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Obama administration renewing focus on IT acquisition

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For anyone familiar with last fall’s disastrous rollout of the healthcare.gov website (and that presumably includes most of the adult population of the United States), it will come as no surprise to hear that the Obama administration is again working to get smarter delivery of information technology services.

“We’ve learned a tremendous amount from the challenges the administration’s recently faced and have worked  diligently to address this past year,” Beth Cobert, a senior Office of Management and Budget official, said at a recent Association of Government Accountants gathering. “But we know that information technology is important to how the government works today and will be more important to the government going forward.”

As a result, the administration has “a focused effort under way to look at this,” said Cobert, who became OMB’s deputy director for management in October. That includes “many, many conversations” with government employees, contractors and IT firms that do no government business to gather ideas and to think about potential improvements.

There will be more to come on the subject in the months ahead, Cobert said, “but it’s clearly an area that I’m focused on and my team is focused on.”


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Shelanski, Tangherlini nominations get the go-ahead from Senate committee

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The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee gave quick approval this afternoon to candidates for two long-vacant executive branch positions.

On voice votes, the panel endorsed the nominations of Dan Tangherlini to head the General Services Administration and Howard Shelanski to lead the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget. Both nominations now go to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote, according to a news release. Tangherlini has been acting head of GSA since April of last year, but President Obama picked him to permanently fill the job only last month. The OIRA post has been unfilled since last August, when Cass Sunstein resigned to return to Harvard University.

[Spelling of Howard Shelanski's name corrected.]

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Agencies to cut commodity IT spending by $2.5 billion

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Federal agencies expect to save $2.5 billion over the next three years by consolidating duplicative information technology systems, buying in bulk and eliminating failing IT projects.

Those savings were identified using a new approach – called PortfolioStat - where agency officials review their spending for common IT resources such as email and desktop computers in search of duplicative investments and opportunities to consolidate projects, Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients said  in a blog post Wednesday.

OMB officials met with agencies’ senior executives, including the chief information officer, financial officer, acquisition officer and operating officer this summer. OMB used data collected for these meetings to show agencies where their spending plans have gaps and weaknesses, how to address them, and how to develop long-term plans to consolidate IT spending and share services within agencies and across government over the next three years.

Based on the analysis with OMB, agencies created PortfolioStat plans, that were reviewed in follow-up sessions with the agency’s deputy secretary and the federal chief information officer, Zients said.

“Agencies identified 98 opportunities to consolidate or eliminate commodity IT areas, ranging from the consolidation of multiple email systems across an agency to the reduction of duplicative mobile or desktop contracts,” Zients said. OMB has not publicly released a list of those opportunities.

Projected savings include:

- $376 million over three years at the Department of Homeland Security by purchasing IT infrastructure in bulk.

- $59 million at the Social Security Administration by using a new program to buy computers in bulk.

- $90.3 million at the Treasury Department by consolidating key financial management systems.

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White House waste-cutting campaign draws mixed response from agencies

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SAN DIEGO| It’s been more than a year since President Obama formally kicked off the “Campaign to Cut Waste” in a June 2011 executive order.  Some agencies, though, seem to be taking the charge to reduce administrative costs more seriously than others, a newly released survey of chief financial officers and other federal financial managers indicates.

Although 45 percent of respondents said they have been getting “good results” from the campaign, almost as many (44 percent) said they had little to report, were just getting started, had laid plans to start, or (uh-oh) hadn’t done anything, according to the unscientific survey, sponsored by the Association of Government  Accountants and consulting firm Grant Thornton. The report on the findings was released this week at AGA’s professional development conference here.

“We’ve spent more on meetings about the Campaign to Cut Waste than we’ve actually saved from cutting waste,” one unnamed CFO is quoting as saying.

Given that the campaign has now been under way for some time, the report labels the results “a little surprising,”  Part of the explanation, it says, may lie in the fact that the effort is “an ongoing, evolving exercise rather than a one-shot drill.”

Through fiscal 2013, the White House wants to save a total of about $8 billion on administrative spending in comparison with FY10 levels, according to figures in its latest budget request.

Danny Werfel, controller for the Office of Management and Budget, said yesterday that he had not seen the results, but added that agency reports show the campaign is “making very critical progress” toward the $8 billion goal.

“We are, from a macro standpoint, where we need to be,” Werfel said. He acknowledged the likelihood, however, that some agencies are “kicking on all cylinders,” while others are just getting started.

The survey is based on in-person interviews with 115 CFOs, deputy CFOs and other senior federal financial management officials, including OMB staff, the report says.  The results also reflect input from more than 200 online interviews with AGA members who indicated that they work for the federal government.

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More opposition to adding U.S. Trade Representative to new department

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The U.S. Trade Representative’s office is a relatively small operation, with just 220 or so employees, according to the most recent statistics. But it’s looming very large in the debate over President Obama’s proposed consolidation of agencies dealing with business and trade policy.

Key lawmakers objected almost as soon as Obama announced Jan. 13 that he wanted the Trade Representative’s office in that new department. Now, dozens of business groups are also voicing “immediate concerns” about eliminating USTR as a stand-alone agency in the Executive Office of the President.  In a joint letter this week to Obama, they said the agency plays “an invaluable role in coordinating the many different entities within the U.S. government that have specialized trade functions.” Not to mention that its position within the executive office lends the agency “enormous credibility,” they added.

“Subsuming USTR into a broader trade and business government department will severely harm that credibility and USTR’s ability to play its unique coordinating role within the U.S. government.”

The diverse coalition of more than 80 signers included the National Association of Manufacturers, TechAmerica, the American Chemistry Council and the Motion Picture Association of America. The letter was posted online by Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

In an emailed response, Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Moira Mack touted the virtues of synergy.  The proposed consolidation would allow USTR “to retain its nimbleness, and also draw on expertise currently spread across the government . . . ,” she said. “By combining and augmenting the analytic and enforcement capabilities currently housed at [the Commerce Department] and USTR, we will be better able to enforce trade laws, combat unfair tariff and non-tariff barriers, and crack down on practices that unjustly harm U.S. companies.”

Besides USTR and a large chunk of Commerce, the new agency would encompass the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corp., the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and parts of several other agencies.




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New OMB adviser in line to replace procurement chief

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Word around town is that Joseph Jordan, an associate administrator at the Small Business Administration, has been tapped to replace outgoing Office of Federal Procurement Policy Administrator Dan Gordon.

The Office of Management and Budget won’t confirm that Jordan is the nominee for Gordon’s job, which requires Senate confirmation. But
Jordan has been named as a senior adviser to Jeff Zients, the federal Chief Performance Officer and OMB’s deputy director for management.

Jordan will start advising Zients and his senior staff on policy and procurement matters this month. Jordan did not respond to requests for an interview.

Being brought on as a senior adviser is a common first step before being nominated to a position like this. In the meantime, OFPP Deputy Administrator Lesley Field will serve as acting administrator starting Jan. 1.

Gordon announced last month that he will leave his post later this year to become associate dean for government contracts law at the George Washington University Law School.

Jordan has been SBA’s associate administrator of government contracting and business development since March 2009. His team oversees
several programs and services that help small businesses meet the requirements necessary to win government set-aside contracts.

Prior to joining SBA, Jordan was an engagement manager with McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, where he
specialized in developing purchasing and supply management strategies for clients. He also worked in the firm’s public sector practice, advising state governments on how to cut costs and capture efficiencies.

Jordan also worked as a consultant at Corrigan Communications in Boston; built and managed operations of the Web-based publisher and marketer formerly known as Backwire; and was an associate producer on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

Jordan holds a bachelor’s in political science from College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. and an MBA from the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business Administration in Charlottesville, Va.

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OMB review follows report of excessive DOJ pastry spending

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Go figure: The humble muffin has become a government change agent.

In what is probably the first-ever Office of Management and Budget directive with a connection to overpriced baked goods, Director Jack Lew is ordering agencies to take stock of their conference spending and report back by Nov. 1.

The impetus, of course, is that newly released report by the Justice Department’s inspector general that uncovered numerous examples of questionable expenses at DOJ conferences from October 2007 through September 2009. What really caught the attention of politicians and the media, however, was the finding that muffins at one Washington gathering cost more than $16 each.

No matter that the hotel in question furnished the iced tea and coffee free of charge; this is not the message that a focused-on-efficiency administration wants to convey. In today’s memo, Lew, while not singling out specific instances, cites the IG report as a reminder of “how important it is that agencies undertake all due diligence to protect taxpayer resources from unnecessary expenditures.”

Under orders from President Obama, he continues, agencies must now conduct “a thorough review” of policies and controls related to conference activities and spending. (In the meantime, all such expenses have to be cleared at the deputy secretary level or the equivalent.) OMB will compile the results for Vice President Joe Biden,  who will have them on the agenda of a December meeting of agency heads tied to the administration’s Campaign to Cut Waste.

No word on whether pastries will be served.


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Zients: Performance.gov going public soon

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It’s not like the folks who run tmz.com and other celebrity web sites have much to worry about, but federal Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients probably made a select group of people quite happy today with the news that performance.gov is likely going public within a few weeks.

The site, intended as the electronic linchpin of the Obama administration’s performance tracking efforts, has been up since last summer, but only to federal employees with passwords. Its public debut has been eagerly anticipated in management circles, but repeatedly postponed. Exactly why has been a bit murky, but Shelley Metzenbaum, associate director for performance and personnel management at the Office of Management and Budget, has acknowledged difficulties in keeping the site updated.

In a September memo, Zients described it as a “one-stop shop” for in-depth information on agency goals and performance measures. He made today’s disclosure at a Senate hearing on the recently enacted Government Performance and Results Modernization Act.  And despite recent cuts to the e-government program that pays for performance.gov, data.gov and other signature administration web sites, Zients said that “most” will keep going, but without new enhancements.

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OMB sets IT purchasing guidelines for telework

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Federal executives have until the end of July to develop or revise information technology procurement policies that support their agencies’ telework needs, according to memo released Thursday.

When crafting these policies, agencies must account for security risks and ensure that all devices and infrastructure meet federal security and privacy standards, said Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew in the memo.

The memo directs chief information and acquisition officers to take advantage of governmentwide and agencywide contracts. Agency technology should provide remote access to internal resources and include the use of thin clients, where most of the computing is done on a protected server rather than a hard drive.

By June 7, agencies must determine which employees are authorized to telework, notify all employees of their eligibility and establish a policy for those who are authorized to telework. OMB will issue a more detailed memo by the June deadline.

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Shutdown plans now available

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Remember the contingency plans that agencies have to prepare for the event of a government shutdown?

Those documents have never been more accessible–now that the immediate threat of a halt to agency operations has passed.

Under a “What’s New” section of its web site dated April 14, the Office of Management and Budget has posted links to more than 50 agency plans. Had the government closed, for example, more than three-quarters of employees in the Executive Office of the President would have been furloughed. At least for now, the prospect of a shutdown has receded since Congress last week approved a government-wide budget for the rest of fiscal 2011.

The new-found availability of the shutdown plans is a shift from only a few weeks ago, when the Obama administration rebuffed pleas from federal employee unions to release them. Late last month, the American Federation of Government Employees sued for access under the Freedom of Information Act.

But while the OMB site suggests that the administration began posting links to the records in one place only last Thursday, budget office spokeswoman Moira Mack said the site actually went up April 8.  On Monday, April 4,  agencies began “reaching out” to federal managers to discuss plans for an orderly shutdown, Mack said in an email, and began fielding employee questions later in the week.

And even if many agency shutdown plans are now only a mouse click away, AFGE will pursue its lawsuit, a spokesman said, to set some “parameters’ for how to handle the information in the future.

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