OMB shakes up two e-gov projects

The system will have to handle voice and data, specifically geographic information. 'First responders will tell us what they need instead of the other way around. The decision is to focus on the nuts and bolts of the architecture issues.'

'OMB's Mark Forman

Henrik G. DeGyor

Dissatisfied with the progress on two Quicksilver e-government projects headed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Office of Management and Budget last month replaced the program managers.

OMB brought in Mark Zimmerman of the Marine Corps to replace Dennis Green at the helm of FEMA's Disaster Management e-government project and tapped Susan Moore, on detail from the Agriculture Department, to take the place of Tom Ringer in leading Project Safecom, a public safety wireless communications initiative.

Mark Forman, OMB's associate director of IT and e-government, said he was not pleased with the progress on the projects and decided to make a change. He also said the Interior Department's Geospatial Information One Stop initiative is falling short of its objectives, and OMB will name a new project manager soon.

OMB's move to jump-start FEMA's projects is the first time project managers have been replaced for reasons other than retirement. George Wollner, who retired in October after directing the Labor Department's GovBenefits.gov project, and John Moeller, who also recently retired after getting the Geospatial One Stop project off the ground, also have been replaced.

'We have to have a decent requirements analysis for this project,' he said. A lot of architecture work needs to be done, and that requires a shift in capabilities, Forman said.

Zimmerman played a key role in developing the Consequence Management Interoperability Services Suite so the Marine Corps could better communicate and share information with state and local emergency management officials. OMB wants him to take the disaster management coordination system a step further and apply it across the country.

'Since Mark oversaw the building of the tool before, it was an obvious choice for him to take over the leadership role and build on that tool,' Forman said. 'The tool addresses a big chunk of the issues identified by state and local emergency management officials.'

The Safecom and Disaster Management initiatives have been among the most challenging of the 25 e-government projects. Disaster Management delayed the release of its portal at least twice because agencies were slow in providing content.

Rose Parkes, CIO of FEMA, this month said the next iteration of the disasterhelp.gov portal is scheduled for release Nov. 25.

A herd of cats

Safecom's troubles also have been well-documented. The Justice Department started as the managing partner, but that position was shifted to Treasury and FEMA to manage as joint partners. FEMA now is overseeing the project by itself.

Because cooperation between agencies involved in the project has been inconsistent at best, Forman has said he would use OMB's authorities under the Clinger-Cohen Act to force collaboration by reprogramming nearly $1.7 billion worth of funding for wireless interoperability projects if agencies don't cooperate better.

Parkes said Moore compared Safecom to herding cats.

'There are a lot of solution sets within the communities,' Parkes said. 'Our objective is to build a road map that allows us to review all the solutions sets and determine best practices. We want to survey the systems so we know what is out there.'

FEMA will not dictate standards but will recommend what is needed to make wireless systems interoperable, Parkes said.

Forman said one of Moore's first goals is to set up a working group with federal, state and local emergency officials to determine the system's requirements for applications, bandwidth and hardware. The system or network will have to handle voice and data, specifically geographical information and possibly images, Forman said.

'First responders will tell us what they need to get this done instead of the other way around,' Forman said. 'The decision is to focus on the nuts and bolts of the architecture issues.'

Zimmerman's job is more straightforward. Among his first goals is to modify the Marine Corps CMIS tool for use across the country instead of only areas that affect bases.

CMIS, on which the Marine Corps has spent about $20 million since fiscal 2000, lets users access a bimonthly report containing both analysis and raw information drawn from public sources about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. It also includes a component to provide incident information and exchange capabilities.

'The tool simplifies and integrates for the disaster management official how everything fits together,' Forman said. 'We no longer are forcing emergency management directors to be our integrators.'

Forman said the timetables for both projects have been pushed back, but he would not say by how much.

FEMA refused to comment on what either Green or Ringer are currently working on.

William Welsh, staff writer for Washington Technology, contributed to this story.

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