“Inside the Reporter’s Notebook” is a biweekly dispatch of news and information you may have missed or that slipped through the cracks at conferences, hearings and other events. This is not a column or commentary – it’s news tidbits, strongly-sourced buzz, and other items of interest that have happened or are happening in the federal IT and acquisition communities.
As always, I encourage you to submit ideas, suggestions and, of course, news to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Army’s last bastion of control in the Pentagon building is coming to an end. The Defense Department is creating a single shared services office for all commodity information technology for the Washington metro area, known as the National Capital Region, and placing it under the Defense Information Systems Agency.
DoD and industry sources say a memo ordering this change is awaiting final signature to create the Pentagon DISA Field Service Activity (Pentagon SSP).
According to a DoD plan for this new organization obtained by Federal News Radio, the Pentagon SSP initial phase will be “limited to analysis and consolidation of common or shared IT services within Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) (4th Estate), Joint Staff offices in the Pentagon, and selected OSD (4th Estate) offices/organizations in the NCR.
Later efforts will extend to the military department headquarters in the Pentagon and NCR, and remaining OSD agencies in the NCR.”
The Pentagon SSP will bring together Army ITA, OSD Enterprise Information Technology Service Division (EITSD) and possible some smaller IT service providers in the new organization under DISA.
A former DoD official, who requested anonymity because the document wasn’t finalized, said the Army had been fighting this change for the last six months or so, but finally Deputy Secretary Bob Work decided the consolidation was necessary and would happen.
“There was a long standing family feud between the Army and Washington Headquarters Services (WHS),” the former official said. “The Army, back in the day, dominated the Pentagon in terms of providing every service.
But over the years, those services eroded and many of the services were given to different organizations. The Army’s IT Agency was one of last standing. But WHS wanted to get rid of ITA for some time and now it looks like it’s finally happening.”
A request to ITA for comment on the new organization wasn’t returned. A Defense Department spokeswoman said DoD declined comment and DISA referred questions back to DoD.
But the document clearly outlines plans, milestones and expected savings to come from the consolidation.
“By 3 June 2015, DISA in partnership with the Pentagon IT Study group will establish a Pentagon DISA Field Service Activity referred to as the Pentagon SSP,” the document stated. “The Deputy Chief Management Officer (DCMO) will have interim financial control and oversight of the Pentagon SSP with the Department of Defense Chief Information Officer (DoD CIO) providing technical oversight until the Pentagon SSP reaches full operational capability.”
Initially the consolidation will bring together three main technology functions: Video-teleconferencing, IT support and help desk, and computer network defense, the DoD document stated.
The DCMO and DoD CIO will continue to oversee the Pentagon SSP until it reaches full operational capability at which time DISA will have full operational control over the new organization, the document stated.
DoD estimates by moving to shared services the Pentagon can save up at least $144 million by 2020 — mainly by reducing about 125 full time employees running the duplicative technology infrastructure services.
“Consolidation of IT services for OSD organizations in the Pentagon and NCR will net IT savings for realignment to the warfighter while improving overall cybersecurity,” the document stated. “The majority of identified savings are labor equivalents from multiple organizations providing IT services today outside of ITA and EITSD.”
Once the merger begins on June 3, the Pentagon SSP will decide on a standard set of common IT services for the Pentagon and NCR offices. It will public a list of those shared services and associated performance standards, which must meet or exceed current metrics in place today.
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Then by June 17, the Pentagon SSP will begin using the best capabilities from ITA and EITSD.
“Authorization of interim funding authority, resources, and oversight will reside with DCMO. Funding will transition to the Pentagon SSP no later than 18 months or as directed in future published directives,” the document stated. “DCMO and the DoD CIO will publish follow-on guidance for the process by which these transitions and savings will be tracked and reported on a quarterly basis to the deputy secretary of Defense.”
The push for the creation of the SSP came from Deputy Secretary Work. In an October memo, Work called for a review of the cost of the Pentagon reservation operations, specifically around the technology operations.
“This review will identify where these activities are occurring and will utilize fact-based, data-driven, alternatives for integrating such services,” Work wrote in the memo. “This review will be difficult, and will challenge many of our institutional interests, but it is essential that it be undertaken with the most focused aim of achieving significant savings that can off-set reductions in the most critical of our mission areas — preserving our war-fighter capability.”
Another former DoD official said the creation of a SSP is part of an ongoing process to collapse OSD headquarters information systems.
“The intent of this move is not to take over control of all of the military department’s systems and services, which could have military operational impact,” the source said.
DoD’s document doesn’t answer several questions such as happens to the senior executives running ITA and EITSD?
Nor does it say where the Pentagon SSP fits under DISA, and how DISA’s reorganization helps meet the goals of the consolidated services.
“From customer perspective, they will get more streamlined services and everyone will have one entity to call on to take care of problems or needs,” said the first former DoD official. “There is a substantial amount of commodity IT so this will end all those little organic organizations that have popped up across the Pentagon.”
Federal chief information officer Tony Scott, a growing number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill and industry associations are warming to the idea of new legislation to make it easier for agencies to buy cloud services.
The Professional Services Council and the IT Alliance for Public Sector (ITAPS) created working groups to explore the assorted challenges agencies face, and there is an ongoing series of meetings and discussions about the topics within the government.
Rich Beutel is the driving force behind this effort after several of the cloud provisions didn’t make it into the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) last year.
Beutel, the lead House staff member for FITARA, left the Hill after the 113th session ended in December, and now is trying to create momentum for the legislation from the outside.
“This is a good bill and I think there is a lot of interest in getting stuff done,” he said.
“The bill includes a new model for buying cloud, the requirement to create standards for data flow and interoperability, and a lot more.”
Beutel said the two provisions gaining both interest and concern are focused on accessing cloud services.
He said industry and law enforcement officials are interested in new rights the law would give inspector generals or other auditors to retrieve data from commercial cloud service providers.
“Law enforcement has a legitimate equity in doing their job,” Beutel said. “This provision will get some Hill support, but the bigger question will be how best to balance privacy and legitimate law enforcement needs to go after bad guys in the cloud.”
The second provision would create a working capital fund for the General Services Administration to pay for cloud transition costs for agencies.
Beutel said it’s modeled after a similar fund the Homeland Security Department is using to implement the continuous diagnostic and mitigation (CDM) program.
“If you go back to OMB’s 25-point IT reform plan, one of the key obstacles or impediments to fulfillment of cloud first was how we buy and fund these services. It’s hard to expedite government adoption of cloud when there is a fundamental problem with the appropriations process and the development of technology writ large. We are too often using today’s resources to buy yesterday’s technology,” he said. “The best way to solve this is to create a revolving fund or working capital fund. This kind of idea would be used to fund major technology transitions. We know it works and there is support within OMB for doing this kind of thing if you consider CDM.”
Beutel said GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service’s Acquisition Service Fund, which has more than $1 billion in reserve, would be a perfect candidate to fund this effort.
He said the House put this concept in the original version of FITARA, and it gained a lot of support from industry.
“It was carried it all the way through and it passed the House, but the appropriators had concerns before CDM got off the ground that a revolving capital fund would give agencies too much discretion to spend money,” he said. “In the end, we had to strip it out. What has changed is the appropriators seem to have seen light with CDM. Now there is precedent for doing something very similar for cloud.”
Beutel said he’s hopeful to find broader support on Capitol Hill, especially in the Senate this time around.
He said he’s been meeting with staff members on both sides of Congress, and with OMB about the idea of moving legislation to make cloud adoption easier.
Tony Scott, the federal chief information officer, is a big fan of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio.
Vitruvius lived in Rome between 80-15 BC. He was the first person to write books explaining the basic teachings of architecture.
Before Vitruvius, architects handed down their craft and expertise in the form of a mentor-apprentice relationship.
Scott told the 39 participants who kicked off the IT Solutions Challenge last week to become the Vitruvius Pollio for the federal government.
“He was thinking in the large. How do I make what I know universally known throughout what was then considered the civilized world?” he said. “So when you’re thinking about the problems you’re going to identify and work on as a team.. I’d ask you to focus on two things: What’s long term sustainable? What fundamentally has to change to make a big difference? Take on the hardest challenge and ask how do I scale across the federal government or some large part of the ecosystem? Those would be the two big challenges I lay out for you today.”
The CIO Council is leading the IT Solutions Challenge by bringing in General Schedule 9-13s from 19 agencies for six-months to work significant and broad IT challenges.
Scott said Vitruvius Pollio thought about architecture differently and helped it spread more quickly and more successfully than previous approaches. He said the goal of the Solutions challenge is not to focus on lowering costs because that rarely leads to sustainability and long-term improvements, but to figure out what can be done to improve federal services and then shared more broadly.
“I like to focus teams on what are the long-term stable things that we can do that will ultimately lead to, and sometimes even in the short run, the cost savings that we are looking for,” Scott said. “What are the things can we maintain and sometimes even improve…by making these changes. Then it’s a great approach to how we think about change, systemic, dynamic and evolving organizations and processes in government. The second thing is how to make it scalable. So it’s easy to get small organizations to agree to some change of behavior. I’m pretty sure we can bring about that change because I can eye ball each one of you and I can see if you are committed or not. But if I’m dealing with really large organization the concept of scale I’m not going to be able to eye ball to eye ball every person I want to impact. So I have to be able to influence through logic, through communication or through rulemaking or other sorts of techniques or tools that I have.”
The IT Solutions Challenge held its first meeting April 10th led by members of the Performance Improvement Council as facilitators.
Lisa Danzig, OMB’s associate director for personnel and performance, said this was one of several recent events the PIC helped lead to bring people together to solve a problem.
“The PIC talked through the objectives and facilitated the session to get to outcomes,” Danzig said. “They are our hands-on team with expertise and really enjoy that interaction whenever we have these sessions. Where there is a barrier or when a team needs to resolve an issue or it could be leadership team that needs to identify priorities, what has been happening over the last 12-to-18 months, we’ve been doing a better job leveraging that effort on cross agency issues.”
The IT Solutions Challenge’s timeline is for the teams to present their ideas in September.
As much attention as the Veterans Affairs senior executive responsible for oversight of the debacle in Boulder, Colorado of the construction of a new hospital left, his replacement got strikingly little fanfare.
VA Secretary Bob McDonald promoted Greg Giddens to replace Glenn Haggstrom as the executive director of VA’s Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction.
Haggstrom retired abruptly March 25 as the heat from the construction failures in Boulder mounted.
Giddens comes into the new role after spending the last five years as VA’s executive director for enterprise project management in the Office of Policy and Planning.
He is no stranger to controversy or large programs. Before coming to VA, Giddens worked at the Homeland Security Department where he ran the Secure Border Initiative (SBINet) program for its first three years. In many ways, Giddens has made a career of dealing with large and politically sensitive programs. He also was the director for the Department of Defense Acquisition Personnel Demonstration Project, program manager for the Air Force Weather Weapon System, and was deputy assistant commandant for acquisition at the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters, and the deputy program executive officer for the Integrated Deepwater System.
The General Services Administration also is shuffling some acquisition chairs.
Tom Sharpe, commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service, said Gregory Hammond is the new region 2, regional commissioner. Region 2 includes New York, New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Hammond replaces Frank Mayer and Jeff Lau, both of which served as acting commissioners over the last few years. Lau will continue to serve region 2’s deputy commissioner.
FAS is losing a key executive in the Obama administration’s category management effort.
Amanda Fredriksen is leaving her role as assistant commissioner (AC) of Strategy Management on May 3. Sharpe said Fredriksen will move to a new role in Fleet for Travel, Motor Vehicles and Card Services.
“Among many other accomplishments in her tenure as AC, most notable is Amanda’s role in launching Category Management for FAS and the federal government,” Sharpe wrote in an email obtained by Federal News Radio. “Her work has ensured category management will be the ongoing business strategy for managing federal procurement into the future. We have begun a search for Amanda’s replacement; in the meantime, Laura Stanton will serve as acting commissioner of Strategy Management.”
If you remember, Fredriksen got caught up in the post Western Regions Conference clamp down across all facets of GSA. She was one of six GSA officials put on administrative leave for a short time in June 2013. Fredriksen was cleared of any wrong doing, and returned to the assistant commissioner role. She also ran the Integrated Acquisition Environment (IAE) and System for Award Management (SAM) initiatives.
Finally on the GSA front, Region 8 commissioner Tim Horne is leaving FAS to join the Public Building Service. He will assume the role of region 8 PBS commissioner, Sharpe said.
And finally, Larry Gross is moving on from the Interior Department. After spending the last almost five years as the principle deputy CIO at Interior, Gross said he’ll become the Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency’s top IT guy on April 20.
Gross replaces Jim Gwinn, who left as the USDA FSA CIO in March 2014 and now is the CIO for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). FirstNet’s mission is to build, operate and maintain the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety.
Loretta Burns has been acting since Gwinn left nearly a year ago.
Gross came to Interior in 2010 after spending the five previous years as the associate CIO for Electronic Government at the Treasury Department.
The perfect job for a technology management turnaround expert is out there. The Library of Congress seeks a chief information officer on the heels of a scathing report from the Government Accountability Office. GAO found the LOC is lacking of strong IT leadership to manage programs and oversee spending. GAO said the Library has not had a permanent CIO since 2012 and has had five temporary CIOs in the interim.
So, the perfect candidate must be able to change the culture and develop a strategic plan.
Applications are due June 1.