The U.S. Department of Transportation’s IT operation is getting its engine rebuilt.
DoT CIO Richard McKinney told a packed house at Federal Forum 2014 that since his arrival at the department in May 2013, he’s been working to have “a new conversation where we can reimagine ourselves.”
The IT challenges awaiting him might seem daunting when he arrived the agency was ranked last in cyber security out of all government agencies
“Why in the world is [DoT] last in cybersecurity? That was my first focus,” he said. “I knew enough to know that if you’re not doing well in cybersecurity you’re not doing well in other things. I don’t know anyone who’s doing very well in other parts of IT but screwing up in cyber.”
A consulting company had already been engaged by DoT’s CISO to examine the agency’s cyber security posture, identify areas of weakness, and make recommendations for improvement. When the firm presented its draft findings it confirmed what McKinney suspected about his agency — they were behind the eight ball when it came to cyber security. McKinney revealed that one of the report’s major findings was that the department had just six cybersecurity professionals, but it needed 20.
“We had a very no-holds-barred, pull-no-punches meeting” with Secretary Anthony Foxx, he said, which was “very sobering for all of us” and yet elicited the kind of executive-level buy-in and support that most CIOs can only dream about with a full commitment from Secretary Fox that he would be empowered to ” to fix this.’”
McKinney’s first order of business was to roll out an agency-wide Personal Identity Verficiation (PIV) program as a building block to more detailed cyber security reforms.
“Why are we at zero?” McKinney asked. The overwhelming response from his deputies was that users didn’t like it and felt inconvenienced by it. To break through the resistance, McKinney told them that within a week of the meeting the few hundred people in his office would be required to adopt PIV. “Then we’re going to do it for you,” he said.
“A year later, we are at virtually 100 percent. We’re working some stuff out with the FAA and permutations in their environment, but when they’re onboard we’ll be at 100 percent,” he said.
An even bigger change that is just getting started is the overhaul of DoT’s Common Operating Environment. The modal CIOs told McKinney that they suspected they were being charged too much for shared services and were underwhelmed by the levels of service they were receiving. McKinney promised to figure out what the agency should be doing at the enterprise level and how they could flow these savings to each department.
When he investigated their complaints, McKinney said, “No wonder they were mad.” They were paying far too much, he found, and most of the work had been contracted out.
“As a rule of thumb, if you were going to do a job for years, as far as you could see, that was an employee. If it was a project that was going to ramp up and ramp down, that was for a contractor, or if there was a specific skill set,” he said. “When I looked at our model, in our Common Operating Environment there were about 50 federal employees and 250 contractors.”
Revamping the personnel structure, turning contract positions into federal jobs, will actually cut costs, McKinney said. “We saved a lot of money … enough that the secretary was like, ‘Whoa!’”
McKinney said that the department’s CFO has approved the change, as has the Secretary’s office and the Office of Management and Budget. He’s gone to Capitol Hill to explain the changes, as well. “We’re going to execute on that over the next three years,” he said.
Changing the DoT’s IT infrastructure and its performance is critically important not just for the cost savings and efficiencies it brings, but because it will enable the agency to deliver on its mission at a time when the industry it primarily services is going through momentous changes itself. McKinney identified the emergence of digital transportation as the disruptive tech trend for his agency largely because “digital transportation is still more undefined than defined.” At its very core digital transportation will require a comprehensive approach to data – from storage, to security, and most importantly, the ability to make data available for use in APIs and other public applications. To this end, McKinney has appointed a Chief Data Officer, making DoT the first cabinet agency to have one.
“DoT is a leader in open data … we [are] doing this very well,” he said. But it won’t stop with this. McKinney will continue to push for the evolution of the DoT in the future.