OPM puts IT purchasing under CIO

'Having this system greatly reduces the likelihood that someone will buy something inconsistent with our enterprise architecture'

'Clarence Crawford, OMP Chief Financial Officer

Janet Barnes has power few agency CIOs have but most want. The Office of Personnel Management's top IT official gets final approval over all technology procurement plans and strategies.

OPM director Kay Coles James strengthened Barnes' hand in controlling how the agency invests in IT.

'We are complying with [Office of Management and Budget Circular] A-130, which says the CIO is responsible for capital planning processes for IT software, hardware and maintenance,' said Clarence Crawford, OPM's chief financial officer and associate director for management. 'This policy in many ways codifies what we have been doing.'

OPM also issued policies governing the use of electronic signatures and centralizing regulations to ensure that the agency meets the accessibility requirements of Section 508 of the 1998 Rehabilitation Act Amendments.

Barnes is one of only a handful of CIOs, including the Small Business Administration's Stephen Galvan, who oversee IT procurement strategies.

Officials issued the IT policy just as OPM's new IT Procurement Authorization Tracking System expanded agencywide. Program managers and contracting officers must submit procurement requests through the tracking system for review. Crawford said the agency had been testing it in the human resources division for two months, and it is ready for wider use.

'Having this system greatly reduces the likelihood that someone will buy something inconsistent with our enterprise architecture,' Crawford said. 'It also will give us better control over IT planning and implementation.'

OPM developed the system in-house by modifying a commercial application called Team Tracker from Serena Software Inc. of San Mateo, Calif., using Java. Program managers access the application through OPM's intranet, logging on with name and password. They fill out a template with the quantity, type of hardware or software, and other information from drop-down menus, Crawford said.

Each finished request is routed to the Center for Information Services, managed by the CIO, for approval and an implementation schedule.

'We can turn around routine requests in two days,' Crawford said. 'It gives the CIO organization a heads-up on any new procurements.'

Program managers and IT managers can check the status of any request during the approval process, and Barnes receives daily reports to make sure deadlines are met, Crawford said.

The center must not install unapproved or noncompliant software or hardware, the policy said.

Dave McClure, vice president for e-government at the Council for Excellence in Government of Washington, said the policy provides a central point for approval, which strengthens the entire procurement process.

'A key factor in outsourcing is having an integrated team with the right mix of executives to make sure the acquisition decision has been put through disciplined procedures,' he said. 'The fact that it is being done at the procurement step helps to make sure everything is in sync with the investment strategy.'

The authorization system also incorporates Section 508 policy to make sure program offices buy products that meet standards.

The new regulation consolidates previous OPM mandates from 2001 and updates guidance for Web accessibility. The IT and 508 policies help implement the use of electronic signatures across OPM, Crawford said.

Program officers will use

e-signatures for business applications and information collection. Their offices must perform risk assessments of the suitability of e-signatures for each application, and the CIO must approve the technology approach prior to implementation.

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