How federal CIOs will navigate the presidential transition

How federal CIOs will navigate the presidential transition

As the federal IT community braces for new administration, experts see new IT initiatives on hold, but have hopes for acquisition reform and modernization efforts.

"From a CIO perspective, it also opens opportunities for CIOs to essentially restart their relationships with the organization leadership," he says.

As to what a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump administration might look like from federal CIOs perspective, much remains unclear. Neither campaign responded to requests for comment for this story, and government IT has not been the headline from either candidate's stump speech.

What a Clinton administration could mean

But observers look to the rather lengthy ("exhaustive," one source described it) technology and innovation agenda that the Clinton campaign has released as an indicator of where her administration would set its priorities. In many areas such as promoting broadband development and defending network neutrality, a Clinton tech-policy agenda looks like it would pick up where the Obama regime will leave off.

"Just based on what Hillary Clinton has documented in terms of her position, a lot of it looks like continuing what President Obama has started," Holgate says. "Since in that case it would be a same-party transition, there would certainly be some changes that come along with that naturally, but it probably wouldn't be as disruptive as a transition to a new party."

In government IT, Clinton promises to appoint a chief innovation adviser to help lower barriers to the adoption of new technologies within the federal government, establish digital services as "a permanent priority for federal agencies," continue to open up government data and expand the role of the U.S. Digital Service, a White House initiative aimed at improving government operations and services through technology.

"Much of it indicated that they would continue the direction and emphasis -- the unprecedented emphasis -- that the this administration has provided on technology -- the role of technology, the government mission, digitizing government, delivering better constituent service, improving the exposure of data for social benefit, the use of big data to drive government decisions," says Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president at the IT Alliance for Public Sector, a division of the Information Technology Industry Council.

What a Trump administration could mean

"There's a lot less clarity around a Trump administration and what exactly they would do from a technological perspective," he says.

Hodgkins did relay word of a high-level meeting between senior Trump campaign staffers and officials from the tech sector. That discussion, he says, focused on ways to reduce the barriers for companies to do business with the federal government.

"The conversations that have been had with the Trump campaign have focused more on the compliance challenges and burdens that being a vendor in the government sector can [entail]," Hodgkins says. "They would be willing to look at those burdens."

Both sides acknowledge need for reforms

So Clinton and Trump both appear to have acknowledged that more reforms are in order to the acquisition and procurement process to broaden the technologies available to federal IT shops, where many upstart vendors say they have had trouble breaking into the market.

"There is a ton of work that needs to be done around acquisition policies," says Chris Howard, vice president of the federal division at Nutanix, an enterprise cloud vendor. "It needs to be more open, let other vendors compete, a lot of time things are written for certain vendors or incumbents."

Acquisition reform has been a longstanding priority to ITAPS, Hodgkins' group. He speaks of the "backwardness" and "dysfunction" of government acquisition and procurement, observing that too many of the rules around technology purchases reflect a bygone era of massive one-time purchases that don't reflect the currents of incremental, agile development that guide new IT buildouts in the commercial sector.

"From a technological perspective, we don't think the government's processes fit the reality on the ground, and we think it's time to revisit those," he says. "Most of the agencies are behind -- and some of them very far behind -- the commercial marketplace and, even some elements of the public sector," such as state and local agencies.

For all the reforms from FITARA and those that Scott and other members of the Obama administration have undertaken, there is general agreement that much more needs to be done to improve the government's use of technology. Obama has called for a $3.1 billion IT modernization fund that would provide a mechanism to facilitate agency efforts to update their legacy systems. The Modernizing Government Technology Act, which has passed the House and awaits consideration in the Senate, offers an alternative funding approach to the same end.

Spires says that he welcomes efforts to give agency CIOs more maneuvering room in their budgets, in particular proposals to untether agencies from one-year funding cycles. Longer funding lead times, along with greater continuity in the ranks of the CIOs themselves, could help agencies move more effectively on long-overdue IT reform efforts.

"I am a big believer in having this funding flexibility, so that you've got that kind of idea of three-year money that gives the organization more flexibility over doing this IT modernization," Spires says. "The amount of duplication that we have in systems is staggering in the federal government, even within agencies."

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