OMB restricts more IT projects

After halting IT infrastructure efforts last month at agencies tapped to become part of the proposed Homeland Security Department, the Office of Management and Budget now has directed these same agencies to cease work on financial, personnel and procurement system projects.

As with the earlier directive, OMB director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. detailed his orders in a memo to the agencies. It affects all projects valued at more than $500,000.

The agencies--the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Coast Guard, Customs Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Secret Service and Transportation Security Administration--can expect more such memos, said Mark Forman, OMB's associate director for IT and e-government.

"This is the only way to make sure the new department isn't just a conglomeration of bureaus," he said.

Stephen Colo, assistant director of administration at the Secret Service, said he expects nothing will happen soon, possibly not by year's end. "It's a slow process, but the goal is right on," Colo said.

The memo, in his opinion, will not halt work for which agencies have contracted but rather will alert them to move cautiously, knowing that consolidation lies ahead.

"We'll sign many memorandums of understanding with Treasury until there can be a transfer [of the Secret Service] over to Homeland Security," he said.

In the meantime, Treasury Department contractors are still developing a new departmental financial system. "We're in the beginning stages, and the intent is not to stop contractors from working on a much-needed system that's been in the works for years," he said.

OMB has chartered a review team, the Business Systems IT Review Group, to develop a plan for eliminating redundant management systems at the component agencies. OMB established a similar team, the Homeland Security IT Investment Review group, to oversee the consolidation of infrastructure systems. Although the members have not been announced for the latest review group, Forman said it will include chief financial officers, human resources and procurement officials, and other management experts.

"The makeup of the group is still kind of sketchy," said Colo, who expects to be part of it.

Daniels' memo said the component agencies have 21 financial systems projects under way and plan to spend $235 million on them. His memo gave no time frame for that figure but said the government could save $85 million over the next two years if the systems are consolidated.

Forman said the $85 million is an estimate based on integration and modernization expenditures.

The idea, Colo said, is to "move forward to an enterprise architecture. It doesn't mean we have to have one gigantic business management system" for the proposed department.

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