Another View: At OMB, green does not always mean go

Eric Gioia, executive vice president with Robbins-Gioia LLC of Alexandria, Va.

OMB is making significant strides on its aggressive Federal Enterprise Architecture agenda, developing a highly structured evaluation framework to ensure that America's IT investments deliver the best value to citizens.

The FEA initiative involves eliminating redundant IT efforts and helping agencies share data and systems. In this environment, public-sector IT organizations are working to meet new project approval and funding requirements such as the Exhibit 300 business cases to support proposed projects.

Many agency executives believe that a good score on an Exhibit 300 will assure project funding, but this is not the case. As some agency executives are finding, green does not always mean go.

Many agency executives are perplexed when their projects get good scores on all the Exhibit 300 categories but are rejected by OMB. Some question OMB's evaluation process. The real problem, more often, lies in agencies' understanding of the review and budgeting process.

OMB's architecture goals go beyond instilling a disciplined business case development process. OMB is working to transform the government's IT investment strategy. This initiative encourages collaboration by linking IT investments to outcomes relevant to customers within the government's specified lines of business.

It is not enough to generate a return on investment. The return must also create value against an existing government mission. As a result, Exhibit 300s are only one component in the process of planning and securing approval for IT programs.

Beyond creating solid business cases, agencies can take two additional steps to focus resources on the highest-priority programs:
  • Prioritize projects against the agency's overall strategic and mission agenda. A portfolio management approach can help.

  • Collaborate where possible. Consider whether the program would benefit other agencies, and develop a joint program submission.

The focus is on looking both within and outside each domain to determine if other agencies have parallel capabilities. This process helps agencies improve their chances of securing OMB approval and funding.

Because OMB is looking at all programs competitively, federal IT executives should adopt processes that let them evaluate programs relatively within their own portfolio, as well as absolutely. Portfolio management can be a valuable methodology in the assessment process. It provides a larger view of all the investments within an agency, ensuring that projects align with the agency's key values.

The steps to portfolio management are straightforward, but implementation requires disciplined governance and consistent sponsorship. Here are the essential elements:
  • Commit to a strategic approach: understand what is being spent, developed, acquired and procured, and for whom

  • Collect information on all projects as they align with objectives

  • Rank projects in terms of the value they deliver, and review these periodically as they change over time.

Consider the creation of the Homeland Security Department, which required a revised strategy, as a model for enterprise alignment. Agencies now under the DHS umbrella are reassessing the value of their internal IT programs given the changes to strategy and the realignment of organizational structures. Some programs that made sense under the old structure must now be consolidated or rationalized.

Eric Gioia is an executive vice president with Robbins-Gioia LLC of Alexandria, Va.

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