Focusing on six words: Helping government do its job better

DorobekINSIDER: GovLoop Insights issues of 2011: Tech that is fundamentally changing government

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GovLoop Insights

NOTE: Updated to clean up formatting

Hey there — I’m Christopher Dorobek — the DorobekINSIDER — welcome to GovLoop Insights Issue of the Week with Chris Dorobek… where each week, our goal is to find an issue — a person — an idea — then helped define the past 7-days… and we work to find an issue that will also will have an impact on the days, weeks and months ahead. And, as always, we focus on six words: helping you do your job better.

And for the month of December, we have been taking taking a break from the issue of the week — and we are taking a look at the issues that defined government for the year. And next week, we’ll talk about the issue of the year — I don’t think anybody will be surprised, but… we’ll talk about it next week.


Over the past few weeks, we spoke about cyber-security — and dealing with big data… How do you deal with all the information that you now have access to?

And then last week, we spoke about how transparency and open government can really help you get your job done — talking to Earl Devaney, who is retiring from government after more than 40 years… for the past two years, he has been the chairman of the Recovery, Accountability and Transparency Board.

This week, we are going to talk to one of the concepts that is really changing… well, it’s changing so much in technology, but it is also having a huge impact on government… and I’m going to bring you some highlights of one of the best speeches that you probably didn’t hear.

But we’re going to start off this week, as we have so many week’s this year, talking about… yes, the budget. And it was a roller coaster week — one of many this year. After it seemed likely that there could be a government shutdown, House and Senate negotiators this week signed off on a more than $1 trillion, year-end spending bill and it made its way through the House on Friday.

The bill is more than 1,200 pages and Politico reports that it covers a remarkable breath of topics — domestic spending… the Pentagon and foreign aid — plus tens of billions more related to the war in Afghanistan.

The funding bill sets government spending for the year at $1.043 trillion, a level agreed to in an August deal that raised the nation’s legal borrowing limit. The figure represents a 1.5 percent drop in spending from the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

That doesn’t count $115 billion for overseas military operations, a $43 billion dip since this past year as the war in Iraq winds down. It also doesn’t include $8.1 billion in emergency disaster-relief spending.

The measure covers spending for three-fourths of the government. A number of agencies were covered in the November deal including the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, State, and Transportation, as well as NASA and some smaller agencies. This deal covers the all other agencies.

And as a result of this deal, most domestic programs will see cuts as part of the effort to reduce the deficit.

The measure omits funding for the Internal Revenue Service to prepare for the 2014 implementation of the federal health-care law. But it increases funding for border agents and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

It includes $8.4 billion for the EPA — a $233 million drop from last year. And provides $550 million for Obama’s signature Race to the Top education program, a cut of more than 20 percent.

And it includes an increase for the e-government fund.

The other big event, which seemed to get less attention, is the end of the war in Iraq after nine years. The flag of American forces in Iraq has been lowered in Baghdad, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told troops the mission had been worth the cost in blood and dollars. I’ll leave that debate to others.

About 4,000 US soldiers now remain in Iraq, but they are due to leave in the next two weeks. At the peak of the operation, US forces there numbered 170,000.

With that, we turn to one of 2011’s big issues — even if you don’t work in technology, you’ve heard of cloud. Last week, we spoke with Earl Devaney of the Recovery Board about how cloud computing allowed the Recovery Board to be much more agile then it could otherwise.

In November, I got to moderate a program focusing on cloud computing. [By way of transparency: I was paid to emcee the event.]  It was one of the most interesting presentations I had heard all year.

John Rucker

VA's John Rucker

I go to a lot of events and hear a lot of speakers. Many of them are very good — and many of them seek to peer into the future. But one of the best futurists I heard all year was John Rucker. He isn’t a professional speaker. In fact, he even jokes that he looks like a fed. And he is a fed. Rucker is the acting lead for the Department of Veterans Affairs data center consolidation initiative. And he gave a revealing look at the future of technology — and of cloud computing in the government.

After the break… I have his full speech — and his slides as well. But I wanted to bring you two highlights of his speech.

I noted that VA has long been seen as one of the most hapless agencies for government IT. VA CIO Roger Baker and VA CTO Peter Levin have made enormous strides to change that — and Rucker called him the best CIO he has seen in his more than 30 years of government service.

But he noted the cloud is going to have a big impact on the future of government technology…

John Rucker of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He also said the cloud isn’t for everything…

John Rucker… he is the acting lead for the Department of Veterans Affairs data center consolidation initiative.

As I say, the speech doesn’t have flash — but I think it is one of the most far sighted assessments of government technology that I’ve heard.

It’s GovLoop — I’d love to hear what you think. Do you agree with his assessment? Or is cloud just a lot of hype?

Again, after the break, hear the speech in full… and the DorobekINSIDER must read list…

Speech by John Rucker, Data Center Operations, Federal Data Center Consolidation representative
Department of Veterans Affairs:

Speech made on November 1, 2011: Lightning rod for transformation: Effective cloud management hosted by Federal Computer Week events.


I should note that recently published a list of 10 Ways Cloud Computing Will Disrupt our Businesses in 2012. One of them, specifically, uses the federal government as an example of what to do — yes, really:

2) Many businesses will follow the federal government’s example of a “cloud-first” policy. Last year, as part of its effort to streamline its $80-billion-a-year-plus IT budget, the government decreed that all agencies consider “cloud-first” options where feasible. Recognizing the wisdom of such an effort, and seeing it succeed on such a massive scale, companies will adopt their own cloud-first approaches when considering new systems purchases.

DorobekINSIDER must reads

We always like to give you a few things to read over the weekend…

One is from Brookings, which has a new report out that they call Constitution 3.0. And they talk about the challenges of freedom amid the rapid technological evolution. For example, how does the Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted search apply in a world where there is so much video being posted on YouTube each and every minute? Some big questions. NextGov wrote about it… and you can buy the research: Constitution 3.0: Freedom and Technological Change.

Good magazine — yes, that’s really the name of it — has posted what they call the Good 100 — these are 100 things that were good in 2011. And one of them is about a site called SeeClickFix. If you haven’t heard of it, this will be a good introduction — because this application is using Facebook to make good government a social experience. They also write about one of 2011s hot start-ups that Good calls a better way to crowdsource expertise.

GOOD: A Better Way to Crowdsource Expertise
GOOD: SeeClickFix Is Using Facebook to Make Fixing Cities Social

From Canada, a site called iPolitics has a piece on why open government matters. The piece argues that the core principles of open government are that data is a public good, and that citizens should be able to be involved in government in a more holistic way. But they also acknowledge that if these ideas were implemented, it would result in a fundamental shift in how government works and thinks. It would also amount to a dramatic rethink of democracy.

And a piece by Ben Balter from the Fall issue of The Public Contract Law Journal — I know, you read it all the time. But he argues that if the government is going to be more agile, it has to rework the way it buys technology. He argues that government needs to better embrace innovation and respond to changing organizational needs. To do that, the Government must embrace a two-pronged approach involving both regulatory reform and top-down support for best-practices education to empower IT-procuring agencies to pursue more agile software development methods.

Finally, a video from NOAA where you can see how all that debris that got washed to see in the tsunami in Japan… well, it make its way across the Pacific Ocean. (HT DC’s WJLA)

Early next year, we’ll have the issue of 2011 — and it is one that also impacts 2012.

Written by cdorobek

December 21, 2011 at 2:45 PM

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