IT Modernization Remains Top Priority for Federal Agencies

IT modernization efforts are key to moving the government forward and will continue regardless of proposed budget cuts, according to federal IT leaders. From implementing private sector methods for acquiring and managing digital tools and services to creating automated tools for Freedom of Information requests and Census Bureau forms, departments from the United States Digital Service to the Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce are focusing on IT modernization to create efficiencies, save budget dollars and serve constituents more effectively. 

Meet the Procuremenati: USDS’s Acquisition Experts

A small team of acquisition experts, the “Procuremenati,” at the United States Digital Service (USDS) is revolutionizing how government agencies acquire and manage digital tools and services. Current government buying methods can be more a hindrance when it comes to acquiring the best technology for the job, so the Procuremenati is teaching private sector methods to procurement officers, focusing on bringing government buyers up to speed on today’s digital services market, and equipping them with tools and to craft contracts as effectively as the private sector. The Procuremenati has worked with the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) to create the TechFarHub, which gives government acquisition experts the language, support and tools they need to flexibly navigate regulations and write better contracts. Also, it already has helped the General Services Administration (GSA), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Defense (DoD), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

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Agency FOIA Offices to Get Self-help Tool from DOJ

As part of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Open Government Plan, its Office of Information Policy (OIP) has created a Freedom of Information Act toolkit and will make it available to agencies later this year. The toolkit is a resource for self-assessments that officials hope will improve government transparency. The OIP began developing the toolkit in response to a record year of FOIA requests – according to FOIA.gov, more than 788,000 requests were received in 2016, compared to the roughly 713,000 requests in 2015. The OIP hopes the toolkit will help agencies determine if they are operating efficiently and effectively in the topical areas of FOIA administration. The OIP wants to create a toolkit that will allow agencies to easily evaluate areas, such as mail intake, website development, customer service and FOIA reporting. Agencies’ performance in fulfilling FOIA inquiries is of particular interest to media and the public, as requests for information have soared at some agencies since President Donald Trump took office, and the Office of Government Ethics has seen a 200 percent increase in volume of requests from fiscal 2016.

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What Will Trump’s Budget Mean for IT Investment and Modernization?

The Trump Administration’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget includes large cuts to civilian agencies, while increasing defense spending. The effect of those proposed cuts remains to be seen, but some IT leaders in the federal government feel that the cuts non-defense discretionary spending could slow down efforts to update legacy IT systems and technologies. Others disagree, saying that the new Administration understands the need for funding for cybersecurity and IT modernization. At a recent General Services Administration (GSA) meeting, a federal official told FCW that “IT has become akin to other basic utilities the government needs to operate, such as electricity and fuel.” A manager from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) agreed, saying that the push toward category management, which aims to make government procurement more efficient and streamlined by identifying core categories of spending on commoditized goods and services, will not stop. In the past few years, the government has embraced category management to save money on mobile services, software purchases and computer hardware, so some predict that smaller budgets could push greater adoption of category management.

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Automated signature system expected to save $1.2M annually for Census Bureau

The new eSignLive, an electronic signature product for secure documents, is being implemented by the U.S. Census Bureau to allow workers to sign and submit performance reviews electronically. The automated e-signature process will save the Bureau more than a million dollars every year by allowing the agency to combine multiple technologies to improve efficiency, according the VASCO Data Security International, which offers the product. The bureau will roll out the cloud-based automated technology in two phases: The first will begin in April for the agency’s 8,000 field employees, and the second will be in October for employees at the bureau’s headquarters and regional offices. eSignLive is a first step toward an “end-to-end digital government because it improves operational efficiency and creates transparency, helping drive home the importance of digitization,” according to eSignLive. After full implementation in October, e-signatures will expand to other processes and use cases at the Census Bureau. If it proves successful for the Department of Commerce, which houses the Census Bureau, it could become a case study for other federal agencies that could eventually integrate it with their legacy HR systems.

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