Federal managers look for where LOBs intersect

OMB poised to name new grants service providers

GSA's Mary Mitchell says the financial management and grants projects are trying 'to identify touch points to a standard interface.'

Rick Steele

Agencies are hesitant to choose a consortia provider because they know more [providers] likely will be named. Once we have the full set, it will be easier.' Charlie Havekost, Grants LOB program manager

Olivier Douliery

The success of the slow-moving plan to consolidate grant management systems across government will depend on how well these few applications integrate financial-management systems at agencies and shared-services centers.

While the Office of Management and Budget and the Grants Line of Business Consolidation Initiative executive boards decide on the final list of consortia providers, a working group of financial-management and grants experts are starting to develop a high-level architecture to see where the two functions intersect.

'Our fate is somewhat tied together,' said Mary Mitchell, FM LOB's program manager, at a recent event on the Lines of Business sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's Bethesda, Md., chapter. 'We are working with the Grants LOB to identify touch points to a standard interface. We will work on data standardization and standardized business processes in 2007.'

The working group will prioritize the interfaces that both functions use, she added.
In the meantime, the grants executive board has whittled the number of agency proposals to become additional consortia members from eight to three. OMB now will decide on the final consortia providers to go with the Education and Health and Human Services departments and the National Science Foundation, which the administration named last February.

OMB is expected to name the new consortia leads when the president submits his fiscal 2008 budget to Congress in February.

Sources said there is a push by some to have all eight agencies become consortia members, which still would reduce the number of grant systems to 11 from about 100.

'Why go through a blood feud of making agencies do something they don't want to do,' said a government official, who requested anonymity.

Charles Havekost, Grants LOB program manager and HHS CIO, said he would not comment on the number of proposals submitted to OMB, but said the agencies who want to be consortia members demonstrated over the past year that they could be good cross-service providers.
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While OMB decides on the next set of consortia providers, agencies are figuring out which one would fit their needs best and are preparing migration plans to the shared-services centers.

Stacie Boyd, OMB's portfolio manager, said at the AFCEA event that agencies are developing migration milestones for 2007.

She said agencies will migrate based on their need to refresh systems ' much like FM and human resources.

Havekost added that the timetable for migration plans to be completed still is undecided, and the milestones likely will be tied to agency progress on the E-Government portion of the President's Management Agenda.

'One thing that has been a bit of a hindrance in all of this is naming the second round of consortia members,' Havekost said. 'Agencies are hesitant to choose a consortia provider because they know more [providers] likely will be named. Once we have the full set, it will be easier for agencies to make a choice and come up with a migration plan.'

Trailblazers

At least one consortia member and two other agencies are not waiting for the Grants and FM LOBs to figure things out.

HHS has connected its grant system with its financial system, which runs Oracle Federal Financials, Havekost said.

Meanwhile, the State Department and the Agency for International Development are working on a system to pull grant data into the shared financial system, CGI-AMS Momentum.

Grice Mulligan, director of federal solutions for Infoterra Inc. of Arlington, Va., whose software package, Grantium, is being used by USAID and State, said the agencies are about a month away from releasing the final design notes on how the data will flow from one system to the other.

'State and USAID could not wait for high-level guidance to come out,' he said. 'We are trying to ensure what we embark upon is something that complies with all the modern technology standards, Joint Financial Management Improvement Program rules and other relevant guidance and standards.'

Ensuring data transfers from grants systems to financial apps is fairly straightforward, experts say. Mulligan said the data fields and the relationships between them are well-known, which will make it easier.

But there are plenty of challenges as well, experts say.

David Cassidy, a vice president of Turner Consulting Group in Washington, said the key would be to make sure everyone is using the same terms to describe the data fields.

'We also have to delineate which is a system of record,' said Cassidy, who also is co-chair of National Grants Partnership White Paper Series Committee and a member of the Federal Grants Management Handbook Advisory Board. 'Is the grants system a system of record for finance? There also are questions about how you audit the systems.'

Havekost said the biggest challenge could be the fact that agency grant systems are mostly homegrown, while most financial systems are commercial.

'Since we are seeing more commercial financial systems, there is good hope that the consortia members will be able to connect to them pretty easily,' Havekost said.

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