People, sticky, tech

An interview with Gary Winkler, Army PEO-EIS

I’ve got a brief profile of Army Program Executive Officer for Enterprise Information Systems Gary Winkler appearing in tomorrow’s FedTech Bisnow.  But there’s only so much you can shove into an email newsletter. So here’s some of what Mr. Winkler had to say as he prepares to leave government service, raw and uncut. Be sure to pay attention to what he says about the mounting federal government talent drain…

(On succession plan:)

For the interim, Ms. Terry Watson, the deputy, will be acting. Dr. ONeil is still contemplating what the long-term succession plan will be. There are some options — he could move somebody else in here, and Terry could stay the deputy .  Dr. ONeil could “harvest my slot” — he looks across 13 PEOs and the SMT organization he has, and he may need the SES slot somewhere else, knowing Terry has been in the PEO for most of her career and knows our business area very well — he might be comfortable keeping her in the PEO position and using my slot somewhere else thrpught ASALT, maybe in the SMT community, Then we would go back to having a PEO and a military deputy at the col. level, which is what we’ve had before Terry came in back in December.

(On why he’s quitting now:)

I’ve been here close to 4 years, just past the 3 1/2  year mark, and I think we’ve done a lot. We’ve restructured, developed a lot of our staff, we have stability in the program offices, we have a strategic plan, we have a strategy map, a balanced scorecard we measure our performance against monthly — we’ve got a very mature  Lean Six Sigma organization, and  make sure that we do continuous process improvement.

We just have come a long way in the past 3 years from an org. maturity standpoint so the org doesn’t have to rely on superstars, and no one is a single point of failure — including myself. We’ve got processes in place and great people throughout.  So now is an appropriate time for me to move on — I feel like I’ve done all I can do here except doing the same., And what I’ve been focusing on in the last 6 mos to a year is developing our workforce, our younger leaders, because a lot of the programs are being very well executed. So I feel pretty good about where our office is, I need some more challenges.

(On Federal and DOD IT consolidation plans:)

(DOD consolidation roadmap) #00:06:08.0#

I think we have been working toward all of those (Kundra’s ) objectives all along.  Kundra’s 25 points on where he wants CIOS to go, we’ve been working toward that direction long before he came into the office. So from a strategic, operational and tactical standpoint. I don’t see too many changes for our programs. We’re trying to move our apps into data centers, whether they’re DISA, Army or commercial;  we have a procurement in source selection which should be completed in a month or two for commercial data center services.So I don’t see too many changes. It’s all good. And that shouldnt be surprising because we’ve been in business for a while here.  It will have more of an impact for organizations that have not had information technology systems acquisitions as their core mission — there will be a lot more changes for those who haven’t been doing what we do all the time.

(On his biggest challenges:)

The biggest challenge for anybody with this job is Time management — there’s just not enough time in the day, or night or weekend or holiday .  There are a lot of programs in this PEO, and they’re very diverse.  Just working the actions, knowing the issues and working them up at the headquarters level or the  OSD level just takes a lot of time.  Every one of our programs has a general officer sponsor, so I’m dealing with 30 to 40 general officers on a continual basis to address the hard problems and hard challenges, and those are the ones that usually cross org. boundaries. The tech issues aren’t so much a challenge, it’s all the other elements, wether it’s doctrine, organization, personnel, facilities, money… I don’t see money as a super big issue but the budgets are going down, so our PEO staff are going to have to be as creative as possible  to keep progs moving forward to deliver capabilities on schedule as resources shrink.

(On applying Lean Six Sigma across procurement:)

I do think we should apply Lean more widely.  The problem is a lot of that is outside our control. I can only control what we execute inside PEO EIS — a lot of the contracting process is really outside of our organization, so we work the pre-solicitation materials, but once an RFP goes out on the street we lose control of the procurement and contracting process after that., It’s really up to the contracting orgs.  I’d like to see more application of lEan 6 sigma in the contracting world.

(On the mounting talent drain from government, and whether new career paths like the Program Manager track will help:)

I don’t think so. I think there’s going to be such a squeeze on money that it’s going to be hard to develop new career tracks, courses, and training.  That’s all an investment and I would be surprised if it happens. It would be nice, but I think our professionals and our younger work force are going to learn through experience more than anything else — they’ll get acquisition certified, but anything above and beyond they’ll be swamped in doing hte work their mission requires,  The support contracting workforce is supposed to go down, The government workforce is going to shrink. It’ll shrink through attrition and hiring freezes like we’ve had.  In the Army, we’re supposed to attrit  10,000 people civilians out of the workforce over the next three years.  So, I think it’s going to be a big challenge. As people move up into more senior leader positions, do they have the experience, training and knowledge to do a really good job in those  more senior positions? I think they’re going to need some help.

(So, government is going to need to lean on private sector more?)

I think so.  I think as with every other industry there will be a shakeout .  And government suppporet contractors — you see that from time to time in other industries, where there’s a weeding out of different companies, and the market shrinks, but the ones left standing will be the ones that provide the best capability for the money, and provide government agencies the best expertise at the best price.

(that’s the business you’re moving into?)

That’s where I can see that I can contribute and add value . I don’t need to malke a lot of money, I just have to pay the bills. and if I can capture people leaving the govt workforce, for whatever reason they leave, whether its a pay freeze or they’re just frustrated — they’re leaving not because they don’t like the mission but morale issues.  So if I can capture them, take care of the morale issues and keep them working on the gov side helping those new leaders, it’s win win.  I know right now is exactly the wrong time to get into government support contracting, but if someone is in there providing great support at a great price, they’re going to do well as opposed to some of the companies that haven’t differentiated themselves.

(On the morale of senior folks in fed tech. )

That’s how I qualify it (morale issue). It’s probably a mixture. A pay freeze doesn’t help. The technical people are in demand ,and they have options, and the new retirement system people have options. So no longer are civil servants held by the golden handcuffs of staying in until they’re 55 and having at least 20 years, and if they leave before that they have no retirement. Under FERS, vested after 3 yrs of service, get a pension when  you hit 62 which is 1% of avg of high 3 salaries x num of years you worked.

Pension isn’t as good as the old system, but then again people can leave.  And I’m not sure the Army or gov. senior folks recognize that paradigm shift — that they now have a mobile workforce where people in demand don’t have to stay until they’re 55 and a min of 20 yrs of service.Unfortunately, I think the government is going to see a lot of good people leave because they can, and they want to do more.

(time off?)

That’s a good one. No.  I don’t mind working 15 hour days.  It becomes a habit after a while. No, I actually have 3 or 4 months of vacation that the Army is going to have to pay me for. So that will sustain me for the near term.  The big benefit of being an SES is you get to roll over more vacation because you don’t get to take it, and you get better parking spots.

Cross my fingers I can pay the bills — I’m used to being poor, I’m a gov. employee, so I wouldn’t know what I would do with more money.

My motivation is I can do more. I love the job here, love the people and the mission, but I feel I can do more.  Unfortunate that I’ll be banned from the Army for one year, so I’ll have to go help the OSD, and the Navy, and the Air Force and Cyber and Agriculture and other orgs that need my help. I think I can help them. I’ve got all the bruises and scars from working in this business over the years.

(Things that were important to your professional development?)

Professionally, not knowing what the heck I wanted to do, and bouncing around doing a variety of things, and never feeling like I fit in anywhere. So that seemed to work pretty well here.  There’s a good hodgepodge of programs here, and I have a technical background, and I have a business background too.  I worked in private industry, and then I came back into the government, and  I worked at headquarters, I worked here, I worked in an Air Force office, so, I think that diversity and just moving around seemed to be a good fit.  When I was in college, I was a EE, but I don’t think I was your typical engineer. Then I went to graduate school and I was an MBA student, but I wasn’t your typical MBA student, because they were wearing blazers and bowties to class, and I came in with jeans and a flannel shirt, then grew a beard, so I didn’t really fit in there either. But that was ok, because I had nearly a 4.0 so they couldn’t give me a hard time.  But I’m still trying to fit in somewhere.

(Words of advice for whoever takes over PEO-EIS:)

Just the standard words of advice: don’t screw it up.  Somebody has to do things their way, and I think with Terry Watson here everything will go smoothly. We have a great set of directors and PMs , and I think the organization will continue to thrive, even in the challenges that they’re going to face with budgets are shrinking.  Even with budgets shrinking, you know Sean, how the IT budget is.  Nobody can do anything without technology, so I don’t think this office will be hit as hard as a lot of others.

cloud computing, Cyberdefense and Information Assurance, tech

Amazon’s EC2 outage may be related to cyber-attack

At the moment, I’m waiting for some sort of confirmation. But this is what I know:

Since Monday, — a site that hosts petitions and other social action efforts for others–has been the subject of a DDOS attack from China, according to Ben Rattray,‘s founder.  They’ve been working with their hosting company and with cyber experts to help screen out the attack as much as possible, but the site was down much of yesterday.  And it’s down today, intermittently.

Interesting fact: is hosted on Amazon Web Services.

Interesting fact: AWS’ Elastic Compute Cloud data center in Northern Virginia is experiencing an outage of various services, affecting Quora, HootSuite, and other social media companies hosted on it.  That would be the same site that is hosted at primarily, since the NoVA data center is the US East region cloud.

The Chinese have been varying their attack.  Is it possible they’ve exploited Amazon’s EC2 APIs to attack now?

I haven’t heard back from Amazon.

State & Local, tech, virtualization

Virtualized Desktops at the Library Check Out IT Savings

(This post was originally posted to the Virtual Integrated Systems public sector blog.)

My wife is a librarian at a county public library. Not to brag, but she excels at helping her patrons find what they’re looking for, either in the stacks or in databases. But when she became a librarian, she wasn’t expecting the degree to which she’d be called upon to provide another service: tech support.

Public libraries have long been a significant service of local governments, but their mission has changed significantly over the last decade, as more of our lives have moved online. Libraries now are where people who don’t have PCs at home or work go to do everything from check their e-mail to apply for jobs, and librarians are increasingly called upon to help with basic computer literacy issues as frequently as they’re asked a research question or asked to recommend a book, if not more often.

But managing the configuration and security of public computers at the library can be an expensive undertaking. With budgets shrinking, adding more computers or even maintaining the ones that are in place can be difficult. The cost of adding software licenses for operating systems and applications can quickly outstrip the basic hardware cost. And with patrons bringing removable media to the library and accessing potentially malicious sites, the security risks are high.

Given their limited number of PCs, libraries have to restrict the amount of time patrons can use systems. The software they use to meter usage and assign computers can often create difficulties both for the patrons and the librarians who serve them.

Then there’s the issue of how to better serve customers who bring their own technology to the library, who may wish to use resources such as databases. While some libraries offer Web portals to access these services, the cost of setting up such systems can be prohibitive to mid-sized and smaller public libraries–especially when budgets are tight.

The City of Staunton, Virginia, for example, faced many of these problems with the operation of its public library, according to Kurt Plowman, the city’s CTO. Mounting maintenance problems and malware issues left the library’s computers unusable as much as 50 percent of the time.

“Our resources were stretched thin, so spending several hours a week fixing software problems and replacing parts was becoming a never-ending nightmare,” he said recently. “The public library was overdue for a solution.”

Plowman turned to desktop virtualization as a solution, using thin clients from Pano Logic to replace the library’s aging desktops. The city used VMware to serve up virtual desktops on demand to the terminals, clearing each session at its end and preventing the storage of any data on a shared hard disk by the user.

With virtual desktops, each user gets a fresh, controlled configuration, locked down from potential security threats. That means fewer helpdesk calls, fewer frustrated patrons, and much lower desktop support costs for the city, which is considering expanding the virtual desktop model to other departments of city government.

The City of Staunton was recognized for this solution with a Governor’s Technology Award for Innovation in Local Government at the Commonwealth of Virginia Technology Symposium in September 2010.



Daily Grind

If you didn’t catch the news, I’m now Executive Editor for Bisnow’s Fed Tech e-newsletter and site.  Which, for the moment, means I’m pretty much the whole operation.  Shifting from a freelance  hurry-up-and-wait model to a full-time hurry-up and hurry-up model has been interesting, to say the least– especially reconditioning myself to get out of bad habits writing for the longer form have allowed to creep in.  Mark Bisnow has been a good teacher, to say the least.

A little of the Packet Rat lives in Fed Tech. It’s written in a breezy, informative way with attempts at humorous asides (some thrown in by me, some thrown in by Bisnow’s “chief humorist”).  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but it’s never boring ,that’s for sure.

The one thing it currently lacks is social media engagement.  Yes, there are buttons to click to post to Facebook and Twitter.  But I want to have a running open conversation with people, too. So the blog and my @thepacketrat Twitter feed are going to evolve into a place to keep discussions going around topics I’ll cover in the newsletter, and to help feed ideas into it.

Please subscribe to the newsletter.  Send me your thoughts, comments, complaints, leads.  And thanks for your support.


We’re Really Screwed (or why the budget delay is worse than you think)

It’s bad enough that people may not get to collect a paycheck for a while, and that projects will go idle, and people will probably lose money, miss mortgage payments, and maybe even find other work. It’s like Parks & Recreation’s season finale last year on a nationwide scale–maybe we should hold a telethon to keep the government open.

But what makes it even more totally insane is that it’s APRIL, and by the time a budget gets passed and signed at this point, it may be MAY or even, Deity Forbid, JUNE.  And what does that mean?

That means that the government will have, at best, 5 months in which to spend whatever they’re budgeted to on the programs they’ve been waiting to execute since October.

Here are some of the notes from my meeting with Ray Bjorklund, CKO of FedSources last Friday — we were talking about FedSources’ acquisition by Deltek, and then I asked him about the budget:

“The government was anticipating having X dollars to spend, but they know they can only spend a subset of that because they don’t know if they’re going to get all of X ,. or when. and that’s going to have a ripple effect on contractors. That means that, part. since there are some new entrants in this market place , who’ve come here because of the sickly national economy — this happens with every recession, where they come tracking over to the federal government–So there are some new players, and there are existing players, and there will be less dollars spent per contract. Well now you have to figure out how you’re going to compete far more effectively. ”

Small companies are nervous about overextending themselves in the federal market by responding to too many Requests for Information, but they’re afraid if they don’t, they’ll lose their positioning when the actual money gets spent.

Budgetary uncertainty: “We’ve heard about the army throttling back to about 80% of the spending rate — it’s actually higher than that.  Overall, it’s prob about 80%, but the amount that’s norm. set aside for contractors is smaller. It’s really painful.  And I’ve been in the govt. I was in the gov during the 1995-96 shutdown [and this is different]. Continuing Resolution [funding] usually has certain rules of thumb that apply to help agencies figure it out. But this year it’s become really difficult because you can’t apply the same rules of thumb.”
“What’s a little bit scary is that we may be reaching budgetary reconcilliation on the hill, and if the money is suddenly appropriated, how are these agencies within the 4 or 5 months left of the fiscal year going to be able to execute these programs, and do it smoothly, swiftly and accurately enough that no one gets in trouble? You come up to end of year spending and there’s always a risk that you’re going to create some kind of problem. That is going to cause more problems.”

So, as agencies rush to spend what they’ve finally gotten, the chances of administrative error, waste, fraud, abuse, lack of transparency, challengeable contract awards, and just plain major screwups is going to escalate. The chances of that happening will geometrically rise the closer we get to September with a budget.  And then that will be used as an excuse by some to screw with the 2012 budget….