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The Trump Transition: A look back before we look forward

The election of Donald Trump is going to change things in Washington. What changes and how it impacts those of us that live and work in the federal market, remains to be seen. Trump comes to the White House without any government experience but with a “shake things up” mindset. There’s nothing wrong with that, except you need to know what to shake up -- so we don’t lose important progress that has been made over the last 8 years. Let’s look back, before we look forward.

The rumor is out this morning that the Trump Transition is thinking about significant changes to the Executive Office of the President (EOP), which includes the West Wing, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), among others. Now I have no idea what they are thinking, but I think it’s important to look at some of the good things President Obama did around the EOP. First and foremost, the Obama Administration elevated the role of the Federal Chief Information Officer, not in statute as it still technically exists as the Administrator of the Office of E-Gov as created in the E-Gov Act of 2002, but in terms of the importance of the role in the eyes of the federal contractor community. The elevating of the Federal CIO’s influence falls in line with the letter and intent of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) enacted in 2014. The Federal CIO position is a key post that should be filled by an experienced IT leader, who understands the IT needs of the federal government.

Along with the elevation of the CIO, was a like-minded elevation of the Federal Chief Technology Officer, more of a big thinker as it relates to federal IT. The Federal CTO has largely been seen as the chief innovator, bringing new ideas and aiming to make government cool again. The result of the Federal CTO’s efforts can be seen in programs like the US Digital Service, the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program as well as much of the outreach to Silicon Valley -- areas likely to get a significant once-over from the new Administration. How the CTO fits into the broader ideas of the Trump Administration is unclear, but it is a critical position and who fills this job and how the role is defined sends an important signal to the IT community.

Beyond these positions, initiatives like GSA’s 18F program were a significant part of the Obama IT agenda. 18F, financial issues aside, may have an important role to play going forward but I think that needs to be reviewed. One of the main criticisms of 18F and I share this view is that 18F has not yet figured out its role. Concerns remain that the way 18F “goes to market” may be competing with the private sector, pushing commercial solutions away in favor of a “build, not buy” strategy. This is a concerning trend and one that we hope will be reversed by the Trump Administration. There is no need for 18F to "sell" services to other agencies or into the state and local marketplace, nor should government go back to a 1960’s mentality where government builds the solutions it needs in-house, when better, more cost effective solutions can be provided by acquiring commercial technology.

I am intrigued by Mr. Trump’s focus on infrastructure improvements as one of his top priorities for his first 100 days in office. His ideas are around major infrastructure improvement to roads, bridges and airports but I think this could be extended to federal IT, building off the momentum of the ongoing efforts on Capitol Hill to infuse the federal IT market with funding aimed at upgrading and replacing legacy IT systems and software around the federal government. With the federal government now spending upwards of 80% of its IT funding to maintain legacy systems, this is an area where Trump’s business instincts could pay dividends.

Lastly, let me make a pitch for a defined and measurable “management agenda” along the lines of the Bush Administration’s President’s Management Agenda. The beauty of the PMA was its focus and simplicity. It drove change around five critical areas and held agencies accountable via the PMA Scorecard. The PMA was effective and an updated version, focused on things like financial performance and IT modernization could be a big win for the Trump Administration.

It’s an exciting time to be in Washington.

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