USCIS CIO Schwartz Shares Final Thoughts Before Leaving Government

His last talk as a government employee focused on the benefits of DevOps.

Mark Schwartz, soon-to-be former chief information officer of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, spent his last public speech as a government employee discussing the benefits of DevOps processes.

Schwartz’s next career move is to Amazon Web Services to be an enterprise strategist and evangelist. Before he makes the transition, he outlined the main advantages of using DevOps at the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center Federal DevOps Summit on June 28 in Washington, D.C.

The DevOps software development process uses a cross-functional team for development, testing, infrastructure, engineering, operations and security. Its advantages are many, including speedy development-to-production times, quick feedback and adjustment and rapid and frequent deployment.

“That’s out-of-the-box what you get from good DevOps practice,” Schwartz said. “It might cost you something temporarily, but I think it’s pretty clear that these are all good things that we want.”

In his experience with the Homeland Security Department, these advantages also turned into positive outcomes:

  1. Reduced lead times: The time between identifying a mission need to the deployment of a capability is “almost nothing.” What used to take years building big programs through lengthy contracting and requirement processes now happens multiple times a day. “We can take one requirement, put it though the development and deployment process, put it into production and then move onto the next one,” Schwartz said.

  2. Reduced risk: When the government fails executing an IT project, it fails big. “When we build our programs really big, the risk is really big. When the risk is really big, we add more oversight and controls to it, and our program gets even bigger,” Schwartz said. With DevOps, a program can be as small as one requirement using processes highly controlled and mechanical with “guardrails.” One small requirement only has a small amount of risk.

  3. Quick turn around: In an environment requiring responses to geopolitical events, if an order for a new capability or requirement comes down the pipeline, DevOps allows teams to start immediately (rather than creating a whole new program).

  4. Quick response to security problems: If a new vulnerability is found, it takes minutes to respond to, patch or eliminate that vulnerability with automated processes and tests. If there’s a threat or malicious event on a virtual machine, Schwartz said he could destroy that VM and rebuild it in 19 seconds without the vulnerability. 

  5. Cross-agency code sharing: “If we’re doing this right, I think we can be sharing code across the entire federal government,” Schwartz said. Rather than taking copies of open source code and working on it in siloes, an agency’s code can have an assigned steward allowing others to collaborate and improve it. To avert any risk, DevOps processes can ensure codes are being constantly retested, rebuilt and securely scanned.

DevOps provide all these opportunities agencies should be exploring. Schwartz closed with a final lesson he learned after spending seven years in government.

“When we have these hard challenges, they are actually solvable because you just keep pushing and pushing and pushing and if what you’re doing is going to add value, eventually you get there,” he said. Schwartz has not been stopped during his pursuit to DevOps, and he believes other agencies can get there, too.