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Americas New CIO Wants To Disrupt Government and Make It a Startup

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the clean-slate dept.

Government 287

An anonymous reader writes "America's new CIO Steven VanRoekel wants to revamp the federal government and make it as agile as a startup. But first he has to get rid of bugs like the Department of Agriculture's 21 different e-mail systems. From the article: '“Too often, we have built closed, monolithic projects that are outdated or no longer needed by the time they launch,” he said. As an example, he mentioned the Defense Department’s human resources management system. Dubbed the “Defense Integrated Military Human Resource System,” the project was meant to take seven years to develop. Instead, it took 10, cost $850 million and had to be scrapped after 10 years of development in 2010 because it ended up being useless.'"

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err last post (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847038)

last post

Go for it. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847060)

Having worked at a startup, I heartily encourage changing our government into one.

Make those bastard politicians work for a living. We're talking minimum sixty hour weeks, and no shortage of ramen instead of actual food.

They can have equity, though. An equal share in a small, efficient, moral government.

Re:Go for it. (2)

stanlyb (1839382) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847306)

And having working at a startup, do you know what is the next step? You are correct, outsourcing to China.

Re:Go for it. (1)

kelemvor4 (1980226) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847332)

And having working at a startup, do you know what is the next step? You are correct, outsourcing to China.

Come on, not all go to China.


You forgot India.

Re:Go for it. (2)

wealthychef (584778) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847434)

Sorry, the next step, statistically, is that you fail. Most startups are failures. It's a risky venture. I think this is the wrong approach. It's just political theatre anyhow.

New buzzword alert (5, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847122)

Everyone today wants to be "disruptive". What will end up happening is this CIO will end up creating yet another useless system that is over budget and no one wants. But for 10 times the cost, because it's "disruptive".

Re:New buzzword alert (2)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847166)

Also, from what I can find 6 out of 10 start ups fail within 4 years.

I'm sorry, but what does happen if they fail? It's not like a private business where you declare bankruptcy and move on.

Although I would never want to see a business try to work like the government does, I also don't want to see it the other way around.

Re:New buzzword alert (-1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847446)

I'm not afraid of the government failing. Governments fail at their tasks every day, and no one seems to notice much. People prefer to believe in the illusion of security that somewhere out there "the government" exists, ready to come running like a worried parent to pick them up if they fall. Reality is quite different. The government doesn't give a shit about you. The only purpose of government is to crush the people. Governments put criminals in jail not because they care about you, but because they would rather pretend to give you something like justice than permit the disorder that arises from vigilante-ism. Do governments prevent natural disasters? No. They will tell you to abandon your home so that thieves can rob you while you are evacuated, though. They can't stop the thieves, but they can push you around because you let yourself be pushed. Can government stop revolutions? Look at the middle east. When people are pissed off enough, governments are powerless. The worst a government can do to you is take your life. But it can't give you what you don't already have. Unless of course you are friends with it, then it will let you find new ways to steal from people. /rant

Even worse in TFA. (1, Interesting)

khasim (1285) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847228)

From TFA:

He called on the technologists in the audience to submit their ideas on what those rules should be, and he intends to further crowd source the project for ideas at CIO.gov.

So ... "disruptive" and "crowd source". Any others?

âoeGoing forward, we need to embrace modular development, build on open standards, and run our projects in lean startup mode,â he said.

So the crowd sourced plan will be based on open standards to achieve maximum disruption.

Instead of having to go to an office to fill out piles of paper, or waiting for months in an inscrutable process for permits to build projects for example, VanRoekel wants to build mobile apps and web sites that let citizens and businesses interact with the government remotely and conveniently during the flow of their daily lives.

Yes, mobile apps that are crowd sourced should be built on open standards to achieve maximum disruptionability.

Seriously, if you think that people WANT government to be so involved in their lives that they NEED an app to handle their DAILY interaction with it ... fuck you.

He's a CIO that's spouting buzz words.

Re:Even worse in TFA. (4, Funny)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847294)

That is what CIOs do.
They play golf with the other CxOs and spout shit they do not understand.

Re:Even worse in TFA. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847362)

Don't forget to synergize backward overflow.

I just can't take *anyone* seriously that uses the word "synergy."

Re:New buzzword alert (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847238)

Well if he can find the right synergies and bring out of the box thinking into play this could work.

Re:New buzzword alert (0)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847382)

Please. I think he's just trying to visualize 24/7 architectures [dack.com], or maybe deploy intuitive partnerships to leverage bleeding-edge applications.

Re:New buzzword alert (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847488)

I don't hear any paradigms shifting, and paradigms had damn-sure better shift!

Re:New buzzword alert (1)

adamchou (993073) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847504)

I like your optimistic enthusiasm for someone who sees the failings of the government and wants to fix it by reaching out to the tech community and gathering input. Or perhaps we should just continue operating the way we have been.

Re:New buzzword alert (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847526)

Everyone today wants to be "disruptive". What will end up happening is this CIO will end up creating yet another useless system that is over budget and no one wants. But for 10 times the cost, because it's "disruptive".

Per TFA and the actual quotes, Steven VanRoekel never uses the word "disruptive", thats all marketing lingo to draw people to the blog article... not to the actual quote.

And will be bribed in 3..2..1 (2)

allaunjsilverfox2 (882195) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847124)

That or a lobbyist group behind a specific software group will "donate" money to anyone that can nullify his plans. And since companies are allowed to donate unlimited funds, there is little hope for his plan.

Good luck with the politics (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847140)

A lot of things in the Federal government seem wasteful until you realize the politics behind how they came to be that way. "Why do you have this facility way out here, when it would be cheaper to move it closer?" often doesn't elicit a "Because we're wasteful and stupid" response so much as a "Because we need the support of powerful Senator X and so we built it in his state" response. NASA is notorious for that sort of thing. Almost all of their contracts go to very politically connected contractors with powerful Congressional backing.

That “Defense Integrated Military Human Resource System” was a Northrop Grumman [wikipedia.org] project. If the name Northrop Grumman doesn't mean anything to you, you don't know jackshit about federal politics, or how things REALLY work. Northrop Grumman owns Congress.Tthey have facilities in virtually every state.

Re:Good luck with the politics (2)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847176)

Ah. So the waste and stupidity is intentional. I feel better now.

Re:Good luck with the politics (1)

AnonGCB (1398517) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847262)

Basically, politicians aren't accountable because they're spending other people's money. So they can afford to be wasteful.

Re:Good luck with the politics (1)

Chelloveck (14643) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847356)

No, politicians are the ultimate in accountability because they need to do the will of the people in order to get re-elected every few years.

*snerk* Oops, couldn't quite keep a straight face while saying that...

Re:Good luck with the politics (1)

Telvin_3d (855514) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847442)

Yeah, accountable to the people who vote for them. Who, incidentally, all just got jobs in the nice new factory built in the middle of their nowhere electoral district.

What, you thought politicians were responsible to some greater purpose?

Only "wasteful" to other constituencies. (3, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847406)

If the constituents of Senator X benefit from his demanding that it be built in his district before he'll vote for it ... then he's doing a good job for his constituents.

This is only "waste" when people outside of his constituency look at it. And only then because it does not directly benefit them.

Which is why people are pissed at "Congress" but the re-election rate for Representatives and Senators is so high.

Get rid of the "bad" people in Congress who are grabbing pork for themselves and their districts ... but keep our "good" Congress Critters who are looking out for the best interests of our district.

Re:Only "wasteful" to other constituencies. (1)

AnonGCB (1398517) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847478)

You hit the nail on the head.

The problem is, the congressmen do these things without thinking of where the money will come from, so taxes will need to be raised in some form or another in the future.

Re:Good luck with the politics (1)

bberens (965711) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847400)

The whole military industrial complex works this way. Those lobbyists are so powerful they get things made that the Pentagon as firmly stated they don't even want.

Re:Good luck with the politics (1)

Telvin_3d (855514) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847410)

Unfortunately, saying "NASA is notorious for that sort of thing" implies that they are somehow responsible for it. It would be more accurate to say that congress is notorious for doing this with the NASA budget. NASA's money is already spent before it even gets to them.

Bribes vs. Extortion Payments (1)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847496)

Lots of people believe this type of behavior and campaign contributions are bribes. I think they are more like extortion payments.

Give us a cut or nothing gets done.

Re:Good luck with the politics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847554)

If Northrop Grumman is getting all the money, then Northrop Grumman is getting all the money. Fine.

But would they object to building something useful for their money, instead of building something craptacular?

Re:Good luck with the politics (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847596)

To paraphrase Ronny Cox in Robocop: "The ED 2009 would have given us maintenance and parts contracts for years! Who CARES if it works?"

Department of Agriculture (2)

Kohath (38547) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847144)

Here's an idea, why don't we just shut down 20 of the 21 sections of the Department of Agriculture so they only have one email system?

We can keep food safety inspections, at least until an adequate private inspection regime is in place (like the one that inspects food and facilities for Kosher and Halal dietary requirements).

Re:Department of Agriculture (3)

RazzleFrog (537054) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847338)

Yeah that's what we need. 30 competing private "inspection regimes" (29 owned by the food manufacturers) all with their own standards that will be incomprehensible to the average person. Perfect! I definitely think it makes sense to give control to the very respectable food industry that has never done anything shady.

What purpose do you tea party guys think the government serves if not to protect its citizens?

Re:Department of Agriculture (1)

Bucky24 (1943328) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847370)

What purpose do you tea party guys think the government serves if not to protect its citizens?

To oppress it's citizens (not saying I believe this myself, but I imagine a lot of tea party members think so).

Re:Department of Agriculture (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847482)

Government enriches and empowers its owners, usually not the people (e.g. USA), while manufacturing a facade of acting in the people's interest. It strives to preserve that order.

No, I'm not a tea party member, they only see the tip of the iceberg

Re:Department of Agriculture (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847366)

Private food inspection will happen like this:

Companies pay private food inspectors.
Food inspectors inspect, and give report.
A company wants a good report and will do one of two of the following to achieve that goal:

1. Bring up their standards and practices to meet inspection requirements
2. Higher another inspector that gives them a favorable report.

The problem is, as an inspector I have incentive give better reports rather than provide accurate results.

Here is the kicker.

IN A FREE MARKET INCENTIVE IS THE EQUIVALENT TO TRUTH. ANYTHING WITH INCENTIVE WILL HAPPEN.

*Premptive fuck you to libertarians - I know you're already /dying/ to point out how the free market is going to fix competition between our supposed private inspection firms.. No. In reality any business process that's more than 1 layer of abstraction separated from the public is practically invisible. Your informed buyers are a myth because INCENTIVE EXISTS TO KEEP BUYERS IN THE DARK.

Re:Department of Agriculture (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847386)

Here is an idea, because government is not as accountable as we, like due to complexity and politics, let us instead throw it all away and replace it with a system which is not accountable to us at all.

Re:Department of Agriculture (1)

mhouseco (552071) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847440)

Private inspection - like Jensen Farms had before they started killing people with listeria on the cantaloupes?

Re:Department of Agriculture (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847458)

Keep in mind that both Kosher and Halal inspections are fueled by strong demand to maintain dietary restrictions that date back centuries. The majority of Americans do not actually demand food safety inspections, and a private system would probably fail. Food safety inspections are necessary for public health and welfare, but I would not expect most people to understand that or the need for it. I would also be concerned about cheaper food not having been inspected, and people not checking for certification.

If we lived in a country that was not filled with clueless, distracted citizens, a private food inspection system would work great.

Re:Department of Agriculture (2)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847520)

We can keep food safety inspections, at least until an adequate private inspection regime is in place (like the one that inspects food and facilities for Kosher and Halal dietary requirements).

If someone has food that isn't kosher they are unlikely to ever know about it (well unless it turns out that their deity is real). If food poisoning occurs people can die. Not the same thing. Moreover, as a former Orthodox Jew with a lot of experinece with the way the kashrut inspection groups work, I can assure you that they are a good model of exactly what can go wrong with for-profit entities running inspections. They use almost anything as an excuse to simply raises the amount they are charging often in a way complely unrelated to whether or not it risks an actual violation of kashrut rules.

Re:Department of Agriculture (2)

guyfawkes-11-5 (1583613) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847536)

Here's an idea, why don't we just shut down 20 of the 21 sections of the Department of Agriculture so they only have one email system?

We can keep food safety inspections, at least until an adequate private inspection regime is in place (like the one that inspects food and facilities for Kosher and Halal dietary requirements).

The last time "food safety inspections", was privatized, the outcome was detailed in "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair. A rollicking read, but not something that I would like to return to.

Re:Department of Agriculture (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847546)

You may be surprised to learn that there are far more than 20 competing Kosher and Halal inspection organizations.

Sounds like it already is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847146)

...the project was meant to take seven years to develop. Instead, it took 10, cost $850 million and had to be scrapped after 10 years of development in 2010 because it ended up being useless.

It even sounds like it is a successful start up not running out of money for 10 years.

Gov doesn't know how to manage contracts (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847154)

Forget trying to make a several-million person organization act like a startup.. I'm not even sure what that would mean in this context. Honestly, sounds like BS. Let's talk about this:

“Defense Integrated Military Human Resource System,” the project was meant to take seven years to develop. Instead, it took 10, cost $850 million and had to be scrapped after 10 years of development in 2010 because it ended up being useless.

Let's say I go to Procter&Gamble, and offer them an HR system. I say to them, it will cost $30 million and 3 years. Then after 3 years, I try to bill them $40 million and say it will take another 2 years to deliver.

I'm pretty sure that's when either:

1) PG sues me for breach of contract, and refuses to pay anything

OR

2) the person at PG in charge of this project gets fired for improperly managing the project (changing requirements, etc).

WHY is that gov contracts never do 1 OR 2. They do just pay it?! Seriously, WTF

That's not something any company would do. Startup or otherwise.

Re:Gov doesn't know how to manage contracts (1)

bberens (965711) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847426)

What you just stated is patently false. There's constant delivery date and cost over-runs in private business. Not as dramatic as in government, but it's there nonetheless. And it doesn't usually result in lawsuits or even a loss of business.

Re:Gov doesn't know how to manage contracts (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847522)

Governments do not have the same incentive to sue. P&G would sue because their investors hold their accountable for their actions, and if P&G failed to show that they exercised their due diligence they would be in a lot of trouble. In theory, a democratic government is similarly accountable to its citizens, but in practice most people are oblivious to what their government is doing.

Re:Gov doesn't know how to manage contracts (5, Informative)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847598)

Let's say I go to Procter&Gamble, and offer them an HR system. I say to them, it will cost $30 million and 3 years. Then after 3 years, I try to bill them $40 million and say it will take another 2 years to deliver.

I'm pretty sure that's when either:

1) PG sues me for breach of contract, and refuses to pay anything

You've obviously never managed a large implementation - cost overruns always happen. Vendors oversell the capabilities of the project and companies underestimate their needs. It's not until the project gets underway that the business realizes that the HR plan they spec'ed out at the beginning won't work anymore because it can't accommodate the needs of their new Asian division. So, the project drags on and the vendor keeps billing (justified by the change orders that the company initiated).

It's not all the fault of the software vendor, it's just that large, complex software deployments are large and complex and it's impossible to spec everything out at the beginning... and even if you could, the needs of the business can change in the 3 years it takes to implement the project.

Re-inventing the wheel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847158)

Meet the new boss. He wants to do everything differently. Same as the old boss.

Hmmmm... (2)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847160)

Hmmmm... Most start ups fail and end up collapsing completely within a few years!

Just thought it worth pointing out! ;)

Re:Hmmmm... (1)

jaypifer (64463) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847248)

And in the case of a startup they have a limited amount of their own money with which to fail. Whereas America's CIO has an unlimited amount of someone else's money. What could go wrong?

The real solution is to stop being nice. (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847168)

Stop letting timelines slip and costs rise. Bring some of the work in house instead of letting contractors rape you. I can get rid of those 21 email systems right quick. Build the new system, migrate folks to it. No user input, no predetermined time table, just a phone call telling them their mail has moved.

The Apple Way (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847372)

This is the Apple way, and there is some merit to it. If you let people have whatever they want, you'll find you have a lot of incompatible requirements. If you give them something that works, they will find ways to do what they need to do, and in the end they'll spend less time futzing with the little known features they originally wanted. It will also significantly reduce the cost to support.

I scoffed at this way for many years, but now that my hair is a bit grayer I've learned that often the simple tools are the best. Having one system that does everything is very cool, but often it's not practical to build it or economical to maintain it.

Re:The real solution is to stop being nice. (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847534)

I can get rid of those 21 email systems right quick. Build the new system,

Congratulations. You now have *22* competing email systems.

migrate folks to it. No user input, no predetermined time table, just a phone call telling them their mail has moved.

And when you try to pull that on Mister More-Important-Than-You, well, it's government, so you won't be fired. But you won't be migrating any more users, either.

Re:The real solution is to stop being nice. (1)

elsurexiste (1758620) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847558)

No user input, no predetermined time table, just a phone call telling them their mail has moved.

Wow, I thought you were experienced... I was wrong. Have you ever provided IT services at all? Users are a riot away of making your job useless and painful. They'll start using an alternative system (e.g. paper) and defeat you. I saw that happen a few times.

Unless you have the full support from your users, or at least their bosses, you won't accomplish anything. And that means pretending they have some measure of control with user inputs and time tables. Nobody likes uncertainty or authoritarianism!

Government .. Logic? (1)

tesdalld (2428496) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847172)

He does not belong in the government... to much logic with this one.

Re:Government .. Logic? (1)

Score Whore (32328) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847358)

He doesn't belong in the government because he isn't willing to work with what he has. Wants to just throw everything out and start over. Sorry, we've invested billions and trillions of dollars into what we have. And, contrary to most declarations by people with an axe to grind or an idea to sell, it generally works. Anyone going in there to work needs to start where we are and improve it and do so in a fiscally responsible fashion. I realize that this means this guy won't be able to dish out lucrative contracts to his buddies and the lobbyists that get him laid, but tough shit. The party days are over and we need to get our shit together and the asshats in government (both elected, appointed, and hired) need to figure out that they are not kings or celebrities. They do not deserve and are not entitled to the high life.

Years of acculmulated failure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847178)

"Instead, it took 10, cost $850 million and had to be scrapped after 10 years of development in 2010 because it ended up being useless."

And Ibet that outfit still got paid to produce utter shit for the D.O.D. ... And they're probably working on current projects to boot.

As for the D. of Ag. email problem, that sorta thing doesn't happen over night. Try over a decades worth of Congress hamstringing budgets for IT needs, and giving them just enough money not to hang themselves.

If you take a good look at the Federal Government under a microscope, something we SHOULD BE DOING anyways, you'll see that real necessities are pushed to the end and line-itemed, and trough contracts for 'friend of a friend of a friends companies' are made sure to get the unnecessary necessary project that ends up back at the drawing board. (see example 1 above).

The Federal Government is a self fullfilling system that is utterly broken. What's WORSE, is the State Governments. If THAT doesn't scare you, nothing will.

The system, our US system of Government, is broken. Anyone who denys that has never been invovled with it at the microscopic level, or is pandering to a political p.o.v.

completely missing the point (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847182)

The entire purpose of Government IT Projects is distribution of huge contracts to certain well-connected corporations.

These projects are, in fact, incredibly successful...

Is that really a bug? (1)

superslacker87 (998043) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847202)

I'm not sure if I'd call having twenty-one different email systems a bug, but it is definitely inefficient. A bug is something that is an error in a program, not an error in the implementation of a program.

Re:Is that really a bug? (1)

Capt James McCarthy (860294) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847428)

I'm not sure if I'd call having twenty-one different email systems a bug, but it is definitely inefficient. A bug is something that is an error in a program, not an error in the implementation of a program.

I wouldn't necessarily call it inefficient either. Perhaps they have survivability in mind, and these email system numbers were counted as well. One down side of having everything the same platform is it will only take one bug/outage/patch fail to crush the whole system instead of only one part of it.

Re:Is that really a bug? (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847470)

It may be less efficient than it could be, but as it's not all in one place, it doesn't mean that everyone's email breaks because their centralization efforts didn't include redundancy, so a hurricane takes out all e-mail for every person, no matter where they're located.

I'd personally be happy if someone could get this *@#!# exchange server that the agency I work for to put appropriate timestamps on messages. If someone down the hall e-mails me, it should use *his* timezone or *my* timezone ... not the one where the server's based.

(and being able to send e-mail to all his staff ... I wish fewer people had access to that ... or that they'd at least mention which building they're in when they send the 'someone found a pair of glasses in the parking lot').

But even with consolidation, our group still runs our own mail server, because we have operational stuff running through it, and we can't let some remote outage or a misbehaving spam filter result in something detrimental, like the loss of millions of dollars of hardware. We all have 'official' accounts on the main system that we're required to use on business cards and such, but it's not the only system in use at our agency.

changing status quo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847220)

...is never easy. There will always be people fighting against it, especially the fat cats who profit from these 'closed, monolithic' multi-million dollar projects that end up being useless. Mark my words, this Steven dude is going to have problems overhauling the Federal Government (more so with the Defense Department).

Besides, there has been endless arguments about Google gradually becoming less 'startupy' as they grow bigger, for lack of a better word. What makes you think an organization as big as the Federal Government will have it any easier?

Still, I wish Steven good luck though.

Government is not a business. (5, Insightful)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847240)

Often we see people who failed in business try to get into politics. It's time to stop this -- government is not a business.

Let's find people who understand government to run ours.

Re:Government is not a business. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847448)

It would be better if it was run like a business. Nothing the government does is subject to market factors, which means you have WASTE everywhere. Everything the government does is arbitrary based on some person/people's wishes. And if something doesn't work (runs out of money), they just get more money because it is a pet project. They don't need to prove the project useful or show a ROI, they just steal our money at gunpoint and use it however they want.

Re:Government is not a business. (2)

Certhas (2310124) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847600)

Where's the evidence for anything you say? It's just ideology. It's the opposite of a pragmatic "what works" approach for the sake of an ideological vendetta that irrationaly glorifies one particular way of organising things.

Re:Government is not a business. (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847508)

Let's find people who understand government to run ours.

I for one wish you good luck on your search. Don't forget to write!

Mod parent up. (1)

khasim (1285) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847512)

Government is for handling the jobs that business is not efficient or effective enough to handle.

Business is good for running things that can turn a profit in a competitive environment.

Do not confuse the two.

Re:Government is not a business. (1)

asylumx (881307) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847544)

I want to mod you insightful but I've already posted. Gov't is not a profit-making endeavor and therefore should not be treated as one. This is why I'm not all about electing an "outsider!"

Apostrophes now optional, apparently (1)

LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847264)

I didn't realise the Americas were so in sync that they shared a single CIO for both continents.

election year ramblings (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847280)

Is it an election year already?

Truly scary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847282)

Stories like this come out of the government nearly every day. The truly scary thing is that half the people in this country seem to want everything to be run this way.

And sorry Steve but the government is not a business. If it was we'd have had the pleasure of seeing it go under long ago.

Consolidation vs disruption (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847284)

I'm all for disrupting inefficiency; but there are some things that we absolutely need to know will continue to have their purpose maintained. Like that branch of the government that is currently responsible for dismantling the nuclear warheads and monitoring what happens with the material afterwards.

Just saying, "gee, we're not sure what this department is doing anymore" throwing up your arms and eliminating it could be very dangerous down the road when you realize that was an essential part of a process that no one wants to see broken even though very few people are aware it exists!
g=

Bugs like the 21 email systems in Ag? (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847300)

So, what he proposes doing is taking 21 systems that currently work, and replacing them with something that, based on history, won't work?

Good rule of thumb - even if it looks inefficient, if it works, LEAVE IT ALONE!

After you've fixed everything that does NOT work, then you can start streamlining the things that work but aren't as efficient as you might like.

Re:Bugs like the 21 email systems in Ag? (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847524)

Hey, guess what, NASA is in the process of doing something like this, and it appears to be working. In the last 12 months I've gone from having like 10 different passwords to only 3 or 4, and I love it. Everybody's email addresses went from @blah.derp.nasa.gov to just @nasa.gov. Sure, I have to call the consolidated help line in Mississippi for tech support half the time, but they are well-trained and at least I can actually get some work done instead of constantly resetting passwords and resending emails. The old systems got the job done, but they were far from convenient, and too often I was tempted to work around the system and open security holes. I have no doubt that the 21 Ag department systems don't "just work"--there are 21 different sets of bugs that the users have to remember, and when they switch from one system to another they have to relearn, causing admins headaches every time.

Henry Ford must have got the "If it ain't broke don't fix it" response to his "horseless carriages" for a long time, right up until people realized just how much of a pain horses really are.

Congress? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847302)

How can you be agile when you have limits on what you can and can't do without direct approval which takes months if not years on end? It's not like a company where a CEO can come in and implement major changes as the board approves the person, not the plan where as in government it's the opposite.

Oh boy (1)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847322)

So... as agile as say a Google? Which Google? Google the brainstorm of a handful of guys or Google the mega corp with offices all over the world? The agile startup might have been more sexy but it only was capable of things in potentia. It had potential, that was realized as it grew. The snow flake that falls is not an avalanche. Neither can it become one. It can cause one but the moment the snowflake has started on the path to an avalanche it has seized to be a simple snowflake.

I can whip up a fairly complex website for say a job site but the moment it needs to scale I will need more then myself, the more it needs to scale up, the less flexible it will become. Even if the code itself will remain flexible, the support structure around it will become by its growth less flexible. A oak sprout can easily bent but it can only become a great oak by sacrificing its flexibility for sheer size. Then it doesn't have to be flexible anymore to survive being stepped on. Few things can step on a 1000 year old oak.

Also, how agile do you want government to be? Agile means fast, do you WANT government to do its requisition process fast? With no procedures to investigate, file complaints? Nobody told early Google how to buy its hardware but experience has shown that when big orders are involved, oversight is desperately needed and oversight is low.

Government is slow and inefficient because it involves a lot of different interests.

And what is the alternative anyway? For every Google there are a hundred FAILED startups. Good luck explaining that to the voter, the government funding a 100 different projects and getting commercial results of 99 of them failing. See recent fallout over funding for electric cars and solar panels.

And big business? Lets see, the American car industry failed miserable and needed the state to help them out... but no doubt republicans will say that came because of all the regulation. This is proven because regulations were removed from the finance industry and they... oh wait... they failed even more massively didn't they. Gosh... private industry small startups fail left and right... big business fails left and right... compared to that, the state ain't doing so badly.

Anyway, think very carefully what you wish for when you wish for an efficient state. The most efficient form of law and order is to simply kill any offender for any offence. No lengthy trials, no costly jails, no rehabilitation with a near perfect failure rate.

There were efficient governments in the past. People fought tooth and nail to get rid of them.

obxkcd (1)

oGMo (379) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847336)

Standards. [xkcd.com]

And assuming he wants to make it "like a startup" that means small unbureaucratic groups, shoestring budget, and likely to fail. Good luck.

Sounds great (1)

werepants (1912634) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847390)

More power to him, if he can make it happen. That's a big if, though. It's easy to throw around words about how the government should be, but making that actually happen is a different story.

Screw the government. (1)

hemna (205532) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847414)

The best way to reform those massive government agencies, is to eliminate them. The Constitution was a limit on government, we should adhere to that ideal.

Re:Screw the government. (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847528)

Have to eliminate the government's owners and operators along with those massive agencies, otherwise they'll just buy and corrupt what's left.

Too big to succeed (1)

ebunga (95613) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847416)

Government IT projects usually end up too big to succeed. The other issue is that computers make processes too efficient, and government departments never eliminate jobs.

Too many stovepipes of varying quality (1)

Quila (201335) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847454)

I studied such as system in the IRS in school, and have worked with some DoD systems live. One problem is too many stovepipes, often dozens. All the data and business processes have to be integrated into the main system without an interruption of service.

To make it harder, the business processes are often convoluted and the data isn't normalized or even clean. I have seen, literally, layman-made (as in "some dude in the office knew Access and put this together") Access databases holding important information for tens of thousands of people. If the data is about people, even a 1% error rate in conversion means thousands to millions of people complaining. Imagine your tax record is one of the problem records, how it could screw up your life.

To make it even harder, add the political/contracting component, and often powerful users resistant to moving to a new system.

He's the government's CIO, not the country's (2, Insightful)

DavidinAla (639952) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847464)

The headline for this item plays into something that's very dangerous in the long term. This guy isn't "America's new CIO." He is the CIO for a bloated, inefficient bureaucracy that runs the GOVERNMENT of this country. He has no power or influence over the country itself. People frequently indulge in the fiction that we elect a president to "run the country" -- and that leads to people having insane expectations and an insane willingness to turn power over to one man. Calling this guy the country's CIO is a small manifestation of the same mistake.

Re:He's the government's CIO, not the country's (1)

boxless (35756) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847618)

Here, here. If I hear one more time it's Obama's job to 'fix the economy' (or Bush's for that matter, I don't care) I think I'll puke.

Guess I'll be puking a lot.

Consolidation vs. Independence (2)

Swanktastic (109747) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847466)

This is the see-saw private industry has been on for 50 years. Do you make each unit independent and agile with its own all-powerful General Manager? Do you consolidate similar support organizations (IT, finance) to HQ thereby giving up uniqueness in favor of standardization? Having spent a lot of time with Mgmt Consultants, I can assure you the current kick is towards consolidation. In 10 years, the consultants will be telling us each organization needs the customization which is only capable by rolling out 20 agile, independent installations. I imagine that this CIO is spending a lot of time with IBM guys with dollar signs in their eyes and pushing their make-work agenda.

What's hilarious is that everyone pretty much understands you give up agility by consolidating back-office functions. The tradeoff is hopefully more cost savings and perhaps better quality/standardization. Saying it will be MORE agile is pretty much a bald-faced lie.

Half way there all ready (1)

erice (13380) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847472)

Most startups spend more then they take in and then finish by going bankrupt. Maybe the federal government is already a startup.

CIO speak (1)

isotope23 (210590) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847502)

He needs to synergize the efficiencies of the current group dynamic to maximize ROI within a mobile framework
of outsourced in-scope cloud computing over the coming disruptive quarterly strategic marketing blitz.

21 email systems isn't so uncommon (1)

Skuld-Chan (302449) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847538)

I've seen this sort of problem before in bigger organizations before - many branch offices run like their own companies, have their own data center (a bunch of servers in a cube).

Granted its a bigger problem in public institutions mainly because good technicians who know how to setup top level IT services like centralized email services and the authentication/directory systems tied to them are working at places that pay better.

Having worked for the State of Oregon - its quite common here, but getting better (because there are a lot of really qualified IT people who can use work, and are willing to work at lower wages the State pays).

Fixing this doesn't mean "disruptive, startup like development" - it demands someone centralize authentication and identity (that would be the hard part really), cleanup namespace collisions that are inevitable with merging 21 email servers, setting up aliases and mail routing so stuff doesn't get bounced from deprecated domains, and migrating all that mail to a new cluster of machines. There - I made a plan for some enterprising new project manager for the department of agriculture.

Already a startup (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847540)

Case in point:

Social Security: still in beta
IRS: Written too fast, too messy
DoD: Too many features, poor user experience
3 branches of congress: Bloatware

Of course, if it were NOT a startup it would be like Apple:
a. A bit too expensive/overrated
b. great user experience
c. Has a slew of fanboys.

Retirement (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37847552)

But where will all the retirees work after they are determined to be useless? Isn't a government job just suppose to be a part-time retirement home?

90% of startup-ness is people. (1)

w0mprat (1317953) | more than 2 years ago | (#37847578)

Worked in a start up for a brief while. It really was a whole other world compared to the average cubical farm IT office. It's a bit more than installing some retro arcade machines, designer couches and having a bar serving liqour all day. It's all about people. There was a certain kind of person in the work place and the work place was conducive to a certain kind of creative think-on-your-feet attitude. Without all the process and procedure of a corporate IT, there was a lot less paper pushing and a lot more getting stuff done for the client. The big boss even had a "making work is not making money" policy and encouraged sparing use of conventional administrative process. Everyone was motivated, stuff got done. It all was a bit of an ad hoc mess that would not scale well to a larger office with some adjustment, but it was bloody brilliant.

If you want to have your large enterprise or government as agile and efficienct as a start up you need a complete overhaul of how people think and act in your organisational culture. It's not impossible but it's bloody difficult, as you have to throw out 90% of how everything is done right now.
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