There's more to the game than knowing the rules

To win the funding game, you've got to know the rules. But knowing the rules isn't enough'there's much more to getting your IT initiative underwritten. Knowing the rules never hit a ground-rule double or put a 20-foot putt in the hole.

You'll find the rules in the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-11. They're all there. Agencies have to address every aspect of the proposed project, from cost and benefits to acquisition strategy and security.

The Exhibit 300 business case, an A-11 requirement in which agencies detail their capital plans, is a critical component of the process. And it's become more important in recent years as OMB has piled on new and more intricate requirements.

Program managers also must indicate how they're going to meet an ever-growing assortment of directives, goals and mandates implemented under laws such as the Federal Information Security Management Act and the Government Paperwork Reduction Act, to name two.

And you have to align your business cases with the Federal Enterprise Architecture, OMB's latest requirement for 2005 fiscal year funding.

That's a mountain of work for agencies, but it's pretty straightforward. It shouldn't be that hard to get an overall five'the top score'if you follow the rules, right? Maybe you could even get somebody else to do it.

No so fast. Following the rules to a T doesn't guarantee funding, as far as OMB is concerned.

'You could hire a contractor who knows how these things are going to get scored, who uses all the right words and who says all this good stuff so your business case scores as a five,' said Karen Evans, OMB administrator for e-government and IT. 'But you've only mastered the art of writing a term paper, not the ability to execute.'

Indeed, the ability to execute is an attribute that transcends the business case.

'A five on the business case doesn't necessarily mean that the project is going to be successful,' Evans said.

For OMB, that means you have to demonstrate that you've succeeded on past projects. Why should OMB underwrite a project if an agency has a track record of failure on other IT initiatives?

And a record of failure likely reflects the absence of a strong management framework.

'You have to have good business and management practices in place to ensure that the investment will be wisely spent and managed to achieve results,' Evans said.

Of course, the funding game doesn't end with the business case and OMB's approval of it. If an initiative makes it into the president's budget, the next phase of the game begins.

'The president's budget is simply the opening salvo, continuing back and forth between Congress, the committees, the departments and agencies,' said Jonathan Bruel, a senior fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government, who spent 20 years at OMB. 'It's one step in a continuing process.'

Once the budget proposal is released, agency and department heads trudge up to the Hill to defend their funding proposals.

What they tell the congressional appropriations subcommittees is important. But what goes on behind the scenes also is critical to winning the funding game.

For example, you really have to cultivate a close but businesslike relationship with your appropriations subcommittee members and staff people without overtly lobbying them.

'Personal relationships on Capitol Hill are everything, not just for members of Congress but also for staff,' said Stanley Collender, an expert on the federal funding process who worked on both the House and Senate budget committees before going to the private sector.

The funding game demands many meticulous moves and strategies. It all seems complicated and daunting, and it is. But in one sense, it's very simple, Evans said. Outcome is the thing.

'It's all about achieving results,' she said.

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