So many technology-related mandates for government exist today — modernize IT, manage data properly, use the correct level of security — that the continual layering on can put an agency at risk of falling behind on both planning and execution.
It may also force an agency to focus on the newest initiative at the expense of other, existing projects, which may themselves be mandated.
Figuring out how to comply with the increasing volume of new mandates has become a key part of the job for CIOs and other IT officials in the federal government, who are always looking for inspiration.
Assessment Tools Evolve as Agency Mandates Increase
The Office of Management and Budget once had an Executive Branch Management Scorecard that came with guidelines on what agencies needed to do to rise from a red ranking (unsatisfactory) through yellow to a green ranking (success).
The categories were broad: managing human capital, using competitive sourcing, improving financial management, expanding electronic government and integrating budget and performance measures.
On OMB’s baseline scorecard, issued in 2002, nearly 75 percent of the rankings were red. But agencies leveraged that scorecard to improve their work, and half the rankings were green by the end of 2008.
While the White House no longer uses that tool, there are other assessments to assess how well agencies are tracking with mandates and deadlines such as those contained within the President’s Management Agenda, the Cloud Smart policy and the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), just a few of the host of initiatives and mandates and executive orders agencies must follow.
Not only must an agency meet relatively straightforward goals such as recruiting and retaining more cybersecurity workers, it must also harden protections around its most valuable data, move more quickly to the cloud and reorganize to give its CIO more authority.
So, how to decide which project, which initiative, which goal is the priority? Mission first, or customer first? Modernize IT, or develop an artificial intelligence policy? This decision can be complicated by a lack of guidance from the top, despite hard deadlines.
Strategic Planning Lays a Foundation for Meeting Requirements
The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 requires all agencies to create a new strategic plan at the beginning of each new presidential term (the next one is due in February of 2022). NASA, in a recent performance report, provides a written example of how strategic planning can work. The agency lays out long-term strategic goals, multiyear performance goals and shorter-term cross-agency and in-house priority goals on a regular basis, following a detailed calendar.
Within that framework, agencies can also set their own priorities, ranking projects based on their expected ROI, their benefit to the customer and their contribution to the agency’s overall strategic plan. In some cases, agencies may also want to factor in the risk (financial or otherwise) associated with the project, or how much staff time and resources will be involved.
“Resources are what enable an objective to be accomplished within a set time; without dedicated means, an initiative is pure fantasy,” writes Derek Lidow, author of Startup Leadership, in a Harvard Business Review blog post. “Once a leader decides what resources will be allocated to achieve which objectives over what periods of time, she has no more need for ranking.”
Many enterprises, from universities to local governments, turn to third parties for help. By outsourcing certain time-intensive, limited projects, agencies may be able to better focus on their own operations and organization.
For example, Rob Houston, former deputy city manager of Newport Beach, Calif., said at a webinar sponsored by Laserfiche, a content management software company, “We’re outsourcing anything that’s a net increase due to an installation or implementation, and we’re trying to keep the day-to-day support in-house so that our staff has a face they know.”
And sometimes the help comes from inside the house. Councils for government C-suite and IT officials are creating relationships among agencies that had once been siloed, but that are now working toward the same goals. Sharing information with peers can provide new ideas on how to deal with new mandates.