Feds say budget process impedes IT success

Feds say budget process impedes IT success

CIOs are left out of the loop, Materiel Command CIO James D. Buckner says.

By Christopher J. Dorobek
GCN Staff

The federal budget process is one of the biggest hindrances to the effective management of information technology projects, said 11 program managers who gathered this spring for an Association for Federal Information Resources Management roundtable.

'The entire IT budget process is flawed. It does not contribute to the successful implementation and support of IT systems,' said the AFFIRM study, IT Acquisition Reform: The Delivery of IT Systems and Services. The study was released this summer.

Program managers from several agencies participated in the March focus group session. Michael Lisagor, chairman of AFFIRM's emerging issues forum committee and president of Celerity Works of Fairfax, Va., said about one-third of the group was from the Defense Department.

What 11 program managers

  • The IT budget process is flawed. It does not contribute to successful systems implementation and support. Too often, oversight staff in Congress and OMB do not have enough IT expertise to make crucial budget decisions.
  • The CIO has many important functions, such as enterprise architectures and capital planning, but cannot succeed without adequate budget and staff.
  • Many cultural changes must be made for performance-based contracting to succeed.
  • Many problems must be solved before past performance can effectively indicate contractor performance.
  • Business sometimes goes to schedule holders instead of preferred agency vendors.
  • The CIO has had little impact on developing systems.

The report, subtitled It Is Faster and Cheaper, But Is It Better?, said oversight staff in Congress and in the Office of Management and Budget too often do not fully understand the complexities of IT projects. They often cut budgets arbitrarily, Lisagor said.

Furthermore, programs are not funded for their lifecycle, so agencies might have enough money for development but not for operation and maintenance, he said.

'The budget process does not support success. You spend all this time defining a major system that costs $150 million, and then a few budget analysts with no IT training in this area wield their ax in two days and cut it to $50 million,' the report said. 'The users won't change their requirements so now you're stuck with building it for an inadequate amount' of money.

The focus group said agency chief information officers were doing a good job but had 'little impact on the ability of program managers to deliver systems,' the report said. Instead, CIOs work on IT policy and architecture issues.

Furthermore, the report said, because CIOs do not control most of the IT money, they try to do too much with too little.

'The program managers saw the CIO function as being important, but worried that significant tasks such as IT architecture development and capital planning must be performed without any additional budget or staff,' the report said.

The program managers also reported that some agencies avoid competition by using governmentwide acquisition contracts instead of sole-source procurements with a specific vendor.

Deidre A. Lee, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said the report shows that program managers want to implement government reforms.

Implementing procurement and management reform has been Lee's rallying cry. 'We've made some good progress, but we've got a lot to do to bring it to fruition,' Lee said.

Army Materiel Command CIO James D. Buckner said CIOs have been somewhat hog-tied because they often do not have control over how IT money is spent. To that end, the Defense Department recently began drafting a plan to give DOD CIOs control of all IT infrastructure budgets. That money would be pulled out of the programs and be allocated by a board to be headed by deputy Defense secretary John Hamre and made up of CIOs.

The report is posted on AFFIRM's Web site, at www.affirm.org.

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