Meet the 2004 GCN Awards winners

Want to renew your faith in the ability of government to get things done? Then keep reading about the winners of the 18th annual GCN Awards.

Reviewing the stories of the 10 agency and four individual award winners for this year's gala reinforced for me how much the application of IT has changed and matured over the last 15 years. New tools have enabled new thinking, which in turn drives better tools.

The winning projects show that the government can adopt commercial software when that's the most logical way to go, integrate legacy systems or develop whole new systems.

Spurred in part by the President's Management Agenda, in part by the needs of our highly engaged military and in part by the possibilities of n-tier Web technologies, agencies are applying IT in ways that matter, measurably.

At one time IT was aimed purely at automating manual work, later at increasing efficiency. Now people try to revolutionize their mission delivery, achieving step-function improvements in service. For example, a goal of the Air Force Knowledge Services project is giving a better picture of how much of the air fleet is mission-ready.

Said CIO John Gilligan, 'We used to have several people analyzing data for six months, and now one person can do it in a few minutes.'

Similarly, the Environmental Protection Agency's Budget Administration System at last ties finances to activities and goals in a way that program managers and others can use meaningfully.

What a concept. Said chief financial officer Terry Ouverson, 'We are using financial management data to support our day-to-day work.' How many agencies can say that?

Our award winners show an uncommon degree of attention to what end users really need. Once the Marine Corps gave troops and officers Marlboros. Now they get MERIT'the Marine Corps Equipment Readiness Information Tool. In a word, it tells people who need to know the status of units and supplies they'll need. The system was inspired by a number of grassroots tools Marine units had developed on their own.

Amazingly, this enterprise tool was developed for $4 million. Compare that to the tens or hundreds of millions departments typically spend.

The government in fact spends some $60 billion for IT each year. Analysts directing companies on how to get a piece of that money like to point out that not all of the $60 billion is 'addressable.' That is, a lot of it pays for salaries and other fixed costs, as opposed to procurements.

Behind those nonaddressable dollars is where you'll find the flesh-and-blood people who bring about the advances highlighted in this issue. Kim Nelson, our Civilian Agency Executive of the Year and CIO at EPA, is living proof that political appointees don't necessarily have to be aloof from day-to-day problems or to lack detailed program knowledge.

On the other hand, Dawn Meyerriecks, formerly chief technology officer at the Defense Information Systems Agency and our Defense Agency Executive of the Year, shows that career federal executives can think as creatively and flexibly as the smartest in industry. Meyerriecks led development of the groundbreaking Global Command and Control System, only to spearhead efforts to replace it a few years later.

An essay published recently on the Tech Central Station Web site (www.techcentralstation.com) noted how poorly federal programs do under the Office of Management and Budget's Program Assessment Rating Tool. 'To date, PART has measured 40 percent of the federal government and concluded that $371 billion of taxpayer money is being spent on programs that either cannot demonstrate results or score below the 70 out of 100 'adequate' rating,' the article said.

Probably the government will never be the lean, mean machine people hope for. But our GCN Awards winners show what is possible when the right people, the right motives and the right tools come together.

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