GSA can compete with IT's 'big boys'

Shereen G. Remez has served in her post as the chief information officer at the
General Services Administration for less than a year, but she has quickly become involved
in the government information technology community.

She is active in the CIO Council and is co-chairwoman of its Capital Planning and IT
Investment Committee.

Remez said she believes technology plays an important role in helping GSA fulfill its
mission. Because agencies use many of GSA’s services as they would those of a vendor,
Remez said, she is pushing GSA to operate more like a business.

“We need to play like the big boys,” she said. GSA needs to use IT to its
advantage in an increasingly competitive federal systems marketplace, she said.

To sell agencies on its services, GSA uses them itself. Next year, for instance, it
will be the first agency to try out the new Seat Management Program.

Remez originally planned a career in psychology. She earned a bachelor’s degree in
psychology and a master’s in education from American University. She also has a
doctorate in human development from the University of Maryland.

But she was drawn into IT through her federal service. She worked at the former Health,
Education and Welfare Department, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National
Archives and Records Administration before joining GSA in 1977 as media director of the
agency’s Consumer Information Center. From there she moved to public affairs and then
to the now-defunct IRM Service.

Prior to taking the CIO post, Remez directed GSA’s Capital Planning and IT
Investment Program and helped with the agency’s year 2000 efforts.

GCN staff writer Christopher J. Dorobek interviewed Remez in her office at GSA

What’s more

GCN: The
Chief Information Officers Council has been around for more than two years now. Are you
happy with its direction?

REMEZ: The council has great promise to provide the kind of leadership that is needed
in the information technology arena in government. Yes, I think it is the right way to go,
and I do think it is on the right track.

Having said that, I think the key to the council’s success will be making sure
that we focus on those issues that will give the greatest leverage. There’s always a
danger in trying to do too many things.

The key is having the right leadership, and I think that the CIOs who have been
selected to chair the various committees have provided a great deal of excellent
leadership. The strategy is to do most of the work of the CIO Council through the various
committees. It’s very important that CIOs volunteer to serve in leadership roles in
the community. The CIO is a leadership role in the agency, but the CIO Council members are
leaders in the government.

Government has certain challenges, and our committees need to be organized around those
challenges so that we focus our attention to get the greatest leverage. Our strategic plan
needs to reflect the highest priorities within those issues. That’s the key to our
success, to make sure all those things line up.

GCN: How do you figure out
which areas take priority? For example, the archiving community has always been frustrated
that archiving of electronic records never makes the cut. Is that something that should be
a priority?

REMEZ: I think dealing with electronic records will be a growing concern. But if you
put that up with Y2K or security, you can see why more attention goes to those subjects.
It isn’t a question of making the cut. It’s a question of putting the scarce
resources of the CIO Council to work on problems. NARA has done an excellent job leading
on the solutions for the electronic record-keeping issue, but we have a long way to go in
that area.

It’s not a black-and-white, either-or question. It’s, where do you get the
most leverage? This whole idea of interoperability in government is of particular interest
to the CIO Council. You can get a lot of gains if you’re able to get systems that
traditionally have not talked to one another to exchange information.

GCN: What about the CIO
Council’s Conceptual Framework for a Governmentwide IT Architecture? How important is

REMEZ: At the General Services Administration, we couldn’t do what we’re
planning to do—develop CyberGSA—unless we had an architecture. Over a year ago,
we got a group to talk about how we could standardize our architecture, align it with our
business goals and put a blueprint together so we know how we’re going to go forward
in the next several years.

Government as a whole needs to do this, too. They need to do this not only with the
individual bureaus in mind, but they need to do it with an eye toward making the whole
government work better and work faster and offer cyberservice to the taxpayers. So I see
it as a symbolic and important step that the CIO Council has endorsed a governmentwide
initiative in IT architecture.

However, it is going to be impossible to deliver a completely standardized IT
architecture across all the departments. What we have to hope for is that we can move
toward greater interoperability between the departments and not try to completely develop
cookie cutters for the whole government because that’s not going to happen—not
in the near term because of the budget process.

GCN: So you see this as a
broad framework for interoperability and then individual agency architectures.

REMEZ: Before we took this look at our agency, each business line had its own
architecture. So we would end up with problems when we’d try to do something across
the whole agency. The same is true with the government.

If we don’t work together as CIOs to develop some common agreements and standards
on certain technologies that will impact how we reach taxpayers and how they reach us,
we’re always going to come up against these barriers when we’re trying to
deliver something across government.

We want to move toward a vision of a governmentwide architecture. It’s not that
you can say that the CIO Council endorses a governmentwide architecture and overnight you
will see a vast difference in how technology is bought and installed. It’s not going
to happen that way.

GCN: How do you folks deal with systems
security issues?

REMEZ: We have doubled our security efforts in the last year. We are consulting with
experts. We are tightening security at the same time we are opening up our agency to
communicate better with our vendors and our customers. It’s a hard thing, but
it’s not antithetical.

It’s like a rubber band being pulled from both ends. Let me go back to this idea
of CyberGSA, especially in light of security. Our vision of CyberGSA is that all of our
customers will order many of our services through a Web site. Our customers could then pay
us and we could pay our vendors electronically.

So we’re talking about a complete system, soup to nuts. The Federal Technology
Service has rolled out—on an experimental basis—a system called IT Solutions
that will do just what I’m talking about, and, of course, we have GSA Advantage for
ordering products online. So that’s our vision for a future where people move
electronically through our products and services the same way they move through, although we have many more products and services.

GCN: How do you see GSA
changing in the future?

REMEZ: We will be more open. We have three initiatives related to the CyberGSA concept:
CyberWork, CyberLearn and CyberShop.

CyberWork means that we are going to be encouraging more telework. It’s working
any place that’s not your traditional office. We are pushing this concept strongly
throughout GSA because we can be closer to our customers.

With CyberLearn, we’re finding that the traditional classroom is not the only way
that people learn. Because we’re all so busy, we don’t often have time to take
two days out of our schedule to take a course.

We’re not going to eliminate traditional classrooms or traditional offices. But
with CyberLearn, we are installing a virtual university working with the private sector.
We’re going to allow our employees to click on courses either on work time or on
their own time. They also can be assigned by a manager to take a particular course. The
course will allow them to get credit, not just college credit but credit in their
personnel files. Many of the courses have exams where you can sign on and take your exam
and get your results back immediately. It’s much cheaper than going through a
traditional process.

CyberShop is all of our activities with GSA Advantage. GSA Advantage program manager Ed
O’Hare is working to expand that. What’s going to happen over the next several
years is that online buying is going to grow really big.

We are moving to the future. By not being a mandatory organization anymore, we need to
act just like the big boys. This simply means looking around and seeing how they’re
dealing with the marketplace—then we do it the same way.

All these ideas did not originate in GSA or within my head, but they come from
respected Fortune 500 companies and what they’re doing.  


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