I think FedSources has objectively determined what I've been thinking for some time - and that is GWACs don't live up to relieving agencies from the time, effort and cost of managing procurement contracts - and in fact, have become more of an additional contracting burden than a relief from the already burdensome process. The FedSources review results continue a consistent theme as the Government Accountability Office and several inspectors general have echoed the incremental effect GWACs bring to the contracting process. In fact, these later sources go on to say that federal agencies often award GWAC task orders without sufficient competition and then fail to manage the task order performance thereby chipping away any savings that were suppose to be realized from using the GWAC vehicle. The DOD IG has documented case after case after case in which defense agencies assumed a laissez faire attitude to task orders, over-relying on the GWAC contract officer to provide oversight and leaving task order in limbo.
The GWAC results trend doesn't come at a good time for GSA as the Alliant and Alliance Small Business GWACs appear to be in complete confusion - or possibly chaos - from an earlier judicial ruling which slapped the GSA across the head. If GSA cannot demonstrate a clear vision, concrete operational plan and proven cost savings for GWACs, the programs should be terminated and their role in the federal procurement process ended.
Lean Six Sigma Gains Government Traction
After decades of alternating and sometimes overlapping quality discipline methodologies, including big names such as CMM (Capability Maturity Model), CMMi (Capability Maturity Model Integration), ISO (International Standards Organization), Baldrige Criteria, ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library), Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma, one has finally reached near wide spread federal adoption and appears to have staying power. Lean Six Sigma has taken root among approximately two-thirds of DOD organizations and many other federal bureaus.
The Lean Six Sigma quality improvement methodology has seen piece meal utilization throughout the military since the early 1990's and began a slow but steady penetration into federal bureaus since the turn of the century. In 2007, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England instructed that Lean Six Sigma will be the tool of choice and provide the framework for DOD's business transformation and continuous process improvement plans. In April 2007, Deputy England mandated the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Business Transformation to implement a Continuous Process Improvement Lean Six Sigma (CPI/LSS) program management office to evolve and expand utilization.
Lean Six Sigma is a quality management methodology and discipline which is actually a hybrid of Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma. Six Sigma was originally developed by Motorola and is a quality measurement system which defines processes which produce fewer than 3.4 defects per one million cycles. Lean Manufacturing was developed by Toyota to improve its car production systems. Both Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing attempt to reduce variability, eliminate non-value added activities and make processes repeatable. However, where six sigma focuses on quality as measured by deviations, Lean Manufacturing focuses on speed and cycle times. The combination of the two seek to achieve a balance along with the end result of increased quality faster.
DOD has clearly become a champion for six sigma government adoption. DOD plans to have 5 percent of its workforce trained as Green Belts and 1 percent of staff trained as Black Belts. Green Belts are normally entry level practitioners who apply Six Sigma practices and techniques to projects. Black Belts are normally dedicated full time Six Sigma practitioners and often provide project management or advisory roles on two to three projects at a time.
The U.S. Army has also taken the lead in training, knowledge management and post project measurement. For the two year period concluded at the end of 2007, the Army had completed approximately 770 Lean Six Sigma projects and achieved an estimated savings of $1.2 billion during 2007. As an example, the Army's Red River Army Depot implemented Lean Six Sigma to improve its Humvee refitting operation. The operation now averages approximately 23 rebuilds a day compared with three per day before the project. Army deputy undersecretary Mike Kirby commented "It's a forcing function for our business transformation. It's a readily adaptable commercial best practice that requires very little in the way of human resources, maybe several weeks of people's attention, and it takes up very little computer time."
While impressive, Lean six sigma isn't a silver bullet. Practitioners have pointed out that many times Lean Manufacturing alone can achieve the lion's share of project objectives in short order and without the statistical requirements of six sigma. Many times there is also a lapse between the classroom and actual implementation. It's not productive to get staff trained as green belts or black belts and then fail to mature and harvest their skills in actual projects. Lean Six Sigma is also not particularly well suited for projects or processes with significant political or outside environmental influence.
However, despite flaws which exist in any methodology, Lean Six Sigma has proven very effective for empowering people who are closest to the business processes needing improvement and solving various types of problems which involve repeatable processes and are supported by data. I will be implementing my first Lean Six Sigma project next quarter. If any blog readers would be inclined to share their lessons learned or general advice, it would be much appreciated.
IPv6 Government Progress, Benefits and Concerns
I've been speaking with government IT executives and reading the progress reports for the OMB mandate to achieve IPv6 compliance for network infrastructure equipment such as switches, routers and hardware firewalls by the June 30, 2008 deadline. The skinny of the mandate is that agencies must be able to:
Keep in mind the directive only requires that network equipment be able to carry both IPv6 and IPv4 traffic. There is not a requirement that federal agencies actually use IPv6 at this point; however, I'm encouraged to see many government IT leaders and OCIO (Office of the CIO) personnel are pushing their new infrastructures with increased utilization.
The benefits of IPv6 adoption are clearly more understood now than prior to the OMB directive. It seems the most cited and appreciated benefits by government IT managers include a greatly expanded 128 bit address space (over IPv4's 32 bit space), end to end network control and performance, improved peer-to-peer IP traffic security, enhanced wireless and mobility features and more efficient system administration.
However, not all of the news is good. A GCN report released in February indicated that 74% of federal IT Managers were not aware of administration's IPv6 transition policy - ouch! The same poll found that only 42% of federal IT Managers' agencies had determined how existing infrastructure will support IPv6 packets - a whopping 30% didn't know and 28% had not determined this basic tenant.
Another clear theme from all of my discussions is that system administration training will be the key that ultimately determines whether this new IT roll out is a boon or a bane. The management of IPv6 requires new thinking and advanced planning. As Sean Siler, an IPv6 Program Manager for Microsoft points out, "With IPv6, one subnet is as large as the entire Internet is today." With the new Internet protocol, each federal agency will now have tens of thousands of subnets. The near inexhaustible range of IP addresses will certainly become unwieldy if not planned in advance and a systemic structure applied. The best recommendation I've heard so far is to develop an IP address methodology that incorporates the most salient organizational factors, such as geography and architectural components, so that intelligence is attributed to the numbering scheme, network resources aren't wasted and overly complex routing tables can be avoided. The old IPv4 make it up as you go method will no longer suffice. The second best recommendation I've heard so far is to invest in early in system administration training.
SAML and Federated Identity Initiative Make Big Advancement
The federal Government's push of SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language) as a standardized e-authentication and identity management system moved forward with the help of GSA (General Services Administration). This is a great accomplishment and endorsement for all of us trying to advance interoperability via the E-Authentication Federated Identity and Authentication Initiative program and achieve a standard protocol in all (or most) identity management products.
Progress on this IT aid has been slow but is now picking up steam. If you're not familiar, the e-authentication program was created in 2002 and is sponsored by an alliance of 160 private and public sector organizations including the GSA and Defense Department. According to Tom Kireilis, GSAs program executive, the purpose of the e-authentication program "is to provide credentialing services for outward facing government applications on the Web." The program provides Assurance Level 1 and 2 credentials, which are typically a user ID and password. The program is intended to permit system users single sign on capabilities so they can authenticate once and freely traverse across integrated systems. This efficiency has the potential to save massive dollars in system integration projects, improve security (as users won't be forced to maintain many different User ID's and passwords), improve the user experience and increase user productivity.
Identity federation requires a common standard that can be embedded by product manufacturers. The e-authentication program started with SAML 1.0 as the identity protocol for user authentication when it first went live in 2005. Two months ago, the program upgraded to SAML 2.0 and the GSA which had previously performed testing turned over the testing of the standard to the Liberty Alliance Project. Liberty Alliance chose Drummond Group to provide SAML 2.0 interoperability testing.
GSA has thus far certified seven information technology solutions under its interoperability testing guidelines, however, that number is expected to dramatically increase. Analyst firm Gartner recently commented in a research report that the federal government's commitment to SAML will bolster mainstream adoption of the markup language and federation capability. The report stated "The U.S. government's adoption puts considerable weight behind the standard and its continued maturation." This has a big savings potential for me so expect future blog posts on this topic as SAML advances and acquires mainstream vendor adoption.
Sun Microsystems Drops GSA
In a move that surprised many of us who procure, manage and upgrade Sun systems hardware and software technology solutions, Sun Microsystems informed the GSA in September that the company is canceling its GSA multiple-award schedule contract, effective October 12. The timing of the cancellation seemed to surprise even GSA Administrator Lurita Doan who had just solicited outside help to facilitate the long running contract dispute between the GSA and Sun.
In a follow-on statement by a Sun spokeswoman, "We took this step reluctantly, as we have always valued our relationship with GSA." However, Larry Allen, President of the Coalition for Government Procurement probably better said what most of us are thinking, "That sets a dangerous precedent for government acquisition." Allen's follow-on comment spoke to what may be the underlying issue with Sun, "It doesn't matter if you make a good faith effort to comply, if an official or the [inspector general] has it in for you, you're in trouble. You can dot all your I's and cross all your T's, if there's a vendetta against you, it won't matter one bit."
This GSA cancellation is really a story of politics and egos. Not the least of which is Senator Charles Grassley's insistence to cancel the Sun GSA contract, thereby, escalating the battle of egos between himself and Sun Chairman Scott McNealy who two months prior to the GSA cancellation requested a meeting with Grassley to discuss the dispute. The meeting never took place.
While Sun products remain available on other GWACs (Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts) such as NASAs Solutions for Enterprisewide Procurement (SEWP) contract, SEWP has dramatically less vendor representation than the GSA schedule, thereby, inherently making Sun products more difficult to buy and potentially making them more expensive to buy as SEWP GWAC members may charge premiums for other contractors to work through their contact vehicle (SEWP is a closed membership).
Doan has escalated this unfortunate issue to the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency for an independent review. However, once the ego's of politicians and CEO's set the stage, there will be no common sense solution or other resolution forthcoming. The end result of this competition of egos is a loss to information technology civil servants, and ultimately a loss to taxpayers.
Government Web 2.0 IT Wiki Release
The Government's use of web 2.0 technology accelerated this week with the release of GovITwiki.com. For an initial release, the wiki is surprisingly strong. Because the site was constructed from the same MediaWiki open source software used to create Wikipedia, it leverages the same recognized user interface, simple organization and intuitive navigation. This public sector wiki is created by members of the Government Information Technology Community and the wiki audience is described as government IT managers, vendors engaged in selling IT solutions to the government and citizens who desire to learn more about government information technology.
The government wiki is supported by volunteers, which currently number about seven regular participants and several occasional contributors. To continue the momentum and make this a relevant, government-wide IT resource, many more volunteers will be needed. There is a participation link on the front page. I intend to be a contributing member and encourage other government IT managers to consider the same.
Advancing Government to e-Government
What's holding back government, all of government, from truly becoming e-government?
e-Government is moving forward, albeit one agency and project at a time. Thanks in part to Karen Evans (OMB administrator for e-government, shared services and IT initiatives), cross-agency initiatives have taken root and continue to grow. However, for government to truly advance as a single entity with some element of uniformity will require the creation of a political constituency around those strategic initiatives that lay the foundation for future building. Gaining support from Capital Hill is a must. However, my experience on capital hill is that while there are some very good ideas, many on the hill don't fully understand the initiatives, value, payback and end results. To be approved by the policy makers and the appropriations guardians, e-government initiatives and IT projects must be simplified to a layman level, supported by overarching evidence and focused on end results. Some of the best end results that clearly speak volumes to policy makers are taxpayer savings, enhanced citizen services and more efficient government.
Another challenge is the approval processing procedural difficulty. Getting appropriations through a stove piped Congress where agencies and congressional appropriations committees desire to control the funding for each agency stifles the legitimate funding flow and delays progress. Certainly congressional oversight is required, however, until this oversight matures from an operational hands-on participant role to a governance perspective major and valuable IT initiatives will follow the way of political progress; or lack thereof.
Finally, I also believe longer-term e-gov projects face additional prejudice and hurdles. Appropriators operate on an annual basis. The high number of short-term projects competing for funding cast a shadow on longer-term projects extending well beyond the fiscal year. Appropriations Committees often find it more difficult to see and authorize the long-term value from funding requests that extend and project value beyond the next fiscal year.
So what's going to overcome these obstacles? In a word, leadership. Good leaders backed by closely aligned management teams are a powerful one - two punch in addressing the issues and results in the language and style of the recipient. Good leaders don't simply make presentations. They champion causes backed by empirical evidence, supportable projections and tempered emotions. They speak with clarity, they educate their audience when necessary, they talk only with a shared vocabulary, they replace rhetoric with engagement, they link their request to a policy, they deliver compelling business cases, they specify the benefits relative to the person or group with whom they are speaking, they translate the benefits to show citizen support (e.g. how does this request help get you re-elected?) and they rally support around initiatives in a way that achieves a cascading and perpetual effect. Need something done? Give it to a busy person. Need an IT initiative authorized by an agency or Congress, give it to a proven, creative and committed leader.
IPv6 - T Minus 1 Year
It's June and in the government IT world that means that one of the most lack luster but far reaching federal IT initiative deadlines is just one year away.
IPv6 was created in the mid-1990s under direction of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which is an international body responsible for developing Internet standards. On August 2 of 2005, OMB (Office of Management and Budget) set the objective to enable government networks for IPv6 by June 30, 2008. The looming deadline only applies to network infrastructure equipment such as switches, routers and hardware firewalls which makes it much easier and affordable than upgrading the entire extended network. Simply stated, an IPv6 compliant device or system will be able to receive, process and/or transmit IPv6 packets as well as interoperate with IPv4 and other protocols.
The unfunded initiative began simply by encouraging the planning and normal replenishment of equipment to the IPv6 protocol. As with many new government IT initiatives or mandates, the stimulus or push back for adoption is less about technology innovation and more about funding. At a Federal Information Assurance Conference on this topic, Peter Tseronis, co-chair of the group and a network services director for the Education Department, suggested applying real world IPv6 benefits and business cases in order to facilitate funding. While the value of IPv6 is relative to the beneficiary, the benefits of this new protocol are clear.
In reality, much of the IPv6 hardware conversion costs are within most well organized technology refresh budgets. However, the training costs involved to truly maximize the value of this new protocol will likely be offset from other competing interests. Regardless of funding sources, there is no question this is a costly endeavor. An October 2005 study prepared by RTI International for NIST estimated that government agencies will spend approximately $1.5 billion over the next five years and $4.6 billion over the next 20 years transitioning to IPv6.
There's little doubt that OMB's mandate is in part political. The governments transition, or put another way, the world's largest IT buyer's transition, will both increase IPv6 awareness and influence the growth of IPv6 commercial IT products and services. It's also interesting to recognize that US government agencies are behind other countries IPv6 adoption in part because US government agencies and companies initially secured large blocks of IPv4 addresses when the Internet was first created - thereby lessening the need for the greater addressing schema. IPv6 is more popular in Europe and Asia where IPv4 address space is quite scarce.
The path to this mandate is not unlike most other technology upgrades. First, assess your IT/IP inventory in order to quantify your IP compliant and non-compliant devices. Per OMB, this should be done no later than this month. Second, incorporate the IPv6 standard into IT strategy and budgeting. A key here is justifying this protocol with real and tangible value. Third, incorporate this standard into all new procurement requests and RFPs. Fourth, for significant backbone equipment which may require a longer replenishment cycle, you may want to consider transition technologies such as IPv6-in-IPv4 tunneling technology which routes IP6 packets through virtual paths by encapsulating them in IP4 network address headers. Fifth, upgrade your IP address requirements, justification and provisioning policies. And finally, allocate some time and money to IT training for this protocol.
I find it interesting that while the IPv6 mandate does not apply to state and local governments, a recent survey illustrated that 46 percent of state and local respondents reported they are well into their IPv6 planning and budgetary requests and that an estimated 36 percent of their collective IT infrastructure is currently IP6 ready, a slightly higher percentage than civilian federal agencies.
|GovernmentBlogger.com | Government IT Blog|