Customer Service Post
Philip Droege is an interesting guy—with an even more interesting job.He’s the Director, Office of Records Management for the Executive Office of the President EOP. Which means two things:

  • He’s in charge of maintaining the paper trail for the president, vice president, and all their deputies, assistants, counsels, and other staff members
  • Every four or eight years, he’s in charge of clearing out all those records as a new administration displaces the old

Philip lead a session with Jason R. Baron, former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), during the inaugural Records Management Conference at 930gov on August 24, 2016. They spoke on “Presidential Transitions and Exit Procedures for Departing Officials,” covering what happens when the entire senior leadership of the U.S. Government packs up and leaves town.

You probably know that on Inauguration Day, it’s traditional for the president and president-elect to ride together from the White House to the ceremony at the Capitol. As the incumbent walks out through the North Portico, it’s a bittersweet moment—for the simple reason that he or she will not return that day and perhaps not ever.

And as soon as the limos sweep out of site, an army of movers attacks the residence on the third floor. All of the outgoing family’s belongings are packed into vans and are replaced by those of the new first family. When the new first family arrives, their new home will be ready for them.

The White House load-out and load-in is a tiny part of a far larger transition between the old and new administrations. As many as 1800 people work in the Executive Office of the President  (EOP) and the vast majority of those in White House components will be leaving. 

According to Jason, an advocate for information governance, what they have created and will leave for NARA to own  is an enormous mountain of presidential records, including:

  • Hundreds of millions of emails
  • Plane loads of paper
  • Petabytes of other types of data, including photographs

The Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978 designates every item in that vast trove as a presidential record. And under the PRA, the rules are clear: all presidential records of all White House employees must be transferred into the legal custody of NARA.  

For political appointees at federal agencies, the rules are differentOnly some records series in agencies are organized by administrations, Jason says. In other words,  a cut-off date when those records must be sent to a records center may differ from the date one administration ends and another begins.   Other internal records will be subject to an agency’s own policies regarding preservation or disposal, in accordance with the Archivist’s determination of when they will no longer have administrative, historical, informational or evidentiary value.

As a change in administration approaches, Jason recommends that departing officials follow NARA guidance and prepare thoroughly to make an “intelligent hand-off” by:

  • Meeting with their designated records officer or ombudsman
  • Working within the approved guidance framework for their agency
  • Ensuring that all records—including documents, email, and data—are accounted for
  • Removing purely personal information, especially PII
  • Transferring any emails sent via private accounts to a .gov account

We’ve seen in the news that senior officials can generate tens if not hundreds of thousands of records. Waiting until the last minute to sort and prepare all that material will make for a big, ugly job. To avoid the rush, Jason recommends officials adopt these operating principles from the first day they walk into their new offices:

  • Don’t skip the briefing on NARA and agency records management policies
  • Understand what systems are in place to automatically capture records
  • Follow procedures so that records are processed appropriately
  • Use a .gov email account for all official business (and promptly copy or transfer emails relating to government business sent over a commercial account to a .gov account)

Ideally, for most officials, the day-to-day burden of records management will be almost invisible. But taking a few simple steps can save a lot of time and keep you out of trouble—especially with new laws covering emails.



Knowledge Management Post

As we develop the Knowledge Management (KM) conference agenda for 930gov and I continue to talk to our speakers, a clear theme emerged: There are several common pitfalls that knock KM initiatives off track.Most of these pitfalls stem from the lack of a common definition of KM that can be easily understood—especially by non-practitioners. Gartner defines KM as: “a discipline that promotes an integrated approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing all of an enterprise’s information assets. These assets may include databases, documents, policies, procedures, and previously un-captured expertise and experience in individual workers.”

Hmm. That sounds like something an organization really ought to do. It also sounds like a really big, really complicated, and really expensive undertaking. If the KM “brand” resonates with non-practitioners as some “buzzword flavor-of-the-month” or a “risky enterprise program,” then it’s no wonder KM practitioners constantly find themselves in an uphill battle to gain interest, buy-in, and funding.

Several of our sessions at  930gov  touch on the topic of redefining knowledge management. Any new definition should be designed to help KM programs and practitioners navigate around these five landmines:

  1. Labeling programs as “knowledge management initiatives.” If the term, “knowledge management” leans toward unhelpful connotations, Art Schlussel, ECM Program Manager, FDA/CDRH, a KM session speaker, seriously suggests avoiding it altogether—especially in program proposals to agency executives and business owners. He says, “take the term ‘KM’ out of everything and focus on functions,  features, benefits, and value.”
  2. Doing KM for KM’s sake. Sharing all of an organization’s information assets really isn’t a goal. It’s a means toward achieving an outcome. As Maureen Hammer, Ph.D., Knowledge Management, AAHR/BCO, a  KM session  speaker says, “KM leaders need to frame and communicate how KM processes and approaches can help achieve operational, performance, or strategic objectives.” The question KM practitioners must really answer is “What’s in it for me—or us?”
  3. Relying on top leadership to drive KM. There’s always a risk that the duration of your KM program will exceed the tenure of the leaders that helped you get it started. New leaders (especially those from outside the agency) will have their own priorities and may not see how KM might specifically benefit your organization. In such a situation, the best ally you can have is a groundswell of grassroots support from those who are or will be seeing direct benefits from your program. Recruiting your stakeholders as your champions will enable your program to survive leadership transitions—even a change of administrations.
  4. Failing to adapt. Maureen Hammer estimates that for most KM initiatives, about 70% of the effort will focus on people and processes with the remainder going to technology. With that mix, dynamic change is inevitable. Your success will substantially depend on the ability to adapt to new circumstances or mission requirements. Build on a foundation of flexibility and protect it at all costs. Programs that are rigidly locked into approaches, systems, or even acquisition strategies may find they cannot deliver what their agency now needs.
  5. Allowing misconceptions to breed: Someone was telling me that a study has proved that humans always default to negative perceptions. Well, no kidding. But think: that negative bias is especially dangerous for KM programs because of their somewhat abstract nature. According to Ms. Hammer, many non-practitioners think that the aim of KM is to Hoover up every last dustball of knowledge that exists in a organization. That’s implausible, messy, and pointless. But it does confirm the idea that KM might have an image problem. Make sure you relentlessly communicate the specifics of your program: The challenges it addresses, the information it will capture, how that information will be distributed, and the concrete, mission benefits that will result. Listen for and jump on any misconceptions that may divert engagement away from what you’re trying to accomplish.

KM offers substantial benefits for agencies—especially when so many federal employees are nearing retirement age.

KM offers substantial benefits for agencies—especially when so many federal employees are nearing retirement age. That means the first responsibility for both KM leaders and KM operators has to be recruiting their agency colleagues as KM champions. That leads to a second responsibility: to communicate far and wide the value and benefits of KM. If that means calling KM by another name, so be it. Whatever it takes to actually do it.



Image of people at tradeshows 930GOV | DGI
Thirty years ago, the live event government marketplace was a completely different realm. Back then, great tradeshows stalked the earth and the apex predator for federal marketing dollars was an annual “Tradeshow and Conference” filling the prior Washington Convention Center multiple times each year.Fast forward to the present and it’s a very different epoch. The apex predator “Tradeshow and Conference” of old is extinct, with not even a single fossil remaining. Today, the government market calendar abounds with a profusion of small mammals—variously known as single vendor “Summits” or single solution conferences held in hotels and related meeting space throughout the DC metro area—with multiple events scheduled virtually every day of the business calendar.

So what happened to the great tradeshow?

Unlike the dinosaurs, the great government “Tradeshow and Conference” wasn’t done in by a single cataclysmic event—such as the advent of the Internet. Rather, large tradeshows were diminished by smaller factors including: lack of focus and management attention, mergers and acquisitions, and greed. Combine that with the inability of established tradeshows to adapt to changing market dynamics resulting in declining attendance. Meanwhile, tighter ethical guidelines and government travel restrictions made attending multi-day, large horizontal events risky.

But more than anything else, the scale and complexity of the challenges government agencies faced grew beyond the plausible scope of even the grandest tradeshow. Thirty years ago the large government tradeshows were focused on products; vendors used the event to announce new products and services. At a time when agencies were trying to stand up local area networks, connect network printers, and get email to everybody, it made sense to convert the convention center into a giant, one-stop mall for IT products and related services.

With Moore’s law in full effect, computers and other IT products were improving dramatically from year to year justifying annual participation. The large tradeshow enabled buyers to see, touch, and try the full range of their IT options, all in one place, all at one time—it was a win-win for both agency personnel and vendors.

But over time, the focus shifted from the desktop, beyond the LAN, to the enterprise and beyond. Products that were once innovations became commodities. Today, few IT leaders are going to leave their office to address challenges that can be solved by purchasing a product. They can jump online, investigate and click “Buy.”

As the emphasis shifted away from products with vendors using other media formats to make new product announcements, the large events started to decline in exhibit space and attendance. Instead of updating the tradeshow format, show organizers stuck with the old formula of trying to be everything to everybody—using taglines like ‘Technology Unites Us”—leading to lost exhibitors and attendees. The same goes for hard-pressed publications scrambling to replace declining magazine advertising revenue. The transition from an industrial economy to the information based economy continues to destroy many prior successful business models.

Split off from the mammoth-sized exhibition, in the past 15 years “small mammal” sized events filled up the event calendar (small mammal event defined as a one day/ half day solution specific events). The value of these events vary greatly with multiple alternatives happening each week or in some cases the same day. Unfortunately, many are just elaborately concealed sales pitches.

Making tradeshows great again

So how can the classic tradeshow be revived? Should they be revived? The answer is definitely “yes” but only if the tradeshow evolves into a new form and format. Tradeshows must move away from broadcasting information vendors want to convey to building communities, and start facilitating conversations agency professionals want and need to hear. To be of any great value, tradeshows must essentially become a dynamic form of live, in-person social media.

Blog Post Template v2

The new tradeshow is a platform and venue for gathering communities of interest for discussion and networking. It’s where professionals can gather to engage with one another as well as with subject matter—with ample time for deeper dives, face-to-face networking, and nuanced conversations that are difficult to replicate online.

To function in this way, tradeshows must be organized to support the ongoing work of government technical communities. The work goes on every day, all year, in all sorts of ways, in all different agencies. The new tradeshow exists to summarize and surface all of that work for review and discussion among the community as a whole. Following the tradeshow, now armed with up-to-date, holistic perspective, the community can get back to work equipped with new ideas to tackle another year.

The new tradeshow is part of the process of advancing the work. Which means the content, speakers, and formats must be curated by someone who is intimately familiar with the people, projects, and subject matter that truly matter within technical communities. The result of that familiarity is the essence of the new tradeshow: specific, contextual, and relevant. Sustaining that relevance over time is the primary qualification for greatness.

A great tradeshow is one that consistently delivers great value and can adapt to the constantly changing environment.

In this way, tradeshows can resurface and be great once again.