For the past four years, hundreds of government IT experts have been working to modernize federal systems, relying on policies outlined in documents such as the President’s Management Agenda, Cloud Smart and the National Data Strategy.
These documents were created by members of the outgoing administration, and the practices and goals outlined in those and other policies are now embedded in agency processes — and budgets.
New administrations always bring in their own people and their own plans, but “technology in government is actually an area where we’ve seen a lot of good continuity across administrations,” says Loren DeJonge Schulman, vice president for research and evaluation at the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, home to the Center for Presidential Transition.
“The focus on modernizing tech is likely to continue under the Biden administration, and I’d expect that some of the major tech initiatives that the Trump administration put in place will also keep going,” she adds. “A lot of initiatives ongoing right now have a lot of bipartisan support in Congress.”
IT Modernization Plans and Programs Bridge Administrations
Technology modernization is an ongoing, long-term process that can’t be measured in a single budget appropriation cycle, and most administrations realize that.
“The Trump administration actually took what had been left by the Obama team and built on that, quietly and without fanfare,” says David Berteau, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council. “Continuity of what’s underway makes sense, unless you have a good reason to change.”
A new President’s Management Agenda, which outlines an administration’s modernization plans, should appear early in a Biden administration. Since President George W. Bush issued the first official PMA in 2001, each president has created one within the first year of taking office.
“The President’s Management Agenda is a real tool to drive oversight and management of the budgets,” says Gordon Bitko, senior vice president of policy for the Information Technology Industry Council. “But there’s got to be the connection from that back to the actual appropriators, because the priorities of appropriators and the priorities of the PMA aren’t always the same.”
Bush’s PMA listed “expanded electronic government” as one of its goals, President Barack Obama focused on effectiveness and efficiency in delivering government services, and President Trump put IT modernization and data at the top of his list.
“While descriptors are different, the fundamental goals are all still similar. Each agenda built off the one before it,” writes Lauren Wright, a senior adviser at FMP Consulting who worked for the Office of Management and Budget during the Bush and Obama years and was an adviser to the Trump transition team. “The major differences are in how to achieve a more accountable, fiscally responsible, modernized federal government.”
GSA’s IT Centers of Excellence Stay in Place
Another initiative not going anywhere is the General Services Administration’s IT Modernization Centers of Excellence program, which began in 2018 and was codified into law in December.
The program provides agencies with assistance in solving tough modernization problems and has teams specializing in artificial intelligence, cloud adoption, contact centers, customer experience, data and analytics, and infrastructure optimization.
Ten agencies have joined the initiative so far, and the first to join have seen success. The U.S. Department of Agriculture updated and streamlined the way it connects with farmers online, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s IT modernization efforts resulted in the agency’s first clean financial audit in eight years.
Other programs that will probably remain in place are the Technology Modernization Fund (even though its funding remains static for 2021 at $25 million); the Quality Service Management Offices run by the GSA and the Office of Management and Budget, which focus on shared solutions and mission support; and the FITARA scorecard, issued twice a year by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
However, the way these programs are funded or run may change, says Theresa Payton, CEO of Fortalice and federal CIO during the George W. Bush administration. “These are decisions the new administration can and will make, and some of it may be budget dependent.
“The agency team that’s there could also say, ‘You know what? There are a lot of new things we have planned for 2021 — we didn’t want to do it in an election cycle — so, here is our proposal for all the technology modernization efforts we think need to be done.’ It’s up to the incoming group to decide what they want to keep and what they don’t.”
READ MORE: In a Q&A with FedTech, Loren DeJonge Schulman expands on how a presidential transition works.