State Dept IRM’s IT Consolidation Gets a Screaming "F"

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A lot of stuff in the bureaucracy gets started that often ends up with bureaucrats working like hamsters on wheels; lots of energies expended with no forethought or real planning.  As the saying goes, it is about the journey, not the destination, a most apt description in the bureucracy.  It is about getting there but not so much about where or what “there” is.  Former Secretary Rice’s transformational diplomacy and global repositioning programs were just two of the grand wheels that generated much energy and  press ink.  But recently, the OIG released its report on IRM’s IT Consolidation efforts at the State Department.  

I almost fell off my chair when I read the report, except that I now have my seat belt on when I read reports on management reforms (oops, sorry, that’s my jaded slip showing).  In the private sector, if you had no defined project requirements to measure project progress, how do you even get funding or keep your job?  How could a project like this even crawl forward when it has holes all over the place? If this were a boat, this would have sunk already before the somebodies left their 7th floor gigs! Oh, but it’s not a boat, just sorta management reform flavor of the month, dudes. 

Here’s part of what the OIG said:          
On July 18, 2007, the former Secretary of State announced the decision to consolidate the Department of State’s desktop computer services and support under the Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM) within 2 years. This decision was one of a series of eight major management reforms made by the former Secretary intended to improve the Department’s information technology (IT) effectiveness. According to IRM, IT Consolidation will allow for an optimized and cost-effective IT infrastructure supporting agency missions and customer-centric services. Included in the stated goals of the IT Consolidation initiative are improving customer service, enhancing IT security, and reducing IT costs.
During recent reviews and inspections, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) became aware of frustrations from the executive offices and IT management of various bureaus regarding the implementation of the IT Consolidation Project. According to the IRM IT Consolidation Schedule, 25 bureaus and offices had consolidated their services as of October 1, 2009. Consolidation for the remaining participating bureaus and offices was intended to be completed by the fourth quarter of FY 2009; however, IRM has experienced delays attributable to bureaus’ resistance in consolidating their desktop services and to moving forward with the discussion process. IT Consolidation for the remaining nine bureaus is now expected to be completed by the second quarter of FY 2010.

The IT Consolidation Program Management Office (PMO) stated that its number one priority in pursuing IT Consolidation was customer service. However, OIG found a significant level of customer dissatisfaction among bureaus about the quality and timeliness of IT services after consolidation. OIG was unable to substantiate these claims because the Department did not maintain customer service baseline information prior to consolidation and bureaus did not have documentation to support their claims of better customer service prior to consolidation. Because of the inability to have a customer service baseline, OIG distributed customer service surveys to bureau executives, IT staff, and end users. Of more than 700 survey comments received by OIG on its survey from executive directors and users, more than 80 percent of respondents reported that they were more satisfied with the IT support provided by their respective bureau IT staff prior to consolidation.
OIG found that the Department did not have actual or comparative cost information to demonstrate whether consolidating services resulted in reduced costs for desktop support services and systems maintenance, which was one of the primary goals of the Project. The inconsistent manner in which bureaus accounted for IT services costs was one element hindering IRM’s ability to make a comparative cost analysis. The limited cost analysis performed by IRM prior to bureau consolidation and the lack of transparency between bureaus and the IT Consolidation PMO further contributed to cost data shortcomings.

As a result of these issues, the Department has not met some of its intended consolidation goals—improving customer service and reducing IT costs. For example, with the perception of poor customer service, end-users addressed service problems by using resources within their own bureaus rather than by requesting assistance from IRM. Therefore, IRM may have an inaccurate sense of bureau satisfaction with consolidation efforts, as well as an inaccurate picture of staffing requirements and IT costs, which ultimately affects the bureaus. Further, the IT Consolidation PMO cannot ensure that the consolidation effort is and remains aligned with Department goals, since there are no defined Project requirements to measure Project progress. The lack of a thorough understanding of costs by bureau officials and staff has diminished the staffs’ overall support and commitment to the IT Consolidation Project.

Holy molly guacamole!

It’s not that I do not understand the need for reform.  I’m not that dumb, okay?  I do get it, I really do — belt-tightening and all that “doing more with less” chip that has been embedded in my head since the 80’s methinks. What I don’t understand is how these things get done flying by the seat of the somebodies’ pants.  But I see how this can happen.  Not too long ago, one new officer under pressure from his/her boss to deliver “a project” necessary for the boss’ impression management strategery was once overheard saying, “I don’t care if it’s done right, I just want it done.” It was sad; that new offficer was overseas on a first tour, barely six months and all; but a very quick learner on how things are badly done.  Multiply that by a dozen, a couple dozen, more — there’s the boss as a force multiplier, and did not even realized it!? An MHA in this corner, please! 

In any case, this IT consolidation seems like another flavor of the month management reform that has become too sour to enjoy. Perhaps it could have been avoided if somebody had the courage to say “hey, this idea is full of sh*t.” But that’s only like, well like committing career hara-kiri, and nobody does that too often in the bureaucracy. Because when you “die” in a bureaucracy, you don’t necessarily get kicked out, you just get ignored in your cubicle until you, well — dry out, crisp as autumn leaves and get swept out by the char force one night when nobody is looking…. 

Never be the first to say that an idea is bad,” is already memorialized in the bureaucrats’ corridors of influence.

Only idjits do things like that, see?

And like Albert Einstein once said, “If A equals success, then the formula is  A = X + Y + Z. X is work. Y is play. Z is keep your mouth shut.”    

Must admit that is charming!

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