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FCW : June 15, 2016
24 June 15, 2016 FCW.COM ing officer’s representative] on that con- tract,’ and they were out.” One participant was puzzled to the point of frustration. “No one gets fired in government, and yet we’re all so afraid to [make] decisions, to be disruptive,” she said. “It’s the strangest thing to me to come into a place where it is very hard to get fired and yet no one feels empowered to make a decision.” Others were more sympathetic about the hesitation they encountered. “There are still the institutional gates that things have to go through, and we haven’t real- ly solved that,” one said. Contracting officers “actually can go to jail. There are positions that really do have risk, that we need to think about if we want this to be more than just the latest flash in the pan that will peter out after three or four years.” Another participant observed that turf wars and a tendency to pull rank can also complicate governance. “We find that people want to appoint prod- uct owners at one level below the CIO at most, which doesn’t work,” he said. Still, some participants noted that program offices can often be coached into effective ownership roles. Some- times, one said, it’s as simple as saying, “You’ve got to sit in the same room as your developers” or “You need to use the system yourself. You can’t rely on your contract testers to demo it for you and be sure that it’s OK.” Real buy-in can be achieved, he said, “by helping build up the folks who are there and know the business rather than just supplanting them with agile people.” Talent tensions Another maxim from the Digital Services Playbook is “bring in talented teams.” But at least one agency executive argued that “we’ve done a huge disservice by the focus on bringing in external people.” He said the implicit message has been that “you, existing government worker, don’t know what you’re doing. We’re going to bring people in to tell you how to do it.” And the result is a lack of buy-in from the people who will still be around when President Barack Obama and his political appointees leave next January. Participants who hailed from USDS and 18F objected to that characteriza- tion. “If that’s the message that you feel like you’re getting from the digital ser- vice anywhere in the White House or any agency, that’s completely wrong,” one said. Success comes only “when it’s an equal partnership or when we’re supporting the efforts” of career staff at an agency, he added. Another agreed with the underlying point, if not the critique itself. “You’re exactly right,” he said. “You can’t just have a bunch of folks land and say, ‘We know how and you don’t.’” “At the same time,” he added, “there are some folks who are uncomfortable with change, with doing something dif- ferent, and that needs to get crowbarred out a little bit. Throwing those folks together, letting them get to know that nobody’s here to hurt anybody and that they have things to teach each other is the important part.” A participant from a department that has embraced digital services only in pockets concurred with the need for a bit of crowbarring. “We’re structured FCW Perspectives 0615fcw_020-026.indd 24 5/25/16 1:34 PM
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June 30, 2016