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Transportation CIO, Richard McKinney, Takes a Tough Stance on IT Acquisition

120px-US-DeptOfTransportation-Seal.svgIt would not be a stretch to say that Richard McKinney appreciates the intent of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act.

McKinney, the CIO at the U.S. Department of Transportation, told an audience at the MeriTalk FITARA Forum in December that the law will help him provide a real cost-benefit analysis when assessing the potential impact of an IT procurement.

“When people say to me, ‘Make a good business case,’ and I can’t,” that’s a real problem, he said. As the changes brought about through FITARA work their way through the organization, he’s looking forward to saying, “Here’s the real data, here’s the real cost, here’s how the transformation is going to change that, here’s what the real savings will be … I’ll be able to feel good that the numbers I’m using are accurate and well accounted for.”

FITARA provides an opportunity to rethink the IT infrastructure. “Part of the problem is that we say grace over an architecture that was pieced together over time, the product of many hands,” McKinney said. “That’s the conversation I’m trying to have with my modal counterparts,” the CIOs of the different agencies within DoT that report to him.

McKinney may be phrasing that in the conditional because there is some resistance.

“The ones resisting … in their minds, their business outcome depends on retaining control of the staff beneath them. I presume that’s the source of the resistance … that’s such 1990s thinking,” he said. “This is a town [where] people like hoarding power; something comes along they think will dilute their power, their kneejerk reaction is to resist.”

Despite the word being in the name of the law, McKinney said making changes in how his department undertakes acquisition has been the biggest challenge so far.

“For me, it’s been the most difficult of the three pillars to launch,” he said. “I met with the senior acquisition representatives from each of the modes … What they were candid with me about is that we have acquisitions going on that the mode CIOs aren’t even aware of.

He said he’s issuing a memo to put a freeze on all IT purchases until the modal CIOs present him with a comprehensive IT spending plan.

“We can’t let IT acquisition plans be made somewhere down in a program. Until the component CIOs can present me with a comprehensive spend plan, I’m not going to approve any purchases … We are what we buy, we end up being what we buy. If we’re going to change, we’ve got to start there.”

After the session, McKinney spoke with ModernGOV to expand on his comments.

Asked about whether FITARA will shape DoT’s spending priorities in fiscal year 2016, he said that it is too early to provide insights into where spending priorities should be. “I’m trying to get to where I have good data so I can make good business cases … When I say [a proposal] is a more efficient way, I want to be able to back that up.”

Another aspect of FITARA that doesn’t get much attention is the impact on human resources, McKinney told ModernGOV.

“I’m a firm believer that your outcomes have everything to do with the talent of your team,” he said. “We make a big deal out of what we acquire, [but] us CIOs are successful when we put together a well-rounded team of people … We have a CIO council of modal CIOs [inside DoT]. I want them to be my business partners, then be advocates in their business units.”

There is one HR move McKinney is trying to make that will help with that. “One of the things I’m trying to change at DoT [is that] everyone with the title of CIO, that that’s their only responsibility, that they’re not dual-hatted.”

Want to get engaged in the FITARA conversation?  On January 26th, join Congressman Issa, Federal CIO, Tony Scott, among others and be a part of the discussion. You can register here for the event.  Software AG Government Solutions is pleased to sponsor AFEI’s third FITARA Implementation Symposium in Arlington, VA.

  • John Weiler

    Great points.


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