Online Extra: Agencies uneasy about move to governmentwide financial systems

For many agencies, the gain of e-government has yet to outweigh the pain. This is especially true in the conversion to governmentwide financial systems from agencywide applications.

Mark Carney, the Education Department's chief financial officer and chairman of the CFO Council's Systems/E-Government Subcommittee, earlier this month said that transitioning to some of the 25 Quicksilver e-government initiatives has become a flash point for agencies.

The Central Contractor Registration, E-Travel and the back-end systems of Grants.gov are among the Quicksilver projects that are giving agencies heartburn.

'I think some of the transitional friction that we might be seeing today is that for so long we've been focused on our own enterprises, and now we have a lot of initiatives that are hitting us,' Carney said. 'These initiatives are trying to work across the entire federal enterprise. I think as we work through this, it may raise some emotions in some quarters. But in the end, what we end up with will be far better than what we have today.'

Carney, who moderated a panel discussion at the Joint Financial Management Improvement Program's annual conference in Washington, said while many agencies are developing or modernizing financial systems, the Office of Management and Budget's push for governmentwide systems is causing some discontent.

'Agencies have to build crosswalks so their system can be integrated with the new governmentwide system,' he said. 'To get that streamlined efficiency, you have to add complexity, and the logistics to get through that is hard. It will be a lot of extra work for agencies.'

OMB is trying to alleviate some of that extra work by forming groups to set the criteria for new systems to be certified by JFMIP.

The groups, which will be made up of vendors and agency procurement, IT and financial experts, will start with CCR, E-Travel and the Intergovernmental Transactions portal, said Wayne Leiss, OMB's chief of the Federal Financial Systems Branch.

'Our role is to orchestrate governmentwide financial management systems architecture,' Leiss said at JFMIP's annual conference. 'This includes the Financial Management Service, the interfaces to CCR, E-Travel, E-Payroll and other central services.'

Leiss said the goal is not to dictate how systems interface with CCR, but to bring together the stakeholders to figure it out.

'We will talk about what changes may be needed on the CCR side, or what changes may be needed on the JFMIP side,' Leiss said. 'I'm hoping this will be an example of how we do things in the future.'

Leiss said the working groups likely will finish the new requirements for CCR this summer. The other e-government projects may take a little longer, he added.
Many agencies are in the middle of systems upgrades that will not include the new JFMIP requirements. But in the future, Leiss said, OMB would like to make it easier for agencies to meet the JFMIP requirements sooner.

'We can't do this in time for the CCR, but down the road when we have to do a retrofit, we'll find a way to get vendors to deliver a patch to meet the new requirements, instead of waiting for next upgrade,' he said.

Agencies were required to start using CCR last October, and contractors to register by the end of 2003.

Leiss also said OMB would provide agencies with a template for service level agreements for financial management.

'Many agencies, especially those smaller ones, may not think about the more complex issues such as patch delivery and testing that go into these agreements,' he said. 'We can give agencies the benefit of our experience with these types of agreements and make sure all their needs are taken care of.'

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