OMB gets down to business for 2005

EPA CIO Kim Nelson says her office is working to align investment and budget processes and expects to reduce the number of business cases EPA submits for 2005 by about 30 percent.

Henrik G. DeGyor

As agencies prepare their fiscal 2005 budget requests, CIOs and senior IT chiefs are finding it more complicated to obtain funds for technology projects.

This isn't much of a surprise for agencies, as the Office of Management and Budget has been promising for more than a year to enforce the administration's demands that agencies justify their IT funding requests come 2005.

For the 2005 requests, OMB is holding agencies to a higher standard than in previous years. IT managers are under pressure to show how their business cases, known as Exhibit 300s, tie to their agencies' enterprise architectures and the Federal Enterprise Architecture.

Defend or lose

'We will hold back funds until the linkage is clear,' said Mark Forman, OMB's administrator for e-government and IT. Agencies must include details about mission, customers, technology and other performance metrics, he said.

And agencies seem to be responding as OMB ratchets up the pressure.

'The bar is higher this year than last,' said Kim Nelson, CIO of the Environmental Protection Agency. 'The changes are clearly ones that are appropriate as OMB is looking more and more for concrete proof that business cases are linked to a strategic plan and investment process. OMB is asking agencies to put all their dominoes in a row.'

Nelson said her office is working to merge business cases and align its investment process with the budget process. She expects to reduce the number of business cases EPA submits for 2005 by about 30 percent.

The Energy Department is trying to meet OMB's demands. Forman said Energy shut down a project after officials recognized it did not align with its enterprise architecture. With business cases due Sept. 8, OMB in April provided the first guidance on its expectations.

Dan Chenok, chief of the IT Branch at OMB, said the administration will look at three characteristics of agencies' business cases that build on architectures:
  • The business case must show how a system improves an agency's performance in achieving its mission and how it can work with other agencies on similar functions.

    'We want to know how a project will help the agency create a more effective enterprise,' Chenok said.

    William McVay, deputy branch chief in OMB's Office of Information and Policy, said agencies must show how the IT investment supports the agency's business line, and to identify performance metrics related to mission, customers and technology.

  • Agencies also must identify collaboration opportunities through the Federal Enterprise Architecture.

    'Agencies can free up lots of dollars that have been spent on redundant activities and refocus that money on intended activities through more effective enterprise architecture analysis,' Chenok said.

  • Agencies must include with their business case submissions copies of their architecture frameworks and explanations of how they relate to the federal blueprint. Chenok said if an agency can do that, other pieces such as management, security, risk mitigation and privacy will fall into place.

If an agency does not have an initial enterprise architecture finished, McVay said, IT officials should at least have an e-government strategy that lays out a plan to modernize legacy systems. CIOs should link their business cases to the plan, he said.

'Each agency has a requirement to have one business case for their business infrastructure, one for their office automation and one for their telecommunications projects and to focus on two or three major initiatives,' Forman said. 'All of these lay out a clear path between people, processes and technology. If they do not do that, we will hammer them on their business cases.'
Chenok, who spoke last month at the Management of Change Conference sponsored by the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils in New Orleans, said OMB is giving agencies the tools to complete this task. OMB has conducted business case training for 2,000 agency IT, procurement and budget employees.

OMB's message seems to be getting through, EPA's Nelson said.

Nelson said EPA's completion of its architecture has made putting together business cases and fostering collaboration easier.

'We can make more intelligent decisions about our investments more than in the past, now that our target architecture is finished,' she said. 'There is more certainty in your process, and you are more likely to do it right.'

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