Documents managed

2008 GCN Award winner: HHS streamlines information collection in-house and across domains<@VM>SIDEBAR: Use the right tools

ORGANIZATION: Health and
Human Services Department.
PROJECT: The Information
Collection Request, Review and
Approval System.


CHALLENGE: Streamline a complex,
labor- and paper-intensive
business process to enhance operations
and employee efficiency.


SOLUTION: HHS developed
ICRAS, a centralized repository to
store documents and their related
attachments accessible via the
Internet. The system lets employees
from multiple federal agencies
electronically prepare, track, report
on and administer informationcollection
requests.


IMPACT: Under the Paperwork
Reduction Act of 1995, agencies
collecting information from the
public need approval from the
Office of Management and Budget.
Before ICRAS, HHS had a manual
and paper-driven process. Agency
officials worked with OMB to build
an interface to an OMB approval
system, so HHS officials could
send documents electronically to
OMB. As a result, OMB has selected
ICRAS as the sole partner system
for other agencies to electronically
submit completed information-
collection requests.


DURATION: Project was conceived
in 1999. ICRAS3 rolled out departmentwide
in 2003. Now in its
fourth version, ICRAS continues to
be enhanced to meet the needs of
HHS and other agencies, such as
the Environmental Protection
Agency.


COST: $3 million.

LIKE MANY AGENCIES at the end of the
last century, the Health and Human
Services Department was looking to dig
out of paper-driven business processes that
hampered productivity and the ability to
exchange information.

Five years ago, senior IT managers at
HHS deployed a document-management
system that transformed a paper-driven
procedure with multiple recordkeeping
and reporting functions into a simpler and
more efficient workflow and paperless system.
The department's solution is now
being used by other agencies, too.




Under the Paperwork Reduction Act of
1995, agencies are required to obtain Office
of Management and Budget approval for
collecting information from the public. Before
the advent of the Information Collection
Request, Review and Approval System
(ICRAS), the process was complex and
labor-intensive.

HHS' aim from the outset back in 1999
when it conducted a requirements analysis
and proof of concept for the system was to
develop a centralized, electronic repository
to store documents and related attachments
and links that agency employees
could access via the Internet, letting them
prepare, track, report on and administer
the information they collected.

Now, ICRAS is used enterprisewide by
HHS employees, and the system also
works across domains, extending into
OMB's RISC and OIRA Consolidated Information
System (ROCIS), which agencies
use to electronically submit regulations
for review and comment.

'We store all documents needed for submission,'
such as applications, attachments,
consent forms, Federal Register notices,
manuals, supporting statements and statistical
methodologies in studies, said Seleda
Perryman, ICRAS team lead and federal
paperwork reduction officer at HHS.
'We haven't had a crash yet, and we have
a lot of documents,' Perryman said.

Independent validation

In May 2003, the Federal Information
Collection Interagency Taskforce managed
by the Environmental Protection Agency
' and including HHS and the Agriculture,
Labor, Transportation and Treasury
departments ' compared ICRAS with
other agencies' systems in an independent
verification and validation process and
found that ICRAS met platform and functional
requirements as a governmentwide
system.

That validation and the success in electronic
submissions to ROCIS led OMB to
select ICRAS as the sole partner system for
federal agencies to use to electronically
submit completed information collection
requests to the agency. As a result, HHS
has developed a service provider program
through which agencies can enter into contract
arrangements with HHS to use
ICRAS.

For example, EPA is in its second year of
using ICRAS for internal workflow, from
inception of information collection to
OMB approval and related collaborations.

ICRAS is a front-end system to ROCIS
for tracking and submitting informationcollection
requests.

'One of its strongest features is that it offers
a far more user-friendly platform for
entering data than using ROCIS directly,'
Rick Westlund, an EPA clearance officer,
said in a written testimonial. 'Another
strong feature is that ICRAS has e-mail
alerts that inform the users in the workflow
of the status of the ICR as it moves from
creation to approval.'

ICRAS is based on Oracle database software,
Ruby on Rails, Java, Extensible
Markup Language and Web services technologies,
which has enabled the integration of internal
operational, business process and workflow
requirements with legislative mandates
in a single information collaboration tool.

ICRAS4

Now in its fourth iteration, ICRAS provides
ad hoc and customized report generation
from the lowest level of an organization up to
the executive level. Its features include an
elimination of version control errors, more
efficient records management, automatic
e-mail alerting and error alerting.

Ad hoc reporting is essential in the current
results-oriented environment, said Terry Nicolosi,
director of HHS' Office of Resources
Management and the department's chief information
officer.

'A lot of government now is about resultsdriven
or performance metrics,' she said. 'I
think we had 700 collections that went
through ICRAS last year just for HHS,' which
supported the agency's 13 operating divisions.

'So instead of doing paper processes outside
and being able to collaborate online and get
[information] over to OMB, they're also able
to report on the workload activity as it relates
to all of the operating divisions,' she added.

HHS officials are hoping to work more closely
with OMB to encourage other agencies to
use ICRAS.

'I think ICRAS will be a good example for
the new administration to look at cost sharing
across agencies,' Nicolosi said.
The Health and Human Services
Department's Information Collection
Request, Review and Approval System
uses Oracle database software, Ruby
on Rails, Java, Extensible Markup
Language and Web services to integrate
internal operational, business
process and workflow requirements
into a single collaboration system.




By using those technologies, ICRAS4,
the latest version, was developed as a
secure system under a compressed
schedule ' faster than it would have
taken to customize a commercial product
' to meet both agency business
process needs and Office of
Management and Budget submission
requirements, HHS officials said.

The charter system, ICRAS2,
launched around 2000, introduced
time-dependent ownership with
extensive levels of permissions and
roles built into a Web-based Oracle
database.

ICRAS3, launched in 2003, was
developed to capture the new business
process changes proposed by
OMB with the evolution of its own
information system. By 2006, OMB's
system began accepting XML transmissions
from ICRAS4, a paperless,
one-system entry.

Ruby on Rails was selected because
its flexible Web development framework
and ease of use allow for a common
system that could be easily customized
to fit another unit's specific
business process requirements quickly
and seamlessly.

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