Dragon slayers: How agencies have coped successfully with mandates

Postal Service delivers on 508<@VM>IRS gets a jump on GISRA's complex requirements<@VM>Treasury connects with small businesses<@VM>EPA puts performance into its plans<@VM>FDA lightens up on its paperwork<@VM>Telework isn't a no-show at NIH<@VM>Job inventories are FAIR play at Commerce

Ray Morgan, the Postal Service's Section 508 coordinator, has sought help from people who regularly use accessibility technologies.

Don Barrett works for the Education Department, but he spends time at the Postal Service evaluating technologies to make sure they are Section 508-compliant. Barrett also is blind.

His involvement has helped the Postal Service become one of the lead government entities in complying with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998. USPS recruited volunteers from agencies to provide expert knowledge in making sure the hardware, software and applications it was considering'both internal and public'met accessibility requirements.

'Having a team of people who work with 508 technologies every day gives us a functional place to turn for help,' said Ray Morgan, the Postal Service's Section 508 coordinator. 'There is nothing like having someone like Don talk to you about what they can and can't do with a business application. It is very effective and rings true.'

User feedback was just one method the Postal Service used to bring 470 applications and Web sites into compliance with the standards the Access Board set forth last year.

All for one

USPS blended the new standards into how each department views its job. Morgan said his office formed a 508 steering committee that included officials from law, marketing, finance, human resources and procurement.

USPS also trained coordinators and field personnel within each department on what the standards mean.

Morgan credits the support from John Nolan, deputy postmaster general, and Robert Otto, vice president for IT, for pushing compliance from the top down.

'We created a mantra that said 508 is good for business, and it is the right thing to do,' Morgan said. 'People have to understand and embrace what is going on, and then they will spread the gospel.'

'Jason MillerThe IRS began working to meet the requirements of the Government Information Security Reform Act long before it was enacted in 2000.

'We've been working on it for five years, and we still have a number of years to go' before reaching full compliance, said Leonard Baptiste, director of the office of security and privacy oversight.

GISRA requires that agencies do risk assessments on and certify their systems. Although IRS is several years away from full compliance, it is ahead of the government curve.

The Office of Management and Budget reported that only 18 percent of federal information systems had been certified in fiscal 2001.

Inside out

IRS began the work as part of the tax agency's modernization plan.

'When I first got here, security was ad hoc, at best,' Baptiste said. 'We plan in two years to have our entire inventory of systems certified.'

The key to getting the job done is a tool built in-house. 'It acts like a tax software package. You answer the questions and it generates the documents for you,' Baptiste said, adding that the process is five to 10 times faster than building reports from scratch.

The trick to getting a head start on GISRA was addressing root problems rather than responding to legislation, Baptiste said.

'I look at the laws as a conglomeration of requirements that the government has put in place because agencies have not addressed security properly,' he said.

If you wait until a law is passed to address a problem, 'it's going to be more difficult and require more guesswork,' he said.

'William Jackson Twice a year the Treasury Department holds day-long vendor outreach sessions at one of its Washington-area locations so its IT program managers can meet representatives of small businesses.

The 15-minute meetings with each visiting vendor are designed to give small, minority and women-owned businesses the chance to be heard while helping agency employees gain confidence in using small companies.

'We've heard from the small businesses that they liked the accessibility of the contracting officers and small business specialists, but what they really wanted was time with program managers,' said Kevin Boshears, director of Treasury's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. 'It gives the small business person and the program manager time to discuss those technical issues only they understand. It also raised the comfort level of the program mangers.'

The outreach sessions are a reason why Treasury last year exceeded the contracting mandates set by the Small Business Act. For fiscal year 2000, according to Federal Procurement Data Center, the agency spent 32 percent of its $2.8 billion overall procurement budget with small businesses, well above the 23 percent goal.

Open for business

Treasury also exceeded its goals for contracting with small, disadvantaged businesses, including those under Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act, and women-owned companies.

While the vendor sessions contributed to Treasury's success, Boshears also points to his office's work in other areas.

The OSDBU Web site includes the agency procurement forecast and a list of the agency's top 25 expenditures. His office provides updates and training on new small business programs to bureau procurement officials. A mentor-prot'g' program matching large and small contractors, which Treasury instituted two years ago, also gives small companies a foot in the door.

'Historically, we've enjoyed strong support from the senior management,' Boshears said. 'That helps keep the network within Treasury working toward meeting these goals. The bureau chiefs support small businesses, and I meet with them periodically to reinforce what we are doing.'

'Jason MillerWhen it comes to complying with the Government Performance and Results Act's budgeting requirements, the Environmental Protection Agency is on the right foot.

So pronounce Bush administration officials, who say the first step in planning for performance budgeting is extensive collaboration among agency stakeholders.

That's just what the agency is doing.

EPA is 'an example of an agency that has made substantial progress' in fostering the intra-agency teamwork necessary to create a budget that focuses on program results, administration officials said in their Analytical Perspectives on the fiscal 2003 budget.

They noted that EPA had put together 'an integrated staff to create the budget, set output targets and evaluate implementation.'

GPRA requires agencies to submit strategic plans for program performance and tie performance goals and results to budget requests.

EPA began integrating its strategic planning and budgeting staff about five years ago, said Michael Ryan, the agency's deputy chief financial officer.

In 1997, the agency created an office of planning, analysis and accountability within its CFO office, establishing a framework for GPRA compliance, Ryan said.

EPA officials 'felt that by putting strategic planning and budgeting in the same shop, strategic planners and budgeters would work together,' he said.

As a result, 'our planning doesn't move forward separately from our budgeting,' he said. 'They feed into each other.'

In turn, those offices work closely with EPA program officials and their planners and budgeters, he said.

'That's really part of the greater collaboration,' he said. 'At any given time, we're putting together meetings that pull together all the planners in the agency, whether they be in San Francisco, Washington or Atlanta. It allows for a more integrated approach.'

The agency's decision to restructure its GPRA compliance strategy 'was a big change and very difficult to implement, but now everybody's used it,' Ryan said. 'They're into it and everybody lives by it.'

EPA also has crafted a formal, collaborative approach to IT planning.

As deputy CFO, Ryan co-chairs an IT investment subgroup within the CIO office's Quality Information Council that produces the annual IT capital planning and investment report required under GPRA.

'We are going to be collaborating with the CIO's office even more, beyond capital investment, to set up systems to report on indicators and results that will become the analytic starting point on the revision to our [GRPA] strategic plan,' he added. 'We're looking to technology to help us out on that.'

'Richard W. WalkerThe Government Paperwork Elimination Act of 1998 requires federal agencies, where practical, to offer the option of submitting, maintaining and disclosing required records'such as employment records, tax forms and loan information'electronically, instead of on paper.

GPEA compliance has been spotty. The General Accounting Office warned in a report last fall that two-thirds of federal projects scheduled for electronic conversion won't be ready until the GPEA deadline of 2003 (GCN, March 4, Page 13).

It's different at the Food and Drug Administration. In June 2000, Office of Management and Budget director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., testifying before Congress, cited FDA's OASIS program as an example of successful GPEA compliance. The Operational and Administrative System for Import Support reviews about 8 million shipments entering the country each year almost entirely without paper documentation, Daniels told Congress.

The agency also has created an electronic submission and review system for the thousands of documents it receives annually from companies that manufacture health care products.

FDA's centers for Drug Evaluation and Research and Biologic Evaluation and Research have used funds from the Prescription Drug User Fee Act to help create the system, according to Melissa R. Chapman, the agency's acting CIO.

Paper chase

The agency also receives reports of 'adverse events' involving health products via electronic submission. 'The establishment of these programs has helped in part to address the elimination of paper,' Chapman said.

Among the benefits to consumers are cost reductions. 'The companies indicate that this has reduced costs,' Chapman said. FDA has issued guidance documents that include standards for the data formats the companies use.

'Wilson P. Dizard IIIBy law, 25 percent of federal employees were supposed to have telework options by last April, but overall only 4.2 percent are using the privilege, according to a November survey by the Office of Personnel Management, at www.telework.gov/status-summary.htm.

But OPM counted 13 smaller federal organizations with usage rates higher than 20 percent. OPM itself claimed 38.5 percent participation.

Some of the more visible and long-standing telework programs are in place at the General Services Administration and the National Institutes of Health. GSA's remote telework centers have not been notably popular among feds, but NIH's home-centered program has found more takers.

The shortest route

The Bethesda, Md., campus has occasionally operated an Integrated Services Digital Network demonstration center for setting up fast home connections and has furnished computer equipment and technical support to its telecommuters.

The NIH campus has a partnership with the Maryland Transportation Department to reduce highway congestion and commuting stress. It encourages participation by reminding employees they need not do 'tele-computing' to be eligible to work from home, but only have a telephone.

At ohrm.cc.nih.gov/benefits/tele.html, NIH showcases telework as an employee benefit with rules about adequate work space, injuries at home and other issues.

Among the latecomers to telework are the Defense and the Health and Human Services departments, which set up their programs after Sept. 11. DOD permits telework for as little as one day per pay period and is counting on it to improve job opportunities for the disabled.

Among the telework strategies that agencies reported to OPM were handing over surplus equipment to telecommuters, and buying notebook PCs plus docking stations instead of replacement desktop systems.

Despite these developments, complying with the Transportation Appropriations Act of 2000 won't be easy. The law calls for 100 percent of eligible employees to have teleworking available to them by 2005.

'Susan M. MenkeThe Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act of 1998 ordered agencies to take stock of their jobs and list those that were not inherently governmental. The idea was to identify the most likely jobs for outsourcing.

The first inventories concentrated on jobs classified as commercial. For last year's inventories, the Office of Management and Budget gave agencies the option of also listing the jobs they considered inherently governmental.
The Commerce Department was one of the few agencies that delivered both lists.

'For us it was easiest to collect all the information,' said Edna Campbell, who works in the Office of Executive Budgeting and Assistance Management as director of the department's competitive sourcing initiative.

The department's Web site lists its inventories at www.doc.gov/oebam/fair. Results are listed for the entire department and broken down by agency or bureau.

The inventories list jobs by organizational unit and location, along with a job or function description and how many of those jobs fall into either the inherently governmental or commercial classification.

The key to an accurate inventory is distributing forms deep down the chain of command, to the people who know what each job is, Campbell said. 'It all comes down to the same thing ... getting as close to the grassroots as we can,' she said.

After forms have been completed and returned'usually OK'd by a chief financial officer or an administrative officer'OEBAM does some analysis before putting together the final inventory list. Then OMB sifts through the results before the lists become public. Last year, Commerce submitted its list on June 21; it was officially posted during the autumn, Campbell said.

Job description

While the inventory takes some work, it is not a full-time job for anyone, according to Campbell and OEBAM director Robert F. Kugelman.

'It takes probably four months of consistent effort by one or two people at each organization,' Campbell said, followed by lesser amounts of time at the administrative level.

With work under way for this year's list, Campbell said she agrees with OMB that the inventories provide a tool for managing resources. The Bush administration has ordered agencies to open to competition at least 5 percent of their nongovernmental jobs this year and another 10 percent next year.

'Kevin McCaney

inside gcn

  • artificial intelligence (ktsdesign/Shutterstock.com)

    Machine learning with limited data

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group