Best-made plans draw bucks
- By Kevin McCaney
- Apr 01, 2003
'In the IT area, we're better off than a lot of others because we do have opportunities for savings and efficiencies,' Kim Nelson says.
You've done everything right'sold your project to agency chiefs, dotted i's and crossed t's on a business case, fit everything securely into the pieces of an enterprise architecture and received the blessing of the Office of Management and Budget.
The funding's in the bag, right?
True, the bulk of the work in securing project funding is summarized in the above checklist. OMB has emphatically tied funding to enterprise architectures and business cases.
So, if you have convinced agency leaders to buy into a project, laid the groundwork for any cultural change and successfully run OMB's gauntlet for justifying the investment, you're on the homestretch.
But that might not always guarantee funding for the duration of a project. For one thing, funding is essentially flat in many areas. The administration's budget for fiscal 2004 would bump IT spending from $52.6 billion to $59.1 billion, but almost all of that increase is to be dedicated to homeland defense, cybersecurity and enterprise architecture.
Meanwhile, OMB has shown its willingness to halt programs that underperform or fail to meet its standards.
All of which puts funding on the minds of agency managers. In a survey of GCN readers for this report, funding was a very close second to security among top challenges.
'What I have found is that there just are never any certainties,' said Kim Nelson, CIO of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Nelson, a 22-year veteran of state government in Pennsylvania, has been at EPA for a year and a half, 'and I'm still trying to get my arms around the budget process.'
But it's not really that much different, she said.Proof in pudding
What you thought you had going into a budget process isn't always what emerges from a budget process, she said. Unexpected costs crop up.
Paying attention to the realities of funding can make a difference, she said.
'Historically, within EPA, the investment review process wasn't always very well connected to the budget process,' Nelson said.
For example, leaders of a project might get $1 million approved for a business case proposal. But when it came time to make allocations, agency chiefs reviewing their entire portfolio might find that funding demands exceed supply and be forced to make cuts. So that $1 million project might get a total of $500,000 instead, which throws off the whole business plan, she said.
To try to avoid that scenario, Nelson said she works with EPA chief financial officer Linda Combs on planning ahead. 'We look at the highest-priority projects and make sure there is a line item in the budget equal to the business case. As much communication as possible is always helpful,' she said.
EPA has been developing its Central Data Exchange through a multiyear contract with Computer Sciences Corp. that has a cap of $285 million. The exchange, called CDX, is the agency's node on the National Environmental Information Network, through which state environmental agencies can submit data to EPA.
Under the contract, CSC provides a variety of services, including building the portal'which is now operational and in the process of expanding'managing CDX's operations center and doing other development work.
It's a project that's never really finished, Nelson said, because there are always other services or states that can be added to the system. And those factors come into play because a project needs to be justified for every funding cycle.
With tight budgets and demanding criteria for project approval, funding has emerged as a difficult hurdle for almost any project manager. But the potential benefits of an efficient IT project can help put it over the top.
'In the IT area, we're better off than a lot of others in some of the more traditional lines of business because we do have opportunities for savings and efficiencies,' Nelson said. 'You've got to have those efficiencies.'
Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.