Tuesday, 23rd January 2018

04How to Spend Your Money

Posted on 04. Sep, 2012 by in Blogs


Milton Friedman once quipped, “There is nothing more permanent than a temporary government program.”

How many positions, programs, and processes at your company were cost-justified when they were introduced but now are less relevant?  How many reports, meetings, and tasks do your employees tend to every day out of habit, and not based on any recent and rigorous analysis of their cost and benefit?

Now think of all the additional money you could spend wisely to go acquire new customers, or to find new and better ways to serve the customers you already have.

Which use of your money would produce more growth and profitability?

I’ve been inside more than one hundred companies, and I’ve yet to encounter one that can’t quickly and easily identify huge savings by asking tough questions about what is valuable and what isn’t.  When it the last time you did a thorough job of asking those questions — and how thorough were you really?

Don’t you have better things to do with your money?

Government Seeks Entrepreneurs for Key IT Projects

Posted on 24. May, 2012 by in Blogs


We can expect to see a clash of cultures as the Federal government gears up to innovate the way it executes large-scale, cross-functional IT initiatives. According to FederalNewsRadio, the White House recently issued a casting call for “bad-ass innovators” (aka entrepreneurs) to drive five significant IT projects. Each project has massive scale and aggressive time frames that range from six to 12 months.

If given the latitude to manage their projects as they see fit, these entrepreneur leaders will surely shake things up as they work with government employees and American citizens to deliver the following:

MyGov seeks to establish an effective means for the government and the public to communicate. The 1200 Federal Web sites that exist today provide fragmented, one-way communication. How do you structure a system that gets around the silos and uses social media? Guess we’ll find out.

Open Data Initiatives will release government data that can fuel private sector startups, create jobs, and improve the domestic economy. Health data is a key area of focus.

Blue Button for America strives to foster development of the tools needed to help citizens use personal data to improve their health and quality of healthcare.

RFP-EZ will attempt to reduce the red tape for small, high-growth companies that want to do business with the Federal government.

The 20% Campaign, led by USAID, strives to institute a system of electronic payment transfer to reduce fraud, waste, and abuse related to foreign policy, development assistance, and government operations.

It will be interesting to see how nimble the project teams can be. Critical success factors (other than chemistry of the teams) include streamlined decision-making processes and the authority to work cross-organizationally without interference and politicking. If you have a little geek in you, the projects pose an interesting challenge.

Kudos to the White House for setting Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAGs) and trying something a little different. Without a doubt there will be culture shock. Established organizations and startups function in completely different ways. How well do you think the government will respond to self-imposed disruption?

Proposed Government Consolidation Good for Entrepreneurs?

Posted on 16. Jan, 2012 by in Blogs


Portfolio.com reports that President Obama wants to consolidate a number of departments and agencies to streamline operations and give small businesses a single entity with whom to work. The Small Business Administration (SBA) would fall under the umbrella of a larger organization along with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

Elevating the SBA to cabinet-level status is a component of the plan so the interests of small businesses will not get lost within the context of a larger program. Hmmm. We’ll see.

The proposed consolidation would bring the same pitfalls commercial entities experience during the M&A process. The government will need to blend independent cultures, processes and systems in a manner that improves performance. That’s tough to do when consolidation opens the door to heightened politics and infighting over resources… which are contributing factors to why most M&A’s don’t net expected results.

Rather than jamming a bunch of organizations together to sink or swim, the government needs to facilitate a change process using a rigorous methodology that breaks through procedural silos and personal fiefdoms to streamline operations and transition people in a healthy, respectful way. We cannot simply assume that consolidation will actually save taxpayers money. Leadership will be the most critical element driving success. And along the way there’s real risk that entrepreneurs could get lost in the shuffle.

Incentives to Ride Share Coming to Virginia

Posted on 05. Jan, 2012 by in Blogs


The Examiner just reported that an app for ride sharing in Virginia is just around the corner. The Northern Virginia Regional Commission has announced it will pilot a slug line program designed to incent military personnel and government contractors to carpool to Ft. Belvoir, the Mark Center, or Quantico.

Initially, the program will give drivers $25 in gas each month and a reward based on mileage. Riders will receive 5 free rides after which they will pay the driver $1 per pickup and 20¢ per mile. The app will handle transactions behind the scenes.

The new slug line program stems from a need to reduce unprecedented congestion caused by the most recent BRAC. Per WTOP, an influx of 20,000 defense related workers will drive down the 395/95 corridors. Approximately 11% have started their new stop-and-go commute, and no one likes it. The six-month pilot comes with a $600,000 price tag funded by the Federal Highway Administration and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

I’ve done some basic math, and the program sounds like a great deal for the driver, but not so good for the rider. The math assumes:

  • Today’s gas price
  • A 5-day work week
  • 20 mpg
  • Mileage from our house to Belvoir

Based on those assumptions, my husband would pay a 12% premium to go to work on the per mile charge alone. Sure, there’s vehicle wear and tear that has to be factored in, but it’s not material enough to do the calculation. The premium pops up to 30% when you add the pickup charge. Will the desire to reduce traffic be enough for riders to pay that kind of premium? For our household, the would come to $725 a year (less holidays and more vacation).

I’d like to see the Northern Virginia Regional Commission go back to the drawing board. They have the capability to make incented ride sharing a win/win scenario for both the driver and the rider. We would hand over $55.22 per week on the mileage fee alone. At this point, I think the $25 in gas should go to riders. That incentive will of course go away. The real adjustment the Commission needs to make for this program work would be to reduce the fee per mile paid by riders. The word ‘telecommuting’ also comes to mind.

Red Alert: Congressional Integrity Hits All-time Low

Posted on 16. Dec, 2011 by in Blogs


This week the Gallup organization issued its findings on professional ethics. The annual study shows that our trust in Congress has reached an all time low. Only 7% of respondents gave Members of Congress a very high/high rating for honesty and ethical standards. A whopping 64% rated honesty and ethical standards as low to very low.

Let’s put that into context. Our nation’s leaders rated lower on integrity than any other professional category measured in the survey. Real-time accountability and consequences for poor performance is one of the critical success factors missing from elected officials’ employment packages. Who else do you know that has the power to exempt themselves from legislation they impose on the rest of us? That spells conflict of interest at its very finest.

While the founding fathers sought to balance power between the three branches of government, they couldn’t they possibly conceive of how social values and ethics would evolve over time. Or perhaps, immediate access by media and the advent of social networks have just laid bare questionable ethics that may have always been a characteristic of the type of people who rise to power within a republic. Regardless, the systems required to resolve these issues just don’t exist within today’s government.

The Gallup poll’s results sound the alarm. We are in red alert. But, like business measurements, these ratings don’t mean much unless we act effectively upon the information. To do nothing means that, as a society, we accept a continued downward spiral in expectations and performance—which bleeds over into economic and social well-being. That answer’s just not acceptable. The question I pose to you is… what positive actions would invert the trend? Please share your thoughts.

Robert Barnett

Posted on 31. Oct, 2011 by in LEADERSHIP

Robert Barnett

Photography by Ali Vonal

Robert Barnett

When the topic of lawyers in Washington comes up in conversation, there is a good chance that the name Robert Barnett will come up. Considered by many to be the most connected lawyer in the city, Robert Barnett’s services are highly sought after by the who’s who of Washington politics on both sides of the political spectrum. In his 37-year career at Williams & Connolly, LLP, Barnett has built a reputation of excellence representing clients before nearly every executive department and administrative agency in Washington. The list of his clients in the corporate world is nearly as impressive as some of the names he has represented in the political world. Politicians and other Washington insiders eager to get the best deal for their post political careers, often seek the help of Barnett who negotiates deals on their behalf. Barnett is also a noted literary agent for politicians seeking the best possible deal for their works. We spoke to Robert Barnett about some of his thoughts on his career, Washington and what it means to be a great lawyer.

Despite being a Democrat, you have helped numerous Republicans with book deals and post political careers; you seem to epitomize bipartisan cooperation. Is there a lesson in your dealings for Congress?

Although I am a Democrat, I represent Democrats, Republicans and Independents in my law practice. When you go to a doctor, you do not usually ask for that doctor’s political affiliation. Similarly, I find that my clients (all of whom presumably know my political affiliation) do not seem to ask or care. I hope they come to me because they believe I can handle the matter they are faced with— whether it is litigation, an investigation, a business deal, confronting a crisis of some sort, or something else. In dealing with clients, I try to bring knowledge, experience, and civility to the relationship. If I cannot abide the client or what he/she stands for, I do not undertake the representation.

What is your take on the current deadlock that seems to be playing out in Washington?
It is all very sad and unfortunate. Our country faces many critically important issues.

We need to solve them. That has become more and more difficult. The problem has may causes. Government officials do not socialize anymore. 24-hour coverage of the news on cable and on the internet seems to cause many to take extreme stands. Hyperpartisanship on both sides tends to make compromise difficult if not impossible. The “moderates” have been driven out of office or underground. The need to raise millions of dollars in election cycles also seems to drive everyone to extremes.

What motivates you? What is it that makes you want to keep doing what you are doing?
I am blessed to be at a great law firm and to have a challenging and wonderful law practice. I have been at Williams & Connolly for about 37 years. We have a unique firm. Although we practice all over the world, we are all based in a single office in Washington. We have only taken one lateral partner in 22 years. Everyone is “homegrown” so we all know each other well. These characteristics are unique in the era of huge firms with offices all over the world. We have been able to maintain quality and control, which benefits our clients and makes for a collegial atmosphere for partners, associates, and staff alike.

In my practice, I handle litigation, crisis response, business deals, media relations, book deals, television news contracts, helping former government officials migrate to private life, and beyond. I have clients that range from CEOs to authors to television news anchors to sports figures to former presidents. I work with talented and able lawyers. So, for me, each day is a new challenge.

It has been said that you are the ultimate Washington insider, yet you have maintained a certain air that is decidedly not Washingtonian. How have you been able to navigate the byzantine corridors of national politics and still kept yourself above the fray?

I never forget that I am from Waukegan, Illinois and that I am very fortunate to have the family and the professional career that I have. Too many people forget where they came from and get caught up in the “Washington game.” I hope that I will always resist that.

Tell us a little about your background? What made you want to become a lawyer? Was there another career path that you may have taken?
My father was a civil servant, and my mother worked in a department store. I attended the University of Wisconsin and the University of Chicago law school. After clerking and working on the Hill, I joined Williams & Connolly where I have been ever since. I am married to Rita Braver, CBS News National Correspondent who works on “CBS Sunday Morning.” We have a daugher, Meredith, who is the editorial director of www.theinsidesource. com. Meredith is married to Daniel Penn who works for a private equity firm in New York. We have a grandson named Teddy who is the joy of our lives.

Did your clerkship with the legendary Civil Rights era judge John Minor Wisdom and your work with Walter Mondale shape your outlook for your future?
I had the good fortune of working for three inspirational and exceptional people before joining Williams & Connolly in 1975. I clerked for Judge John Minor Wisdom of the United States Court of Appeals in New Orleans and for Justice Byron R. White of the United States Supreme Court. I not only learned about the law and about how courts work from them, I also learned about ethics, decision making, advocacy, negotiation, consideration of different points of view, writing and what being a lawyer was all about.

I also worked for then-Senator Walter Mondale of Minnesota in his Senate office. I learned about the legislative process, negotiation, compromise, advocacy, and politics. After I left the Senate office, Senator Mondale was nominated to be the Vice Presidential candidate on the Democratic Party ticket in 1976. All of us who had worked for Mondale left our private lives and moved to Atlanta to staff his campaign. This was the first of eight national campaigns that I have worked on.

What are the three main attributes of a successful negotiator?
First, you have to know and understand what your client wants. It’s not about you. It’s about the client.

Second, you have to know and understand your client’s “case” better than your opponent and even better than your client knows it. What are the facts? What are the rebuttals? What are the criticisms? What are the precedents?

Third, you have to know and understand your client’s opponent and the opposing lawyer. What does the opponent really want? What are his/her arguments? How can they be rebutted? What is the opposing lawyer’s style? What must he/she come away with? What is the opposing lawyer’s chain of command? What are his/her concerns about the outcome?

What the Government Can Learn from Business

Posted on 24. Oct, 2011 by in Blogs


Listening to this morning’s news about President Obama hitting the road once again to promote his jobs bill brought advice from The Dashboard Group to mind. Perhaps it’s time to run the country like a business—a well-run business that aligns all of its systems to perform effectively.

We tend to treat the nation’s symptoms rather than diagnose and resolve core issues. Looking at issues as stand-alone problems forces us to triage, and we’ve simply applied band-aids to our most burning challenges. Continuing to apply a narrow, disjointed focus means we will repeat history and pull the wrong levers to deliver disappointing outcomes.

Generating positive results requires us to look at ourselves as the enormous, interrelated ecosystem that we are instead of a set of subsystems. (Do you suppose the folks in the White House or Congress have ever applied SWOT or any other form of business analysis to our ecosystem?) A dedicated effort to row in the same direction would also help improve performance. Too much compromise and politics erode leadership to the point of paralysis.

And what about accountability? Systems without clearly defined goals and communication loops that provide constructive, real-time feedback perform poorly. Consequences for poor performance in Congress equate to dropping numbers in the polls and eventually being ousted the next time an election rolls around. How can we even pretend to be nimble and drive much needed change when the consequence of losing one’s job does not tie directly to specific action items and outcomes and has a long-delay?

Government in the Cloud

Posted on 08. Aug, 2011 by in TECHNOLOGY

Government in the Cloud

Cloud computing has been receiving a lot of buzz within the beltway, and for good reason. The promise of scalable, on-demand and relatively inexpensive Information Technology (IT) services is so compelling that even our federal government has taken notice. Witness this past December when the Federal CIO, Vivek Kundra, threw down the gauntlet in his 25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management wherein he heralded his “Cloud First” policy and issued the challenge for each agency to have three services in the cloud within 18 months. He then followed this declaration in February with his Federal Cloud Computing Strategy in which he earmarked a possible $20 billion in Federal IT spending as a potential target for the consuming of cloud computing. Fortunately, many agencies were either already researching cloud computing options or had actively embraced some form of cloud services. Some successful early adopters of private clouds include the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), who built a private cloud for the Department of Defense (DoD) community called RACE, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), who had already built their own cloud called Nebula.

Another great example of an early adopter is the Army Experience Center (AEC). When it came time to upgrade their legacy Army Recruiting Information Support System (ARISS), a customer relationship management-like (CRM) application, they turned to Salesforce.com for a pilot. For ten percent of the cost of the bids to upgrade their legacy system, they had a fully functional CRM system with all of the social media integration and real time data access needs they were previously lacking. There was also the added upside that the Army would no longer need to deal with the servers, operating systems, applications, upgrades, and patching that would have been necessary had they hosted this service in-house.

Other agencies are aggressively moving non mission critical services to the public cloud as well. So far this calendar year, we have seen the General Services Administration (GSA) begin its move to Google Apps for its email and collaboration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has also just selected Google Apps for its email and collaboration. There’s also been a spate of requests for information (RFI) and requests for quotes (RFQ) for cloud services. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is seeking a cloud provider for web hosting and content management; the Department of Labor (DoL) is looking for information on Software as a Service (SaaS) for email and collaboration; and the GSA has been seeking information on SaaS-based IT management tools.


Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud
Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud is a
web service that provides resizable
compute capacity in the cloud.
It is designed to make web-scale
computing easier for developers.

AT&T delivers Cloud services to companies as a total solution that
combines applications, services and
support on an ala cart basis.

Google offers a group of online office
productivity tools that includes
email, calendaring, word processing
and a delightful Web site creation
tool called Postini.

Enomaly Elastic Computing
The Elastic Computing Platform
(ECP) Version 3 is a full featured cloud
computing environment for service
providers and Internet Data Centers
that offer revenue generating cloud

High performance and truly green
cloud servers start up in seconds and
require no upfront commitment.
Only pay for what you use and can
be a drop in replacement for Amazon
EC3 and S3 Webservices

The Gray Lining on a Silver Cloud

There are challenges with government adoption of cloud services, though. The government is actively working on updating its policies and procedures as they relate to the acquisition, authorization and secure operation of cloud services. To be fair, this is no easy task, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been working hard on a program to streamline the approval to use cloud services. In support of this effort, NIST has received support from many other branches of government like the GSA and the Federal CIO Council, as well as input from state and local governments, academia and the private sector.

Currently, NIST is working on a cross governmental program called the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) which will help streamline and standardize the approach needed to attain a coveted “Assessing and Authorizing” (A&A) approval. This A&A approval is critical to gaining an Authority to Operate, or in other words, given permission to run a government service. It is also the lofty and admirable goal of FedRAMP to provide a single A&A that can be recognized and supported cross-agency. And, yes, currently every agency has their own unique and special A&A process that a cloud provider would need to work through before they could provide service to that agency. This is analogous to needing a different license for each state in which one wishes to drive a car.

What’s Good for the Fed is Good for the Free Market

With the government making forays into cloud services, expect the cloud providers to start to mature. When it comes to cloud computing, or even traditional on-premise data center based IT, one of government’s biggest concerns is with protecting data. By developing standards with which cloud operators must comply in order to deliver services to the federal government, those cloud providers will need to enhance their existing governance, compliance, and risk mitigation policies, processes and procedures as well as their actual IT services. This is not to imply that cloud providers are inherently insecure. In fact, some of the larger cloud providers have significantly greater investment in security than any small to mid-size enterprise could ever hope to afford. (See the Security Advantages of Cloud Computing in the spring issue of MB for more.)

There are a number of areas where the government can better shape the future of cloud services for everyone. Not least of these include wrestling with the issues of “Data Sovereignty”, data protection, and continuous monitoring. Data sovereignty deals with how, when and if citizen data can be transported and stored. What makes this issue tricky is that it is as much a legal and policy issue as it is a technical one. While this doesn’t sound like much of a commercial problem at first glance, this quickly becomes a problem when we start collecting and storing personal information relating to customers or business partners in other parts of the world.

Data protection deals with the ownership of data that is loaded into a cloud service. Read the Service Level Agreement (SLA) carefully before uploading any data to any cloud service regardless of whether it’s for a CRM service, or something as seemingly benign as a social media or blog site. Equally important is the method by which the cloud provider will destroy the data including all snapshots and backups when the service is terminated.

Finally, there are the emerging requirements that government IT services be continuously monitored. Once again, NIST has taken the lead on defining the Secure Content Automation Protocol (SCAP) that lays out the guidelines for continuous monitoring programs.

This standard will lead to the development of products that provide greater visibility of IT assets, increased awareness of threats and vulnerabilities, and more insight into the effectiveness of security controls.

The private sector will benefit from the government’s adoption of cloud services, as the additional requirements that it places upon the cloud providers will strengthen the providers’ overall operational and architectural maturity. This means better and safer cloud computing for all. And lest anyone start bemoaning government involvement in cloud services, recall that the Internet is a gift from the military industrial complex…namely the organization once known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). ∞

Social Media Shifts Power Base

Posted on 01. Aug, 2011 by in Blogs

capitol building Washington, dc

When President Obama asked Americans to tweet #compromise to members of Congress, he did much more than spam his followers on Twitter. He actually started to shift the power of balance among American adults because feedback through that particular mechanism is skewed toward young non-Caucasians. And while the people in these demographics have the right to speak up, so does everyone else.

Using Twitter as a means to influence the vote on raising the debt ceiling automatically biases results along the lines of age, gender, race, education and wealth. A balanced communication plan would use channels that enabled people from all demographics to participate.

Not that everyone would weigh in, but the point behind democratic representation is that our government makes the best, balanced decision for all. Each single decision will have its winners and losers, but in the end there’s an obligation to ensure we have a thriving, healthy economy and populace in the short- and long-terms. Clearly there’s still work to do in that respect.

The analysts say that President Obama lost up to 40,000 followers on Twitter by requesting their input through #compromise. I think the price tag runs much higher. Politics is all about wielding influence. So is leadership. But they are not the same thing. And the American public knows the difference.

The Apple® Invasion

Posted on 31. May, 2011 by in Blogs

The Apple® Invasion

Apple stock is going to get a whole lot more valuable. The Washington Post reports on a movement to replace the Blackberry® and laptops with iPhones and iPads®. Apparently the movement began 90 days ago. I can hear government employees cheering… and CIOs begging for mercy.

There’s no question that Apple has developed more user-friendly, more robust products than other device and software manufacturers—in addition to keeping their ecosystem locked down tightly so that the company exerts a high degree of quality control over 3rd party apps. For those federal workers who want smoother integration between work and home, adoption of Apple products by the federal government will bring mixed blessings.

I argue that people should have a separation of work and home. People need an opportunity to be off the clock, recharge their batteries, and engage in activities they find personally rewarding and fulfilling. Having the device of choice in hand 24/7 may offer challenges to those of us who have trouble leaving work at work.

And yet, Apple’s tools offer so much more power and flexibility that having them available for work and home will no doubt improve the quality of life for many, and productivity levels for most. The key, then, is to figure out how to strike a balance.

I believe the government will have to take a look and update its equipment usage policies. Employees will use these devices for personal use. We may as will figure out a safe way for employees to integrate their professional and personal lives.

According to a Forrester report, 35% of US workers already buy their own device, use unsanctioned websites, or download unauthorized software onto their work computers despite company policies to the contrary. Can we say “virus?” CIOs detest the work-arounds employees engage in to be more productive—with good reason.

There’s no doubt that the CIOs and their staff supporting the federal government will now face their greatest security challenge yet. So far Apple products have been predominantly off the radar with respect to viruses and malware. With federal employees using equipment for both home and work and downloading apps by the millions, the opportunity to figure out how to use Apple products as a Trojan horse has just become mighty enticing to people with bad intentions.

One of the biggest winners, of course, will be Apple. They are no longer confined predominantly to educational or graphic design purposes, but have now begun to infiltrate a very large and important market segment beyond their already significant consumer base. They’ve done it without compromising their standards. You may not always agree with ‘the Apple way,’ but you can’t deny they’ve figured out how to do business on their own terms—and very successfully at that.