Facing constricting budgets and ongoing pressures to improve citizen services, CIOs and IT managers in the U.S. federal government are increasingly looking to a shared model for their IT operations.
At a conference last week hosted by the American Council for Technology, senior officials from across the government described the early momentum behind the push for shared services, which they see as critical for CIOs to advance agency missions while keeping spending in check.
"In times of tight financial constraint, that's really what it's going to come down to across the board. Because reducing costs is just going to be a race to the bottom," says Bernie Kluger, the deputy performance improvement officer at the Office of Personnel Management.
Uncle Sam Wants Shared Servics
The federal CIO Council took a step toward formalising the government's shared-services strategy earlier this year when, in April, it rolled out Uncle Sam's List, a listings hub for commodity IT and support services offered by private-sector tech firms housed on the internal Max.gov portal.
Uncle Sam's List, which accompanied the release of a shared-services implementation guide, offers federal CIOs a catalog of providers and products that have been vetted by the CIO Council's shared-services subcommittee.
"Basically it's like Craigslist" for shared services in the federal government, Kluger says.
As a practical matter, even evangelists for shared services within the federal government acknowledge that that model of acquisition and deployment does not map to all agencies and applications.
Much of the resistance to shared services grows out of a culture within the federal government that sees sub-agencies and bureaus operate as semi-autonomous organizations, each making its own decisions about IT investments, says Simon Szykman, CIO of the Commerce Department. That culture, Szykman said, choosing his words carefully, might be described as "change-averse."
Of course, the departments and major agencies of the federal government vary widely in mission, size and organizational structure. Within Commerce, there are a dozen bureaus, including the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, each with its own CIO. The predictable result has been the development of a patchwork of IT services with little centralized coordination.
"Because of the diversity in the mission areas and the decentralized, federated nature of the department, there's a long history of very distributed decision making when it comes to IT spending," Szykman says.
"At the department I control about 1.5 percent of the department's IT spending, and the other 98.5 percent is controlled by the bureaus, and even within the bureaus not all the spending is necessarily under the control of the CIOs because we have large, important mission programs, and so often the funding is further distributed within bureaus out to the line office or large programs. And the result of this is just a legacy of very independently managed distributed services. And so we viewed the framework for IT management and IT investment management at Commerce as really being ripe for moving more toward shared-services models," Szykman adds.
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