on my whole staff, how many committees can I have?'”

Instead, Bobley said, he will call OMB and ask how can NEH, as a small agency, meet the spirit of the policy?

And Bobley’s concerns are echoed throughout the small agency CIO community. There are more than 100 small agencies across government some with as few as two employees and some with budgets of less than a few million dollars.

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra met with the Small Agency CIO Council in February to discuss implementation of the 25-point plan.

“It’s an aggressive plan and a good one, but targeted at the larger agencies,” said Sanjay Sardar, the deputy CIO at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and vice-chairman of the Small Agency CIO Council. “The reality of it is we all should participate but OMB, just like everyone else, doesn’t have the manpower to maybe handle all of that. Where they are looking at us is ‘yes, work with us.’ The cloud-first policy is the first one they want us to attack. We are all on board.”

Bobley and others say they recognize why OMB must focus on large agencies because that is where the biggest impact in terms of cost savings or cybersecurity reforms can happen.

“They recognize the fact that there are about 100 small agencies and I think they appreciate the fact the small agencies are taking the spirit of requirements and trying to make them work at the small agency scale,” Bobley said. “When OMB or large agency CIO Council develops policy, they will usually shoot the small agency council a draft copy and we will say ‘how can we participate in this.'”

The large agency CIO Council wants to make it easier for smaller agencies to participate.

The CIO Council is creating a community of large, small and bureau level CIOs, said Richard Spires, the new vice-chairman of the council and the CIO at the Homeland Security Department.

“We can learn from each other, we can leverage best practices where it makes sense,” Spires said Thursday after speaking at the Center for American Progress in Washington. “I fully recognize that the small agencies many of their challenges are different than the large agencies. That being said, a lot of them are very similar. We should look for the similarities and look for that leverage, recognizing that how they are going about implementing the 25 point plan will differ than an agency like DHS.”

Spires said agencies can benefit from one another’s experience. For instance, many small agencies have been using cloud computing for several years-called managed services. Others have outsourced their financial management or human resources systems and can provide some insight.

Meanwhile, large agencies bring tools, technologies and templates that would fit many others’ needs.

“I recognize some of the small agencies look at the 25 points as a daunting thing to take on, but that is when I go back to the community idea,” Spires said. “One of the things we want to do in the 25-point plan is to build a cadre of program managers that are available across the government. So [if there is a] small agency with one major program that doesn’t seem to be able to find the talent wouldn’t it be great if they could go to the cadre and find that talent and be able to leverage it as needed? It’s much better model then them trying to get by when they have that one major project and not staff it properly.”

Along with building a community with CIOs, Spires said the council is reaching out to the other CXOs starting with the chief acquisition officers.

He said a new working group under the CIO Council’s best practices committee with the CAO Council to address specific areas of the 25-point plan.

“Ultimately what will come out of that is a set of tools, templates, policies, procedures and help that can be leveraged across the federal government,” he said. “How will you do better acquisition to support better IT programs.”

Spires added the CIO Council is developing similar groups with the CFO and Chief Human Capital Officer’s councils.

These working groups will help drive change, or institutionalize, how the basic tenets of the 25-point plan and other reforms because every agency will be a part of the decision-making process.

He said one example is the move to agile or modular system development.

“That will drive change in how we acquire things,” Spires said. “That process will drive change in how we budget, and drive things and change in human capital and how we interact with industry. I think in a very positive way. It will challenge us and it will not be easy early on.”

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