OPM brings in Centers of Excellence to ‘stabilize’ IT

OPM's Washington, D.C., headquarters. (Billy Mitchell)

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The IT Modernization Centers of Excellence initiative has found its next target — the Office of Personnel Management.

The General Services Administration announced on Friday that it has signed interagency agreements that will allow the COEs and the GSA IT team to begin a “sprint-based discovery phase” aimed at improving OPM’s legacy IT environment.

This is the third agency to engage with the CoE model — essentially a temporary digital-services team with a specific skill set — and it comes as the Trump administration is pitching Congress on the idea of moving OPM into GSA.

“The time to address structural changes at OPM is now and GSA is helping us meet the needs of the federal workforce,” OPM acting Director Margaret Weichert said in a statement. Earlier this week she touted the White House “case for change” for putting OPM under GSA.

“Aging IT infrastructure at OPM has put the agency in an unsustainable position and hurt OPM’s critical human capital mission,” Weichert said. “By partnering with GSA — a proven leader in federal IT and technology contracting — through the CoEs, we are taking steps toward long-overdue transformation in OPM’s IT infrastructure and operations.”

A full reorganization of OPM would require action from Congress, but the COE process will allow the White House to achieve some of its goals for overhauling the agency without a signoff from lawmakers.

Per a press release, the COE teams at OPM will focus on four areas:

  • IT Workforce Planning;
  • IT Planning and Governance;
  • Mainframe and Disaster Recovery Planning; and
  • Retirement Services Technology Portfolio.

The COE initiative was first introduced by the White House Office of American Innovation in summer 2017. It then officially kicked off in April 2018 at “lighthouse agency” the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In September 2018, GSA announced that it had picked HUD as the project’s second installation.

The five available CoE teams — agencies pick what they need out of a grab bag of expertise on cloud adoption, IT infrastructure optimization, customer experience, contact center and service delivery analytics — work in two distinct stages. Phase I is discovery and assessment, and Phase II is implementation. The discovery sprint phase, which is what OPM will begin with, is pre-Phase I.

The White House’s reorganization for OPM would essentially “lift and shift” the federal personnel office from its standing as an independent agency to new placement as a service branch within GSA. Weichert and other officials cite OPM’s aging and unreliable IT systems, in concert with the agency’s lack of funds to invest in improving them, as major motivating factors for the move.

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Centers of excellence, General Services Administration (GSA), IT Modernization, Margaret Weichert, Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
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