OMB tightens reins on CIOs

Pushing hard on capital planning for information technology, OMB late last month asked
agencies to submit IT program status reports by May 1.


OMB director Franklin D. Raines on April 25 sent a memo to the heads of the 28
cabinet-level departments and major independent agencies asking them to identify capital
planning achievements. He also asked that they update OMB on any IT organizational changes
and describe their chief information officers' responsibilities.


Although the report request was sweeping, the memo asked for themost detailed
information on agencies' development of capital planning procedures.


OMB will use the reports as the basis for face-to-face planning meetings with agency
CIOs and chief operating officers, the memo said. This marks a turning point for OMB
oversight in the wake of the 1996 IT Management Reform Act.


Until now, OMB officials have let agencies implement ITMRA with a fairly loose leash.
Last fall, after Congress passed ITMRA, deputy OMB director of management John Koskinen
said OMB would not mandate how agencies met the law's requirements but would wait six
months to a year to review how agencies had proceeded.


Review time seems to have arrived. In the memo, Raines said, OMB officials would meet
with CIOs to "discuss your agency's implementation of ITMRA, to identify improvements
for the coming year, and, where appropriate, discuss preliminary agency plans for the
fiscal 1999 budget request." Raines also suggested that CIOs be prepared to discuss
their agencies' year 2000 programs.


Joe Thompson, CIO for the General Services Administration, said at a meeting shortly
after the memo was released that GSA was in the forefront of capital planning.


He joined top systems managers from seven agencies participating in a pilot capital
planning program for the 1997 budget. The departments of Agriculture, Energy, Housing and
Urban Development and State, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, GSA and the
Coast Guard, are the pilot agencies.


Officials with the pilot agencies said they are willing to help other agencies learn
from their mistakes and meet the capital planning requirements mandated by ITMRA.


Thompson said using a multiyear, investment approach to IT makes sense because it will
help agencies justify their systems spending needs. If agencies implement capital planning
properly, IT will no longer be seen as an expense, he said. Plus, it will force senior and
cabinet-level chiefs to take an interest in IT decisions, Thompson added.


"This is a real exciting time for those of us who have worked in the technology
field all our lives," said Hollace Twining, USDA's deputy CIO.


Twining said Agriculture has created IT review boards to recommend future buys. But
because of the department's self-imposed moratorium on IT buys, the review board is
working on recommending ways to redefine Agriculture's long-term IT plans so the
department can do away with the moratorium.


Thompson said the biggest change brought by capital planning will be the involvement of
higher level officials in long-range IT buying plans. "We are talking with
secretaries and undersecretaries here," he said. "That did not happen before in
technology discussions."


Thompson said the GSA would lead the charge into capital planning and has already run
the 1999 budget through its capital planning boards. "We looked at what money would
be spent and what the results of that would be," he said.


Howard Lewis, Energy's deputy CIO, said his department was not far behind GSA. "We
feel this is the next step in what we were attempting to do," he said. "Energy
was moving in this direction before the law." Lewis said an executive board chaired
by the deputy secretary for Energy reviews all IT decisions.


David Christy, director of information policy management at HUD, said a Technology
Investment Board Executive Committee now plans future IT projects at his department. He
said HUD was trying to more closely link IT issues to the budget process.


Jim Shaffer, chief of the Office of Architecture and Planning for the Coast Guard, said
agencies need to include all bureaus or subagencies on the agencywide review boards.


"We have representatives from every Coast Guard program on our boards," he
said. The Coast Guard has two IT boards that deal with capital planning.


An IRM work group decides what technology is needed and an IRM board decides how to
fund programs within the agency's $150 million annual IT budget.


The pilot agency representatives said the next step is to help the stragglers. Energy's
Lewis said informal meetings among government agencies are taking place.


"We are meeting with IRS to help them along," he said. "And they are
farther along in some areas than us. So there is a lot of sharing going on in the
government right now."


About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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