Federal Information Technology Reform Urged - InformationWeek

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Federal Information Technology Reform Urged

Agile development, risk management and collaboration with industry are among the areas targeted by TechAmerica study.

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If it wants to close the productivity gap between government and private sector IT, the federal government must develop a professional program management capability, increase its use of agile development, strengthen its risk management and improve government-industry collaboration, an industry group said Monday in a new report.

The TechAmerica-backed report, "Government Technology Opportunity in the 21st Century," put together by a 31-member commission largely composed of federal IT industry execs and drawn from interviews with and collection of feedback from 105 IT industry execs, government officials and members of academia finds federal IT lagging and in need of reform.

"Many government workers are still using systems that are far less capable than those used by their counterparts in industry or those that they themselves use at home," the report says. "Citizen needs, the national interest and obligations to the taxpayer make finding ways to develop major IT projects more effectively an important priority."

The report finds that the government doesn’t treat program management as a key priority and that agencies under-staff program management capability in major projects. In response, the report recommends agencies assign dedicated, knowledgeable and empowered program managers to all major programs and create formal program manager career tracks. It also recommends the government create a program management leadership academy, share best practices on a lessons learned portal, and take other related steps.

“Strong program managers have overcome poor requirements, aggressive milestones, limited resources and constrained processes to deliver mission capability, while processes have not been able to over-compensate for a poor program manager with clear requirements and sufficient resources,” one interviewee told the report authors.

The report also said that government should establish independent risk analysis roles for every major acquisition in order to help establish and manage against cost, schedule and performance risks for big projects.

Agile development is new to most parts of government. For example, the FBI had little organizational experience with the methodology before recently announcing its intention to transition its struggling Sentinel case management program to agile. However, the report claims, such moves may hold great benefit in terms of speed and efficiency.

The report recommends a number of steps to bolster the government's agile chops, including publishing a common definition of agile development, modifying the annual Exhibit 300 capital planning process to promote incremental reviews, contracting with agile development in mind and developing and sharing best practices.

The most industry-friendly of the recommendations echoes concerns heard across the industry that today's acquisition process discourages dialogue between industry and government and says that obstacles to meeting that need can be overcome by taking a number of steps.

For example, the report pushes the Office of Management and Budget to "endorse the value of communication with industry" with an official Obama administration memo. It recommends a marketing campaign on acquisition "Do's and Don’ts," promotion of collaboration on requirements development before requests for proposal are even completed, facilitating end-user focus groups throughout an acquisition, and possibly engaging neutral third parties to oversee discussions with industry.

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