The Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act has the potential to transform not just federal IT systems desperately in need of upgrades or replacement, it could change how agencies think about everything from security to return on investment.
In a wide-ranging panel discussion last month hosted by AFCEA Bethesda, government technology officials discussed how they are now thinking about modernization and digital transformation, often in the context of two key elements of the MGT Act – the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) and the ability of CFOs to create IT Working Capital Funds (WCFs).
Kelly Olson, the GSA Acting Deputy Commissioner for the Federal Acquisition Service and Director of Technology Transformation Services, said that GSA has already received over two thousand applications for TMF funding.
But knowledge levels don’t match the enthusiasm. “There’s just a lot of confusion about TMF – what it is, how to pay it back,” Olson said. “We have a lot of educating to do.”
She said GSA held a workshop several months ago on emerging technologies to help agencies think of possible pilot programs they could pursue. “I think we’re going to start doing more of that … to help agencies better articulate what they need,” Olson said.
The MGT Act and its two funding programs have been marketed to government CIOs, but CFOs need that education, too, said Ken Rogers, Deputy CIO, Business Management & Planning, US Department of State. The concept of a payback mechanism built into the TMF is not common in government, he noted.
TMF “is not funding, it’s a loan for a short period of time that you have to pay back,” Rogers said. “That’s a completely different skillset that doesn’t run very deep on the CIO side.”
The Department of Agriculture is looking at modernization from the application rationalization side, said Francisco Salguero, USDA’s deputy CIO. “Where are the things we have to rebuild [and] the things we can get rid of,” he said. “Then we make sure the business invests in it.”
Another aspect of USDA’s IT modernization has more to do with the organization itself than the technology, he said.
“Within USDA, which is such a huge organization with diverse missions, we had 22 CIOs and one department CIO,” Salguero said. “Now it’s nine mission area assistant CIOs.”
At a much newer agency the challenges are different, said Bobby Saxon, CTO, Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
“I’m the CTO for Healthcare.gov,” Saxon said. “We’re an organization that’s only six or seven years old – I’m not talking about 20- or 30-year old systems like many of my colleagues.”
Folks remember Healthcare.gov’s disastrous rollout, Saxon said, so his agency approaches IT modernization with the goal of making its current systems more stable. A big part of that involves moving to the cloud.
“When I arrived we had about 20 percent of our systems on the cloud, [but] we had a tendency to not go to the cloud when we rebuilt systems,” he said. “There wasn’t a good reason for us not to do it, so I issued a mandate that we’ll go to the cloud [by] spring 2019.”
To manage the move, Saxon included guidelines, such as programs had to be cloud-first, and if they couldn’t be for some reason, they had to be cloud-ready, and they had to be cloud-agnostic to avoid getting locked in to a single vendor.
“This move to the cloud empowers agency CIOs and IT leaders,” shared Rob Davies, Senior EVP of Operations for ViON. “By adopting a cloud-first stance agencies gain the opportunity to shift models from purchasing things like hardware and software to investing in ‘as-a-Service.’ In doing so, agencies can continue to reduce costs and, as Saxon noted, avoid vendor lock-in. However, they also enable agencies to meet the mission more effectively because the focus is not on maintaining IT, but putting it to work for the citizen, the warfighter, or other constituency,” he said.
The Homeland Security Department is another agency that continues to knit together many disparate agencies with their own, often siloed, systems.
“In general, where we’re modernizing is everywhere,” said Donna Roy, Executive Director, Information Sharing and Services Office, DHS. “We’re optimizing our data centers, moving to the cloud, EIS for [our] network approach, for mobility, and our security arena, about consolidating our approaches for” security operations centers.
“Almost everything I have my hands in are about innovating or modernizing, faster than I can keep my hands on,” she said.
Want to learn more about how the cloud empowers IT modernization? There’s a resource guide waiting for you here.