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For a View of 2011, Watch These People

FedinsiderTrying to change the government is like running up a hill that gradually gets steeper. The going gets more difficult and eventually you tire out. Two years since President Obama was inaugurated, his team managing the government itself has been stable. And it enters 2011 still having pretty good momentum. The one big change was the early departure of OMB director Peter Orszag. But his successor, Jack Lew, had the same job during the Clinton administration and so requires far less education.

In this, the final 2010 issue of FedInsider, I would like to call out some of the people who have made a difference and, by all indications, will be around in the year ahead to continue to do so.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. There are so many people doing important work in IT management and acquisition, that it would be impossible to include everyone. This short list includes people who represent not only their own issues but issues that characterize what the government faces across the board.

CIO Vivek Kundra, deputy director Jeff Zients, and chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra have been familiar and enduring faces. With the release a couple of weeks ago of the 25-point plan for overhauling acquisition and management of IT, the Kundra-Zients-Chopra trio will have plenty to do if this plan is to take any sort of root deep into the bureaucracy. That is their challenge. The plan promises some short-term, 6-month deliverables. These include a contract vehicle for infrastructure as a service, data center consolidation plans, creation of an IT career path, and developing a “cadre of specialized IT acquisition professionals.”

Their progress will therefore be easy to measure.

Congressman Darryl Issa (R-Calif.) is a conservative firebrand who is about to become chairman of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform. He has promised weekly hearings on pretty much everything the Obama administration is pursuing. Issa is serious but approachable. An administration has the right to put its policies in place, so the test for Issa will be whether he can add value by forcing a more thorough thinking-through of these non-political items.

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) has legislation pending to trim back the contracting privileges enjoyed by Alaskan Native Corporations. If this succeeds, it would be a historical rollback, if a small one, in the march towards expanding classes of preferred types of contractors.

Also on the Hill, Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have one piece of cyber security pending, that would give more power and authority to the Homeland Security Department. A competing bill from Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Olympia Snow (R-Maine) emphasizes the Commerce Department. 2011 should bring some piece of landmark cyber legislation to the president, but the final form is hard to predict at this point.

Veterans Affairs CIO Roger Baker has been willing to cancel IT projects that are failing but also bites back hard at the Government Accountability Office when he thinks it is wrong on an assessment. With his weekly press cyber security call-ins and his adoption of more modern software development methodologies, he’s started to make VA one of the prime crucibles for the changes the administration is trying to make.

Agriculture CIO Chris Smith has committed his department to the cloud, starting with 120,000 e-mail accounts. The contract with Dell, actually, with the service via Microsoft’s cloud, is small by federal standards: $27 million. But it will be a big bellwether of the ability of government to adopt this model on a mass scale.

General Services Administrator Martha Johnson has taken the agency on a green route, with the goal of producing no “carbon footprint.” Her challenge will be to have this goal embraced by employees who may be more concerned with the specific missions of their bureaus.

Mark Borkowski in July was named assistant commissioner for technology innovation and acquisition at Customs and Border Protection. He must pull the SBInet — the troubled virtual border fence along the Mexican border — out of the fire. This project is emblematic of the issues plaguing federal IT acquisition. It is big, expensive, late and over budget — and yet critical to the nation.

At the Air Force, there is an acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, David M. Van Buren. Soon to be awarded is a contract — presumably it will be one contract — for the aerial refueling tankers. The program executive officer for the replacement program is Brig. Gen. Christopher Bogdan. This troubled acquisition goes back 10 years and was supposed to have been re-awarded in November. It will be a test case for how much politics is able to intrude into federal contracting since one of the two contenders is European.

Some people outside of government have had a big effect and will continue to do so.

I must mention Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. The web site has confounded the government and raised fresh questions over transparency, cyber security, and trust of insiders. Assange was freed to house arrest on bail in England on sexual assault charges originating in Sweden. The activities of WikiLeaks will color debates and policies in 2011.

So many think tanks and interest groups probe and prod the government, from OMBWatch to the Heritage Foundation. They are important. Many of their people have moved in and out of government. One of the most influential in my opinion is the Center for Strategic and International Studies, lead by John Hamre, a former deputy Defense secretary and DOD comptroller. The programs and publications of CSIS will continue to provide reasoned discussion of so many topics.

As I said, I can only mention a few. Let me know who you think will shape policies and debate in 2011. Send your ideas to [email protected]

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