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FCW : March 15, 2016
BOB WOODS is president of Topside Consulting Group and former commissioner of the General Services Administration’s Federal Technology Service. Commentary | BOB WOODS Countering myths is like popping overinflated balloons. It brings joy, and when we finally do it, we won- der why we waited so long. One of my favorite myths is that government leaders can’t take risks, especially during the lame- duck portion of an administration. After all, political appointees are finishing what they started or look- ing for their next jobs. According to the myth, they won’t take risks because they’re preoccupied and hesitant to make a mistake. If you subscribe to that theory, then senior career leaders are relegated to being caretakers who are enjoying what many con- sider a much-deserved break from the fray that is known as American democracy. It looks like a good time to bring out the sharp object of your choosing to do some inflation reduction. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the transition between administrations is a time when change can and should be made. Career professionals and so-called lame-duck appointees must seize the opportunity to fix things that are broken. If you believe, for example, that the Department of Veterans Affairs is in need of change, now is an opportune time to try new approaches. Waiting until things settle down is not why most of these execu- tives came to government. Instead, they should make common-sense choices and push ahead. In the worst-case scenario, the next team will make changes that it would have made anyway. Following conventional wis- dom makes cowards of us. Lame ducks and career leaders should use the next year to develop and put forward new lines of think- ing. Maybe it’s time to eliminate obsolete systems and government services. Maybe the next team will agree and move ahead with the initiative. Outgoing leaders should at least challenge their successors to make choices they might never have addressed if no alternatives were presented. A bad plan beats no plan, but careerists often want to see “the whites of their eyes” before advancing new thinking. The real- ity is that such new thinking must be ready for presentation before the new team is in place. Transition teams review bud- gets, programs and missions before the leadership is in place, so if a career leader waits for the new managers to get in touch, he or she might never get that call. Unfortunately, a fair share of career leaders would be happy to never get that call. However, being comfortable during one’s career does not necessarily make for a satisfying career in retrospect. The call to lead, change and commit to action for the greater good should be heeded now. Our IT community has always been thought of as a place for change. It is in our DNA, and many of us have chosen our profession because of it and are used to being measured by that metric. And that means many of us are thinking about what issues the next administration will want to consider and how we will par- ticipate in the new game. We will most likely do better and prosper if we address the conspicuous needs now. To take an obvious example, cybersecurity is not getting any easier. If your agency needs to make changes in that area, make them now. Putting off decisions and actions is irresponsible. This is a time when some things are easier to do and still need to be done — for cybersecurity and a host of other issues. Let’s get on with it. The time to lead is now. n A lame-duck session or a time to lead? Contrary to conventional wisdom, now is not the time to stop taking risks and trying to improve government Lame ducks and career leaders should use the next year to develop and put forward new lines of thinking. 12 March 15, 2016 FCW.COM 031516fcw_012.indd 12 2/23/16 10:05 AM
March 30, 2016