FedScoop’s David Nyczepir and others covered a recent hearing in which House members expressed frustration that the General Services Administration (GSA) can’t punish agencies expected to miss the deadline to fully transition to the government’s Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract. Agencies must fully transition services by September 30, 2022, with existing contracts expiring May 2023. These dates already represent an extension from the original GSA deadline — 2020.
During the hearing, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) unveiled a study on the EIS transition that found of 19 agencies reviewed, 11 didn’t plan to meet this deadline. Carol Harris, director of IT and cybersecurity at GAO, said during her testimony that the “vast majority” of agencies will miss out on potential cost savings for services on EIS.
Nyczepir pointed out that the new contract is on the same delay path as its predecessors. The transition to Networx, GSA’s last big telecommunications contract, was plagued with delays that resulted in $400 million in additional costs and lost savings. So, one must ask: Why is this happening yet again? And also, what, if anything, can be done to speed up the transition? Let me speculate on an answer to the first question and propose a solution for the second.
In the era before the creation of CIOs, there were directors of information resources management (IRM). Telecommunications was a major area of the responsibility of the Director of IRM and that office was often headed by a GS-15 or SES-level executive. The interagency telecommunications management committee was a high-powered group and attendees were usually either the departmental IRM directors or their deputies.
Today, telecommunications responsibilities are buried several levels down in the Office of the CIO. But even if the head of that area can gain top-level attention, CIOs themselves often don’t report at a high enough level, don’t participate in budget deliberations, and don’t have the clout to push through major changes. This in spite of heroic efforts by Congress to strengthen the roles and responsibilities of departmental CIOs. So they aren’t positioned to drive change, speed transitions to new technologies or business models, and so on, even when that might bring increased capabilities and/or cost savings.
While that Sisyphus-like task of strengthening the role of CIOs continues, what can be done now? I was fortunate when I became the first CIO at the Department of Commerce. I was already serving as the head of the agency’s management and budget office. When we were assembling our secretary’s annual request to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), we built in some “incentives” to transition to GSA’s new telecommunications contract. We looked at each agency’s existing telecommunications spend and what it would be under the new vehicle. In the departmental pass back to the agency head, we provided the latter. We indicated that they could choose not to transition immediately, but if that was what they decided, they would have to absorb the higher cost in both program and administrative accounts. Having access to the agency head, elevating it above those who might be wedded to the status quo, and making the choice a stark one involving real dollars (especially ones that might touch mission activities not merely ones that could be considered “overhead”) made a dramatic difference. And we were able to accelerate our transition.
Many of my actions in government were guided by the thinking of one of the greatest management minds of 20th century America. To paraphrase him here: “You can get much further with a good idea and a gun than you can get with a good idea alone.” Thanks for that insight, Al Capone. Perhaps GSA and OMB can use it in this year’s budget process.
Alan Balutis is a Distinguished Fellow and Senior Director, North American Public Sector, for Cisco Systems’ global strategy and consulting arm.