IT modernization remains a top tech priority for the federal government, but Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, believes the government’s transformation will be limited if it can’t be agile.
To that end, Weichert—who has also held the role of acting director at the Office of Personnel Management since October 2018—said Tuesday she’d spend the rest of her tenure as a public servant hammering away at “structural impediments” to transformation.
“I’m deeply concerned about the structural impediments to agility in government,” Weichert said, speaking at ACT-IAC’s Imagine Nation conference in Philadelphia. “So while I’m here, I’m going to look for those real use cases where we need to get something done in government but there is something structural in the way.”
Weichert drew on the administration’s recent effort to reskill employees to mitigate the cybersecurity workforce gap to illustrate her point. Out of a pool of more than 2,000 applications, dozens of feds with no cybersecurity skills received training through the Federal Cybersecurity Reskilling Academy. However, despite a huge number of cybersecurity-related openings across government, Weichert said only one reskilled fed was able to get placed elsewhere. The problem “highlights issues” with the government’s General Schedule personnel system.
“We trained 50 people, we placed one; we have people who want new jobs, and we have the jobs,” Weichert said. “But we have a very old, well-intentioned code related to fairness in hiring, but it is not agile or responsive to the needs of the 21st century.”
Weichert encouraged industry to help the government “update our thinking” by reporting similar impediments to agility, which she said was perhaps the key ingredient to executing on goals outlined by the President’s Management Agenda. In her eyes, execution on ideas is the biggest difference between public sector companies that provide excellent customer service and government agencies that provide poor service by comparison. And poor customer service—such as long wait times at a Veterans Affairs Department clinic or inability to speak to an IRS rep at tax time—negatively impacts the public trust of government institutions.
“The road to not such great places is often paved with good intentions, but execution in the 21st century is how companies and private sector differentiate,” Weichert said. “Good ideas abound, but who can execute on those ideas? The trust we’ve lost in government is not because we don’t have the right ideas or policies, but because we’ve failed to execute in the 21st century way the private sector does.”