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Alan Balutis Talks Potential New Legislation

Everyone is talking about IT reform – but does anyone know how to implement it? Doesn’t seem like it. It’s like your friend who just learned a new word but constantly keeps using it incorrectly.

Legislators just learned about IT procurement, but don’t have the knowledge to apply it well. Many CIOs, however, have ideas on how to reform government IT and Alan Balutis believes they should have a stronger voice.

Alan Balutis, Senior Director and Distinguished Fellow at Cisco Systems, told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program about federal IT procurement and how government can reform their IT practices at the management level.

“Clearly there’s some congressional interest in IT and acquisition reform,” said Balutis, which he claims is representative of the overall need for IT modernization. “You can pick up the Washington Post almost any day of the week, and think you’re reading Federal Computer Week, or Federal Times, or Government, or Government Exec, because there’s front page stories on Social Security, Internal Revenue, Veteran’s Affairs, Department of the Navy, and others.”

Though it’s a popular and much-talked-about topic, even one of the highest leadership offices in America has trouble executing its IT networks: the executive branch. Look no further than the online rollout of Obamacare to see inadequacies at the highest level.

Balutis describes Healthcare.gov as a “runaway system”, which was caused by “systems and IT initiatives that were over budget, behind schedule, and not delivering the promised functionality. “

But overall, Balutis has faith that Congress can pass legislation to further IT reform.

“My hope is that some activity that the Appropriations Committee has taken on the Senate side might be incorporated as part of a continuing resolution that would be enacted to carry us through into the new fiscal year that starts in October,” said Balutis. “My hope is that something can be enacted when congress returns in September.”

“I think if we’re going to enhance the role of the CIO, if we’re going to give that person a greater amount of authority over how dollars are spent, if we’re going to give that person authority to make a decision to shut down a project that’s not performing, I think we really need legislation to do that,” said Balutis.

Plenty in Congress agree. Congressman Darrell Issa and Congressman Gerry Connolly partnered to introduce FITARA (Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act), which ended up legislating stronger empowerment of CIOs for 24 government agencies. While given more power, the CIOs are also held more accountable for how agencies acquire and manage IT systems.

But legislation in and of itself won’t fix the problem. Balutis described the hearings for the Affordable Care Act as “people that were sitting wearing the CIO hat that really just said, ‘I have a limited role’ ’I really wasn’t that much involved’ ‘We weren’t holding set meetings to review this,’ and etcetera.”

In a climate where technology is vital in almost every industry, it seems baffling that CIOs are still fighting for a seat at the table.

“I think the solution has [traditionally] been to make the CIO a presidential appointment, Senate confirmed position. I’m on the opposite side of that,” said Balutis. “I think these major systems initiatives are multiyear efforts and they can’t be done by a political CIO whose average lifespan is 18 to 22 months.”

“We need to bring in people under a term contract and have them in place for five to seven years, so they can actually be there to design, to implement, and to oversee these major systems initiatives,” said Balutis. He also reiterated an increase in experimentation and compensation to attract the right talent. That way they can be rewarded if they succeed and let go if they fail.

Unfortunately, Balutis says it may take “a perfect storm of factors” to illicit such change. But it could lead to the implementation of legislation that could “bring about the dramatic change that we need in both the IT and the acquisition arenas to change the track record into one where we’re more successful in using technology to improve service delivery and transform the way the government does business.”

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