OMB steers clear of HSPD-12 group
- By Rob Thormeyer
- Mar 30, 2006
Turf battles and political maneuvering have led the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration to disband a popular and successful interagency working group on identity management.
Government and industry sources said OMB and GSA phased out the Interagency Partnership Working Group, which was formed to help agencies meet Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12 deadlines, after the 30 or so agencies represented on the group were seen as stepping outside of their realm and into the policy world.
Instead, OMB and GSA created an executive steering committee that some say does not have the technical know-how to help agencies begin issuing interoperable smart cards for federal and contract employees by OMB's Oct. 27 deadline.
'What this official, sanctioned group cannot do is get down in the weeds,' one agency official said, requesting anonymity. 'That's what we're lacking now, that open forum where people can hash it out.'
OMB and GSA officials say the executive committee will oversee and centrally manage agency compliance'something IPWG could not do.
'We really need to do this at the executive level,' said David Temoshok, director of policy and identity management for GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy.
But what IPWG could do was bring together several large and small agencies to jointly figure out how and whether they could work together and share information so they could all comply with HSPD-12, participants said.
The working group's meetings grew substantially both in size and importance as last year's deadline to meet Personal Identification Verification I under Federal Information Processing Standard-201 passed. IPWG started holding weekly meetings on PIV II that participants described as indispensable and historic because they reached a level of collaboration few had seen in government.Smaller-agency concerns
The working group sought to tackle issues such as how smaller agencies with limited resources would be able to purchase HSPD-12 products and services'such as a common badging and registration system'from other agencies to drive down costs and increase the likelihood of meeting the Oct. 27 deadline, when agencies have to issue interoperable smart cards to all new employees.
GSA played a key role in IPWG by acting as an exchange of sorts and helping agencies reach out to other agencies with the resources for certain services.
But as the group's influence grew, sources said GSA and OMB became uneasy with its role.
'The higher-ups didn't appreciate what the working group is doing,' an agency official said.
An industry source familiar with the situation said it turned into a 'pissing match' between OMB, GSA and the working group.
An OMB official, who requested anonymity, would not discuss whether there was a power struggle, but said only that the new committee will put the administration's weight and accountability behind the working group's efforts, hoping to spur progress and centralize the sharing of information.
'The ESC is focused on policy and technical issues,' the official said. 'The ESC will make recommendations to OMB on the best approach to reach the widely distributed federal workforce, [on] opportunities to leverage existing and commercial infrastructure, and how to address technical issues.'
People involved with the working group said that, while the executive committee is a welcomed development, they are unsure whether it will facilitate the same kind of honest and open discussions that were the hallmarks of IPWG.
In fact, after OMB dissolved the group and created the executive committee, the 130 IPWG members polled themselves on whether they thought their experience was helping the government meet the PIV II deadline, sources said.
The results were unanimous.
'Everyone said we definitely need this, it's helpful and useful,' an agency official said. 'It is ironic that [OMB's] message to shut down was accompanied by a strong vote to continue.'
Numerous sources involved in the working group said the decision to replace IPWG with the executive committee was a political one that was never truly explained or reconciled.
And now there is a fear that without IPWG, some agencies could miss the upcoming deadline. 'The people who asked us to disband, they don't do implementation,' the agency official said. 'They do policy.'
But Temoshok said the executive committee was created to take IPWG's collaborative efforts to another level.
'As a steering committee with OMB on board, they have access to all of the agencies and key existing councils,' Temoshok said, referring to the CIO, Chief Financial and Chief Acquisition officers councils. 'As we find areas that may need to be addressed, that committee can have direct access' to the rest of the government.
The 'importance of an interagency group like [IPWG] was escalated' with the creation of the steering committee, he said.
The committee leadership consists of representation from OMB, GSA, and the Agriculture, Commerce, Defense and Homeland Security departments, and includes three working groups and subgroups, Temoshok said.
The subgroups, the OMB official said, will deal with the detailed work while the executive committee leadership will tackle broader policy issues. Some former IPWG members are participating in the subgroups.
'The committee is looking at agency implementation from a national perspective instead of an agency-by-agency perspective, and has three subteams [that] are 'getting into the weeds,' ' the official said.
The steering committee will be putting together a draft report on its approach for dealing with the widely dispersed federal workforce by the end of the month.
The report also will touch on leveraging existing and commercial infrastructure and addressing remaining technical issues, the OMB official said.
Still, former IPWG members say their working group was already making considerable progress on these initiatives and could have helped agencies with limited identification card experience meet the October deadline.
Now these agencies must await word from OMB before moving forward, which isn't expected until at least later this month, leaving some to question how the government will meet the PIV II deadline, which is only months away.