Management Chief: Workforce Must Change to Reach IT Modernization Goals

The Office of Management and Budget’s Margaret Weichert shares how the administration's “holistic approach” to management can fix the government’s technology woes.

Solving the federal government’s technology problems won’t be an easy task: Smart people have tried before with marginal success. But Margaret Weichert, the deputy director of management for the Office of Management and Budget, thinks they have the recipe to get it right this time.

Weichert joined Nextgov for a one-on-one interview to talk about the administration’s plans for IT modernization, what it means for the federal workforce and why they believe this time will be different.

“I am absolutely grateful for the work that has gone before to line us up for really making progress in this administration,” she said, referring to the Modernizing Government Technology Act. That law established agency working capital funds and a central fund being managed by the Technology Modernization Fund Board to go toward upgrading legacy systems.

The challenges are daunting. Just last week, the IRS’s most important system—the 60-year-old Individual Master File—went down on Tax Day, affecting most of the agency’s public apps and prompting the acting commission to extend tax season an additional day. While that system is in dire need of an upgrade, according to the Government Accountability Office, it was an 18-month-old piece of hardware that caused the system failure.

In other high-profile instances, the Veterans Affairs Department has spent close to $2 billion over the last 10 years trying to implement an electronic health records system only to scrap past efforts and the Census Bureau is having trouble getting its new technology programs ready for the 2020 Decennial Count.

Faced with these realities and many more similar stories, Weichert said this administration’s holistic view of the landscape and hand-picked leaders will make the difference.

“We’re pulling together across, not only agencies—which has been done before—but across functions and across capabilities,” she said. “Really creating a holistic approach and a center of gravity. And then the last thing is assigning agency leaders—and in some cases more than one agency leader—to really provide a leading light around how we dig in and get this done.”

“I think that orientation and the folks we’ve got lined up are being held accountable, are committed to delivering,” she added.

Weichert cited fear of the immensity of the challenge and getting to the “root problems” blocking progress. One of those problems is the current structure of the federal workforce, she said.

“There are a lot of complexities in terms of how does the workforce move around, how can we put them to the best use. And yet we see there are about as many jobs as we can’t fill as the ones that we think might be improved through automation and technology improvements,” she said. “So, we really need to be able to unlock agility and the ability to move people around.”

In the full interview, Weichert addresses how the workforce will have to change to achieve the administration’s IT modernization goals, as well as how the technology such as automation will change the nature of the work feds do every day.

Click here to watch the interview on YouTube