OMB offers Trump a playbook for continued tech progress in exit memo

Shaun Donovan lays out the technology initiatives he believes the incoming Trump administration and 115th Congress should focus on.
OMB Director Shaun Donovan speaks at the 2016 United Nations' Climate Action Summit. (White House photo)

Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan in an exit memo released Thursday laid out the technology initiatives he believes the incoming Trump administration and recently seated Congress should focus on to continue the progress made around digital government over the past eight years.

Among the many directives OMB and the U.S. CIO’s office have developed under President Barack Obama, Donovan points to four specific actions on which the next administration should continue to focus:

  • Recruiting and hiring “a critical mass of high ‘tech IQ’ (‘TQ’ – modern technological intelligence, expertise, and experience) senior executives for government agencies.”
  • Building the U.S. Digital Service team and the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Service “as drivers of change.”
  • Advancing tech procurement reform and hiring reform.
  • Changing governance, budgeting, financing, monitoring and policymaking practices to support continuous modernization.

“Over the course of the last decade, Federal agencies have developed and operationalized many examples of using the power of modern digital technology to make government more efficient, produce better outcomes for citizens, and to make government data more accessible,” Donovan writes in a working paper attached to the memo titled “Toward an Even Better Digital Government.”


He continues, “At the same time, it is important to understand that the U.S. Government is still in the early stages of transitioning from aging legacy applications and infrastructure and deeply-entrenched legacy modes of software development and operation to modern technology and approaches — a shift to the true ‘digitalization’ of government services that is in many ways literally unprecedented in the annals of technology, given the sheer size, scope, and complexity of the government and the extraordinary depth of the issues it must confront.”

Among those opportunities for progress, Donovan also laid out the challenges OMB faced in recent years and what the current federal IT landscape looks like. “The U.S. Government, like many long-established large enterprises, is currently going through the early and often chaotic phases of digitalizing its processes, including how it interacts with other players in its ecosystem,” he explains.

Moreover, he writes, “the problem government faces today is how to accelerate the migration from legacy business processes, applications, infrastructure, and organization toward a modern, digitally empowered end state that is capable of more efficiently and effectively delivering services to the American people and supporting the functions of the Federal Government – a state that views IT not as a series of automation projects that must be developed and then maintained, but rather as an enabler of digitalized customer-oriented services that are continuously refreshed and incrementally improved.”

This echoes what U.S. CIO Tony Scott has preached over his past two years in office, during which he lobbied for an IT modernization fund and the business case that agencies should work to continuously modernize their systems every few years.

Elsewhere in the memo, Donovan encourages the next administration to continue progress around IT management practices with better implementation of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, cybersecurity (which goes hand-in-hand with IT modernization), data management and using data as evidence for better policymaking.


“[W]e believe that if the government continues to energetically pursue the general course of action above as a high-priority mission, continues to leverage and build upon the capabilities that have been put in place, and continues to maximize the speed at which it learns and iterates approaches accordingly, it will be able to build upon progress to date and, over the course of the next several years, build a growing critical mass of digital service excellence – improved performance and cost-effectiveness — across government,” Donovan concluded in the attached working paper.

President Obama instructed all Cabinet members to create an exit memo for their agencies as the administration comes to a close.

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