Of the People: Sept. 11 anniversary casts budget process in a new light

Ira Hobbs

Breathe deeply ... release ... relax. Feel better? I do. We've not quite made it to the end of the fiscal year, but the pace seems to be accelerating with year-end closings, the budget season, and the reminders and ceremonies to mark Sept. 11.

So, to those of you who have been bearing down on work and diligently scrubbing and polishing your IT business cases for the 2004 budget cycle, I want to congratulate you while the sweat is still on your brow.

The Office of Management and Budget has been raising the bar for federal managers by revising the budget justification Form 300 and related planning guidance for IT spending. I know these changes have rippled through my agency, increasing the number of IT investments requiring a business case, as well as the time and effort to complete each justification. I bet you have also felt this impact, and I suspect you sometimes question the benefit for the energy you expend. For me, it is a simple matter'no pain, no gain.

I believe this increased emphasis on planning will ultimately serve agencies well. With the October 2003 Government Paperwork Elimination Act deadline closing in, plus the homeland security focus on doing a better job of sharing, analyzing and using information, the demand on IT to improve service delivery will gain momentum. For every agency, planning will be the key to success.

Many executives have made the case for needing more resources to do the job. But last year, we all faced a shrewd, rewards-based approach by OMB. Those who responded to the call for more comprehensive IT investment planning for the 2003 budget cycle saw our efforts rewarded in the president's budget proposal. Now we wait to see the fruit of that labor with the closure of the 2003 cycle by Congress. From my viewpoint in Agriculture, we have tilled the soil and planted the seeds, and we're now expecting a bountiful harvest.

We await Congress's decisions on 2003 budgets and OMB's prod on proposed funding for 2004, all as the country observes the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11. Once again, the role of government is in the spotlight. People are expressing both positive and negative views of federal leaders.

As citizens reflect on the roles federal, state and local public servants played in responding to the terrorist attacks, every manager must think about his or her part in delivering services to the public. It takes all of us to get the job done, no matter where we sit on the ladder or which occupation we have.

With the upcoming appropriations measures, Congress will empower agencies to continue making government work better. As they implement these laws, IT and program managers must ensure they are building safe, defendable and recoverable systems. That is a major focus of the business all of us are now in. It cannot be left to chance.

Ira Hobbs is deputy CIO at the Agriculture Department and a member of the CIO Council.

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