OMB places focus on people, budget to break down digital service barriers

A new survey from NAPA and ICF found agencies say budget and workforce challenges stand in their way to moving more toward digital services. The administration ...

Federal executives say they are doing more than automating paper forms, but actually moving services into the digital world. But a new survey from the National Academy of Public Administration and ICF International finds budget and workforce remain two of the biggest barriers slowing down the digital services move.

NAPA and ICF surveyed more than 10,000 federal leaders and found while they are making some progress, most agencies need more help. The Office of Management and Budget has heard their pleas and is trying to address both barriers.

In President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2017 budget request, OMB plans to expand the number of digital services teams to 25 agencies, up from about five today. Federal CIO Tony Scott said he expects the digital workforce to increase to 500 people over the next two years.

OMB requested $18 million for the U.S. Digital Services office, up from $14 million in fiscal 2016. The General Services Administration also is requesting $7 million for its digital services office, down from $8 million in 2016. The agency also wants $15 million for the E-Government Fund, down from $16 million this fiscal year.

To help the workforce, OMB says the first class of 30 contracting officers enrolled in a new training program in October to improve how they buy digital services.

Lisa Schlosser, the deputy federal chief information officer in OMB, said there are three critical success factors for implementing digital services: accountability, development of workforce and CXO coordination to include chief acquisition officers, chief human capital officers and CFO communities.

Schlosser spoke at the NAPA survey event on Feb. 4, several days before the White House sent the budget to Congress.

She said the coordination and collaboration has to happen across the CXO community to deal with the biggest barrier: budget.

“We want to focus on delivering value to the citizen, delivering value through IT to our internal employees and improving our operations through the use of digital capabilities,” Schlosser said. “We want to create efficiencies across the board back to the funding. We know we don’t have enough budget, so let’s create our own budget opportunities. Money will not fall out of the sky. We all know this. So let’s create our own opportunities by creating more efficiencies, let’s get engaged and implement category management.”

Category management is the administration’s broad effort to buy more like an enterprise and take advantage of volume purchasing to get better prices for commodity products and services.

Schlosser said budget challenges aside, changing the workforce culture also is a major hurdle.

“Think about agile, and I don’t mean agile in agile development, but I mean agile in creating organizations and cultures that are agile from the top down,” she said. “We need to be thinking about this from our acquisitions all the way through to looking at our development activities to looking at all of our systems in an operations and maintenance state.”

Schlosser said OMB wants agencies to develop the next generation workforce, by bringing in those currently in government and from the private sector. She said the administration is focusing on new training opportunities, such as the IT Solutions Challenge.

Part of that training effort is for contracting officers to show they can improve how they buy digital services.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the U.S. Digital Services office worked together to conduct a challenge for industry to create and pilot a digital services training course.

The team led by ICF won that challenge in October and is about half way through its first session.

“It’s a 24-week training program to train people who are acquisition professionals in digital services. We decided one of the things we would do is actually practice what we preach in the training so it’s an agile learning experience,” said Jeff Neal, a senior vice president for ICF International. “Instead of waiting until the end of the program and testing people to see if they actually learned anything, they are actually evaluated every step of the way, and in each of these sprints, we actually have a period where we stop, assess how the students are doing and then revise the program for the next few days based on what we are learning from the students on the fly.”

Dan Chenok, the executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government, said the training initiative is a key part of a larger IT acquisition training effort started more than a year ago, including a new digital services playbook, which OMB rolled out in 2014.

Schlosser said OMB plans to emphasize the playbook and hold agencies more accountable for using it in 2016.

“We are really focusing on agile and you will start to see us incorporating the playbook into some of the activities that we engage in like PortfolioStat and TechStats. You will start to see us using that playbook a little bit more to have those discussions with agencies, and assess how agencies are adopting those digital plays,” she said.

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