Gutsy move, OMB

Federal insiders for years have snickered that there's no
"M" in OMB--the Office of Management and Budget.

OMB has had a management load-of-hay dropped on its shoulders with passage of the
information technology procurement reforms attached to the 1996 Defense authorization
bill. Now OMB, instead of the General Services Administration, is to ensure agencies' big
information systems projects come out right.

This change was inspired partly by perceptions on Capitol Hill that GSA wasn't very
good at oversight and that its delegations of procurement authority, which in theory could
be revoked, never seemed to stop bad projects from rolling along.

So the question now is how effective OMB will be at helping or prodding agencies with
their systems challenges. And that question leads to a bunch of other unanswered ones:

*Does the OMB have the manpower and expertise that GSA didn't? After all, Congress
isn't exactly voting largesse for OMB.

*Will OMB, as envisioned in this legislation, have the clout to kill or squeeze funding
for troubled projects, which often have their own political constituencies?

*What will be the relationship between the legislatively mandated agency chief
information officers? Who will have final say over systems?

The bill doesn't take effect until six months after the president signs it. And it'll
be Lord-knows-how-long before the Office of Federal Procurement Policy writes the regs.
Therefore we'll have to wait for the answers to these questions. And no doubt the
unintended consequences will be interesting.

But to its credit, OMB isn't sitting on its hands. As GSA creatively deconstructs
itself, OMB is creatively staffing by whipping up, in effect, volunteer groups to carry
out the bill's mandates on its behalf. The grandly named Presidential Technology Teams are
to look at the nitty-gritty of systems. The IT Resources Board, actually the old GSA IT
Acquisition Review Board, will examine procurements.

As the first job for its as-yet-memberless PTT, OMB has selected the Tax Systems
Modernization program at the Internal Revenue Service. Given the size, scope and
visibility of TSM, this is a gutsy move for OMB. After all, it still is operating in a
kind of limbo, with the new law not in effect and no regulations written. Maybe that's
what reinvention is all about.

Stay tuned.

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