Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) predicted the chances that Congress will put together anything longer lasting that a string of continuing resolutions after the current continuing funding resolution runs out Nov. 18 are “fairly remote.”
Speaking at a conference on federal technology and innovation in Washington today, Connolly expressed concern about the intractable state of the federal budget debate.
“I think a lot of discussion and the obsession with the debt (debate) reveals a sense of knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing,” he said.
The Virginia Democrat stressed the importance of looking at investments, not just costs, pointing to the “extraordinary returns” that the government’s investments have led to, including the Internet, GPS and the Interstate Highways System.
“While we absolutely have to get our fiscal house in order, it’s a huge mistake to disinvest in our infrastructure,” he said. “I just fear…we’ve lost site of the need to make strategic investments” as a nation.
Connolly said the irony and danger of the current budget debate over federal spending is the degree of uncertainty that it injects into the economy-and the collateral damage its causing by having federal acquisition managers hold up making important investments.
Connolly was among a day-long lineup of federal and industry officials providing perspectives on how government technology initiatives are evolving in the federal marketplace at FedTalks 2011, a conference produced by FedScoop.
Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry spoke about the increasing success OPM and other agencies are having in being assembling a cross section of subject experts and stakeholders to tackle pressing challenges, even on Labor relations issues, in as little as 60 day time frames.
OPM was expected today to debut its newly-overhauled federal government jobs website, USAJobs.gov, that was a product of that kind of collaboration, he said. The site, which supports 17 million user accounts and processes 21 million job applications annually, according to Berry, was rebuilt from the ground up, using commonly-shared software. The old system relied on proprietary software designs that made it increasingly difficult for the site’s 59 participating organizations and service providers to make updates on USAJobs.gov.
“We’ll be turning on the new site at noon today. My folks are telling me it is working well,” he said, but he pointed to the new level of agility the site overhaul represented. “We did this in nine digestible pieces, and testing each piece and then integrating it as we went along,” he said.
At the same time, “As technology connects us more than ever, it also creates challenges,” including the tendency for people to work more through devices than through personal relations, Berry said. Information technology also raises the stakes for every organization’s reliability and execution, he said, making it even more important to bring people together more collaboratively, he said.
Moving more quickly to pull together diverse ideas is also a theme driving the management agenda at the General Services Administration and for GSA Associate Administrator David McClure, who heads the agency’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technology.
McClure highlighted the success of Challenge.gov, a program that reaches out to experts outside the government and awards prizes as a way to generate innovative ideas quickly.
He also noted GSA will break a record in 2011 in connecting with citizens, with 267 million “touch points” (phone, face-to-face, call center and other citizen contacts) with 10 million interactions registered in GSA’s website in August alone, he said.
At the same time, “We have to realize that multi-entry points can be confusing,” for the public, he said. So GSA is working on consolidating web sites with a determined emphasis on “customer service excellence,” he said.
McClure noted that one tool GSA is using to help other agencies is a dedicated called HowTo.gov, which makes best practices, templates, training and other resources available on how to manage web sites, contact centers, cloud computing services.