Remember, just as the Army is focused on developing generals, we need to be focused on developing CIOs. The only way we can really stop this stupid CIO import business is by attacking the source and cultivating a crop of CIOs who are prepared to take that next step. We need to address several challenges to create this environment. The easy ones are to keep track of how many 2210s are getting into the leadership development programs, supervisor training and SES CDPs. This is a pyramid, and we must have early intervention to create those opportunities. It may take 40 people in the leadership development program to get 15 supervisors to get one SES CDP. You need to intervene to ensure that the IT discipline is well represented, especially at the early opportunities.

How are funds made available for certifications and degree programs? How much money is going to your 2210s? Is it enough? If you have $120,000 that you can devote to bringing in one USDS person, would that money be better spent by giving six employees who have been in the trenches with you $20,000 each to pursue a graduate degree? What was the price tag of USDS last year? $20 million? And what has than investment gotten us?

For the supervisors in your office, are they cultivating their future replacements? Are they working with staff to develop IDPs? Is it a priority? Are they having conversations with their teams about their long-term goals and the types of activities and experiences that will help them get there? Are they making themselves available to be mentors to people? Is that a priority?

To what degree have the CIO and the CHCO worked together to identify the gaps in skills and workforce needs and trends? As I look at organization effectiveness, we can try to import leadership, or we can try to grow it. One of these creates a sustainable energy within the organization.

The things I talk about in this chapter are the experiences that people can get in the Federal government and if we focus on equipping our people with these types of value-adding experiences and time them right, we will retain them and we will be rewarded with well-rounded leaders who know how the government works and who know how to get shit done here better than anyone from San Jose.

A final note on SESs

When the Senior Executive Service (SES) was created, the intent was to create this thin layer of professional leadership between the political appointees and the career GS staff. The SES were the people the political appointees could trust to provide guidance and history about what has worked and not worked in the government. They also represent the voice of the GS team who are supporting the agency. Thus, they are the people who help to make the compromises between what is desired and what is feasible.

The problem is that the SESs I have seen tend to get their position and stay there forever. SES is in its nature, fundamental leadership. An SES at Agency A should be just as effective at Agency B. The intent was that these people would move around some and that is how the best ideas at Agency A get to Agency B. Unfortunately, it hasn’t really worked out that way. The transience of SES is too low. If you are an SES you have a responsibility to take the best ideas from your current agency and leverage them at a new agency. People lament, and GAO has reported about how CIOs on the average only have their jobs for 22 or 23 months; less than two years. Part of the reason is simply the nature of the position. But I submit that part of the reason is because those career SESs supporting the CIOs need to broaden their visibility. They are giving advice and guidance that is lacking the broader scope and vision. When I see an agency that has a revolving door of CIOs I wonder if the issue isn’t the fact that the SESs supporting him or her are stuck in a time warp.

If you don’t want to be a part of a “cleaning house” scenario like VA (good for you Miss Council), you need to move around; I say three to five years. This gives you one year to learn the agency, the people, the business and the culture; one year to start implementing the best ideas from where you came from; then a couple years to learn from that experience and cultivate your replacement.

When I see people who have been with the same agency for gobs and gobs of years I think that they get complacent. They don’t challenge themselves and they don’t take risks. You have to move around, that is part of the value the SES is supposed to deliver. If you only have experience from one agency you lack the big picture and visibility into the opportunities that stand before you.



In This Series:

The Federal IT Papers–Part 1

The Federal IT Papers–Part 2

The Federal IT Papers–Part 3

The Federal IT Papers–Part 4

The Federal IT Papers–Part 5

The Federal IT Papers–Part 6

The Federal IT Papers–Part 7

The Federal IT Papers–Part 8

The Federal IT Papers–Part 9

The Federal IT Papers–Part 10

The Federal IT Papers–Part 11

The Federal IT Papers–Part 12

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Demosthenes is a pseudonym for a senior Federal IT official.