Why it's so difficult to really change government
April 21, 2015
Commentary: The example of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board demonstrates how far government must go before it can claim victory over culture change.
David Stegon was a staff reporter for FedScoop and StateScoop from 2011-2014.
Peace Corps Chief Information Officer Dorine Andrews jokes that her $16 million annual IT budget is a rounding error for most federal departments; but with a decentralized agency that has 77 posts worldwide, nine recruiting centers and the agency headquarters, she knows all about stretching a dollar to support the agency’s mission.
“We budget down to the hundred dollar mark,” Andrews tells us, “so we have to be incredibly disciplined in everything we spend.”
That isn’t always easy considering the unique nature of the Peace Corps where about one third of the posts are happy to have electricity eight hours of the day and staying online can be a challenge; but staff and volunteers still need access so Andrews’ CIO organization must be innovative and agile.
The Peace Corps CIO shop has spent the past 3+ years putting in a global network that connects all posts, most importantly giving them access to the headquarters office share drives and giving the CIO shop remote diagnostic capabilities. The next step is reinventing how HQ interacts with the posts, using more web-based applications where it can.
“We can’t afford to be state of the art,” said Andrews, who spent 25 years doing major systems consulting work and 12 years at Bell Labs and AT&T before that, “but technology is now giving us some cost effective options to move us along faster. We’re reaching a point where we can get more done for less, which is good because we have to.”
Andrews says the Peace Corps CIO office with its some 70 employees and a handful of contractors is a very skilled team of people. They are highly focused on managing operations of the datacenter, keeping posts connected, upgrading post technology, and supporting recruiters in addition to delivering applications. But everything isn’t just focused on just keeping the lights on: Andrews said the agency is starting a SharePoint pilot project to learn how to “go to the cloud,” become a greener organization and modernize its operations both in the US and around the world.
Prior to coming to the Peace Corps, Andrews consulted, taught, and did considerable research in the areas of managing organization and technology change, knowledge management, enterprise systems implementations, and online community development. She has co-authored books on IT organization management and business process re-engineering and published many articles in these disciplines