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Telework will play a big role in government digital strategy, federal CIO says

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The forthcoming digital government strategy will include telework as a major component, federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel told lawmakers and technology contractors Friday.

The federal digital strategy, which VanRoekel said will be released soon, is a combination of two strategies the White House has been working on: one to reform, consolidate and renew the federal Web presence and another to update the way the government manages mobile devices and applications.

The government has increasingly looked to mobile technologies to enable telework and to ramp up the efficiency of teleworking employees.

VanRoekel was speaking at a Fairfax, Va., event organized by Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Gerry Connolly, D.-Va. Cummings is the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, which oversees much of the federal information technology portfolio, and Connolly is the ranking member on Oversight’s Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procurement Reform.

Connolly urged VanRoekel to focus on telework as he looks to save money in the government’s IT budget, noting his federal employee and contractor-heavy district in the Washington suburbs is among the most traffic-congested areas in the nation.

“In this region . . . telework isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s a necessity,” he said.

VanRoekel wants to drastically reduce the number of technology contracts being maintained across government, he said, especially those for mobile services. The Agriculture Department for instance recently transitioned from more than 700 mobile contracts managed by different agencies and divisions to only three blanket purchase agreements, saving roughly 18 percent annually and $400,000 per month.

That plan is associated with the digital reform initiative and is part of another program called PortfolioStat, which will function something like an investment review board for agency IT systems. Agencies’ first portfolio reviews are due to VanRoekel’s office June 15.

“We’re going to look at how many PC buying contracts we have, how many mobile contracts, how many email contracts, and asking agencies to report back to us on all of the commodity IT things they can consolidate,” VanRoekel said. “I’m going to sit down with every single agency and go through those and point out things we can do . . . to affect fiscal ’14 implementations.”

Once agencies have reduced the number of contracts they’re managing, contracting officers will have more time to build expertise in specific fields and to leverage that expertise elsewhere in the agency, he said.

As a model, VanRoekel described Microsoft, where he spent 15 years before joining government during the start of the Obama administration. In his early days, VanRoekel said, the software giant was largely siloed, with divisions such as Word and Excel buildingdifferent underlying code. The result was items such as new spellcheck entries had to be entered product by product.

“Now [Microsoft] Office is 85 percent shared,” he said. “The underlying code is all shared and built in a modular way.”

The Fairfax meeting was briefly controversial when House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and other Republican committee members refused an invitation to attend, arguing the meeting might improperly influence a June 12 Virginia primary election. Democratic members argued the meeting was not improper because no committee members are on the ballot.

Connolly represents Virginia’s nearby 11th District, but is not facing a Democratic challenger in the primary.

During the hearing, Cummings and Connolly stressed the capacity of technology to reduce improper federal payments and save money through new efficiencies, which they said could make a significant dent in the federal budget deficit.

“Improper payments equal about $125 billion a year,” Connolly said. “Technology can help us move that down to zero. “We’ll never get to zero, but we’re sweating over sequestration of $1.2 trillion now. If we get improper payments down to zero we’d exceed the goal of sequestration over 10 years.”

“There are somewhere between $350 billion and $400 billion a year in taxes owed the federal government . . . that are left on the table because of collection issues and people who are scheming to avoid them,” he continued. “Again, technology can help us identify this. Over 10 years, that would be $4 trillion. That’s the largest deal anyone’s even talked about in Washington over the last year and that would involve zero investment cuts, zero taxes, just collecting properly.”

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