OMB tightens grip on e-gov purse strings

Paul Brubaker says OMB is making good use of the Clinger-Cohen Act when forcing agencies to consolidate projects and share resources.

When agencies dragged their feet on the Online Rulemaking initiative, the Office of Management and Budget gave the project's partners a jolt: It demanded that they work together and pool their resources to pay for the project.

It's an approach agencies can expect more often, especially on e-government projects, said Mark Forman, OMB's associate director for IT and e-government.

'As we have gotten more controlling with some of this stuff, agencies knew we were serious, and now are doing it right,' he said.

The push began this month when OMB director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. sent a memorandum to agency heads invoking the Clinger-Cohen Act to force agencies working on the Online Rulemaking project to share the more than $27 million in fiscal 2002 funding earmarked for disparate rule-making systems.

The letter was part of OMB's plan to use Clinger-Cohen to make sure agencies don't spend time and money on overlapping efforts for the 24 Quicksilver e-government projects.

Forman followed up Daniels' letter with a memo asking agencies' managing partners for the projects to itemize the resources they needed so OMB can use its authority under the law to better allocate funding.

OMB will have a plan in place by June 30 outlining how agencies should share resources, Forman said.

OMB also will re-examine agencies' fiscal 2003 budget requests to identify duplicative technology investments. It will redistribute resources where it deems appropriate, Daniels' letter said.

'It was a combination of a lack of speed and limited cooperation,' Forman said of the Online Rulemaking letter. 'The project team also requested OMB give some strong and definitive guidance.'

The Transportation Department, which is managing the Online Rulemaking initiative, will redo the project's business case to include a technical assessment of the disparate systems it will consolidate. Forman said the business case is due by mid-July, and a new governmentwide rule-making Web site will be up by Dec. 31.

'It wasn't a pushback from partner agencies but what some would call a management dilemma,' Forman said. 'In order to move forward, some pretty good projects would have to be shut down, and it is hard to go back to your agency and say your work was good but not good enough.'

Funding adjustments

Other projects could face the same process path as the rule-making initiative, Forman said.
Overseeing how agencies share e-government funding is one of two ways OMB plans to use the Clinger-Cohen Act to maintain progress on the 24 initiatives, Forman said. OMB also will use its authority to solidify agreements agencies reach on how they will share funding.

The six-year-old law gave the OMB director many powers regarding IT, including the authority to reduce or adjust funding for systems.

Forman said the authority to force agencies to share funding was used for the first time on the payroll processing initiative. Agencies were using 33 systems that cost $1 billion to run, and OMB did not want to continue funding the systems separately when one system could do the same work for less money, he said.

Since OMB started forcing agencies to share IT funds, Forman said, they have been more willing to pool their resources on their own.

The CIO Council has requested that funding and resource decisions be made by the end of next month because many projects are now in need of money and personnel to meet their goals, Forman said.

'We finished the architecture analysis and we realized, on average, there are 17 major projects per initiative being done by agencies,' Forman said. 'It is just time to figure out how to better fund these 24 projects.'

Mayi Canales, acting CIO for the Treasury Department, Ron Miller, CIO for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Tom Pyke, CIO for the Commerce Department, voiced support for the approach.

Canales expressed concern about the fallout for other projects. 'We just can't take money out of Treasury without some effect on other programs,' she said. 'There needs to be some work with [Capitol] Hill on how to pool funding.'

OMB's use of the Clinger-Cohen Act is receiving high marks from Paul Brubaker, a former staff member for Sen. Bill Cohen (R-Maine), one of the law's principal sponsors.

'OMB has a lot of authority under Clinger-Cohen, and it is a real positive step,' said Brubaker, chief executive officer of Aquilent Inc. of Laurel, Md. 'The reality is this is something that has been needed to be done for a while. It is the smartest authority in Clinger-Cohen because OMB can manage resources that can truly effect transformation.'

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