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Americas New CIO Wants To Disrupt Government and Make It a Startup 287

Posted by samzenpus
from the clean-slate dept.
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 From the article: '“Too often, we have built closed, monolithic projects that are outdated or no longer needed by the time they launch,” he said.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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Americas New CIO Wants To Disrupt Government and Make It a Startup

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  • New buzzword alert (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dunbal (464142) * on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @02:40PM (#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".
    • by Jeng (926980)

      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.

    • Even worse in TFA. (Score:2, Interesting)

      by khasim (1285)

      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

      • by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @02:53PM (#37847294)

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

        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @06:08PM (#37849620)

          TADA! You sir have nailed it on the head.

          I recently had to deal with one of these CIO idiots.. he went off on a building lighting system that it was not LEEDS complaint. and kept spouting terms that keyd me instantly that the idiot went out and search the internet for buzzwords but did not learn what they meant.

          I calmly pointed out in the meeting that he was the one that cut the project budget to remove 90% of the occupancy sensors and removed all dimming loads and replaced them with switched loads to further cut costs. He stood up saying we were incompetent because the executive suites were not turning off automatically at night.

          I calmly pointed out that to save money someone instructed the engineer to remove those suites from the lighting system and instead requested they use normal light switches.... and if he could look at the signature at the bottom that is the person that is responsible for the system not working the way he wanted it to.

          He grabbed the change order from me and looked.... It was his signature.

          This is typical from my experience, not the exception.

      • "disruptive" and "crowd source"...open standards...mobile apps

        Bingo! [dilbert.com]

      • by Dhalka226 (559740) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @03:39PM (#37847840)

        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 never said they need daily interactions with the government. He said he wants to change the process so that the interactions one does need can be done online in a few minutes instead of needing to haul off to some government office, stand in line for an hour and ultimately make a day of it. And people don't have to want it, government is that involved in their daily lives. That is well beyond his control.

        Quite frankly even your cherry-picked quotes are far more valuable than the rest of your post. There is literally not a thing you quoted that is a bad idea or shouldn't be done, you just wanted to try to earn some Slashdot Clever Points by screaming "BUZZWORD! BUZZWORD!" as often as you can, making most of them up as you go and repeating them over and over so it sounds like it's more dense than it is. (Hint: If "open standards" is a buzzword in government to you, you're fucking doing it wrong -- it is EXACTLY what should be happening with our tax dollars.)

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by idontgno (624372)

          (Hint: If "open standards" is a buzzword in government to you, you're fucking doing it wrong -- it is EXACTLY what should be happening with our tax dollars.)

          Protip: if a brainless parrot is saying "open standards", and you believe that actually means something, YOU are doing it wrong.

          Acta, non verba.

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

        This made me LOL.

        I think you just coined a new word.

      • by larry bagina (561269) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @04:07PM (#37848220) Journal

        I can't wait for the new TSA app that lets you upload pictures of your junk.

        • by chill (34294)

          So...Rep. Anthony Weiner was just a beta tester? Talk about being harsh on noobs!

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

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

    • by adamchou (993073)
      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.
      • by Dunbal (464142) *
        The problem is that you do not see this as a continuation of the status quo.
        • by adamchou (993073)
          Well, I was being sarcastic in my last post so I was in fact insinuating that you were being pessimistic, which is exactly what your view is. I see your view but I don't agree with it. I'd rather take the optimistic point of view that something is going to get fixed.
      • by 0racle (667029)
        Coming in and 'disrupting' things every so often is what lead to the multitude of redundant and useless systems in the first place. This very much is continuing to operate as they have been.

        The guy gets to be loud, say he's going to do all these things, get started on the new systems and move on to a more lucrative job in the private sector. In his wake, another redundant system is deployed with no clear goal. Ten years from now we do the whole dance over again.
  • by allaunjsilverfox2 (882195) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @02:40PM (#37847124) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @02:41PM (#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.

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

      • by AnonGCB (1398517)

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

        • by Chelloveck (14643)

          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...

          • by Telvin_3d (855514)

            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?

        • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @03:03PM (#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.

          • by AnonGCB (1398517)

            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.

    • by bberens (965711)
      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.
    • by Telvin_3d (855514)

      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.

  • by Kohath (38547) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @02:41PM (#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).

    • by RazzleFrog (537054) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @02:59PM (#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?

      • by Bucky24 (1943328)

        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).

      • by rubycodez (864176)
        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
      • What purpose do you tea party guys think the government serves if not to protect its fund-raisers?

        I very rarely "FTFY" someone, but...FTFY.

    • 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 certificati
      • by Genda (560240)

        The problem is that current industrial agricultural practices virtually guarantee our food will be contaminated. Huge chicken processing plants split chickens in a water bath, effectively dipping everything chicken in a soup of chicken feces. Cows are fattened in massive pens, on grain, standing in their feces. The grain diet causes an explosion of e-coli leading to common beef contamination. Worse, these "Farms" are often located near other farms, so either by irrigation or simple transference, bacteria co

    • by JoshuaZ (1134087)

      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

    • 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.

  • by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @02:43PM (#37847160)

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

    Just thought it worth pointing out! ;)

    • by jaypifer (64463)
      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?
    • by asylumx (881307)
      Not to mention, the ones that are successful are often times bought out by others...
    • Hmmmm... Most start ups fail and end up collapsing completely within a few years!

      But in the meantime, there are a ton of perks, including free beer on Fridays. If VanRoekel is going to do that, he has my vote.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @02:44PM (#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.

    • 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 too

      • You've got a good point except that the thing people in this situation end up getting is usually something that is neither simple nor good.

    • 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.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Nope, I killed the others, pulled the power cables out.

        Then he has no mail, not my problem.

    • 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!

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Actually I have lots of experience. Users love it, if you are moving them from something that does not work to something that does. People do not want choice, they want things done for them.

  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @02:50PM (#37847240) Homepage

    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.

    • 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!

    • 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.

    • by asylumx (881307)
      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!"
    • Let's find people who understand government to run ours.

      Those people are called "lobbyists" and they already run the government, because ours is a system where corporate executives and government policy makers cooperate for mutual advantage. And so long as there is a financially rewarding level of political power out there to wield, this will continue to be the arrangement.

  • 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.

    • by robot256 (1635039)

      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 email

  • 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 compl

    • by tepples (727027)

      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?

      Agile as an Apple, the world's biggest startup [cnn.com].

      The most efficient form of law and order is to simply kill any offender for any offence.

      The law of Moses didn't use imprisonment. It used the death penalty for the most serious offenses and fines and restitution for less serious ones: the value of an eye for an eye, the value of a tooth for a tooth, etc.

  • by oGMo (379)

    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.

    • Well, you have to admit that it's better than large, bureaucratic groups, a 13-figure budget and almost certain to fail.

       

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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 informatio

  • by DavidinAla (639952) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @03:09PM (#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.
    • by boxless (35756)

      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.

  • by Swanktastic (109747) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @03:09PM (#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.

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

  • Most startups fail.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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 mo
  • How about this for an idea, Create a Raft of Open Source Projects ultimately representing 99.99% of the operating software upon which the government will run. Implement it for each of the Governments many departments resources. Have them all sit on an Open Source Information Framework which efficiently allows the vast government bureaucracy to interact and interrelate with ease and simplicity. Have that resource designed to easily provide transparency, accessibility and communication with the Citizens of th

  • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @04:00PM (#37848130)

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

    In other words he wants the VCs to take over and run the place into the ground, cook the books, sell out, and finally retire to a private island.

    Rare to see such honesty from a man in government. Sounds paleo-conservative since thats how the govt has been run all my life...

  • by cthlptlk (210435) on Wednesday October 26, 2011 @04:26PM (#37848508)

    America's New CIO is a Buzzword-Slinging Douche

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