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DorobekINSIDER: Fired VA employee Martinez reinstated by MSPB

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Adair Martinez, who was fired by the Department of Veterans Affairs following a series of scathing inspector general reports alleging sex and lies, has been reinstated by the Merit Systems Protection Board. 

Former VA IT employee Adair Martinez

The initial decision by Judge Lynne Yovino of the Merit Systems Protection Board, handed down Friday, says that Martinez was not given due process — essentially that her Fifth Amendment rights were violated.

The judge determined VA CIO Roger Baker violated Martinez’s Constitutional rights when he pre-judged charges of misconduct made against her by the VA Office of Inspector General, said Kevin Gary Owen, the attorney for Martinez. The Department of Veterans Affairs was ordered to reinstate Martinez to her job as Deputy Assistant Secretary and pay her lost wages and attorneys fees.

The series of IG reports alleged that Martinez, a former high-ranking information technology officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs, gave preferential treatment to certain contractors and engaged in nepotism in hiring. The IG reports allege that Martinez took advantage of a relationship with a supervisor for personal gain.

The decision says that VA CIO Roger Baker did not give Martinez a fair opportunity to defend herself. Quoting the U.S. Supreme Court, the ruling said, the “core of due process is the right to notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard,” and that the VA did not give Martinez that opportunity.

“In my view, because Baker’s testimony was tainted by his prior review of the evidence and concurrence in the violations, his later claim that he nonetheless provided the appellant with a meaningful opportunity to reply is unavailing.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs must decide whether it will appeal by May 6. 

Read the full ruling — and find links to the VA Office of Inspector General reports — after the break.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by cdorobek

April 5, 2011 at 2:26 PM

DorobekINSIDER: OMB’s government performance self-assessment

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The Obama administration’s chief performance officer self-assessment of how the federal government is doing so far: “I believe we are off to a good start, and that we are developing the momentum required for meaningful, sustained improvements in how the government works for the American people.”

In a memo to the Senior Executive Service from Jeff Zients, OMB’s Federal Chief Performance Officer and Deputy Director for Management, titled, “The Accountable Government Initiative – an Update on Our Performance Management Agenda,” Zients lays out the administration’s management plan — and how the administration is doing so far.

Here is the memo:

View this document on Scribd

Written by cdorobek

September 14, 2010 at 9:29 AM

DorobekINSIDER: Chart of the day: DHS oversight

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Buried at the Homeland Security Department’s so-called “bottom up review” — a review of all DHS operations — is a very telling chart: The amount of oversight that Homeland Security undergoes

How is that for shocking!

Read the full report here. [PDF - note, the report is 72 pages] This is on the last page.

Read and hear Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s report on the bottom up review.

NextGov: DHS will establish consolidated intelligence portal

Written by cdorobek

July 19, 2010 at 9:30 AM

DorobekINSIDER: An open letter to OMB: Stop the public sector bashing

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An open letter to OMB Director Peter Orszag:

Dear Mr. Orszag,

I write this with a certain regret. I have tremendous amount of respect for you and the work you have done over the years. And I appreciate the Office of Management and Budget’s initiative to cut waste across government — and improve the use of IT. I have been covering government IT for nearly 20 years — and, as I wrote in Federal Computer Week years ago, I firmly believe that the government can use technology to accomplish its mission more effectively.

And I think the administration has taken a number of positive steps in its first 18 months.

And therefore, I was pleased with Monday’s OMB announcement about the initiative to cut waste by reforming government IT. Federal News Radio’s Jason Miller reported on the policy memos — he has been out in front covering this issue.

There are three steps to the plan:

  • Fix federal financial systems — a critical step
  • Stepped up and detailed reviews of troubled IT systems
  • A plan for improving the federal government’s overall IT procurement and management practices. That plan will come within by October.

I even read the policies [PDF]:

Unfortunately, I was disappointed with your post on the subject. It included this line:

While a productivity boom has transformed private sector performance over the past two decades, the federal government has almost entirely missed this transformation and now lags far behind on efficiency and service quality. We are wasting billions of dollars a year, and more importantly are missing out on the huge productively improvements other sectors have benefited from.

Quite simply, we can’t significantly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal government without fixing IT.

The emphasis is mine, not yours. But, to be honest, I found the wording unfair… and disappointing.

A few points:

It is utterly untrue to say that the federal government has “almost entirely missed this transformation.” I have been covering government technology for nearly 20 years. During that time, there have been remarkable strides. Today, IT touches just about every facet of every part of every business in government — and has utterly transformed certain parts of government. In fact, I would argue you would be hard pressed to find a part of government that hasn’t been transformed by IT.

Is there more to be done? Absolutely, and I give you and your team credit for your IT initiative… but it leads to the second point…

Please oh please retire the tired, tedious comparison between the public and private sectors. I would argue that it simply isn’t true because it isn’t a fair comparison. The challenges facing government agencies are, in many ways, larger in scope — and they are more complex — than those faced by most private sector organizations. And there are scores of cases that make this point. The one I often use are Homeland Security’s efforts to secure ports from potential terrorism. That mission can be accomplished: We can enlist resources to stop anything from coming into or out of the country. That would bring trade to a screeching halt — and having the same result on the U.S. economy… clearly not an option. And opening for any and all trade is also not an option. So the federal government has the unenviable task of finding the mix of those black-and-white options — essentially, they have to determine what is the right shade of gray.

That task is even more complex because those decisions are subject to constant hindsight review — sometimes years later. And then layer a complex management structure… within agencies… within the executive branch itself… and within Congress.

And none of this even touches on a almost utterly broken budget process where agencies are assigned money months into the fiscal year — and then told that they must spend it before the end of that fiscal year.

But even beyond that, the public-private comparison is specious because it is overly broad. What are you talking about when you highlight the private sector? Is the model General Motors? AIG?

We all have worked for private sector organizations where we have been amazed by what we deem as inefficiencies — or organizations that have terrible service quality. I now no longer use my United Visa card — put out by Chase Bank — because just about every third charge is rejected. Even worse — try to find a Chase official in their credit card division to contact.

And what are you talking about when you lambaste the public sector? There aren’t any examples of government agencies that use technology effectively?

Last year in AFCEA’s Signal magazine, I pleaded for a stop to this public-private comparison. What is most insidious about this private sector envy like the one in your post is that it feeds the false notion that government cannot do anything right, and that public employees — and public service — are somehow inept. It infers that somehow the problems agencies face are intractable… that government cannot — and does not — change… and that somehow government performance and government innovation are oxymorons.

To be blunt, it is unfair.

And even beyond that, it does something that I know you abhor: It adds no value. It adds nothing to the discussion.

You raise important issues — ones faced by both the public and private sectors — at what point to you cut off a troubled system by making the determination that continuing would be throwing good money after bad. It is a tough decision to make.

But some of the troubled programs mentioned — the Department of Veterans Affair’s financial management system and FBI’s Sentential program — are complex.

In the end, the issues you are facing are not new. I’d point to Raines Rules, published in 1996 by then OMB Director Franklin Raines to get a handle on IT systems.That OMB memo, issued under the title, “Funding Information Systems Investments,” was quickly renamed Raines’ Rules. And it became a seminal document for guiding IT management. The rules issued guidance for complying with the Information Technology Management Reform Act, which eventually became part of the Clinger-Cohen Act. It essentially set the criteria for evaluating major information system investments — and they read as if they could have been issued today.

There are issues — and I think even feds will give you credit for working to fix problems.

Again, I’m not taking away from this initiative — and the work that you and your OMB management team are doing is very important. But the slams against government are unwarranted — and unnecessary. That rhetoric simply is… not helpful, to be kind.

Sincerely,

Christopher J. Dorobek

Written by cdorobek

June 29, 2010 at 7:11 PM

DorobekINSIDER: A whole new World (Bank) of open data

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Regular listeners to Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris got a preview of the announcement by the World Bank that they are opening up its treasure trove of data.

The World Bank has posted its data at http://data.worldbank.org.

From the World Bank’s release:

Recognizing that transparency and accountability are essential to development, the World Bank Group is now providing free, open, and easy access to its comprehensive set of data on living standards around the globe — some 2,000 indicators, including hundreds that go back 50 years. The data will be available in Arabic, French and Spanish in addition to English.

“I believe it’s important to make the data and knowledge of the World Bank available to everyone,” said World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick. “Statistics tell the story of people in developing and emerging countries and can play an important part in helping to overcome poverty. They are now easily accessible on the Web for all users, and can be used to create new apps for development. ”

Drawing from numerous data sources and working with statistical partners, the Bank Group has worked intensively to modernize its storehouse of statistics to create data.worldbank.org, a new, user-friendly data access site.

In the coming months, the World Bank will also launch an “Apps for Development” competition, challenging the developer community to create tools, applications, and ”mash-ups” using World Bank data with the goal of producing better tools for understanding development.

See a video with World Bank President Robert Zoellick here.

I actually heard about this initiative at the recent Transparency Camp 2010 and there was some discussion around the initiative. In fact, there was a lot of discussion about the complexities of this: One World Bank official credited the United States with its level of transparency and said this is a big stretch for many other countries around the world. The U.S. is trying to move from 80 percent to 90 percent, this person said, while much of the rest of the world is trying to get to 50 percent.

A number of people have also said that this is a significant cultural change… for the countries… for the bank…

But this could also be a powerful tool in terms of accountability of the development money spent around the world.

This will be a transparency and open government initiative worth watching.

And, in fact, the United States is watching. Andrew McLaughlin, the U.S. deputy chief technology officer, also has a blog post about the initiative headlined, The World Bank Frees Its Data.

In an exciting advance for the global data transparency movement, the World Bank today launched its Open Data Initiative, releasing more than 2000 data sets that document human development worldwide, including health, business, finance, environment, and social welfare statistics. This is a big deal for openness in development: not only are these high-quality and often unique data sets, but until today they have been available only to paying subscribers.

The World Bank’s new Open Data site has a lot of features that impress us here at the White House Open Government Initiative. The data catalog is well-organized and easy to navigate, with breakdowns by country, topic, and statistical indicator. Some 330 of the data sets have been translated into French, Spanish, and Arabic, with more languages to come. And there are some good, lightweight, built-in visualization tools — for example, check out the charts available in the country profile for Rwanda. We especially like the URL (data.worldbank.org), which echoes our own Data.gov.

Perhaps best of all, the World Bank also released an iPhone app called DataFinder, which enables data search and charts/visualizations on the fly.

Finally, we’re impressed by the World Bank’s plan to encourage the development of applications that make innovative use of all this open data through an “Apps for Development” challenge later this year.

Written by cdorobek

April 21, 2010 at 1:42 PM

The DorobekINSIDER Reader: The open government policies and plans

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When there are big events, I like to pull together resources in one place — and, of course, this has been open government week — the Office of Management and Budget issued a series of policies, while agencies issued their open government plans.

Federal News Radio’s Max Cacas reports on the plans and policies:

You can find Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s ongoing coverage of the open government initiative here.

Before the plans were released, I posted DorobekINSIDER: Assessing transparency and open government.

The top level resources:

* The DorobekINSIDER reader from May 22, 2009 on the open government and transparency initiative — yes, this all is a work in progress

* The White House open government site, which has a lot of good information but buries links to agency open government plans in the open government dashboard.

* OMB director Peter Orszag blog post: OMB and Open Government, which includes a link to the four OMB open government policies — also listed below — and to OMB’s open government plan.

* White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blog post by Norm Eisen, Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform:
Open for Change, which he says will “strengthen our democracy and promote accountability, efficiency and effectiveness across the government.”

* GovLoop has a great chart of all the agency open government plans

OMB policies

* Social Media, Web-Based Interactive Technologies, and the Paperwork Reduction Act [PDF] [Flash version]

* Information Collection under the Paperwork Reduction Act [PDF]

* Increasing Openness in the Rulemaking Process – Use of the Regulation Identifier Number (RIN) [PDF]

* Open Government Directive – Federal Spending Transparency [PDF]

Discussion about the policies and open government:

* Sunlight Foundation’s Ellen Miller: Idling in the driveway: “Sigh. I feel like a disappointed parent.”

* Sunlight’s Jake Brewer has told open government advocates:

Put simply, it’s increasingly clear government is not going to become more open and transparent without extraordinary public pressure. And WE are going to have to be the ones to put that pressure on them.

You can help right now by joining our campaign for open government and signing the pledge to demand all public government information be available ONLINE and in REAL-TIME.

http://PublicEqualsOnline.com

* GovLoop has a fascinating discussion, “What Do You Think about OMB Soc Media and PRA Guidance?”
Much of that discussion has revolved around the Paperwork Reduction Act — and a strong frustration that it really hinders agencies flexibilities.

A sample of some of the discussion:

This is fairly far from awesome. I’d actually label it fairly disappointing. Not only are both documents written to be as vague as possible (the PRA primer, for instance, spends most of its text simply repeating statute), this doesn’t really get us where we need to be…

More disappointing from my standpoint, it keeps in place the notion that citizen interaction with the government is essentially a “burden” and still codifies the position that significant interaction with the public should be minimized (this is clearly contrary to open government).

The discussion has spurred me to actually print out the Paperwork Reduction Act and read it for myself to get a sense of what it actually says. My sense is that some of what OMB is trying to do is work within the constraints of the law — a law enacted in the early 1980s before hardly anybody even had e-mail addresses.

* More on the Paperwork Reduction Act and its role from OnDotGov.com: A Few Things on the New Paperwork Reduction Act Guidance

* GovLoop also has a discussion on the open government plan: Open Gov plans cheers and jeers

* GovTwit’s blog: Open Government Day brings new guidance from OMB

* InformationWeek: Government Social Media Restrictions Eased
The guidance makes it easier for agencies to use social media and requires steps to ensure better rule-making and spending transparency.

* TechPresident’s Nancy Scola: Use Social Media Freely, White House Tells Agencies [April 7, 2010]

* TechPresident’s Micah Sifry: Open Govt: Does the Govt Know What the Govt Knows? [April 7, 2010]: “Let’s remember that announcing a plan isn’t the same thing as getting the job done”

* Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy: Major Milestone Reached in Open Government Initiative: “We should recognize that the 120 day mark is really just a starting point, not an endpoint.”

Meanwhile, how would you grade the Obama administration’s open government initiative so far:

Previous DorobekINSIDER readers:

* The DorobekInsider transparency, openness and data.gov reader [May 22, 2009]
* The DorobekInsider reader: Obama cyber policy review [May 29, 2009]
* The DorobekInsider Reader: National Security Personnel System recommendations [August 31, 2009]
* The DorobekInsider Reader: Veterans Day [November 11, 2009]
* The DorobekInsider reader: Howard Schmidt as cybersecurity coordinator [December 23, 2009]
* The DorobekInsider Reader: Martin Luther King Jr. [January 18, 2010]

DorobekINSIDER: Assessing transparency and open government

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Last weekend, open government advocates gathered in Washington, DC for the second Transparency Camp — an un-conference, which is one of these events where bright people come together and decide what they want to talk about. Read the Twitter feed from that event by checking out #tcamp2010 — and even the Washington Post wrote a story about the event this year.

I could only be there on the second day, but there were great folks with great ideas…

I have been fascinated by the Obama administration’s transparency and open government initiative. Among previous posts:

The DorobekInsider transparency, openness and data.gov reader [May 22, 2009]

DorobekInsider: The first draft from the Open Government and Innovations conference [July 21, 2009]

DorobekINSIDER: On NewsChannel 8 talking government openness and transparency — the liner notes [February 25, 2010]

Signal magazine column: Why Transparency Matters [May 2009]

Signal magazine column: Contract Transparency Poised to Open Up [September 2009]

And O’Reilly media has just published a book Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice. I’ve just started it, but… the early parts of the book are well worth reading.

And this coming week will be a big week for the open government as the Office of Management and Budget and agencies will issue their open government plans.

There were several interesting aspects that came out of transparency camp.

* Most agencies get transparency: Most of the employees I know get transparency and open government. They understand why it matters and how it can help. In theory, they get that one of the powerful parts of transparency is the acknowledgment that more wisdom exists outside any organization than it does inside an organization. That being said, there is a difference between theory and practice. At Transparency Camp 2010, there were a number of staffers from Capitol Hill, which, by and large, is horrible at transparency. And some of the Hill staffers even suggested that if bills are created in a more open framework, well, that’s what staffers do. And the argument is that they know more then… well, those people out there.

Even still, the theory of transparency is one of those ideas that goes against the grain. It’s akin to the Mike Causey example that he uses for investing: When a car starts sliding on ice, you’re supposed to turn into the slide. It just doesn’t feel natural. In many ways, transparency is unnatural.

Furthermore…

* Transparency and open government still isn’t fully defined: As I said last year, transparency continues something akin to a Rorschach test — everybody sees transparency very differently. Each person has very different ways of defining what transparency means and how it can be implemented. A lot of that is good at this point — it is important to note that we are still very early in this and everybody is still learning. But it will be interesting to see how it actually gets implemented.

* Transparency and open government moves a lot of cheese around… and I’ll take a simple example: Freedom of Information Act Requests. It has always seemed to me that this is a process that is just made for openness and transparency. Why can’t all FOIA requests be posted in a public fashion… and agency responses be posted online. One reason: We journalists don’t want others knowing what we are working on.

* Open government and transparency needs to help government operate better: If this is going to take hold — if this is going to be real, I continue to believe that it needs to help agencies do their jobs better.

* Open government and transparency aren’t just a bludgeon: In many ways, Recovery.gov is the poster child for transparency and open government. In fact, Earl Devaney, the chairman of the Recovery, Accountability and Transparency Board told Federal News Radio that the transparency of the site actually has helped the Recovery Board operate more effectively. But it has been difficult at times. We remember the stories about the recovery dollars that were listed in phantom congressional districts. And everybody went nuts. The fact is that incorrect data was probably always there. We just didn’t know it before. Now we know — and it has been fixed. In fact, that is the power of open government, transparency and collaboration. Yet too often we use it as a bludgeon.

The fact is, this is new — and there are going to be mistakes.

But there are real opportunities out there. One of my favorites is the Better Buy Project. This is an innovative initiative by GSA, the National Academy of Public Administration’s Collaboration Project, and the Industry Advisory Council. And the goal is to build a better acquisition process by tapping the wisdom of the crowds, something I had discussed last year. They are actually trying it. The Better Buy Project started in the GovLoop Acquisition 2.0 community, then evolved to a way of having people suggest ideas (hear GSA’s Mary Davie talk about it on Federal News Radio) … and it is now a wiki where you can actually help GSA build a better contract both for Data.gov and for the replacement of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service’s mainframe computers. More on this later this week, but… it is such a remarkable way of seeking people’s ideas.

We’ll be talking to the folks at GSA who are leading this project later this week. You can also read more on the Better Buy blog.

There are many examples and ideas how transparency and open government can help agencies do their jobs better. It is fun to watch!

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